Since March this year, the RCOG heritage team has been lucky enough to have the voluntary services of Vibe, a student on the postgraduate museum studies course at University College London. She has brought her professional knowledge and enthusiasm to the team (which has sorely felt the need of a professional museum curator), and pointed out ways in which we can easily and with little resources take better care of the unique museum collection which the College has on display and in storage. Below, Vibe describes just one of the projects which she has initiated and is now working on.
At the entrance to the RCOG’s Education Centre, a selection from the RCOG museum collection can be found on display in a permanent exhibition supported by the Heritage and Lottery Fund. The exhibition was designed in 2004 to show how the compelling history of the management of childbirth and women’s health has gathered momentum over the last 500 years. As part of this project, more than a hundred intriguing objects in the exhibition are now being taken out of their drawers and cupboards one by one to be carefully cleaned and replaced into supporting mounts of stable polyethylene foams.
Photos from the exhibition before (left) and after (right) the cleaning and redisplaying.
The foam is cut to support the objects to secure them from bumping into each another when the drawers are opened, nesting the objects securely within the foam. Before the objects are put into their new displays they are being carefully cleaned with nothing else than a small soft haired brush. This is done to remove any damaging dust from the objects while still keeping the objects’ original patina. This process of cleaning museum objects offers a few dilemmas! While trying to remove damaging material such as dust, dirt, adhesive tape, and “Blu-tack”, from an object, it is easy to over-clean the object to an extent that it will lose some of its history. A descriptive label glued to an object in the 1930s may be as invaluable and irreplaceable as any other part of the object. Careful consideration always needs to be taken before removing or interfering with information about an object’s appearance, use or manufacture. I am not planning to make any major physical interventions to the objects in the RCOG collection during this project: improvements of the display conditions in the exhibition should (at least for now) be sufficient to ensure that the objects can be enjoyed by many generations of visitors, members and employers of RCOG to come.
Please contact me via firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to visit the exhibition to have a look at the process of cleaning and redisplaying the objects, taking place most Tuesdays during the summer.
Vibe Nielsen, Museum Student Volunteer