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30 Apr 2018

Conservation in Action: working in full sight

Written by Sarah Heaton - Project Reveal Team Manager West
The Project Reveal East Team working in the kitchen of the Georgian House.
The Project Reveal East Team working in the kitchen of the Georgian House.
A key component of Project Reveal is that we work all year round in the Trust’s places. Find out about the benefits and challenges of this working practice.

After a long, cold and snowy winter, the Trust has finally pulled the covers off the collections, opened the shutters and unlocked the front doors to welcome another season of visitors to our places. However, over these winter months Project Reveal has continued to work, often laden with torches and wrapped up in many layers of clothing, to complete the inventory and photography of the Trust’s collections.

East Team working at Newhailes over the winter.
East Team working at Newhailes over the winter.

Unlike many museums and heritage sites that exhibit only a small percentage of their collections, most of the objects held by the National Trust for Scotland are on open display, meaning that much of Project Reveal’s work is done in front of visitors. This forms part of the Trust’s Conservation in Action approach, which aims to demystify what we do behind the scenes and to engage the public with the more hands-on ways in which we look after our heritage.

North West Team working at Brodie Castle.
North West Team working at Brodie Castle.

Working in front of the public is incredibly rewarding for us, and enhances the visitor experience. Some individuals are content to watch what is happening from afar; others are fascinated by the work we are doing and love to get close to the artefacts hidden in drawers and cupboards. Lots of questions are normally asked, including where the Lego figures are hidden around the property (on behalf of the children, of course)!

East Team working at Culross Palace.
East Team working at Culross Palace.

Interacting with visitors gives us a great opportunity to talk about collections care, the fragility of the interiors in the care of the Trust and the reasons why we ask the public not to touch the objects on display. Through Conservation in Action, we can demonstrate the correct ways to handle artefacts, discuss the reasons behind why we use different marking and labelling techniques, and list the positive benefits of Project Reveal. Additionally, it provides staff and volunteers with a greater insight into the Trust’s work, which is then passed on to visitors.

South West Team marking objects at Broughton House.
South West Team marking objects at Broughton House.

One of the challenges of working in full sight is the space available within the building. Each place is different, but included in our planning is how we continue to both engage the public and work in the various areas without too much disruption to the visitor route. When at the Hill House, for example, the team spent the mornings working on the china in the tearoom before moving to another part of the property when the house opened for the day. At other places, such as at Culzean Castle, the team work behind the roped areas and occasionally end up becoming one of the attractions on the guided tours!

South West Team working at Culzean Castle.
South West Team working at Culzean Castle.

Although we would love to work in front of visitors at all our places, we do come with a lot of inventory and photography kit, which takes up a lot of room. Because of this, some of our collections have had to be inventoried during the winter, during closed days or within off-site stores. However, we continue to provide access to these objects through the Project Reveal weekly articles and social media posts.

West Team working at Weaver’s Cottage.
West Team working at Weaver’s Cottage.
North East Team working at Pitmedden Garden with assistance from Ben the cat.
North East Team working at Pitmedden Garden with assistance from Ben the cat.

Now that winter is (hopefully) over, we are very excited to welcome visitors back to Trust places and to discuss what we are currently working on. Look out for the roadside and pop-up banners announcing our presence, and please do come and see us in person!

Project Reveal is a Trust-wide collections digitisation project. It will result in an updated database with high-quality images and unique object numbers for every item in the Trust material culture collections. Six regionally based project teams, supported by experienced project managers, will work across all our properties with collections to complete the inventory in 18 months from July 2017 until December 2018.

Project Reveal pop-up banner.
Look out for one of our pop-up banners!

Project Reveal

Find out more about this Trust-wide collections digitisation project.

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