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The workshop PHYSICAL ENCOUNTERS: WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT DAMAGE AND LOSS? took place on Thursday 30 April 2009 and was led by the research cluster Co-Investigator Jonathan Ashley-Smith

The workshop abstracts are reproduced below. See also the workshop report by Jonathan Ashley-Smith. 

(PDF of Programme)


(PDF of Abstracts)

Helen Lloyd

Helen Lloyd, The National Trust

Physical damage

Conservation enables public access, but people can cause catastrophic and cumulative damage to historic buildings and their collections. Visitors wear dirty/abrasive shoes, have sticky fingers, and generate dust; they need light to see and heat for comfort. Overcrowding exacerbates wear-and-tear, causing vibration and displacement of collections and historic structures. Frequent cleaning to uphold presentation and conservation standards abrades materials weakened by historic use, light exposure and wrong RH. Achieving a sustainable balance between access and conservation demands effective prevention and protection against physical agents of deterioration; long-term monitoring of change requires simple accurate techniques suitable for widespread use.

Helen Lloyd, ACR FIIC, has been a preventive conservation adviser to the National Trust since 1982, specialising in housekeeping. Her role focuses on training 500 collections care staff, and promoting a sustainable balance between access and conservation.

Jonathan Ashley Smith

Jim Tate, National Museums of Scotland

Yes, damage occurs (presented by Jonathan Ashley-Smith - pictured)

At the opening of the Museum of Scotland in 1998 it was clear that ‘open display’ objects were at risk from over-enthusiastic engagement by the public. ‘Please Touch!’ was a simple visitor interactive designed to help explain ­ and understand ­ the damage caused by handling.

The concept was a series of individual materials displayed so that one half could be touched, the other half, initially identical, remaining protected. A counter displayed the cumulative number of touches. The fate of the exposed samples gives a first indication of the rate at which objects become soiled or actually damaged when touched repeatedly. The results indicate the potential for more systematic research. (See Chester, A., and Tate. J. (2000), ‘Please touch! Taking the stick out of fingers...’, SSCR Journal 11/2.)

Jim Tate graduated in physics with a PhD study of lattice dynamics at London University. He worked at Paisley University before joining the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland in 1980. He has been head of the department of conservation and analytical research in the National Museums of Scotland (NMS) since 1986.

Richard Chater

Richard Chater and David McPhail, Imperial College

Damage in detail (presented by Richard Chater)

The instrumental methods of measuring damage to a surface were explored in this talk in the context of what we mean by the surface to be conserved. This talk focused on damage measurement at the finest lateral and depth scales where individual factors such as moisture content can affect surface concentration of impurities, second phase growth leading to colour and topography changes. The examples of damage measurement in detail that we have conducted in our laboratory with optical interference microscopes, AFM, SEM and SIMS give an indication of the resolution and sensitivity that can be achieved as a function of the damage imparted.

Richard Chater and David McPhail run the Surface Analysis Lab in the Materials Department at Imperial College. This is one of three departmental facilities, the others being Electron Microscopy and X-Ray. The equipment includes an optical interferometer, an AFM, and three SIMS machines including a Focused Ion Beam SIMS instrument. They have run many projects in collaboration with local museums. Projects have included studies into: vessel glass corrosion processes (V&A and RCA); laser cleaning (V&A, RCA, Tate and City and Guilds Art School); bidri (V&A); and armour (the Royal Armory and the V&A museum). They are keen to develop new collaborations

Matija Strlic

Matija Strlic, UCL Centre for Sustainable Heritage

Chemical damage

Following a number of international research initiatives, our understanding of historic paper has increased considerably in recent years. The nature of damage can be chemical or mechanical/structural. The former does lead to the latter, but when structural damage occurs, it is often already too expensive to intervene. However, chemical damage, while often invisible, can be measured and modelled and a number of tools have been developed recently enabling us to diagnose and thus prioritise, not only single objects, but also whole collections.

Matija Strlic is Senior Lecturer at UCL Centre for Sustainable Heritage where he manages research. His background is in materials research and analytical chemistry, and he is particularly interested in the interface between heritage objects and the environment. He has coordinated several international projects, and coordinated the 8th European Conference on Research for Protection, Conservation and Enhancement of Cultural Heritage, in 2008. He has authored more than 60 scientific papers and co-edited three books.

Stuart Robson

Stuart Robson, University College London

Damage recorded

This presentation will illustrate the capabilities of laser scanning and imaging techniques to record change in objects at building to table top scales. Examples will be drawn from engineering, where quantitative evaluation of change is an established practice, and heritage, where evaluation is no less demanding, but typically more qualitative. Suggestions as to where future improvements in both technology and best practice can be made will be considered.

Stuart Robson is Professor of Photogrammetry and Laser Scanning in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering at UCL. His research focus is in traceable on-line dynamic 3D co-ordination and monitoring of engineering, medical and cultural objects and structures. His experiences extend to the application of photogrammetric image networks and sequences, vision metrology and laser scanning to a diverse range of domains including: the deformation of space structures; aircraft wing manufacture; underwater measurement of fish biomass; monitoring bats in flight; measuring lava flow; the documentation of free form surfaces and; developing digital museum exhibits. One of his current efforts is directed towards improving understanding and appreciation of between the arts and engineering through communication and exchange of best measurement and recording practice for free form objects

Stephen Hackney

Stephen Hackney, Tate

Detecting small changes

Tate was involved with an EU project to develop laser holography methods for the examination of works of art. The intention was to capture interference patterns using three separate techniques in order to identify small changes in a work of art. We were interested in this approach since it might allow us to identify subtle damage to paintings on canvas from normal museum practice and in this way improve our practices. In particular we were interested in identifying damage caused in transit or while objects are on loan. Because we knew that such damage is not normally identified, we would need a very sensitive device. The Multiencode device provides this sensitivity, resolving to wavelength/2 for a green light laser, that is, 250-300 nm. The device is also very sensitive to vibration and other changes in the environment so is better as a research tool used under tightly controlled conditions rather than one which can be used routinely in the museum.

