Prima Facie: Care and Preservation of Collections

So far, we’ve talked about ethics, collections and inventories and documentation.

Care and preservation of collections

Deciding priorities and assessing risks; Reducing future loss and damage in 100 years or more; Classifying risks to collections; The Nine Agents of Deterioration; The collection preservation cycle: Step 1: Check the basics – Step 2: Survey the risks – Step 3: Plan improvements to collection risk management; Examples of specific risk assessments and individual solutions; Integrated risk management of pests (IPM); Integrated, sustainable risk management of lighting, pollutants, temperature, and humidity; Museum lighting guidelines; Museum temperature and humidity guidelines; Museum pollutant guidelines; Integrating management of all four agents.

George: This is the chapter I probably have the least to say about. Given that V1 of the museum was pretty rough and ready and lasted for just 10 days, we — I — didn’t think too much about rigorous care of the collection. We had very little control of the environment itself, apart from a key to the door, access to the light switches, and our ability to open the window a crack. The lighting wasn’t focussed in any way, and we turned it off for our Hoa Hakanana’i and Nandi Bull displays so we could project movies into the cramped corner of the room (to great effect!). If anything, the collection is designed to be touched, which creates a wholly different set of questions about care and preservation (and patina), I think.

Designed to be Touched

We had the idea to photograph each object each day because it was obvious they’d probably get a bit grubby over the course of V1, since the objects were out on the museum “surface” and there to be touched. Indeed, some of the displays required that visitors touch the objects, like how lifting Nandi off the museum surface revealed the story we made about contrast between real life and museum life.

I also happen to like the light, janky, slightly cheap-feeling touch of the simplest 3D print format. The objects have no heft, and are all the same colour. To me, this potentially makes them more approachable, and touchable. The fact that they are such obvious facsimiles.

Repairs to Delicate Things

The Tara print was really fragile. She was the smallest, and her lovely hand gestures and her plinth were so delicate that she actually broke under pressure. Tom did a great job of restoring her though. With super glue and a steady hand.

Rainy Afternoons

Just to say that on the day we left Somerset House, there was a gentle rain falling, so as we made our way to the taxi with all the stuff, the top of the box V1 got a tiny bit wet so now you see the echoes of a bit of rain there. The objects themselves would be resilient outside in rain. To a point, at least.

The Nine Ten Agents of Deterioriation

Here is the curious list of these nasty “agents” of deterioration, borrowed from the Historic Royal Palaces conservation team. Curious to play with these.

Preventing harm

As the name suggests, our conservators’ aim is to prevent any harm coming to the palaces’ objects by taking precautions against damage. These are widely known as the ‘agents of decay’ and commonly include:

  • Direct physical forces
  • Theft and vandalism
  • Fire
  • Water
  • Pests
  • Contaminants such as dust
  • Radiation (light)
  • Incorrect temperature
  • Incorrect relative humidity
  • Disassociation

The Cupboard Under the Stairs

Now, the collection of objects and the donation and the bequest are stored in my home. The museum in a box is in a round box I got some Royal Doulton mugs in, and the various displays are rolled up in an extra layer of brown paper. We also wrapped up the various bits of project documentation in an envelope made out of white paper. We thought a bit about what to remove or keep from the various bits of paper. We decided to keep the blue painters’ tape around, and indeed to consider adding the leftover tape to whatever archive we think about keeping, since that was such a key element to the look and feel of the thing. It’s roughly kept, but the house is warm and dry.

I have been taking a couple of the objects more far and wide to continue the conversation about the Museum in a Box project. In particular, Goddess Hathor and the Nandi Bull have been traveling a bit, riding in my backpack. The Goddess now has a grubby nose, and Nandi has passed through airport security more than once.

3D, museuminabox, v1

Printing Our First Bits of History

DSC04500With Museum in a Box, part of our intention is to put the experience of curation, tactile examination and learning through exploration literally into people’s hands – and what form these physical artifacts take is a fairly involved decision and one that we are interested in exploring.

On the other hand, with our upcoming residency at Somerset House in mind, we wanted to go ahead, print a set of objects and explore the possibilities of 1,000 year old artifacts shrunk down to pocket size with modern tech. So we printed our first set of objects, which you can see in the above photo: Scan the World models printed by iMakr’s My Mini Factory.

3D printing a set of museum objects for human interaction comes with a bunch of interesting considerations, informed by a variety of needs and seeing our first set has got me thinking about a few of them…


3D printing is an amazing development in manufacturing but is currently still pretty expensive. Quotes from several printers in London for a set of print ready models (meaning the digital 3D files are in the right format, cleaned up, ready to go) came in at £200 – £300.

The expense, among other things, results from a) 3D print services charging by the hour for use of their printers – the bigger the print, the longer it takes, the more it costs and b) a finer print resolution (say 0.05mm layers) takes longer to layer up than a rough resolution (say .3mm per layer). Here are some pics to illustrate what I’m talking about. Those quotes were for “economy” i.e. lowish resolution prints, by the way.

In the interests of making this a more affordable enterprise, we asked iMakr to fit our prints into a much tighter budget and they succeeded by balancing the two factors above. Which brings us to…


As mentioned above, how much will prints cost is a relevant question, but maybe more importantly we need to figure out what is a good size print for a pair of human hands to touch and manipulate and for human eyes to examine. Printing at life size would defeat the purpose of miniaturizing a museum to fit in a box, printing too small means that things feel less substantial and, even worse, might break in the course of printing or use, like our tiiiiny Bodhisattva Tara:

Tuiny Bodhisattva Tara

While this may at first appear to be a big failure, this is part of the learning process we have undertaken, plus, even before we’ve begun, we have our first 3D print conservation project!

Definition & Accuracy

DSC04493What kind of a 3D print is a good 3D print? Does it need to look and feel 100% historically accurate to be useful?

Consider the print we got of the Rosetta Stone:  As you can see, the print is fairly small, much smaller than the original which stands at 114.4cm / 45in. It’s the right general shape but at this scale it’s impossible to make out the hieroglyphic, demotic and Greek figures carved on the original. Heck it’s completely the wrong colour! Do these things make it less valuable or usable?

As a replica for study it may have it’s shortcomings, but as a key, a talisman to unlocking a world of digital data and a physical artifact around which conversations can take place … it might just do 😉

All in all, I think we’ve made a great first step in our research and  with our lovely prints we can explore the issues detailed above and more.

If you have any ideas, questions or suggestions about the topic of this post or our Museum in a Box – please drop us a line!