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On Friday Julian Carter, our Natural History conservator, and I travelled to Swansea to retrieve some Blaschka glass models from one of the cases there and replace them with a new display of marine animals and seaweeds you might find living in rocky areas. The Blaschka models had been on display there for several years and we needed some of them for the new Wriggle! exhibition opening at the end of this week (18th June).

The first job was to actually work out how to get into the case itself as it was so long since anyone had opened it no-one was sure how to do so! It was soon worked out though and the models were carefully placed into their protective packaging  for the journey back to Cardiff.  This involved carefully pinning blocks of plastazote and bubble wrap around them in specially created boxes so that they were cushioned against any jolting during transport. They are so intricate when you look at them that it can be quite nerve-wracking when you are not used to handling them, particularly the worms whose long, delicate tentacles look like they might snap off at any moment.  I was however assured that with careful handling most are actually very easy to move. They will be a wonderful addition to Wriggle!

Once they were packed away, it was the turn of the new specimens to be arranged in their place. The specimens were a range of animals that represent rocky habitats both onshore and offshore including crabs, shells, seaweeds, a piece of honeycomb worm reef and even a cup coral, hopefully some species that people will recognize and some they won’t. Some had been specially prepared for use in this display. It’s always interesting putting something like this together, looking through the collections to see what is available and might be suitable and then preparing it for display.

The display did not take long to finish and then we were done and on our way back to Cardiff after a successful day.

For more information about the Blaschka glass models at National Museum Cardiff click here

Why not pop along to the National Waterfront Museum to see the new display.

Dropping a rusty nail into a glass of Coca Cola will clean it in a matter of hours. We have all heard that one. Other drinks manufacturers are available, and alternative liquids will do the same job: lemon juice, vinegar, even salad dressings.

What causes the nail to go rusty in the first place is corrosion. Rust is the product of the corrosion of iron, and I bet my favourite chemistry book that you will have seen rust somewhere. Many other metals can corrode, too: aluminium, zinc, lead, copper etc. Corrosion is electrochemical oxidation; it usually needs water and oxygen to corrode a metal. If you drop a clean nail into a salt solution (electrolyte) it will start rusting within hours – the iron loses electrons and gains oxygen. The acidic liquids in the first paragraph appear to have the opposite effect but, in fact, dissolve the rust rather than convert it back to the base metal.

This blog is turning into a mixture of a cooking recipe and a heavy science article. What on Earth does all this have to do with museum collections? After all, we don’t allow food consumption in our galleries and stores so where does the vinegar come from?

Well, believe it or not we do have vinegar in the air in the museum. You do, too, at home. Along with formic acid, acetic acid (the thing that gives vinegar its zingy taste) can be air borne in indoor environments. Both acids are considered indoor pollutants. Hardly detectable outside, in certain conditions they can accumulate inside buildings – and then cause corrosion. Indoor air pollution has recently been in the press, but we are talking here of risks to museum objects, not health risks to people.

Where do these substances come from? Wood readily off gasses acetic and formic acids. Book cases, furniture, floor boards, the wooden boards your walls are made of – they all emit these substances. Normally, this is not a problem; we all ventilate our houses, and normally we don’t keep objects at home long enough for corrosion to be a problem. Or is it? My mother still polishes her silver regularly and keeps it safe – in a wooden cupboard. Make of that what you want. Perhaps she enjoys polishing.

Your favourite museum has a lot of metal objects in its stores. And we are, of course, in the business of keeping objects safe not just for short periods of time, but for centuries. Over long periods of time we do notice corrosion on metal objects even if they merely sit on a shelf. We could go round cleaning these, like my Mum does, and give them a polish from time to time. Time consuming, I hear you cry. You lose a teeny tiny part of the surface each time you polish it, I hear you scream. And wouldn’t it be better to prevent corrosion in the first place, I hear you shout.

Right you are, I respond. After all, this is Preventive Conservation. We can measure the concentrations of air borne acids with good accuracy. We also know the sources of these acids. So when we detect signs of corrosion all we need to do is some simple investigating and – hey presto – come up with a mitigation plan. In some cases this might mean replacing old, wooden storage furniture. In others, we might have to introduce ventilation to a store to prevent pollutants from accumulating to harmful levels. Either way, the collections will benefit.

