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National Museum Cardiff has an enormous number of artefacts displayed for people to see, with an even greater collection held in storage. Stores are customized to prevent any damage to objects. Storage furniture depends on the size and type of objects, and ranges from pallets to open racking and cupboards with doors. The Museum always tries to improve storage facilities, and when a store is refurbished all objects have to be moved.

This is where we encounter problems: how do you move several hundred historic objects, including fragile china, glass and heavy jade, safely without damaging them? Though the greatest of care will be taken, moving objects always carries a risk of damage. An old repair may fail, or a piece may come off a 100-year-old Chinese painted plate after a slight touch. The Museum has many procedures to avoid such damage. Handling guidelines include holding the artefact with both hands, and not picking up vases by the handle, as old repairs often cannot hold the strain. Notes will be taken of any parts that may be lose or detached, so that they can be fixed.

Should ever any damage occur the most important thing to remember is not to panic. The conservation professional would record, with forensic diligence, the smallest detail to enable the object’s repair. Museums, of course, have procedures even for dealing with accidents. There are some famous examples of museum objects breaking, including a visitor falling into three 17th-century Chinese vases. Things may break in your kitchen at home or in a museum. The difference between the two is the way any potential breakage is treated.

By the way, when one of the art stores was refurbished recently at National Museum Cardiff and hundreds of delicate objects had to be moved, not a single one was damaged, thanks to careful handling procedures.

Elizabete Kozlovska

Elizabete is a student at Cardiff University's School of History, Archaeology and Religion and volunteers one day a week with the Preventive Conservation team at National Museum Cardiff.

Find out more about care of collections at Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales here

 

Dr Christian Baars

Senior Preventive Conservator
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