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The AMECP project: prevention is better than cure

Agnes Holden
Head of Stained Glass Conservation, Conservation Department

There has always been concern within the Museum about the environmental conditions under which museum objects are displayed. This has become a more complex issue for museum scientists with more ambitious gallery designs and the development of modem materials for use within showcases. Often the case itself is manufactured from materials that have to be assessed for their potential interaction with objects. The information from such an analysis is of limited value if there is no understanding of the chemical nature of the immediate environment into which the objects will be placed.

Due to a series of unconnected events the Stained Glass Section and the Science Section became aware of the work of the Fraunhofer Institut fiir Silicatforschung [FhG (ISC)] in Germany. It is a partly Government funded research institution. There are 35 in total throughout Germany and their aim is to promote the application of new technologies. Each Institute has its own area of specialisation and at Wiirzburg they develop and research into non-metallic inorganic materials. The Stained Glass Section heard of the Institute's development of a particular sensor during an international conference in Chartres, France, 1989. At about the same time the Science Section had also made contact with the Institute and their work through a British Association meeting also in 1989.

The sensor developed by the Fraunhofer Institute was designed specifically to assess the deterioration of medieval stained glass in situ. The sensors were composed of a glass type which represented a spectra of chemical variations. This made it sensitive to different types of glass deterioration. Several large cathedrals throughout Europe are co-operating in a study. One of the unique aspects of the experiment is that the sensors, which are positioned directly on to the glass, are returned after a period of six months to the Institute for analysis. This means that sensors from throughout Europe are analysed in one site with the aim of providing more accurate results.

The Conservation Department were very interested in becoming part of this research and the FhG(ISC) was keen to have a museum as a site for their glass sensors. However, the conditions within a museum for displaying stained glass are stable and any results from the sensors would be unlikely to give any useful information to the museum regarding the long term maintenance of the stained glass collection. Graham Martin from the Science Section recognised the potential of the sensors for assessing a much greater range of environments which would have wider application and benefits for museums.

A meeting of representatives from FhG(ISC) and the V&A was held in September 1991 in Wiirzburg to discuss the possibility of setting up a collaborative study. At the meeting our aims were clarified which were to characterise and quantify the environments of cultural property and also the development of a glass based sensor to facilitate the assessment of these internal environments. We titled the study 'Assessment and Monitoring the Environment of Cultural Property' (AMECP). We agreed to find a third partner preferably in southern Europe as this would give a good spread of results. Portugal was targeted and we were successful in securing the interest of the Museu do Maria da Vitoria in Batalha, Portugal.

The project will involve on-site monitoring of the environments in the three countries England, Germany and Portugal. The technique used to carry out the monitoring will be Gas Chromatography/ Mass Spectrometry GC/MS. The information gained will then be used to produce a glass based sensor which can be employed throughout Europe and internationally to evaluate the environments of cultural property. The project will run for a period of three years and will involve additional staff to carry out the monitoring.

Application for funding of the project was made to the EC under the Research and Development Programme in the Field of the Environment 1990-1994. The FhG (ISC) Institute has undertaken the role of project co-ordinators. They are responsible for the submission of the application on time and are directly answerable to Brussels. There is a great deal of work surrounding applications to the EC. Exact procedures must be followed and the application must be accompanied with a proposal of the project along with letters of support from each participating country.

Our application was submitted to deadline on 31st March 1992. We were informed that our application would have to pass two assessments, one scientific and the other political. In August we were told that we had been successful and have been offered a total of 400,000 ECU (approx £275,000). Although we are in a negotiation period with Brussels this is viewed as a formality and our launch of the scheme is planned for December the 8th in Wiirzburg.

There will be more information in a future Journal on the progress of the project as work gets underway.