ERC 2018 Practical session: Packing Museum Objects for Storage
Laura Cronin (Horniman Museum, UK), Vaughan Jones and Tony Cranfield (Crown Fine Art, UK). 
 
When I applied to go to the ERC, I was particularly focused on learning from the various collection moves, and large-scale projects that had the speakers were discussing. A practical session on packing objects seemed a perfect fit.  
 
The first of the practical sessions at the ERC, this new format allowed delegates to hear a lecture on packing followed by some time afterwards for questions and handling of the packing materials which were discussed. The first half of the talk was delivered by Laura who discussed the techniques and materials used at the Horniman Museum as long-term storage solutions. 
 
  • Using low acid boxes, instead of the more expensive acid free boxes, and then utilising acid free tissue as a buffer.
  • Re-using and improving (rather than starting from scratch) less than ideal historic storage solutions, like plastic bags by repacking items in bags in acid free tissue first. 
  • For oversized, or odd shaped objects, customised boxes were made in-house with Correx/Antinox and Sellotape/studs, to enable items to be removed from shelves without handling. For particularly large items, corseting with cotton or Tyvek tape was used to stop the sides sagging.  
  • Crystal boxes were invested in for small items which were regularly used for researchers/learning etc. as these enable the items to be seen without unpacking each time. 
  • Plastazote cut-outs were used to enable small delicate items to be stored securely, especially interesting was the use of β€˜pre-cut’ Plastazote which enabled square/rectangle shapes to be removed easily. Combined with acid free tissue, to fill the spaces, this was quicker and neater way of creating bespoke cut outs for objects. The tissue also enabled items to be lifted out with ease.  
  • Plastazote bases were also made for unbalanced objects, as different thicknesses and layers could be built up around the object. These would then be lined with tissue or Tyvek to further protect the object.
  • For particularly complicated items, like sawfish rostrum, a Plastazote base was used then cotton ties were punched through holes in the Plastazote allowing the items to be securely fitted to it but reducing the need for a complicated cut out pattern.
  • Textiles were folded over layers of acid free tissue and stuffed rolls of tissue were used to prevent creases forming. 
  • Works on paper were rolled in Melanex before being stored in cardboard rolls. This prevented any creases or folds forming and enabled them to be unrolled without handling the paper.
  • Tyvek covers were used on large items that did not need to be boxed. Tyvek was preferred over Polythene as polythene will attract dust, can perish over time and create a build-up of static that could dislodge small or loose particles. Tyvek also provides a more breathable but waterproof layer.
Laura also talked through labelling the objects, ideally attaching identifying paperwork to the objects and not the packing which can break down over time or become easily removed. Particularly delicate or complicated items would have packing instructions on the outside of their box, for most this involved a quick, concise explanation, however in certain instances it was easier to photograph the packing process.
 
  
 
The second half of the session was led by two packers from Crown Fine Art, Vaughan Jones and Tony Cranfield.
 
They discussed the importance of keeping packing methods simple, as the more complicated the packing the method the increased risk to the object as mistakes are easily made. They discussed their preference for Tissue over other barrier methods, such as spider tissue, which can be abrasive and Tyvek; which as a petrol derived product will breakdown to leave an oily residue and has been known to leave an impression on sculptures, especially those with a highly polished surface. Following this discussion, we then broke into smaller groups looking at the different materials discussed.  
 
The group I was in looked at how Crown uses a leather/shoe knife to cut through Plastazote quickly and without creating any messy small particles, so much cleaned than a bread knife I had previously been used to using, this has definitely made my Christmas wish list.

Written by Nikki Foster, Collections Management Assistant, Lakeland Arts