Blog & Projects
A few month’s ago we had the great pleasure of cleaning two beautifully carved effigies in the chapel at Eton College. Both of the effigies are part alabaster, so we thought we'd take the opportunity to talk a little about how to care for this special stone.
Although alabaster resembles marble in many ways, it is actually much more fragile. (One of the distinguishing characteristics of alabaster is its traslucence.)
The most important vulnerability to be aware of is that alabaster is water-soluble. Steam cleaning (a common method for cleaning marble) would devastate an alabaster statue. So firstly, and most importantly, never use water (or water based solutions) to clean alabaster.
Alabaster is also soft. This softness, along with the stone’s appealing aesthetic properties, have made it attractive to stone carvers for centuries, however it also makes it vulnerable to scratching. Some types of alabaster are so soft they can be scratched with a fingernail. It is therefore very important to never use anything abrasive.
Dusting alabaster regularly is essential to prevent dirt becoming engrained. Dusting should be carried out using a soft brush. (Do not dust with a cloth, as this can push the dirt into the stone.)
More intense cleaning can be carried out using conservation foam erasers and certain solvents. Intense cleaning should only be carried out by conservation trained persons. It is all too easy to cause inadvertent damage, particularly to carved areas.
(All these photos are from our project at Eton College chapel. Some pictures show alabaster and some other types of stone. The large upright statue above is made of marble, hence the steam cleaning!)
As you can see from these photographs Eton College Chapel is a very special place; full of beautiful objects and wonderful history. If you are ever offered the opportunity to visit, don't pass it up!
This stunning historic property, located in Eltham near Greenwich, has a rich and varied history, and English Heritage’s new exhibitions and visitor experiences are set to really bring the site to life.
Last year we were very pleased to assist in preparing part of Leeds Castle’s famous dog collar collection for exhibition. Their collection spans five centuries and contains over 130 dog collars – ranging from the extremely ornate and beautiful, to the down right fearsome. The sixteenth-century German spiked iron collars are truly something to behold!
We were very honoured recently to be asked to clean the statue of Dr Hunter at the Royal College of Surgeons in London. The statue is much loved, being of Dr John Hunter - the famous 18th century scientist and surgeon for whom the Hunterian Museum and the Hunterian Society are named.
If you've ever had building works at your home, then you'll know that builders = dust. Of course, building dust occurs wherever works have been going on, including beautiful and historically significant properties which have been undergoing restoration work.
If you've ever cleaned the top of cupboard, or high bookshelf, you'll know that just because things are high off the ground, doesn't mean they don't get dirty. Anything with a surface horizontal enough to stop a particle of dust or pollution from falling, will, over time, build up a layer of dirt. Decorative plasterwork is a case in point.
Beautiful mouldings in plaster have been used for centuries to decorate the interiors of rooms - particularly on high walls and ceilings - however just like surfaces closer to the ground, plasterwork needs to be cleaned to remain looking its best.
Cleaning chandeliers is one of our very favourite things to do. We do not use sprays - which leave a residue and can be very damaging - but rather each crystal is very gently cleaned by hand. Although it is meticulous and often painstaking work the results are always so lovely and satisfying. A newly cleaned chandelier is not only utterly beautiful itself, but it also completely transforms the look of a whole room.
At Virtu we always clean chandeliers in situ. If a chandelier is not too dirty, then brush vaccing (with a museum brush vac machine) followed by gentle polishing with microfiber gloves is the best and least invasive method of cleaning. Greasy or layered dirt however requires more intense treatments.
We were recently asked to clean a number of lead crystal and blown glass chandeliers which were really quite dirty – a cloudy film of greasy dirt was covering each crystal – so in this case we used de-ionized water mixed with a very small amount of conservation grade detergent to clean off the dirt. Each crystal was cleaned by hand and then polished using microfiber gloves.
Accessing chandeliers can be challenging. For our recent project we used 'Lift Pods'. These handy machines are great because they allow for such easy movement around the chandelier.
Some chandeliers can be turned while cleaning, and others cannot. Knowing whether you can turn your chandelier is VERY IMPORTANT. (There are some very unfortunate stories of chandeliers crashing to the ground after being unwound from their fitting by people replacing light bulbs. Always be extremely careful.)
No matter how smooth it's appearance, the thing about marble is that it is porous. And those tiny holes mean that dirt can easily become embedded in the stone. This causes discoloration overtime – like in the first photo – and cannot be removed with regular dusting.
One of our recent projects was cleaning a collection of 18th & 19th century marble busts; so in this blog we thought we'd explain a little about how we went about it.
There are various ways of cleaning marble. 'Wet' methods include the use of detergents, spirits, poultices and steam, but because the stone is porous these all carry risks and are invasive. The use of liquid Latex is also effective, however it widely considered overly invasive because the results often make the marble look too clean and new. 'Dry' cleaning is the least invasive method – and as you can see above the results can still be quite remarkable.
As the film The Hobbit continues to pack cinemas around the country, and attention is again focused on JRR Tolkien's extraordinary works, it seems like an apt time to revive one of our first blogs; Caring for Rare & Valuable Books.
In our original blog, we talked about a client of ours who wanted his collection of rare books cleaned and protected, and we explained how we went about this.
In an interesting aside, we actually recently cleaned and boxed a few additions to this client's collection, including two letters from Tolkien himself to a "Mr Jackson" regarding a stage production of The Hobbit. How cool is that! Maybe Peter Jackson would be pleased to know that a namesake and fellow "back-room boy of the drama" actually got to correspond with the great man.
Ever wondered just how dirty a London Underground sign becomes after years of hanging on the side of a tunnel? Well let me tell you. Pretty darn dirty.
