Armed with a grant of£5().()00 (courtesy ofthe American J. Paul Getty Trust). the Scottish Museums Council brought in world-travelled conservator and researcher Brian Ramer to make an independent survey ofScotland‘s museum collections. The results oftwo years‘ work were published this year in large official blue format. surely calculated to impress and motivate both funding bodies and museums alike. What the report reveals is simple. Scotland‘s non-national museums are not taking enough care of the objects in their charge.

This was not a revelation. The SMC and others in the museum service were already aware ofgreat gaps in museum conservation around the country. Crusading the cause for conservation. Gillian Tate. head conservator at SMC at the time the report was published. is naturally reluctant to point to individuals but is concerned about prevailing attitudes. ‘People used to and still do see things as not fragile or easily replaceable. But you just can‘t get a snow leopard any more. And geology people think rocks are rocks but fossils are particularly susceptible to fluctuations in humidity. Even light can affect them. Geology as a science was founded in Scotland and therc‘are unique specimens in some collections which are in a really bad state.‘

It appears then that from the evidence gathered in the 168 detailed surveys carried out. items of irreplaceable value could be lost and have already been lost without action. Small local museums. industrial museums. privately run museums. community collections and even district council collections are at risk. What action can be taken to prevent further losses?

First of all education. ‘You would be amazed how many floods. burst

pipes and other disasters there are in museums. particularly in those not designed to be museums.‘ says Gillian. Handling of objects too is often negligent. often through ignorance. One example. Gillian wincingly describes. Picking up a valuable item which had been painstakingly restored by conservators. one curator just threw his charge into the back of his car without proper packing or stablising. Unfortunately this kind oftreatment is not uncommon.

But Gillian swears she is unshockable. Her work in America showed her similar states of affairs. But chaos is being restored to order. She picks up on the pun. While Gillian originally trained as a ‘restorer‘ of paintings. she now considers herself a ‘conservator‘.

Surprisingly. the differences are not as subtle as you might imagine. ‘Conservation as a science is very new. What was termed ‘restoration‘ is now called ‘remedial conservation‘ but the more important side of the

field is ‘preventative conservation’. which is the priority of any worker in the field today.

To many. the business of restoration is regarded as a glamorous. sometimes heroic job. Revealing the colourist in Michaelangelo. Saving Venice. In Italy he or she is considered a master. But the preventative conservators are out to put that hero into retirement. Armed with humidifiers and low lighting they create environments in which objects can survive with mimimum damage.

It might seem simple for a museum to invest in a humidifier and good quality display lighting. but coaxing them into that kind of investment is often very difficult. ‘Curators have to persuade local committees that they should spend money on this rather than expanding their collections or displays. And yet the cost of remedial conservation (restoring) is vastly greater than creating those environments.‘

The surprise is that this new way of looking at museum collections has its roots in the empirical knowledge built up in the country houses and collections ofwealthy property owners. One hundred years ago and more. these homes were practising the kind ofconservation which allows us to use and view their belongings today. These homes never allowed light to stream in on the furniture. rooms had a good circulation of fresh air through chimneys. doors and windows. special furniture was little used and whole houses often closed for six months while the family lived in their second home. ‘Our values have changed.‘ says Gillian. ‘We expect to see objects under the kind of bright electric light that did not exist when they were made. We've done a lot more damage in the 20th century than in past centuries.‘

As well a science. conservation is a young and growing business. There are currently no training facilities here. but Gillian Tate sees many opportunities for conservators in Scotland. This week she

announced that she is leaving the Scottish Museums Council and moving to the Scottish Development Agency. Her job there will be to encourage specialists to move to Scotland and establish themselves in freelance positions working for museums. auction houses and private clients. ‘In the current political climate there is more prospect for growth in the private sector ofconservation in Scotland.’

In essence this means that specialists’will work as jobbing conservators rather than look for attachment with government funded bodies like SMC which are finding the funding ofsuch placements increasingly difficult. Gillian Tate sees obvious benefits for both conservator and client alike.

