As I have mentioned in an earlier blog, we are in the process of freshening up one of our most popular exhibits, Life on Board, which has been in place since the Vasa Museum opened in 1990. Recently, we removed a number of ceramic wares from their glass cases, allowing us - the latest generation of Vasa employees - to examine them in detail for the first time in at least a decade. On display because they are the best preserved examples of Vasa ceramics, ironically they have been hard to see through the exhibit case glass, so it was a real pleasure to get “up close and personal” with these familiar, yet remote, objects. Clearly my colleagues were also intrigued, as this photo shows.
Siri and Caroline (with similar body language!) discuss some of the intact vessels
It is also gratifying to solve a little piece of a puzzle, however small. Having recently looked though the draws of ceramic sherds in our store rooms, something jogged my memory, and I have now been able to add a missing piece to one of the earthenware bowls (see below!). Although in colour the sherd differs from the rest of the bowl, the broken edges match perfectly, which clearly demonstrates the effects of different burial environments (more or less oxygen, different pH levels, etc), even in the same shipwreck site.
Sadly, although we thoroughly searched among our collections, we could not find the missing triangular piece just below this sherd. But should it show up, it will be possible to dismantle the bowl again using a solvent such as acetone to dissolve the adhesive. This is another conservation lesson, to use a reversible adhesive (i.e. not epoxy!) on historic material.
Finally, one of our treasured items is the blue Westerwald jug, a popular export from northern Germany. This one has a pewter lid attached. Stoneware, from which this is made, is more expensive than earthenware, since more energy is used in the firing process, but is also much more durable. In this case, the clay used was of a high quality.
Most of the ceramics will return to the Life on Board exhibit over the next few weeks, including some of those items (including the Westerwald jug) that were on display in Sweden 1628 exhibit which was recently dismantled. The plan is for exhibit to be ready in time for the museum’s reopening on 1 May. See you there!
February at the Vasa Museum is considered low season, at least in terms of visitor numbers, but for those of us in charge of preservation, this time of year is used to catch up on maintenance. Here you can see Monica and Robert carrying out a thorough vacuum-cleaning of the interior of the ship.
My task at this time of the year is to ensure that all the climate sensors which measure temperature, and more importantly, humidity around the ship are calibrated, so we can rely on their data over the busy summer months. In 2004, the system controlling the climate around the ship underwent a costly but very necessary upgrade. As part of this upgrade, 42 sensors were placed all over the ship, inside and out, to monitor the temperature and humidity of the surrounding air. In order to ensure these high-quality sensors give reliable readings, they must be calibrated regularly. Ideally this should be done in the factory, but removing all 42 sensors and sending them away - in this case to Finland - every year would be impractical and very costly. Instead, we have purchased a portable sensor which is sent each year for factory-calibration. My job is then to place the newly-calibrated portable sensor next to a fixed sensor on the ship, leave it to acclimatize for about an hour, and then return to adjust the fixed sensor digitally to match the portable one.
The portable sensor placed beside the fixed sensor on the ship
The portable sensor controller on the left and the fixed sensor box on the right. There is less than 0.5 % difference between the two relative humidity readings, therefore very little adjustment is required.
Caught by my colleague! Here I am adjusting sensors from the stern (wearing my stylish blue shoe covers!)
It takes me about 2 weeks to adjust all the sensors on the ship. Most of the sensors are easy to access but a few, such as the one placed right out on the beak-head require some crawling, tough knees, and a good head for heights!
Preparing to crawl out on the beak-head.
Generally there has been very little difference in the readings shown by the portable and fixed sensors, as can be seen in one of the photos above, usually no more than 1% in the relative humidity readings (which is within the accuracy of the instrument). Of all the preservation measures we undertake for Vasa, maintaining a stable climate around the ship is one of the most important. It is therefore satisfying to know that we can rely on the sensor readings over the summer months, when the climate plant is working at full capacity.
