(2006) Funded Conservation: AHRC Interwar Suburban Style

A generous grant of £42,000 from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) in 2006 funded an ambitious re-housing and cataloguing program of around 3,000 Silver Studio designs on paper, dating from the 1920s and 1930s.

The inter-war period was an important one in terms of the Silver Studio’s output, and the designs are amongst the most commonly requested items for research. Our intention was to preserve their integrity for the future and to improve access to the collection both physically and via the museum’s online database.

Silver Studio design, 1931, SD7960

Silver Studio design, 1931, SD7960

The conservation issues we faced were a result of the inherent nature of the materials within the Silver Studio collection. Designers working for the Studio often used tracing and copy papers which are susceptible to discoloration and embrittlement over time. They also applied paint layers which over time have been found to crack and peel, and to cause cockling of the primary supports.

The importance of the designs, the integral nature of the materials, and the poor housing conditions dictated that we prioritised this part of the collection in our 2006 forward plan.

We devised two re-housing methods: designs with stable media could generally be housed in melinex sleeves, then placed in appropriately sized archival boxes. Items with less stable media layers (friable, cracked, degraded) could be hinged to thin gauge museum board, with a protective sling window mount, to prevent surface abrasion when placed in piles in archival standard storage boxes. Both of these methods enabled us to store the designs in acid free boxes, and to allow users to handle and view the designs with minimal threat to their stability.

Image of 3 museum volunteers in white coats undertaking conservation of inter-war Silver Studio designs on paper

A Project Manager and four graduate volunteers, supported by the MoDA’s Preventive Conservation Officer, Emma Shaw, successfully completed the conservation and re-housing of 3,140 Silver Studio designs, and the cataloguing of just under 3,000.

This project represented a vast improvement in access and preservation care of one of the most significant parts of our collection. The success of the project was ensured by the enthusiasm and dedication of the volunteers, who gained valuable experience of collections care principles and practice.

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