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01.08.2017

Tru Vue Blog: Problem solving across disciplines

What do you get if you put a natural science conservator together with a book and paper conservator?

Dr Victoria Purewal ACR, Tru Vue Grant recipient reflects on some really great training, in-depth discussions and a potential solution to conserving bound herbaria.

I was particularly fortunate to be awarded a grant by Tru Vue and Icon to continue my professional development training. As a freelance natural science conservator, I see lots of different problems, but recently I have become very concerned with the conservation of bound herbaria. It is not particularly easy to follow lines of interest or research into new techniques when working for yourself, so this funding provided a rare opportunity to work with Arthur Green a renowned book and paper conservator at his studio in Drayton St. Leonard, Oxford.

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Arthur Green at his fabulous studio ‘Green’s Books’ in Drayton St. Leonard, Oxford. 

My main concerns with bound collections is that they are often treated as paper artefacts. There is of course cellulose present in the composition, but there are many more compounds that are equally important to the plant, botanist and researcher that need preserving other than the basic visible structures. Research shared at a conference on Benchmark Standards on the Preservation of Botanical Collections, 2012 indicated that techniques, materials and adhesives used in paper conservation can be particularly deleterious to plant tissues. I therefore wanted to discuss the options for different methods of attachment and to learn more about the book structure and composition to understand the purpose of the binding with respect to its content. 

I have been an advocate of gelatine for decades as this is the only adhesive I have used on plant material; historic collections of up to 300 years old are faring well when adhered with animal glue. My two training days were on the 16th and 17th of March this year and together with Arthur, we devised different techniques of applying gelatine to varying materials used for anchoring the plants. Two types of conservation grade photogelatine (type A) adhesive were trialled: a 2% w/v solution of warm gelatine, and a 4% w/v gelatine mousse.

I continued the trials at my studio in Cardiff with varying degrees of success. I do now, thanks to Arthur, have the confidence to continue developing the methods to ensure I get the right product for the particular needs of both herbarium and bound collections.

The experience I had working with Arthur was unique and incredibly useful, it was so helpful to collaborate with someone that has such a broad and deep knowledge of his subject and the fact that we both fully understood the problems in hand, meant we worked well together to devise a really ingenious way to tackle them.

Victoria Purewal ACR, worked at the National Museum of Wales for 24 years and recently left to start her own practice. She is an accredited conservator, undertaking work relating to natural science material but mainly botanical collections, specialising in conserving reconstruction of large un-mounted specimens, of note the collection of Alfred Russell Wallace's Palms.

Lead Image:Working on a bound herbarium volume kindly lent for this training by Amgueddfa Cymru-National Museum Wales., Victoria Purewal
Image 1: Arthur Green at his fabulous studio ‘Green’s Books’ in Drayton St. Leonard, Oxford. Victoria Purewal

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