How many museum professionals does it take to move a toaster?


Design, Architecture and Digital
December 20, 2019

The decant of the 20th and the 21st galleries is winding down, and we are on track to have all the objects out of the space before the new year. For the last month, Technical Services, Conservators, and Curators have been working closely together to carefully consider and carry out the moving, packing, and storing of each object. However, some objects pose more complex challenges than others.

The Toaster Project, by designer Thomas Thwaites, is one such object. The project is an exploration of mass manufacture whereby Thwaites attempted to construct a toaster from scratch, basing his design on a £3.94 toaster purchased from Argos. (More information about the project can be found on Thwaites’s website).

The Toaster Project on display in Gallery 76, being assessed by Nigel from Furniture conservation

In order to make the toaster Thwaites extracted and smelted raw materials and when the V&A acquired The Toaster Project we didn’t just acquire the finished toaster, but also the material experimentations and tools used in the process of making it. This included stained metal buckets, a worn stovetop, and a ceramic chimney pipe cracked from heat from the processes of smelting. When taking the object off display we therefore needed to involve a large team of specialists including: Furniture conservation, Metalwork conservation, Ceramics Conservation, Science Conservation, Health and Safety, Technicians and Thwaites himself.

The team discussed how best to remove any recent dust, while preserving the condition in which it had entered the collection and some intriguing questions arose such as ‘was the leaf that had always sat on the stovetop part of the object’? We consulted Thwaites and decided that this too evidences the process of making, which was often outdoors.

Sophie from Ceramics Conservation and Steve from Technical Services discuss moving the clay chimney

The final challenge was an unusual one. The artwork includes three jars filled with various concentrations of copper sulphate solution. The first step was identifying the risks that moving and storing the liquid posed and working through our health and safety procedure to explore the best ways to reduce these. The liquid is an irritant to skin, toxic to aquatic life, and can be lethal if ingested, but if handled sensibly it poses few risks to our staff or to the other objects stored in the same space. The biggest concern was leaking, so we packed the jars inside an air-tight storage crate, for an additional layer of protection.

The jars filled with copper sulphate solution
The jars packed in an airtight container, with hazard symbols

Part of The Toaster Project will go on display in the new Design: 1900 to Now galleries, which open in Summer 2020. We are looking forward to the next stages of the project in the new year, when we will have contractors completing work in the space. Stay tuned for more project updates.

The toaster in Furniture Conservation, awaiting treatment
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