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26.10.2016

Fantastic plastics: Icon Tru Vue winner puts grant to good use

Kayleigh Fuller, Staffordshire Hoard Project Conservator, explains how her grant helped supplement the skills at Birmingham Museums Trust

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Earlier this year, I attended the Conservation of Plastics course at West Dean College with the help of a Tru Vue CPD grant. This was to increase my knowledge in a rapidly developing area of conservation and to gain skills in identification and treatment of plastics, so that I could aid the BMT conservation team with long-term collection care aims.

The course was very comprehensive and we started learning about the historical production of plastics, which unsurprisingly can tell you a lot about the object and even indicate what type of plastic it is made of.

We visited a plastic moulding factory, Broanmain Limited in Surrey, where we had the chance to see first-hand how plastics are industrially produced and to ask questions about the decisions made for the choices of plastics being used.

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Industrial injection moulding machines, Broanmain Plastics (Image: Kayleigh Fuller)

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Batch coloured plastics ready to mix in with other plastic pellets, Broanmain Plastics (Image: Kayleigh Fuller)

The next part of the course involved more practical elements in which we had the chance to learn how to identify which type of plastic we had, through various destructive and non-destructive methods. This involved using careful observation skills to identify chemical and physical deterioration signs by sight, smell and basic assay tests.

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Fellow conservator Lizzie Miller trying a flame test on a sample (Image: Kayleigh Fuller)​

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Flame test using copper wire to detect PVC by a green flame (Image: Kayleigh Fuller)

We then moved on to learn about surveying collections and inhibitive techniques to control deterioration of plastics on a large scale. This was followed by a more in-depth discussion of the current methods used for interventive conservation such as cleaning, repair, re-shaping and fill materials. Some more workshop time was given to test out adhesives on various plastics and to discuss some of the case studies the participants had brought along with plastic degradation problems.

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Kayleigh applying adhesive to various plastics (Image: Kayleigh Fuller)

Overall, plastic deterioration can be very rapid once signs of degradation are visible and we are still in the process of developing new interventive techniques to stabilise our objects. We need to control the progression of deterioration with certain plastics through inhibitive conservation techniques. This will ensure that fairly young collections are not lost through unawareness of the risks.

I recommend this course to anyone who wants to update their knowledge in working practice with such collections.

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Plastic products – conservation problems of the future? (Image: Kayleigh Fuller)

Many thanks go to Tru Vue in support of attending this course.

Icon Tru Vue grants, between £300 to £1,000 per applicant, are intended to help mid-career conservators from around the world attend professional development events such as conferences and training courses. Grants can be used for relevant costs such as event tickets, travel and materials.

Keep an eye on our career grants page for details on the next round.


Lead image: Broanmain Plastics; St John's School Leatherhead, Fair Use

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