Skip to site navigation


The workshop PHYSICAL ENCOUNTERS: INCREASED BENEFIT OR INCREASED RISK? took place on Tuesday 2 June 2009 and was led by the research cluster Co-Investigator Dean Sully

The workshop abstracts are reproduced below. See also the workshop report by Dean Sully. 

(PDF of Programme)


(PDF of Abstracts)

Rosanna Raymond

Rosanna Raymond, Performance Artist

ConVArsation: putting the ‘va’ in conservation

I will bring us into a Polynesian space.. the Va, a space in-between space, an active space, a space that connects peoples with things, and try to show how and why ‘Va’ relationships and other cultural methodologies should be given more consideration when institutions house, present and give access to ‘others’ cultural heritage.

Rosanna Raymond has forged a role for herself over the past 15 years as a producer and commentator on contemporary PI culture, in Aotearoa NZ, the UK and the USA. She works within museums and higher education institutions as an artist, performer, curator, guest speaker and workshop leader.

George Nuku

George Nuku, Artist and Carver.

Negotiating access: Te whare o te toa’- an artist’s response to human remains in museums

Jill Barnard

Jill Barnard, Museum of London

Brand new store, brand new policy

The Museum of London has had a handling collection since it opened in 1976. This comprises approximately 650 objects of which 75% are accessioned. The collection is now moving to a refurbished learning centre and this has provided the opportunity to assess how it is used and stored.

This paper will describe the problems that resulted from the lack of a coordinated policy for the collection. A cross discipline working group was formed to assess the needs and use of the collection and to recommend ways forward. The new storage system, developed in preparation for the move, will be described.

Jill Barnard joined the Archaeological Conservation Department at the Museum of London in 1989. She is the conservation liaison officer for the new Clore Learning Centre. One of her interests is in developing a pragmatic approach to public access to collections and conservation; to the extent of even putting herself on display conserving an archaeological waterfront and amphitheatre drains.

Fleur Shearman

Fleur Shearman, The British Museum.

Public handling desks: a conservation response to the Hands-On scheme at the British Museum.

For some years the Hands-On scheme has enabled visitor handling at the British Museum. The scheme operates on five desks across public galleries and involves scores of objects. I am involved at all stages of the scheme from desk design, object selection and ongoing maintenance, to logging ‘damage events’ and attempting to mitigate future risk to objects. In the past I have been involved in delivering a conservation focus for teaching programmes provided for the volunteers who man the desks. From a conservation focus I will summarise helpful pointers which may enable the effective uptake of such a scheme elsewhere.

Fleur Shearman has worked for the British Museum, Department of Conservation and Scientific Research since 1980. She is an ICON PACR Accreditation committee member; a Steering Group member for the British Museum Hands-On desks scheme; and Co-ordinator of Conservation Aspects of Handling Objects, for the internal British Museum Curatorial Training programme (client group: the technical curatorial grades and others who handle museum objects as part of their job).

Bryn Hyacinth

Bryn Hyacinth and Judy Aitkin, Cuming Museum.

Re-evaluating the use of collections in engaging museum communities

Judy Aitken will talk first about the use of our collection in connection with Southwark local authority priorities and goals for our service, not only the business need to justify our existence to the council by being seen to make use of the collection but in enabling those who ultimately pay for it, Southwark citizens in particular, to have better access to it.

Following on from Judy’s presentation, Bryn Hyacinth will discuss recent projects involving different museum communities, and what the outcomes have been, both beneficial and negative, for the objects, the participants and the museum.

Judy Aitken spent 10 years as a paper conservator and bookbinder before working in museum development. She is currently Heritage Collections and Operations Manager at Southwark Culture, overseeing Cuming Museum, the Local History Library and Archive, Kingswood House, and the Southwark Art Collection.

Bryn Hyacinth is Museum Officer at the Cuming Museum from 1998. Being a small museum the role of Museum Officer is very varied, from running education sessions for local schools and creating temporary exhibitions, to collections care and research.

Graham Were

Graeme Were, UCL Museums and Collections.

Teaching collections: learning through objects

This presentation will look principally at research-led teaching with ethnographic collections at UCL. It will cover aspects of the ways in which students engage with different materialities of the objects and how digital imaging technologies foster new types of material/physical engagements.

Graeme Were is Head of Teaching and Research in UCL Museums and Collections. He has research interests in Material Culture, Ethnographic Collections and Digital Representation, Design and Technology. He teaches on the MA in Material Culture and Museum Studies at UCL.

Dinah Eastop

Dinah Eastop, Textile Conservation Centre, University of Southampton.

Public dematerialised objects: a virtual collection of concealed objects

This presentation introduces the Deliberately Concealed Garments Project, initiated by the author in 1998, to document and preserve items of dress and other objects found concealed within the structure of buildings. Such caches are often attributed a protective function. The DCGP website ( is a means of data dissemination and collection, e.g. finders can complete ‘report a find’ forms on-line. The website includes a ‘virtual collection’ of cache finds. In the case of garments which have been re-concealed or destroyed, their presence on the website provides a form of conservation and access.

Dinah Eastop is Senior Lecturer at the Textile Conservation Centre, University of Southampton. She is Founding Director of the AHRC Research Centre for Textile Conservation and Textile Studies (2002-2007). She works with ICCROM’s Collection Unit, e.g. for the CollAsia2010 programme. She is interested in the dynamic interplay between the material properties and the social attributes of objects and its effects on conservation.

