Jennifer's cover image
Jennifer

Jennifer Elton

Year of Award: 2013 Award State: Australian Capital Territory Arts - Visual > General
To investigate the management of house museums and collections - UK
Download

This report will provide a summary of my investigation into the care and management of House Museums and collections. In particular, how these sites balance access with care of the collection and building fabric. House Museums are protected for their heritage significance and the knowledge and stories they can provide. The challenge is to maintain these structures and their contents into the future while providing places of education, leisure and community engagement with limited resources and sometimes conflicting expectations.

My investigation focused on observing elements of management and the strategies employed to care for key House Museums within the United Kingdom. The majority of destinations included in my itinerary are managed under the custodianship of The National Trust for England, Wales and Ireland (The Trust). The Trust owns land, coastline and over 300 historic houses in the United Kingdom, whose purpose began as ‘….promoting the permanent preservation for the benefit of the nation of lands and tenements (including buildings) of beauty or historic interest’. (Lloyd, H. 2010) This long established organization has a range of expertise, training programs and developed strategies to undertake this function.

I undertook my research through detailed observations and meetings with key staff from select House Museums who answered a series of questions. The majority of these studies can be categorized under the term Preventive Conservation, the function of which can be defined simply as ‘slowing down the rate of change’. Preventive conservation has its origins in traditional methods of housekeeping and is the most cost effective and ethical way to manage a collection within a house museum. It involves mitigating risks to collections and can be clearly articulated as the 10 Agents of deterioration. These include: physical forces; thieves and vandals; dissociation (custodial neglect); fire; water; pests; pollutants; light – ultraviolet and infrared; incorrect temperature; incorrect relative humidity. (Waller, R. 1995; Michalski, S.1990)

My questions addressed many of these ‘agents’ and what management strategies, devices, staff and volunteers were involved in their implementation. My investigation has occurred at a time where the Trust is undergoing change: seeking further visitation and income and extending opening days & times; and developing new ways to engage the public in collections of these properties. Preventive conservation has therefore become paramount to ensure the ongoing commitment to the preservation of their cultural assets.

The opportunity to speak with staff and volunteers from all of the cultural institutions was invaluable. While the majority of house museums in the UK vary to those within the Australian context i.e. age, materials, sheer quantity – however, the challenges in caring for and operating the sites as House Museums were very similar. Rachel Griffin, from Tenement House, & Leon Sloman from Mr Straw’s House were particularly helpful in their insight into the operational and conservation elements for more domestic house museums – these sites and consequent information were invaluable for comparative studies in Canberra. Ruth Moppett was generous in her time, calling on her experience from the inception of Tyntesfield as a House Museum, providing insight into so many areas: historic floor protection, replica carpets, storage facilities and prioritization of items; volunteers within collection management and in the display of conservation projects and much more.

Related fellows
Timothy Bignell, Timothy
Arts - Visual > General
2013
Geoffrey Dobson, Geoffrey
Arts - Visual > General
2013
Brian Maxwell, Brian
Arts - Visual > General
2013
Efterpi Soropos, Efterpi
Arts - Visual > General
2013
Jennifer Turpin, Jennifer
Arts - Visual > General
2012
Jane O'Hara, Jane
Arts - Visual > General
2012
Kaz (Karen) Paton, Kaz (Karen)
Arts - Visual > General
2012
John Dahlsen, John
Arts - Visual > General
2014
Gabrielle Mordy, Gabrielle
Arts - Visual > General
2014
Robert Zilli, Robert
Arts - Visual > General
2015