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Cleaning the Processional Frieze

July 18, 2011

This is the third in a series of guest blogs written by visiting students who are working on the conservation of the decorative scheme created by William Hole. This post was written by Pearl O’Sullivan from the Courtauld Institute of Art.

Faces from the South wall

Cleaning the Processional Frieze - View onto the Scaffolding

Last Monday I began working as a student conservation assistant on the cleaning of wall mural in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. A week (and piles of dirty cotton wool) later, I find myself in the midst of an exciting conservation treatment. This treatment, removing decades of disfiguring dirt, is revealing the paint layers of an early Scottish history as depicted in painted wall murals of artist William Hole.

My work last week was mainly focused on the processional frieze painted on canvas and adhered to the wall in the lower level of the Gallery’s central hall. Sitting atop the central bird cage scaffolding – harnessed-in securely- I began by testing and then cleaning areas of the gold painted stucco. The result was immediately illuminating, revealing a brighter and more reflective surface – warmly lit by the red lights hanging in the central hall.

Working on the south wall of the frieze has brought me face-to-face with many historic figures from Scotland’s historic past. The clean has relieved these figures of a heavy dirt deposit layer, freshening up many of their century-old faces and costumes. The experience has also encouraged me to freshen up on my knowledge of Scottish history – costume, armour and ornament!

Face detail of Boyd

Below the frieze, in the spandrels of the architrave, there are twelve heraldic shields representing different boroughs of Scotland. These are immediately visible to anyone looking up from the ground floor to the frieze and ceiling above. During cleaning, severe levels of dirt were removed from the surface in these areas – exposing glossier surfaces and brightly gilded crests on these proudly positioned symbols of Scottish cities.

Stirling Crest

During my time cleaning the frieze, we were visited by a number of photographers from the national press. I was happy to have my picture taken but was nevertheless, still slightly taken aback to see my own beaming face in the newspaper the following day.

Photograph of the Conservation Team at Work

This week I have moved to cleaning the ceiling paintings of the patterned night sky with gilded stars. It is hotter and grimier working at height on the removal of often severe and uneven surface dirt. Rest assured I’m still smiling (not so widely as to catch drips of ceiling juice!) and am still thoroughly enjoying myself working on this stellar conservation project!

5 Comments leave one →
  1. July 18, 2011 6:04 pm

    Mmmmm ceiling juice my favourite. Good on ya Pearl, give it a lash.

  2. July 19, 2011 10:58 am

    That is NOTHING compared to cleaning Winnipeg… 😉 you are well prepared! haha I agree with Derry about the ceiling juice mmmmm

  3. Pearl permalink
    July 19, 2011 8:05 pm

    Thanks all! FYI Ceiling Juice consists of H20 with .5-2% chelating agent Triammonium Citrate, Rosemary Soap Liniment and Stoddard solvent – and of course that very special ingredient ELBOW GREASE! The ceiling is pretty tough work – although very satisfying when the forms are cleaned and more clearly readable…as they may have originally looked before years of cigarette smoke and Edinburgh fumes! We are also finding evidence of a ‘Celtic’ motif tried out (in plaster) on the upper walls and later rejected in favor of a more ‘Medieval’ type design. Stay tuned for my colleague’s forthcoming blog and images of this….

  4. July 20, 2011 3:07 pm

    Yeah post any more blog stuff on F’book so I get reminded. By the by, the lad with the gold stripey sleeves seems to be checking you out in yon photo…

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