Behind the scenes of the Scottish Design Galleries rotation

Ahead of our Scottish Design Galleries reopening on 1 July, we talk to our Curator Kirsty Hassard and Textile Conservator Elizabeth-Anne Haldane, about what happens behind the scenes on a gallery rotation.

Our Scottish Design Galleries have been undergoing a refresh; some of the objects are returning to their original homes, making room for an array of new pieces to delight and surprise our visitors. Kirsty and Elizabeth-Anne talk us through the hard work involved.

What is a gallery rotation?

Kirsty Hassard: A gallery rotation is when objects are replaced within the gallery due to loan agreements held with various lending institutions. We’ve done a few rotations since the galleries opened in 2018, but this is the first large scale one, and the first time that we’ve needed to close the galleries to carry it out!

Why do we do it?

A lot of the objects in the galleries are light sensitive and can only be on display for certain amounts of time, as agreed with their lenders. Paper and textile objects are particularly relevant to this, which is why they make up the bulk of the current rotations. It’s also a great opportunity for the curators to bring new objects and new stories into the galleries too. Although they’re permanent galleries, there should always be some flexibility with this, and it allows us to explore new ideas.

What are the museum protocols to protect these amazing objects and why?

All the objects in the galleries are displayed under conservation specifications – light levels vary for each object, but we generally operate at 50 lux and under. Temperature and humidity are also really important. Fluctuations in either can be detrimental to the stability of objects, so consistency in both is key.

Which object captivates you the most?

I’m a big fan of the Jacobite garter. I’m really interested in the role of women and political agency in the eighteenth century, and this really speaks to that. Women would use objects like the garter, and other fashionable accessories such as fans to demonstrate their political opinions in a subversive manner.

Jacobite garter, woven silk. Inscribed ‘WHILE WHIGGS AND RUMPS IN HALTERS SWING’. Manchester, circa 1745. Given by Miss Penelope Phillips
A detail from the newly installed Jacobite garter.
A detail from the newly installed Jacobite garter.
  • A Jacobite garter inscribed ‘WHILE WHIGGS AND RUMPS IN HALTERS SWING’.

  • A detail from the newly installed Jacobite garter.

  • A detail from the newly installed Jacobite garter.

Please tell us about your role

Elizabeth-Anne Haldane: I am a textile conservator based at the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington, London. We have a large Conservation Department at the V&A, with conservators covering a wide range of different material specialisms. I worked on the preparation of the textiles and costume for the original installation of the Scottish Design Galleries and came to Dundee to install the objects during the summer of 2018 prior to opening.

What is your role in the rotations?

I prepared the costume and textile objects that are currently being rotated. Now I am in Dundee to help with the deinstallation of the objects coming off display and to install the new objects. I am also acting as courier for all the non- textile loans prepared by my colleagues, including a lot of light sensitive paper-based objects and some new glass acquisitions.

What are the key stages you’ll go through with each object? Is there anything that is particularly challenging in the process?

The rotation objects were identified during the original planning process for the Scottish Design Galleries. They were assessed to determine their condition, if any treatment was required and how they would be mounted for display. The tricky thing with rotations is making sure that the objects will fit in the same space as the original object, several are slightly different sizes!

The interior of the Scottish Design Galleries, showing examples of fashion and objects
The Scottish Design Galleries before the rotations took place.

What is your favourite part of the job?

There are lots of interesting aspects to my job. It’s hard to pick a favourite part, but it is always exciting to see a gallery or exhibition completed, often after many years of work. It was great to be here on the opening weekend for V&A Dundee and see people enjoying their visit.

Is there a particular object you’re excited to see again now you’re back in Dundee? And why?

That’s a difficult question, there’s so many interesting objects to choose from – it’s hard to pick a favourite! I am very fond of the Paisley shawl case. The display looks really simple but it was actually very complex to install and the case itself takes a large team to open and close. The cream shawl is draped over a roller and held in place with strategically placed rare earth magnets disguised with paper coloured to match the shawl… see if you can spot them!

The Scottish Design Galleries reopen on Thursday 1 July - we hope to see you then!