Monthly Archives: August 2010

Painting Conservation, Part 3

Test clean on left hand side of 'Boats on the Shore'.

A shorter progress update this week as I am not solely working on ‘Boats on the Shore’… 

I removed the picture from its frame and turned my attention to the paint layer.

I carried out a surface test clean in the sky using a moistened cottonwool swabstick, near the edge of the picture. It is always advisable to commence tests in the most unobtrusive area. In this case the test revealed that there is a significant layer of surface dirt obscuring the colours of the paint. I will do further test cleans on other areas and see how the different pigments react.


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Jack’s August blog . . .

The Big TreeTop installation for families is almost over and last week I gathered our team of facilitators around some cake to reflect on strengths and weaknesses.   One area where I feel we’ve learned a little more is in the nature of ‘Family Learning’ which for us means activities which engage the adults alongside the children. 

So in our gallery installation, adults and children playing together = good; adults as spectators = bad. 

One influence on this is seating which we place in a way that encourages participation with the children.  Last year the main seating was a giant tree-root (with a tunnel underneath) – and although it kept adults in the centre of the installation, their position meant they were looking out, rather than into the space.   This year we have some rather funky low cane seats that can be used anywhere in the space.  

We try to alter the gallery each day, so our regular visitors have a change in colours, layout and materials – and every morning the seats will be clustered around activities such as dressing up, sorting or soft toys.   But so often they are quickly moved to the walls where adults can be spectators (bad!)

Or so I thought . . .  I’ve talked to so many parents recently who have said that just having 30 minutes without having to answer endless questions is a blessed respite.  How can that be wrong?  

‘Family learning’ and ‘respite for worn-out parents’ seem to be mutually contradictory, but most of what we see in the space is so positive and there doesn’t seem to be a problem.   So far I am not sure how this spectrum of engagement amongst adults should influence our planning for next year  – I think like a lot of aspects of In the Big TreeTop, we can try to send subtle signals about how to get the best out of the space, but we won’t impose rules.    Thankfully we have plenty of time work that one out for 2011.


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Well Hello…

… wow

It’s been a time since I have been meaning to introduce myself and share a little insight into the work that my team and I deliver but I’d fallen into that age old password and username trap.

With so many websites, platforms, applications, personal security and work vs personal things to remember I had failed at the first hurdle of misplacing the password and username amongst the droves that I’d set up – a personal bug bear I have yet to fully bring under control in my life.  Life has become so much more challenging and demanding with regards to technological input for a person of my age.

Screenshot from the zx81

I’m no technophobe, are computer and social networking literate, pretty much see myself as an early adopter, but still can’t get away from the fact that my introduction to computers was a primary school teacher with a ZX81 who had built a carry box for it the size of a table football to grandly unveil its prowess in making a stick man do star jumps. I guess I will always have a little bit of that ZX 81 ingrained on my frontal lobes slowing me down…

Anyway here I am. Hello.

I work heading up our talented, hardworking, dedicated, dashingly good-looking (and adequately modest) marketing and communications team.

Our mission in short is to spread the word. The word in this case being the groundbreaking, inspiring, emotionally stimulating, educational brilliance of  both the work our experienced teams deliver on an hourly basis and the well-developed quality of our public offer.

As a trust we aim to ‘Bring History and the Arts to Life’, and as part of a small communications team our simple goal is to ensure that all of this work does not go unnoticed. Sounds relatively simple and generally it is. But not always.

Over the coming weeks and months I aim to share with you things that we have dealt with retrospectively, things we are currently working on and some challenges we are struggling to meet. Along the way I’m sure we might learn something from suggestions you may contribute and I hope you may learn more about the breadth and depth of our organisation’s work.

I’ll be joined in this outpouring of all things marketing by a cast of brilliant characters who will unveil their unique superhero abilities in marketing for all to see … but for now … I’ll say a brief thank you to my brain for finally remembering my password and username … back soon!

Jamie Perry, Head of Marketing and Communications

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Painting Conservation, Part 2

This week, after taking a number of photographs, I am writing up my condition report on ‘Boats on the Shore’. The report includes detailed descriptions of both back and front of the picture. 

The reverse of the frame has this handwritten label – signed and inscribed in ink: 

No 8 Sketch FW Jackson Middleton Junct. Nr Oldham. 

Detail of handwritten label


The painting is also signed in the lower right corner on the front. The report records details of the damages – the length and shape of the tears, any paint loss, the condition of the paint, the canvas and the adhesion of the paint to the canvas support. 

The picture is attached to a wooden stretcher and has eight keys (or wedges) which are used to tighten the canvas if necessary. These can become loose and lodge themselves between the back of the canvas and the stretcher bar causing a bulge visible on the front of the picture. The Jackson has all eight wedges in place but there is some debris in the corners, including an old spider’s web. 

As part of the conservation work on the picture the keys will be attached to the stretcher bars to prevent them causing a problem if they become dislodged. 


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Summer has arrived at the Herbert!

