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Collections blog

Another One Fights the Dust – collections cleaning during lockdown

User AvatarPosted by Penelope Lovesy at 07/12/2020 10:19:21

This year has been quite something and not an experience anyone would like to repeat. A museum is designed to be busy, with people interacting with our spaces and playing their part in a journey through our shared heritage. But this year, like all other museums and galleries, Poole Museum has been void of visitors for long stretches of time. 

We, like our Wessex Museums partners and libraries and archives across the world, have begun to culminate ideas and objects as part of contemporary collecting projects, enabling this most unusual of years to be represented within collections for generations to come. 

Aside from the sadness of an empty building, the recent lockdown has provided us with an opportunity to carry out tasks that are often forgotten or simply put aside for a quieter, more convenient time, and one of those jobs is the task of tidying and cleaning. 

For all their merits, visitors can be dirty blighters! They leave their sticky fingerprints, and worse, on cases and their heavy feet often move objects inside the cases. Although immediate remedial action is taken in an emergency, it is often too difficult to clean all the cases before the rascals come back the following day or straighten up the contents of every shelf. In addition to this, a vast number of open display objects are at the mercy of the influx of visitors and, because they’re not behind glass, they’re often treated differently by our guests and, dare I say, overlooked by our eagle eyes. Damage to these items would never be missed, but the gradual build-up of dust or grime may be unnoticed until you’ve given it a clean and removed what you never realised was there! 

And before you ask, no we don’t don marigolds and break out the Cillit Bang (other inappropriate cleaning products are also available), as it won’t just be the dirt that goes bang but the collection items as well. Object cleaning isn’t a quick process. It’s steady and delicate, but this provides an opportunity to condition check and even understand the objects better than you have ever done before. 

In some cases, just a light dust with a soft brush will be enough, while other objects are robust enough for a hoover. There are specialist Museum Vacs but even our trusty Henry got stuck in and helped us out. The figurehead of the Queen Charlotte was a time-consuming process, and, not wanting to cast aspersions, I can conclude she was filthy! The folds in the hair made it particularly tricky to remove years of congregating dust. 

It was great to involve some of our Front of House team in case cleaning and wet cleaning of ceramics, though, as they found out, it is almost impossible to make cases spotless and we could have gone completely bonkers trying to do so. It gave them a change to their lockdown lives, which was much needed I can tell you! 

The lockdown also gave us the opportunity to redisplay a few items in cases and completely overhaul our displays of flint tools and Bronze and Iron age metalwork. They’ve moved to a better location and been displayed in a far more accessible way. You should come and have a look now we’re open again. 

Museums are meant to be busy hubs of exploration and I can assure you that behind the scenes we’re always just as busy. Organisations and institutions like museums and galleries are multi-faceted things that take a lot of people and time to run smoothly; objects don’t display themselves, cake doesn’t appear by magic (although it often seems that way in our staff kitchen) and phones aren’t answered by autonomous robots! You may not have been able to come and see our marvellous collection as often as you’d have liked, but everyone has worked tirelessly to move as much of our operation online so you can continue to enjoy what Poole Museum has to offer. 

It’s been a strange first year for me as Collections Officer but, despite the challenges, it’s been an enjoyable one and I hope you have found these ramblings interesting and inciteful… We’ve looked at pests and pipes, bottles and buttons, exploration into the unknown and the horrors of a spooky 50’s kitchen.  

I’ll leave you with good wishes and cheer for Christmas and New Year. See you all next time. 

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