Happy New Year! A time for new beginnings, for renewal, for bidding farewell to the old, and ushering in the new. 2013 is already looking like yet another busy year for the Vasa Museum with the new entrance and shop set to open in May and a new exhibit in the the pupose-built exhibit hall planned for December. There have already been a few changes taking place inside the museum over the winter months, in anticipation of these events. One of those has been the building of tiered seating at stern of the ship, replacing an earlier exhibit reflecting life in Sweden in 1628. It looks rather empty now as we are in our low season, but - believe me - it will be packed with visitors in the summer months, and will provide much needed extra seating for weary tourists, and a collecting point for large groups on special guided tours. Although there are those who are sorry to see the Sweden 1628 exhibit dismantled, there are plans to incorporate many of Vasa’s objects from Sweden 1628 into another exhibit, Life on Board.
The new tiered seating near the stern of the ship.
Life on Board was one of the first exhibits set up in the museum and has been in place since 1989. It is very popular with staff and visitors alike, but it is starting to look a little jaded these days, mainly as it largely consists of a lattice-work of metal which is a nightmare to keep free of dust. A complete renewal is in the pipeline, but we do not have the time and resources to do a complete overhaul before the new entrance opens in May. Instead we have limited our ambitions to what can be achieved in the next couple of months, concentrating on some changes in layout, texts and choice of objects and materials. One of the first tasks has been to move a case from the middle of the walkway to the side which has improved access for visitors and made our cleaners very happy too!
The case in the foreground has now been moved out of the passage way to the side.
Yesterday, we moved around three other cases showing clothing to make a more logical flow in the exhibit. As most of the objects are flat, I (the conservator) decided that it would be possible to move the cases without having to empty them, as long as we were extremely careful to avoid vibrations when moving them. Even this is a complicated exercise. The cases have to be lifted off the floor evenly, without tilting them, until wheeled trolleys can be inserted underneath them. For once we were glad of the metal lattice, as wood struts could be placed directly through the base of the cases, allowing jacks and lifting pallets to be placed on each side to lift the case.
Micke preparing the case for lifting. This L-shaped case required lifting from three sides at once.
One of the lifting jacks. No room for a pallet lifter here!
Pallet lifters in place. One, two, three......LIFT!
Wheeled trolley inserted underneath the case. Note all the accumulated dust!
All hands, including Agneta, help to move the case.
Then, all hands helped to move the cases, I keeping an eye on the objects (and taking photos) and Agneta, our exhibition designer, giving placement directions. Once she is satisfied (and our school teachers have tested that they can squeeze behind the newly placed cases), we will remove the trolleys and place the cases on the floor again. Then it will be over to our lighting technician, Tore, to adjusting the lighting levels and placement.
24 years of accumulated dust!!!!
One wrench, two technicians and a supervisor. (This case was bolted to the floor!)
I have worked here a good number of years now, but last Wednesday, I found myself in a part of the museum I had never been before. I had been invited by Pernilla, one of our exhibition carpenters, to “come and look at something”. When I showed up in the carpenters’ workshop, she took one look at how I was dressed and suggested that I change into work clothes if I didn’t want to get dirty.
Intrigued, I followed her in a roundabout route, squeezing myself through small gaps behind exhibit cases and up a narrow ladder until I found myself on hands and knees on top of the gun deck copy on the 5th floor - trying to dodge the sprinkler nozzles which were just at head-height. She and her colleagues, Micke and Sara, were busy vacuum cleaning this space, something they do once a year, and eagle-eyed Pernilla had found two dead beetles in the dust (in museums; INSECTS + ORGANIC MATERIAL = BAD).
Is this a creepy crawley? No, it's a happy, if a little cramped, Pernilla!
An even happier Sara arrives to do battle with the dust!
Luckily we found no evidence of live insects and I am fairly confident that this is not a general problem. However, we will leave out some insect traps, just in case. With 1.2 million visitors a year, it is not surprising that a few 6-legged stowaways also make it into the museum. What is impressive is that Pernilla noticed them!
Who ya gonna call? DUST BUSTERS! Sara and Micke lying down on the job!