Wax and ink painting made during a family activity session

The school holidays are well under way now, which should mean a quieter time for the learning team as we mostly work with schools, but for our family learning officer, Mel, it means all systems go! She has been busy getting everything in place for the ‘Face up to Summer’ activities that are taking place in the museum throughout the holidays, which so far have been going really well and producing some lovely examples of art work by the children (check the pictures out to see some of the results).

I’ve particularly been enjoying the school holiday activities because I’ve been spotting lots of children from schools I visited just before the schools broke up. I went around schools in Coventry delivering assemblies called ‘All about Apes’ to promote the summer temporary exhibition ‘Face to Face’. During the assemblies I kept telling all the pupils that if they spotted me during the summer at the museum they had to come up to me and remind me of what I’d been teaching them that day…… I’ve lost count of how many children have been finding me and telling me the facts about apes that they remember, so I’m very impressed with them all!

Annamation storytelling in the Face to Face exhibition

Last week we had a professional story-teller in from Annamation, who were creating stories in the Face to Face exhibition space with families. It was really fun to watch and very entertaining so we’re looking forward to them returning again next week.

Felt Fridays and object handling in the afternoons has been working really well too. This is something new for this summer; usually we have the drop-in art activities all week, but to offer something a bit more collections centred and focused Mel came up with these ideas. I popped into one of the object handling sessions and the families were asking lots of questions about the objects and the children were spending a lot of time exploring the objects and doing observational drawings of them. The atmosphere was relaxed and calm, which I think was what Mel needed after the running around involved for the drop-in activities all week.

By the time I post my next blog I’ll be well into going around schools for a WW2 assembly, so catch up with me again in a few weeks to read about some of the Coventry citizens who contributed to the war effort, including the story of Noreen Dalglish, an Ambulance driver from Coventry who happens to be the Grandmother of one of the learning officers here at the Herbert. Until then…have a happy summer time!

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Painting Conservation, Part 1

F.W.Jackson: 'Boats on the Shore' Collection, Herbert Art Gallery and Museum

Hello, I’m Jill Irving and my job at The Herbert is Easel Paintings Conservator. 

I love the fact that my work is extremely varied – involving ‘hands on’ practical stuff together with problem-solving. I am involved in condition checking of loans in and out of the gallery and monitoring the environment – light, temperature, humidity, vibration and dust are all potential hazards. The treatments I carry out on the pictures and frames in our collection range from surface cleaning through to varnish removal, stabilisation of loose paint, structural repairs – tears etc – filling and retouching of paint losses. All treatments are fully documented with detailed reports and photographs.  

I am about to start treatment on a picture we’ve had in the collection since 1943 and because it is totally unconserved,  

'Boats on the Shore' F.W.Jackson. Collection Herbert Art Gallery and Museum. Pre-conservation – detail of damage

I thought it might be the perfect candidate for a blog! The  canvas has two tears, the varnish is yellowing and the frame has considerable damage.  

The painting is by F.W. Jackson, (1859-1918) and its title is ‘Boats on the Shore’. Fred Jackson was a founder member of the New English Art Club in 1886. After periods in Oldham, Manchester, Brittany, Wales and Paris, he settled near Whitby. He is notable for being an English artist who worked in the Barbizon manner. Influenced most by Bastien Lepage in France, he in turn influenced a number of the younger Staithes Group of artists. There is a photograph of Jackson painting on the beach at Staithes, or possibly Runswick Bay, with Dame Laura Knight. You can view it here:  

Watch the picture’s progress!   

Jill Irving

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Summer in the city?

Holy Trinity Bell Tower, circa 1960s

Summer can be a quieter time for libraries and archives but we have remained busy. I’m sure this is partly due to the new series of Who Do You Think You Are?

Now in its seventh season the series seems to be as popular as ever bringing visitors into the History Centre for the first time interested in researching their family history. More experienced family historians who have had their family history on the back-burner for a while have also returned.

The History Centre holds many resources to help trace your family tree whether your ancestors were from Coventry or further afield. We have a subscription to the library edition of the family history database Ancestry which holds a wealth of records for Coventry, the UK and rest of the world. Ancestry is free to use on our History Centre PCs – please give us a ring on 024 7683 4060 for more information.

Coventry Family History Week starts on the 16th August. 17 Family History taster sessions have been planned at libraries across the city and at the Register Office. The History Centre will host a Family History taster session on 17th August. The session will run from 10am to 12pm. Please give us a ring on 024 7683 4060 if you would like more information or book a place.

As well as helping visitors with their family history we have experienced a lot of interest in the photographs in our collection. Over 7000 images of Coventry and the local area can be viewed on our website Pictures of Coventry.  

In addition to our own website we regularly use other websites to try and track down photographs of local people and places for enquirers. Here are some of our favourites:

Images of England:

Windows on Warwickshire:

Earlsdon Online:


We have also found the website Geograph really useful when we have been trying to identify photographs to add to our collection:


In the last few weeks we have received some interesting donations: the quantity surveyor’s records for the building of the Council House (1912-22) and an architectural student’s drawings of Holy Trinity bell tower which formerly stood in Priory Row and was demolished in 1967.
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