What is ofconcern to her in this scenario. however. is that a professional body for conservators is set up to protect their clients against amateur work. At the moment anyone can call themselves a conservator or restorer. ‘You wouldn‘t go to an unqualified doctor would you?‘ says Gillian.

With less than five geology conservators in Britain. the field does indeed seem wide open. Reflecting what is happening on a global scale in the environment. conservationists and conservators are moving into a position of importance as world resources of energy. space. food and in this case. heritage objects diminish.

Saving is the name ofthe game. From 1920s‘ cigarette packets to the fabulous Faberge egg. the conservator is stretching out the life of the symbols ofcivilisation as we know it. Like the restorer before him. the conservator somehow does after all seem to be taking on a heroic. impossible job.

Not that they would ever admit it. Gillian Tate and her colleagues in Scotland are not keen on discussing the motivation or philosophy behind their skills. It is as ifworking daily with the detail ofsociety right under their noses. the practicalities have wiped away the immense implications ofconservation.

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show room. the buglikc Morris Minor i ubs chassis with the quality I lumber (sold Ill 1935 lor £3S5) w hile the royal train in centre position sports a sleek interior complete with iyory telephone. The old 'shoogly '(ilasgow subway has not been neglected either. ()pencd in lH‘lb. it isnow part of a mock-up street (which could bca bit It\ her) which show s a ( ilasgow of past years.

I PEOPLE'S PALACE ( ilasgow (ircen. 554 “333. Mon-Sat lilam 5pszunZ 5pm. ('al'e. Disabled access by arrangement. lilspeth King the curator runs a liy ing museum lull ol the objects(ilaswegians haye thrown away oycr the years. but haye been reclaimed to tell their story. The trade union movement. wartime ( ilasgow. life with heavy indtistry and cultural actiyities are all displayed here. Ken (‘urrie's mural '30“ Years of Labour History is just one ot the artworkst young contemporary (ilaswcgiansthe People's l’alacc hay e recently


‘l'herc are renoy ations going on at the museum at the moment lot essential repairs.

I PULLOK HOUSE lebll l’ollokshaws Road. l’ollok ( 'ountry Park. MI Ill—'4. .‘ylon Sat lllam 5pm1SunZ 5pm (ate. Disabled

Neighboursol the Burrcll. l’ollok llouse istuckcd into parkland andgardcns w ith comlortablc elegance. An lSth century house l’ollok was upgraded by Sir Robert Rowand Anderson in the early l‘)th century for Sir .lohn Maxwell. Sir .lohn brought his father's collection ol Spanish paintings to l’ollok which includes ( ioy a's [.os Disparates and the gorgeous Lady in I‘urs by lil (irceo. A rich house w ith

w edding-cake plasterwork providing a suitably sophisticated setting.

I PHOVAND'S LORDSHIP .‘~ ( 'astle Street. 553SS1‘). .\lon Sat Illam 5pm.Sun

2 5pm.

'I'hisbuilding sharcsages with(ilasgow

('athedral. theonly twosuryiying medley al buildings in the city. A sparsely furnished but atmospheric little museum withdisplayslrom l5lll| WIS. (‘ontcmporary photography sometimes show u in the upstairs rooms.

I PROVANHALL HOUSE .-\uchinlea l’ark. Auchinlca Road. 7"] I53S. Mon- St lllam 5pm; Sun 3 5pm.

.»\ l-r'th century house w Ith some period displays.

I ROYAL HIGHLAND FUSILIERS REGIMENTAL MUSEUM 5lSSauchiehall Street. 333mm. Mon l‘ianm 4pm. Disabled access.

.‘yledals. uniforms. silver and photographs it you‘re into the army then thismuseum of the Royal Scots l'usiliers and the Highland light Infantry (going back 300 years) will have some interest.

I RUTHERGLEN MUSEUM King Street. Rutherglen (M70837. Mon Sat

ltlam 5pm; Sun 3 5pm.

A high street museum telling the story of

64 The List 24 March—6 April 1989