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Cleaning the Surface Dirt of History

August 1, 2011

This is the fourth 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 Leonora Burton from the University of Northumbria.

I was thrilled to secure a place working at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery during the summer break of my easel paintings conservation course at the University of Northumbria. The experience of staying in the lovely city of Edinburgh with the opportunity of meeting and working alongside senior conservators and other conservation students has been a real pleasure.

Cleaning the Ceiling of the Great Hall

The main conservation treatment required on William Hole’s ceiling paintings and murals was primarily surface cleaning. Understanding how a single surface can present an array of differing dirt problems has been a welcome challenge and has required us to examine and adapt how we treat the dirt with a variety of different aqueous cleaning solutions. We discovered that the surface dirt differed in thickness and adhesion across the expanse of the gallery ceiling and removing this build up, deposited over the last century, was particularly satisfying. When you consider how, when and from whom this dirt came it is also quite thought-provoking!

Working on the Freize treatment

I have enjoyed working in situ moving and working around the artwork rather than positioning the artwork to suit my own comfort (we usually work at easels), even if this did mean conquering the dizzying heights of our scaffolding tower! This height did however allow us the privileged opportunity to get up close amongst William Hole’s paintings, gold stars and decorative borders. Exploring how the artist planned and executed his work on such a large scale has been fascinating and the team has discussed this at length together with his materials and methods. Our unique perspective has allowed us to appreciate the huge amount of thought and dedication shown by the artist in realising the scheme.

I have come away from this project more confident at working in situ and I especially enjoyed working as part of a large conservation team. I also feel I have learnt about an artist I previously knew little about and in turn more about Scottish history.

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