Mark Nesbitt

Mark Nesbitt, Economic Botany Collection, Kew Gardens.

Increasing access - the challenge of a ‘purpose-built’ collections store

The Economic Botany Collection (EBC) ( at Kew Gardens has its origins in the Museum of Economic Botany founded by Sir William Hooker in 1847. The Museum expanded in the 19th century to four large buildings containing plant raw materials and artefacts from around the world, including important craft and ethnographic holdings. The 1960s saw the closure of two buildings and the dispersal of some ethnographic collections; the remaining 80,000 specimens were moved to a newly built store in the 1980s. With limited access to exhibition space, EBC staff have sought to use the store itself as a forum for display and discussion of the collections. In this talk I will discuss the different user groups - the public, researchers, students – and their impact on the condition of specimens in the EBC. I will argue that a collaborative approach with visitors (rather than simply providing a specimen viewing service) can lead to greatly enhanced understanding of the significance and conservation needs of objects. Thus increased access benefits both objects and users.

Mark Nesbitt has been at Kew since 1999, and involved with the Economic Botany Collection since 2004. His research interests include botany and empire in the 19th century, materia medica (especially Cinchona), and plant materials for papermaking and textiles. Prior to joining Kew, Mark worked as an archaeobotanist at Near Eastern excavations, and he maintains an active interest in archaeological evidence of plant use, including the EBC's fine collection of plant remains from ancient Egypt.

Helen Ganiaris

Helen Ganiaris, Museum of London.

The social benefit of physical encounters: local communities, volunteers, employees and collections

Collection care work can offer the opportunity for volunteers to take part in real work, handle real heritage material and contribute to the preservation of collections. Since 2002, there have been three volunteer programmes at the Museum of London’s archaeological archive, supported by the Getty Grant Program, the Heritage Lottery Fund and currently by Renaissance London. As a result over 500 volunteers have participated. This paper will describe these programmes comparing the different approaches used for each. Benefits to the volunteers and to the collections, pitfalls and solutions and comparisons with other Museum of London access programmes will be covered. Some similar initiatives in other museums will also be noted showing the increasing awareness that collection care work can contribute to broadening diversity in museums.

Helen Ganiaris is Conservation Manager of objects at the Museum of London in the Department of Conservation and Collection Care. Her specialism is archaeological conservation. Working at the Museum since 1980. Helen was one of the team that set up the Museum’s London Archaeological Archive and Research Centre (LAARC) in 2002. She has been active in the promotion of conservation and access to collections through exhibitions, events, outreach to community and school groups, and volunteer programmes.

Katy Lithgow

Katy Lithgow, The National Trust.

Moving away from the precautionary response

The National Trust’s key performance indicator this year is for 75% of our visitors to rate their good enjoyment of our properties as ‘very good’. To date, increasing access in our historic houses has been approached principally by increasing the number of hours that they are open. What more is needed to make visitors enjoy their experience?

Even when we acknowledge that such indicators are crucial to ensuring the long term support that enables our conservation work to be funded, can we achieve a ‘win win’ for access and conservation or is there essential conservation that will not be done? Is making visitors feel more comfortable and relaxed in our houses and giving them a more explicit experience compatible with conservation?

An ACR, Katy Lithgow has worked for the National Trust since 1991, and as Head Conservator since 2005. Experienced in preventive conservation, she was also Adviser on Wall Paintings Conservation, in which she trained at the Courtauld Institute, having graduated in History of Art from Cambridge University. Her interests also include conservation principles.

Helen Chatterjee

Helen Chatterjee, UCL Museums and Collections.

Health and well-being: healing through objects

This presentation will discuss the AHRC funded Heritage in Hospitals project which is investigating the therapeutic potential of object handling in hospitals and other healthcare organisations. Preliminary research begun at UCLH has shown that object handling sessions resulted in an increase in patient wellbeing and patient's perception of their health status. Further, that patients felt positive about the role of object handling sessions as a distraction from everyday ward life and sessions have a positive impact on relationships amongst staff and patients. The main objective of the research is to develop an effective and robust protocol for heritage engagement with health.

Helen Chatterjee is a Lecturer in Biology in the School of Medical and Life Sciences at University College London and Deputy Director of UCL Museums & Collections. She recently edited the volume ‘Touch in Museums: Policy and Practice in Object Handling’ and is Principal Investigator on the ‘Heritage in Hospitals’ project.

Andy Calver

Andrew Calver, St Albans Museum Service.

What is so bad about ‘damage’

Things change, sometimes the changes are detrimental and I might refer to them as damage. Somebody else from another perspective may call it something else. Whatever, objects change through time – those changes can be fast or slow and the speed modified by human activity. Objects must have some benefit to society when they are in the human domain – the balance of benefit against damaging change and the timescales involved is what I will be discussing.

Andy Calver started as an ‘apprentice’ conservator at the British Museum in 1980. He studied archaeological conservation at Cardiff and moved to Nottingham Museums. After a stint at the Museum of London as a manager he has returned to practical conservation at St Albans museums to attempt to retain his sanity.


Page last modified on 22 mar 11 19:02