The processes that follow an acquisition of an object into a museum’s collection are not as straightforward as some may think! All incoming objects need to be numbered, catalogued, researched and then documented and conserved. For one object, such as a broken vase, this may be quite time consuming, but if you think of the Bosdyk Doll’s House with approximately 2000 components…well, need I say anymore?!
This week I sat down with the Museum’s Objects Conservator, Gosia Dudek, to find out exactly what her involvement was in caring for the doll’s house.
Melanie: When did you first start work on the doll’s house?
Gosia: I started in September 2008 and finished in May 2009! But, I was working on other projects as well during that time.
Melanie: What was the aim of your work?
Gosia: To prepare the doll’s house for display and storage. This means recording its condition before and after treatment, which includes written and photographic documentation, and then the actual treatment.
Melanie: Can you describe what you were faced with when you first laid eyes on the doll’s house?
Gosia: It is a very large and detailed doll’s house. It’s over two meters high and has 20 rooms complete with furniture, electrical fittings, clothing, numerous homewares, ornaments as well as ‘people’ and ‘pets’. As you can imagine, the scale of all the pieces are rather small – a lot of them are between 3mm to 10mm in height and width.
Melanie: What was the condition of the doll’s house when it first came to the Museum? Were all the pieces attached?
Gosia: A number of the components were originally attached – some were fixed with screws, some were glued with various types of glue or stuck with double sided foam tape or blu-tack. Since the doll’s house was made over a period of 7 years, the tape, tack and glue dated to different points in time and were beginning to show signs of deterioration, mainly loss of adhesive properties. Also, the front of the doll’s house is open. This allowed dust to accumulate inside the house, especially on all the attached pieces and in hard to reach places – although, it was occasionally cleaned by Christine and Frans Bosdyk.
Melanie: Can you describe the types of things you had to do as a conservator to overcome these problems?
Gosia: My job was to clean the exterior and interior of the house and all its components, remove any deteriorated glue, double-sided foam tape, blu-tack, remove tarnish from silver pieces, repair any damaged parts etc. Then, my aim was to re-attach and secure as many pieces as possible using a variety of materials and techniques. Whenever possible I tried to secure objects by physical means using thread, Mylar (clear polyester film), silicon tubing, polyethylene foam, silk organza and metal wire. When that was not achievable, I had to use several types of acrylic adhesives or starch paste. The choice of adhesive depended on the kind of the materials the little objects were made of and where they were to be attached.
Melanie: Can you give some examples of how you used these materials on the different objects?
Gosia: I used thread for sewing and tying things down – such as the tablecloths to the tables; the bundles of linen and towels to shelves; the baby inside the pram and the mattress to the pram; pillows, mattresses and blankets to the beds; bath mats to basins or bundles of books to shelves. I used polyethylene foam to secure drawers to stop them from falling out of their spaces or to secure wine bottles in the wine racks. I glued things like the ceramic and glass cups and ornaments to the furniture and shelves, and used silicon tubing for securing things like the toothbrushes and spoons in their holders. I made stands out of silicone coated wire to support unsteady figurines.
Melanie: So, what didn’t you secure and why?
Gosia: Out of approximately 2000 pieces in the house, 158 individual pieces and assemblies (such as a table with crockery and cutlery on top) were left un-attached. These objects obstructed access to the back of rooms which need to be kept accessible for future cleaning and maintenance. These objects are currently packed and stored separately.
Melanie: How did you ensure you returned the object(s) to the right place in each room after you finished cleaning them?
Gosia: I worked from detailed photographs showing the original layouts of all 20 rooms and the exterior of the house.
Melanie: It sounds like incredibly painstaking work! How did you physically manage? I imagine you would need a lot of patience, steady hands and extremely good eyesight!
Gosia: I wear glasses normally and then on top of that, for very fine, detailed work, a pair of binoculars as well! I guess that yes, I must be a patient person, but when you are concentrating you’re aware of nothing else! The part that was a bit awkward for me was the height of the dolls house (it is 211cm tall), so I was standing on a ladder to access the rooms at the top and kneeling on the floor for the rooms at the bottom. The rooms in the middle were just right!
Melanie: For the individual cleaning of objects, what did you use?
Gosia: It depended on the material of the object I was cleaning. I brush vacuumed the exterior and all larger objects and the floors inside the house. Sometimes, when brush vacuuming was not sufficient, I also used groom-stick (a quite sticky, rubber-like material). Most of the objects – ceramic, glass, plastic and some painted surfaces – were cleaned using water and cotton wool buds. For metal objects I used mainly petroleum spirits. Removal of old glue deposits often involved the use of other solvents.
Melanie: Working up close and personal for so long with all the objects in each room must have given you the opportunity to pick up on some intimate details many people probably wouldn’t be able to see. What did you find most memorable?
Gosia: There were so many! Firstly, there are grandma’s dentures sitting inside her dresser; miniature books and bibles with the actual text on individual pages printed inside; six tiny biscuits sitting inside a tiny biscuit tin. Also, there are Swarovski miniature crystals and a gramophone that plays music. And, what about all those amazingly small framed photographs of the Bosdyk family hanging on walls and displayed on top of desks and dressers?! I was also quite touched by the handwritten messages on objects by Frans, such as “Hand made by F. Bosdyk inspired by Christine my wife 28-6-2003”. But the thing that impressed me most was the high quality workmanship and dedication of Frans Bosdyk – the desk in the library is the best example.
Melanie: You’ve done an amazing job! When will you have to start cleaning it again?
Gosia: Hopefully not for a long time… After treatment the front of the house was sealed with Mylar and a bespoke Tyvek cover was placed over the whole house to protect it from dust. At the moment the dolls house is kept in the Museum’s storage area, in controlled temperature and humidity conditions, awaiting a dust proof display case.