Feather Conservation Workshop, November 2011 – Lucie Graham

Two weeks ago I attended a 2 day workshop on the “Conservation of Feathers” at Norwich Castle Study Centre. I was joined by fellow Natural History Conservation intern Natalie Jones. The course drew a lot of interest so we were assured it will be running again in the New Year. I think the course would be relevant to those in object and textile conservation who may come across feathers in their work.

It is in no doubt that that interest was drawn by course tutor, Allyson Rae – a much admired and renowned name in conservation. As the Head of Organic Artefacts Conservation at the British Museum she became a specialist with feathers. Allyson now works freelance, concentrating on her passion for feathers.

There was two main groups of interest on the course; those of us interested in natural history, and those interested in textiles and objects (mainly ethnographic). A few people had specific projects in mind including stage costume and Hawaiian feather cloaks.

On the first day we were introduced to feather basics – anatomy, physiology, development and identification. The feather identification sheet including real feather examples was my favourite thing from this course – and we got to take them home too! Allyson had lots of feather examples to pass around and annotate the lectures.

Feather Reference Sheet
















We had a look around the natural history bird galleries in the Norwich Castle Museum – definitely worth a look. We also visited the conservation facilities which we would work in the following day.

Norwich Castle Museum Bird Gallery

Over that day we summarised all the relevant topics – types of artefacts, types of damage, agents of deterioration etc. We started to cover the basics of conservation before our practical sessions the next day.

On day 2 we were split into 2 groups for our practical sessions. My group started with solvent cleaning of feathers. For the solvents we tried 90% IMS, although the results were ok I know I would not be allowed to use 90% IMS in any of the institutions’ I have worked under – and I don’t think I would be confident to. We also tried a number of cleaning material cloths including Webril and “Dust Bunny” used dry. I think a number of the natural history people were very impressed with “Dust Bunny” as it had very adequate and non-invasive effect that could easily be applied to taxidermy birds.

Solvent cleaning before

... and after solvent cleaning

Our groups then swapped to the wet cleaning method – immersion in water. I found this to be much more satisfactory (particularly on semi-plumes) than the IMS – but this couldn’t be applied to any natural history object conservation.  Although I am aware that water immersion is used in textile conservation – it would also be frowned upon in the institutions I have worked under.

Water Immersion Cleaning Method

After cleaning by water immersion and drying

The afternoon was spent in our groups again looking at repair techniques.  I have to say that Allyson was so skilled in this area. The work she did was near invisible and she showed us various techniques in a matter of minutes!

Allyson Rae fixing a broken feather

The mended feather shaft

We mended broken shafts by whittling down splints from an undamaged feather and attaching it across the break with Mowilith 50 adhesive. It is very hard work but with her experience and practiced fingers, Allyson showed us she had been able to mend large artefacts with substantial storage damage using this method repeatedly!

A method for straightening out bent feathers

Earlier that day we had learnt a very nifty technique for repairing bent feathers (where the quill was not broken) by just making a local application of moisture at the bend. We dampened absorbent tissue – folded into a compress and strapped around the bend, fastening with a clip or peg. It was amazing to see the results after 30 minutes – the bend was gone and the area of damage couldn’t be identified without a magnifying glass. This was definitely a top tip that I will be using!

... and the results!

So overall I learnt a number of new skills. The only disappointment for me was that Allyson was unable to relate her techniques to taxidermy and bird study skins because it was not her field of experience. I thought the course advertisement had been geared towards natural history specialists but I don’t think that they would earn as much from the course as an objects/textile conservator. None the less, as someone entering conservation it is very useful to me to learn a variety of skills and I am sure I will be able to apply much of what I have learnt to projects in the future.

It has to be said that the surrounding were beautiful and Norwich is a lovely city. Our hosts at Norfolk Museum and Archaeology Service were lovely and it was one of the more laid back and enjoyable courses I have been on.


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Lindsey Gibson – Icon HLF Book and Paper Conservation Intern at The National Archives

My internship at the national archives has so far been interesting and varied and has provided many opportunities for personal and professional development. I received a comprehensive introduction in the first few weeks and spent a short time working with each of the conservators heading up the different projects. This has given me a good overview of the wide ranging role of the collection care department; and its activities opportunity to work with and get to know many of my colleagues in the department in addition to providing a good introduction to the collections.

In the first four months of my internship I have had the opportunity to try out unfamiliar treatments including: removal of pressure sensitive tape using a hot air gun; consolidation of burnt paper within bound volumes; consolidation of cracked and delaminating paint on a photograph, separation of adhered photographs through humidification; and minor repairs to a stitched binding.

