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Sandra Smith
Head of Conservation

Sandra Smith

Sandra Smith, Head of Conservation (click image for larger version)

This edition of the Conservation Journal is largely focussed on the preparation of the V&A's outstanding collections of Islamic art for a touring exhibition and for subsequent redisplay in the Jameel Gallery of Islamic Art which will open in July 2006.

Plans to redevelop the galleries began in earnest after £5.4 million was secured from an external benefactor (Thompson) in Spring 2003. Recognising the international importance of the collection, particularly in the current political climate, the Museum realised that it would not be appropriate to simply close the gallery and put the collections into storage. Instead, it was agreed that many of the star pieces in the collection would become part of an international touring exhibition. This involved conserving, condition checking and packing over 120 objects in just under six months.

The logistics of sending the touring exhibition ('Palace and Mosque') on multi-venue tours is highlighted by articles from Ashbridge and Sofer, members of the Technical Services team. Working alongside conservators and curators, they developed durable and reusable systems to protect the fragile and environmentally sensitive pieces on the tour. The presence of ivory and other materials from endangered species added to the legal complexity of the loan. The need for architectural fragments to be reconstructed and fragile silk carpets and textiles (Hartog & Zagorska-Thomas) to be mounted required the presence of conservators at all installations and deinstallations.

Whilst this touring exhibition was in progress, work commenced on preparing some of the non-touring collections for the new display. The range and diversity of materials has involved the skills of all the conservation studios in its preparation: ceramic tiles from the walls of the tomb of Buyanquli Khan (Jordan & Wood); wooden furniture and architectural pieces such as the Minbar; the Ardabil carpet, which will for the first time be displayed flat on the floor of the gallery; an album page from Persia (Burgio); and exquisite metalwork and glass. The gallery is evocative and atmospheric, with beautiful imagery recreating the magnificence of the Islamic world. It is truly a delight to behold and will be an exciting and invigorating source of inspiration for the visitors.

Also in this edition the conservation of a period room is recorded (Melching). Not, as you may be imagining, some ornate seventeenth century music room with gilded mirrors, but something a little closer to home - a 1920s fitted kitchen complete with ironing board and dish rack! Intended as the star exhibit in the spring exhibition 'Modernism: Designing A New World', it challenged the traditional conservation approach normally taken to decorative finishes in a decorative arts museum. By discovering more about the design concepts behind the kitchen and the materials used in its construction, the article confirms that pest management and preservation has been an ever-present concern in even the most mundane aspects of our lives. Perhaps we should incorporate some of these ideas in museum storage in the future!