At National Museum Cardiff we have done both, and with good success. We have recently refurbished two stores with the sole aim of reducing indoor pollution. This was not cheap, but it is more cost effective than constantly polishing the silver ware - over and over and over again. It is because of these constant collection care improvements that we can say, hand on heart, your heritage is safe in the museum. And why we only eat fish and chips without vinegar in the museum. Only joking – food is still banned. Don’t let me catch you with any chips in the galleries!

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

 

Our new Iron Age farmstead, Bryn Eryr, holds a recent story as well as the fantastic histories connected to it. Over the last few years over 2,000 volunteers have been working quietly at St Fagans Museum building it from the ground up. Our volunteers, with our staff, have debarked the wood for the walls and roof, built the clay walls, grown the spelt for the thatch and have even thatched the roof. It has truly been built from the ground up by the volunteers!

You may think we have finished, but that’s only half the story; since the building has been completed many volunteers have been helping us decorate the inside: our Youth Forum have recently helped us build an Iron Age bread oven, staff from across different departments have helped us build a loom, and over 1,000 visitors have helped us make string out of stinging nettles. Our current project involves volunteers from The Wallich who are helping us to create a garden that will grow vegetables and herbs that we can use in school workshops and events.

Our old Celtic Village was a favourite for many of our visitors and we hope that Bryn Eryr will become a favourite too! So the next time you come and visit the Museum just remember that the history of Bryn Eryr also holds a recent story that involves over 2,000 people donating their time to help tell the history of the Iron Age!

Bryn Eryr wouldn’t be possible without our volunteers and so in the spirit of Volunteers’ Week we wanted to say Diolch - Thank You to all 2,000 of you!

(Bryn Eryr is currently open during weekends and school holidays and for school groups)

Between 20 June and 4 July, our popular Evolution of Wales galleries will be closed while we undertake some essential maintenance work.

For these two weeks, visitors will not be able to access areas showing the introduction, Big Bang, Carboniferous forest, dinosaurs, mammoth or the Ice Age animals. Other galleries remain open during this time, including the Diversity of Life gallery (with lots of birds), the mineral collection and all the natural history galleries with the British woodland scene, basking shark, hump back whale skeleton and our new exhibition Wriggle! The art galleries upstairs are also open, unaffected by the maintenance work.

The work covers improved care of the collections and sustainability of the building, including:

  1. Changing the gallery lighting to LED, to reduce electricity consumption, our carbon footprint and costs. LED lighting gives off less heat than conventional lighting so the air conditioning system will work better - it’s better for the items on display, because keeping a stable temperature helps maintain the condition of the objects. LED lighting also reduces future maintenance costs, and changes to the lighting will make the galleries brighter in some places.
  2. Improvements to the fire alarm system so it's better for the collections, the building, staff and visitors.
  3. Upgrading video screens from CRT to HD LCD with touch button interactive controls. This will improve video content delivery, reduce maintenance costs and provide a contemporary aesthetic to the gallery, making units more streamlined.
  4. While the galleries are closed curators will be able to secure some of the items that have become loose in the cases, thus improving their long-term care. They will also clean the displays thus reducing the risk of potential pest infestations – pest management is vital to the care of museum collections.
  5. Finally, installation of the new life-sized recreation of the new Welsh dinosaur, Dracoraptor hanigani as part of the dinosaur display.

Yr wythnos hon, mae amgueddfeydd ledled y wlad yn dathlu ac yn hyrwyddo cyfraniad arbennig eu gwirfoddolwyr. Yma yn Sain Ffagan, mae ‘cymuned’ o wirfoddolwyr yn chwarae rhan bwysig yng ngweithgarwch yr Amgueddfa. Gallwch weld eu gwaith ar draws y safle – o’r gerddi i’r adeiladau hanesyddol. Canrif yn ôl – yn ystod y Rhyfel Byd Cyntaf – roedd gwirfoddolwyr yn gadael eu hôl ar Sain Ffagan o dan amgylchiadau pur wahanol.