Investigating Consolidation of gold leaf on parchment

After helping to carry out an initial condition assessment and produce treatment proposals for a collection of large charters I am to work with 2 other conservators and a technician to carry out conservation treatment on these items in the coming months. Of the 25 items to be treated, the majority are illuminated parchment documents, many comprising iron gall ink, gold leaf and various coloured pigments and wax seals. Treatment will include consolidation of the pigments and gold leaf on 16 of the items, repairs to the parchment supports and rehousing.

Parchment Charter

One of the parchment charters with extensive historic, paper repairs.

Charter Detail

Detail of damage to the illumination on another of the charters.

Parchment ConservationParchment ConservationParchment Conservation

From top: Samples before consolidation; carrying out consolidation with detail below.

Before commencing the project myself and a student intern at TNA are carrying out a small practical study to assess the effectiveness of a selection of adhesives recommended in the conservation literature and by fellow conservators.

We prepared samples using a traditional ground applied to early 19th century parchment onto which gold leaf was then adhered. The pigment to binder ratio and concentration of the gelatine binder employed were those judged to enable the most effective reproduction of the cracking and delamination observed on the illuminated sections on the charters. The initial tests appear to yield positive results and with further testing and possibly accelerated ageing of the samples will hopefully prove useful in informing the decision as to which adhesive and concentration are employed for treatment of the charters.






In June I participated in a disaster salvage training exercise within the collection care department with a focus on handling wet documents, and an interdepartmental disaster salvage training session. The scenario for the exercise was a leak in one of the repositories, working with a team of other staff volunteers I took part in recovering and assessing documents in the repositories.

Disaster Salvage Exercise

Moving and assessing documents in a repository during the disaster salvage exercise.

In the same week as the exercise a genuine minor leak occurred in a repository and alongside several of the TNA conservators I condition checked the documents, a number of which had to be dried out and rehoused. Although an unfortunate incident, this gave me the opportunity to be involved at both ends of the document salvage process.

Leak Damage

Books and unbound documents drying out on racks and in the fume cabinet after a leak in one of the repositories.

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Year 6 interns – new event

Hi Year 6 people, I am going to be sending an email around today – The National Archives have invited you to a day at their amazing huge well-equipped studios at Kew on September 5th; we have to  to year 6 only (including Natalie Lucie Monika and Holly who all started in 2011 though) because of numbers. More anon.


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Am I qualified to offer advice?

Probably not…but here it goes anyway. My name is Kristi Westberg, I am quickly approaching the end of my ICON internship with the Derry & Raphoe Diocesan Library Project in Northern Ireland. With roughly 10 weeks to go I am trying to cram in as much as possible before I am thrust into the real world.

If I could give any advice to the new interns and my fellow interns it would be to take advantage of your title. Intern…while not always the nicest of positions implies that you are still at the lower end of the learning curve, therefore you are obliged to take advantage of and create as many opportunities as possible. If someone out there is planning a visit try your best to go, if a workshop is coming up, beg, borrow or steal (ok, not really steal) to pay for it, and most importantly make sure to take a close look at your personal resume and fill as many holes as humanly possible in this year.

It can be very easy to become bogged down and only work at the bench, but making time for all the other activities will not only introduce you to other interns and conservators but will motivate and inspire you in your own work. That is my one piece of advice, you’re an intern take advantage of it!

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Welcome to the first blog for the ICON interns. I’m Lucie and my internship is in Natural History Conservation. My background is in Human Anatomy and so far I have developed my conservation skills volunteering at the Victoria Museum and Gallery. The museum is part of the University of Liverpool, and I have been fortunate to have the existing zoology collection from the university department to work with.

Hopefully this blog will hear from our current interns who are specialising across a broad subject area, and maybe some of our past interns to see how they got on during and after their internships. As well as learning about each other and networking, we can help others understand what a broad and highly skilled resource we represent as conservation professionals (to be!).

Artist and furniture designer, Nina Saunders has  kindly given me permission to use her piece “Deer Chair with Wheels” from her Katy’s Convoy collection as a subject of discussion for this first blog.

In short I put forward the question “How would you  think this piece would need to be conserved in the future?”


Although this is an art installation, this subject has elements of taxidermy, furniture, textiles, wood, metal and possible plastics and rubber; so does it fall out of the skill base of any specific conservation professional.

Some parts of the country are lucky enough to still have council funded conservation studios covering a large spectrum of conservation specialities. In most cases it seems appropriate that a group of colleagues should work on a piece together to provide the necessary knowledge. But where this can’t be done under one roof is there another or better solution?

It would be interesting to know from your various backgrounds and specialities whether you think one particular speciality could solve most or all conservation issues that might crop up on a “multi-media” piece such as this; or is it the interests of the piece/the owner or artist to pay for multiple specialists to do the work (at a likely largely increased cost).

Look forward to some opinions…

Special thanks to Nina Saunders for her permission and also some evocative artwork!

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