This original sign (recently purchased by our client at an auction and destined to be displayed outdoors in his garden) arrived looking fairly clean on its front side; but on the reverse– as you can see – there was extremely thick layer of original London Underground grime. (There is grime, and then there is proper Dickensian grime, and this – I can assure you – was proper grime.) Unsurprisingly therefore, our first task in preparing this sign was to clean it thoroughly; and as the sign was enamel, this task was pretty straightforward i.e. mild detergent, warm water and a soft cloth. It took a while – and considerable elbow grease - but it came up a treat!
We have mentioned this subject before on this blog; however as Autumn is now very much upon us - and therefore so is central heating – and knowing the terrible damage which can occur through neglect of this issue, it seems right to revisit it, and impress again on all you owners of antique furniture, the importance of humidity.
This lovely little antique satinwood table used to live in a period property; and did so, very happily, for many years. Last summer the owner moved to a modern house, and by April of this year this is what had happened. Basically, a combination of better building insulation and central heating conspired to parch the wood of moisture, and caused the warping and cracking you can see in these photographs.
Built by the Courtauld family in the 1930s, Eltham Palace is not only an Art Deco architectural masterpiece, but it is built on the grounds of Henry VIII's childhood home, and as such combines original Tudor structures with stunning early 20th century design in a truely dramatic and beautiful mix of the Medieval and Modern.
From the palace's stunning Rolf Engströmer designed entrance hall and Virginia Courtauld's gold plated bathroom, to the restored Tudor banqueting hall and original moat bridge, this extraordinary place is quite truly a 'one off' and a wonderful place to visit and experience.
Just like all homes, historic houses need regular cleaning; and because of the amount of visitors they have (the more foot traffic, the more dirt) keeping interiors and collections clean is a constant concern.
At English Heritage's Down House – Charles Darwin's remarkable Kent home – the challenge is even greater, because not only is it one of the most popular visitor attractions in the South East (i.e. lots of foot traffic), but the Darwins' personal belongings are displayed just as they would have been when the family lived there.
Helping to care for the Werhner Collection (The Magnificent Decorative Art Collection of Julius Werhner - founding member of the De Beers's Diamond Company)
Have you ever taken a tour around Ranger's House in Greenwich? This stunning 18th century Georgian Villa, and magnificent fine art collection - amassed by a founding member of the De Beer's Diamond Company - is one of London's finest collections of European decorative arts, and a hidden jewell of South London.
We were very pleased to recently assist in the conservation cleaning of this collection.
All textiles are susceptible to environmental damage, and wall hangings and tapestries are particularly vulnerable because they are often displayed without protection. Pests, UV light and inappropriate hanging are three of the most important things to watch out for.
Pests are attracted to dust and dirt and will eat natural fibres, so keeping tapestries and wall hangings clean is a priority. The best way to clean textiles is with a museum brush vac (MBV) and textile netting, which allows dust and dirt to be gently sucked away without causing damage. Generally this type of conservation cleaning should be carried out every one to two years, depending on the location of the hanging. (If a hanging is located in a high foot traffic area then it should be cleaned more frequently.) Regularly check all tapestries and wall hangings for any signs of pests, and using a museum trap to monitor insect activity is advisable.
Although tortoiseshell, ivory and many types of bone, are rightly no-longer used in the manufacture of decorative items, for many centuries their beauty and malleability made them highly sought after materials for decorating everything from jewellery to furniture.
Ivory was used to make umbrella handles, piano keys and billiard balls, as well as being carved to make decorative figurines and used as inlays in furniture. Tortoiseshell was popular in the manufacture of hair combs and boxes, but was also more recently used to make guitar picks and glasses frames. Mother of pearl is still used to make jewellery and as an inlay, and some types of bone are still popular in the manufacture of knife handles and other decorative items.
David Lilly is a renowned restorer, designer and manufacturer of stained glass, and the founder of Simply Stained Glass www.simply-stained.co.uk. He is an expert in the care and restoration of both historic and modern stained glass, and in this interview provides some invaluable tips regarding conservation and maintenance, as well as discussing a few of his interesting projects.
Silver is a soft metal; it is easily dented, scratched or damaged. Always take care when handling it.
Touch your silver pieces as little as possible as fingerprints accelerate tarnishing.
All silver exposed to air will tarnish over time. Sulphur compounds - mainly hydrogen sulphide in the atmosphere – react with the metal and cause the surface to darken. Certain substances, however, cause tarnish to develop more quickly; these include wool, newspaper, rubber, paint, velvet, carpet padding and felt.
London Fashion Week is upon us, and over the coming days we will surely be wowed by the cutting-edge clothes on our capital's catwalks. This week is naturally about what's new in fashion; however, vintage clothing is also a passion for many people, and the desirability and collectability of vintage clothes has grown steadily over recent years.
Just like other fragile and delicate objects, clothing will deteriorate if not cared for properly, so below are a few tips on keeping vintage garments in good condition.
Ceramic Art 2012 and The Antique Ceramic and Glass Fair are both taking place at the end of the February. Here are our head conservation housekeeper's top three tips for looking after your decorative ceramics.
Firstly, in terms of display, try to avoid placing ceramics in high foot traffic areas, as this increases the likelihood of breakages. Displaying items behind glass will help keep them clean, and using museum wax to secure the base of a piece will stop it moving or sliding on a shelf.
Last week we were asked to clean a number of lovely Georgian antiques at a beautiful home in the Oxfordshire countryside. Well looked after, the pieces were in fine condition; however years of simple domestic dusting had allowed dirt to build up in the corners, carvings, and grooves of the pieces, and this had started to concern our client.
We were recently asked to have a look at a collection of seven first edition Tolkein books for a client in London. The books were in good condition and were stored adequately well - behind glass and along an internal wall - however the owner was anxious about their exposure to UV light (which passes through ordinary glass) and the possiblity of damage from insects.