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The Polar Museum: news blog

Condition assessing in the Antarctic

Last week, Sophie and I spent a day training a team from the United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust. UKAHT “works to conserve Antarctic buildings and artefacts, and to promote and encourage the public’s interest in its Antarctic heritage“; among other things, the Trust generously supports our Conservator post at the Polar Museum. The work they do is fantastic, so we are always pleased to help them where we can!

(left to right) Adele Jackson, Rachel Morris and Iain Pringle from this year's UKAHT team.

(left to right) Adele Jackson, Rachel Morris and Iain Pringle at SPRI last week.

Port Lockroy was a British Antarctic Survey base until 1962, and was renovated in 1996 to return it as far as possible to its original condition. The base is now maintained by UKAHT as a historic monument under the Antarctic Treaty and receives about 18,000 visitors each year. Each year a team of four people is recruited to live and work in Port Lockroy during the summer season (November to March). The team will be incredibly busy during their time there, maintaining the buildings, monitoring the local gentoo penguin colony, welcoming visitors to the site and museum, and running the gift shop and post office among other things!

This year’s UKAHT team – Rachel, Iain, Laura and Adele – will be also be carrying out a new task: beginning a condition survey of the 2000 objects that are in Bransfield House, the main building on the base. Many of these objects date from the 1950s and are both historically significant and irreplaceable. It’s very important, therefore, to monitor their condition and conservation needs, to ensure that they can be cared for appropriately.

Sophie and I were asked to help design a condition survey that could be taken out to Port Lockroy and carried out by the team this season. It would be impossible to cover all 2000 objects in the four months that they are there, so we selected a sample of 200 objects to begin with. This includes all of the most significant objects, plus a random selection from among the rest – anything from an entire cooking range to a single spoon:

These photographs reproduced by kind permission of the United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust (www.ukaht.org). © UKAHT.

These photographs reproduced by kind permission of the United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust (www.ukaht.org). © UKAHT.

The first batch of survey objects also includes a radio receiver, a fire bucket, books and records from the lounge, clothing, bottles of ink, skis, portraits of the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh, a bar of Lifebuoy soap, a generator…

These photographs reproduced by kind permission of the United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust (www.ukaht.org). © UKAHT.

These photographs reproduced by kind permission of the United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust (www.ukaht.org). © UKAHT.

…8 murals from 1960 of pin-up icons, including (below, left to right) Diana Dors, Jayne Mansfield and Marilyn Monroe…

These photographs reproduced by kind permission of the United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust (www.ukaht.org). © UKAHT.

These photographs reproduced by kind permission of the United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust (www.ukaht.org). © UKAHT.

…and lots of packets and tins from the pantry:

These photographs reproduced by kind permission of the United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust (www.ukaht.org). © UKAHT.

These photographs reproduced by kind permission of the United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust (www.ukaht.org). © UKAHT.

With such a range of materials and objects involved, UKAHT asked the Polar Museum conservators to provide training in how to assess condition and record damage. Three of the Port Lockroy team came to the Polar Museum last week, and spent the day learning how to handle objects:

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and examine them for signs of deterioration:

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After lunch, the team did a practice condition survey with some of the Polar Museum’s objects, so they could get used to filling in the form. Consistency can be difficult with condition surveys, especially where there are several people doing the assessment. Your perception of how serious damage is may be wildly different from your colleague’s – or even from your own results last week (there is lots of evidence to show that judgement is affected by how tired, or hungry, or grumpy you are)! We tried to limit these inconsistencies by providing training in how to rate object stability, and also by giving the team a manual with lots of notes and photographic examples in it. We also tried to make the form quick and easy to fill in; Bransfield House is luxurious by Antarctic standards (between 4°C and 15°C during the Austral summer), but it’s still not much fun trying to write in those temperatures!

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Adele, Iain, Rachel and Laura will be going South on 7 November. You can follow their progress on the Port Lockroy blog. We wish them all the best for their season, and look forward to hearing how they get on with the condition survey!

Christina

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