Yn ystod y Rhyfel, sefydlwyd bron i 18,000 o elusennau newydd ym Mhrydain ac fe welwyd ymgyrchu gwirfoddol ar raddfa heb ei debyg o'r blaen. Ynghyd ag Urdd San Ioan, roedd y Groes Goch Brydeinig yn ganolog i'r ymgyrch hon. Yn 1909, daeth y ddwy elusen ynghyd i sefydlu cynllun y Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD), gyda'r bwriad o roi hyfforddiant meddygol i wirfoddolwyr a'u paratoi i wasanaethu gartref a thramor mewn cyfnodau o ryfel. Yn ôl ystadegau'r Groes Goch, erbyn diwedd y Rhyfel Byd Cyntaf roedd 90,000 o bobl wedi cymryd rhan yn y cynllun - yn eu plith Elizabeth Radcliffe o bentref Sain Ffagan.

Yn ferch i ofalwr capel y pentref, roedd Elizabeth a’i theulu yn denantiaid i’r Arglwydd Plymouth o Gastell Sain Ffagan. Ganwyd chwech o blant i William a Catherine Radcliffe – pedwar mab (William, Thomas, Robert a Taliesin) a dwy ferch (Elizabeth a Mary). Cyn y Rhyfel, bu Elizabeth yn gofalu am blant James Howell – un o berchnogion y siop enwog yng Nghaerdydd. Ond erbyn 1916, roedd hi nôl yn Sain Ffagan ac yn gwirfoddoli fel nyrs VAD yn yr ysbyty ategol a agorwyd ar dir y Castell ym Mawrth y flwyddyn honno. Ar y pryd, roedd hi’n ddi-briod ac yn 28 mlwydd oed.

Roedd y rhan fwyaf o nyrsys Ysbyty Sain Ffagan yn wirfoddolwyr lleol – menywod o’r pentref, yn anad dim, a oedd wedi derbyn hyfforddiant sylfaenol gan y Groes Goch. Dim ond 70 o wlâu a dwy ward oedd yn yr ysbyty, felly milwyr ag anafiadau ysgafn oedd yn cael eu trin yno. Roedd gofyn i’r gwirfoddolwyr wisgo iwnifform swyddogol y mudiad, sef ffrog las a ffedog wen gyda chroes goch wedi ei phwytho ar y frest. Mae llyfrau cyfrifon Ystâd Plymouth yn cynnwys sawl cyfaniad ariannol at gostau prynu gwisgoedd i staff yr ysbyty. Mae’n debyg fod siop J. Howell & Co. ymhlith y cyflenwyr.

Yn ffodus iawn, mae gwisg Elizabeth Radcliffe o’r cyfnod hwn wedi goroesi, ynghyd â llun ohoni yn ei lifrai. Rhoddwyd ei ffedog a'i llewys i gasgliad yr Amgueddfa yn 1978, ac yn ddiweddar cawsom ragor o wybodaeth amdani a’i brodyr gan aelodau’r teulu. O’r pedwar brawd aeth i’r ffrynt, dim ond un ohonynt – Taliesin – ddaeth adref i Sain Ffagan yn fyw. Mae enwau William, Thomas a Robert Radcliffe i’w canfod ar gofeb rhyfel y pentref, ynghyd ag Archer Windsor-Clive - mab ieuengaf yr Arglwydd Plymouth - a laddwyd ym Mrwydr Mons. Mae’n amhosibl i ni amgyffred â mawredd y golled i Elizabeth a’i rhieni – un teulu ymysg y miliynau a rwygwyd gan erchyllterau’r Rhyfel Mawr.

Os hoffech ddarganfod mwy am waith y Groes Goch yn ystod y Rhyfel Byd Cyntaf, mae adnoddau gwych ar wefan y mudiad, gan gynnwys rhestr o'r holl ysbytai ymadfer a agorwyd ym Mhrydain. Mae llu o wrthrychau a delweddau perthnasol yn y casgliad yma yn Sain Ffagan hefyd. Ewch draw i'r catalog digidol i ddarganfod mwy.