The Burrell Collection Tapestries Project

Glasgow Museums

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Helen Hughes explains some background to the project…

The photography and condition reports started in 2008 in the photography studio at the Burrell Collection.  In the summer of 2009 photography and textile conservation moved to the Burrell Collection temporary exhibition gallery.  The temporary gallery was needed in order to get the camera far enough away from the larger tapestries to be able to get the whole tapestry in focus.  Five shots are taken of each tapestry plus any requested details.  Shots are taken of the front, back, raking light of the front (where the tapestry is lit from one side which creates shadows where the tapestry is uneven), and ultra violet (UV) of the front and back.  The UV was initially an experiment to find out what it could show.  (For the dye analysis work and for condition reports the UV images are making a big difference in indicating anomalies where in normal light an area appears to be one colour but, where in the UV more than one colour shows up which is consistent with restoration or repair.  The UV images don’t reveal the whole story but, do help in understanding the construction of a tapestry.) 
The tapestries are being photographed hanging.  A large (9m long) manual hoist has been installed in the temporary gallery with the hard side of Velcro® stapled along its length.  Wide cotton webbing with the soft side of Velcro® stitched to it is pinned to the tapestries and that is used to attach them to the hoist.  (Where the tapestries require additional support vertical strips of 10cm wide cotton webbing/tape are pinned to the tapestry.   

Tapestries in storage are stored in two ways – smaller tapestries in drawers and cabinets and larger one s on roller. The smaller were photographed first then tapestries stored on rollers.  The tapestries have been photographed according to the length of the rollers, so have been done by physical size rather than chronologically or by accession number.  The smaller rolled tapestries were photographed first as we all became familiar with the space, equipment and the work required. 

In October 2009 the five largest tapestries, on 5m 65cm long rollers, were brought up from the store.  These are too big to go in the lift and had to come out through the loading bay up the ramp and in through the main entrance to the museum.  The move was accomplished on a Friday before opening and involved all the museum staff in taking them from the store, to the loading bay, wrapping them in bubble wrap because of the rain, loading them into a van to take them up the ramp to the front entrance and then putting each one on to a trolley to take through the museum to the temporary gallery. (See How to move a tapestry in ten easy steps for images.)

 Four of the five have now been photographed; due to their size and the weight of them and their rollers it takes about one week to photograph them.

About 12 of the next largest tapestries still in the store are yet to be done.

Work has also begun on photographing the tapestries on display and this week the large tapestries in the main gallery have been deinstalled.  A team of about 12 people were needed to move the furniture that was on display in the gallery form in front of the tapestries and then the tapestries.  To deinstal the tapestries pullies were attached to the hanging rail and the batten that a tapestry is hung on, the wires that the batten was suspended by detached from the hanging rail then the tapestry lowered using the pullies.  The tapestries taken down included the Triumph of the Virgin 46.117 and the Camel Caravan 46.94.  These have been on display since the Burrell opened in 1983 and are two of the largest in the collection.  Despite much worry the deinstallation went very smoothly and 6 tapestries came down last Monday (25.01.2010)  and are now in the temporary exhibition gallery.

While the preparation of the tapestries for photography is a big task condition reports are also being written on them.  One of the really exciting areas in the condition reports is the construction of the tapestries.  At the start of the process it seemed sensible to think of the tapestries having a simple construction, being woven from one side to the other – it didn’t take long to realize that their construction is not simple.  There are layers of complexity to the tapestries from the skill of the original weaving to create the images to the reweaving and past repairs.  

The work in the temporary gallery is being done with the doors open so that it can be seen by the public.  This is a wonderful chance for us as conservators to get direct contact with the public, some of whom are interested in tapestries, some in the processes, some in the photography and others in something new.


Written by lyndseymcl

February 1, 2010 at 10:13 am

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