Stephen Hackney is Head of Conservation Science and research at Tate. Formerly a paintings conservator, he has worked at Tate for most of his career, developing procedures and carrying out research into lining, preventive conservation, art transport, museum practice, museum environment, collections care and storage. His work has included practical collections work on British, modern and contemporary art, and interest in restoration, materials and techniques of nineteenth-century paintings.

James Hales

James Hales, UCL Institute of Archaeology

Not seeing the wood for the trees

In this short presentation, I hope to provide some perspective on advances in technology that have the potential to monitor or measure deterioration of materials in minute detail. I would also like to contribute some thoughts on the notion of measuring changes in condition that we, as users or viewers, cannot visually or physically perceive. Some questions that I would like to consider in relation to the above are:

Are we recording objects at increasingly high levels of detail just because we can?; Why are we doing it, and where do we stop?; What is the value and the cost benefit of this kind of very detailed condition record ?; Is this the best way to deploy the technology available?

James Hales has worked at UCL Institute of Archaeology for ten years, and is currently employed as a Teaching Fellow. He is responsible for teaching and coordinating courses for the MA and MSc programmes in Conservation. His specific areas of responsibility are conservation materials science and analysis, preventive conservation and the remedial treatment of cultural heritage material. Over the past two years he has developed an interest in the use of 3D Laser scanning within the heritage sector and its applications for conservation.

Boris Pretzel

Boris Pretzel, Victoria and Albert Museum

Now you see it, now you don't - light damage and mitigation

The last two decades have seen significant developments in the understanding of the effect of variations of temperature and humidity on museum collections. Tightly controlled environmental specifications have been shown to be resource intensive and of limited benefit to the majority of artefacts. The resilience of collections in general to moderate variations particularly in relative humidity together with a realisation that very tight performance specifications are very difficult, if not impossible, to achieve (particularly in old buildings where air conditioning units are retrofitted) has led to a relaxation in climate specifications being accepted in many museums.

The same cannot, however, be said of lighting and light induced damage. There is, however, a noticeable shift in application and expectation. The ‘50 lux’ criterion, suggested, for instance, in Garry Thomson’s ground breaking book The Museum Environment, as the maximum level consistent to the long term preservation of light sensitive material, seems to have changed into an assumption that material illuminated at 50 lux cannot be enjoyed adequately under any circumstances. However, there is little change in our understanding of the basic principles of the interaction of radiation with matter and mechanisms by which this can cause deterioration.

This presentation will look at some of the strategies used at the V&A for dealing with the apparently contradicting desires of minimising light exposure (to minimise damage) whilst maximising brightness (for visual impact and enjoyment). Work on the nature and size of a ‘perceptible change’ (pc) in colour is presented and some installations that combine this quantity with the notion of acceptable rates of change to produce ‘win-win’ lighting solutions are highlighted.

Boris Pretzel graduated from Bristol University with a BSc in Chemical Physics in 1982, followed by an MSc in The Physics of Materials and a term as researcher in Bristol. Subsequently he worked as a Patent Examiner in the European Patent Office in The Hague and Berlin, where his main field of responsibility was in solid-state physics devices, manufacturing and materials. Since 1989 he has been the Materials Scientist in the Victoria and Albert Museum Conservation Department’s Science Section. His responsibilities cover a broad range of strategic heritage science issues relating to the storage, display and preservation of artefacts. Research interests include the interaction of artefacts with environments, lighting, colour perception and measurement, and materials analysis. He is a member of the editorial board for the Journal of Cultural Heritage, European Chair and President of IRUG (the Infrared and Raman Users Group,, and Coordinator of ICOM Preventive Conservation Working Group. He is a chartered scientist (CSci) and a chartered physicist (CPhys).

Helen Evans

Helen Evans, Tate

Damage and value

This presentation examines the importance of damage and discusses how it can drastically alter the meaning of objects. Examples will be given of museum accessioned artefacts with historically important damage. The problems these objects raise in terms of meaning, interpretation and display will be addressed and the differing treatment approaches that the owner institutions have chosen will be examined.

Helen Evans received her PhD in conservation from the Royal College of Art in 2008; her research examined the conservation of war-damaged objects. She has previously worked for the Imperial War Museum, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and The National Archive. She is currently a Paper Conservator at Tate.

Iris Kapelouzou

Iris Kapelouzou, Royal College of Art/Victoria and Albert Museum

Harm without contact

Heritage objects function as manifestations of meaning and carriers of human values, which shape and comprise their identity. Traditionally, conservators have associated effects like harm, damage and loss, with changes occurring to the material of heritage objects – conservation interventions included – thus affecting the immaterial. Conservation decision-making usually precedes contact with the object. The present paper will provide examples of harm directly to the immaterial, i.e. harm not only prior to contact but also without contact.

Iris Kapelouzou is currently conducting research for her PhD at the Royal College of Art, in the field of modern art conservation theory and ethics. She has trained both as a conservator and an art historian in Greece and holds an MA from University College London in modern art theory.


Page last modified on 19 jan 10 07:55