Change, Conservation and Collections

Hello Museum People! It’s me again, your friendly neighbourhood Collections Officer, inviting you back into the world of pests and paperwork. This blog, unlike the last, will address how the collection is constantly changing and being re-interpreted, keeping myself and the staff at Sandwell Museums Service on our toes.

Re-interpreting what we have

Sandwell Museums Service has a collection of thousands of objects and artefacts from all around the world, collected at different times for different reasons. Due to this, some of the information we have on objects might be out of date, or in some instances just plain wrong. Recently we had a commenter on another site call into question the information provided for one of our artefacts. This one in particular:

unknown artist; Buddhist Deity; Sandwell Museums Service Collection; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/buddhist-deity-268440

Due to the fact neither myself, nor anyone else in the service is an expert on Buddhist deities, we listed this particular artefact as just that; ‘A Buddhist Deity, possibly the Goddess Cundi’. Whilst some research has previously been undertaken to aid in the listing of objects, as I have said before, no one here is an expert we are generalists with a wide range of skills. So when we were contacted by ArtUK (a website that lists all sculpture and oil paintings in public ownership) after someone had mentioned the possibility that our listing wasn’t as accurate as it could be, we paid attention.

The commenter himself had said that whilst the information we had provided was technically correct, he believed that the artefact was more specifically a ‘bodhisattva’. A term which can be difficult for people unfamiliar with Buddhism (including me) to understand, as the interpretation is slightly different depending on which branch of the faith you follow. For example, in Theravada Buddhism an interpretation is that a bodhisattva refers to anyone who has made a resolution to become a Buddha and has also received a prediction from a living Buddha that they will achieve it. Whereas in Mahayana Buddhism an interpretation is; a bodhisattva is a person who is able to reach nirvana, but doesn’t through a desire to help those in need.

Ultimately, the larger, if more vague interpretation we can make is that a Bodhisattva is a ‘Buddha-to-be’, and when researched the imagery surrounding the bodhisattva Cundi and our artefact are almost identical. Therefore, the description now says that our artefact is a bodhisattva, potentially representing the goddess Cundi.

Hopefully this highlights how, despite having an object in the collection for years (this one in particular being acquired in the 19th century), the interpretation and information surrounding them is constantly changing and being updated.

Something new

Our collection is constantly growing to absorb more objects which we here at the Museums service feel will help us tell Sandwell’s story. Recently, we made an acquisition of a Chance Glass Catalogue from 1847, making it the oldest Chance Glass Catalogue that we are currently aware exists!

Here’s a taste of the technicolour wonder that can be found within its pages. Hopefully, one day, we might be able to upload the pictures and allow you fine, upstanding citizens to peruse its pages from the comfort of your own homes.

It was essentially used in the same way we use modern catalogues (do people still use catalogues these days?) Essentially, a purveyor of stained glass would flip through the catalogue to pick the design he wanted in the same way you’d flip through the Argos catalogue looking for a new iron -if that’s still a thing.

Currently, it resides with our esteemed colleague Ian, Sandwell’s very own Archivist, though we hope once the pestilence is out of the way we can use it alongside our current collection of Chance Glass to provide insights into the company and their many amazing products for our visitors.

Making things last

As we all know, all insect life is evil. Especially insect life which tries to eat objects in my collection. If anyone has read my previous blog relating to these devourers of worlds you’ll likely have noticed the rather lengthy section on woodworm. Clearly this offended them as recently I received word that we may have a few monching away at our stocks which used to stand in West Bromwich. Cue me, all panicky, heading to Oak House Museum to assess the damage, at first, it looked pretty bad, however, after further examination, some of the damage appears to have been historical infestations.

Thus began the quest to purge the little blighters from our historic stocks, (although a fresh infestation still hasn’t been 100% confirmed). Becky, the VSO of Oak House and I spent the day basically basting the stocks with conservation-friendly pesticides which will have no effect on the wood, but will make the woodworm very dead.

Oak House

Whilst it remains too early to tell whether the treatment has been effective currently, we are pretty confident. The different parts of the stocks have been sealed in airtight bags which should ensure that the pesticide stays in, and the woodworm will end up deprived of air.

The stocks themselves, once they’ve been given the all-clear will be being displayed in the Oak house barns for visitors to come and see once we are back up and running.

Jack, Collections Officer

Published by Sandwell Museums & Arts

Sandwell Museums & Arts Service is a local authority organisation part of Sandwell Council. We have some fantastic heritage buildings to visit with fascinating stories to tell as well as a lively programme of events, activities and exhibitions each year between April and December.

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