We had an interesting question on this blog regarding interleaving pages in some of the manuscripts in Handwritten. You can see the full question and our response on the Installing Handwritten post. This made me think about conservation considerations that we take into account when we put together an exhibition.
Many people have asked why light levels in the gallery are low. Light causes irreversible damage, causing colours to fade and change or materials to lose strength and become brittle. We have all seen examples of this at home, if you have left clothes on the washing line for too long and the sun has faded them, or if you have left a plastic kids pool in the sun that has become brittle and cracked.
This week, we have been turning the pages on a number of the manuscripts in Handwritten. This limits the light exposure to pages that we know are sensitive to damage. Each of the music and medieval manuscripts have been page turned, as well as a number of other manuscripts. Come and have a look at the new pages in the exhibition!
Each item in the exhibition sits on its own book or flat support. For single sheets this ensures that the page can’t flop forward or move in a way that might damage it. For books, supports ensure that the spine is supported in a way that won’t cause damage to old and fragile bindings and pages.
The air conditioning in the gallery maintains both temperature and humidity. High temperatures can accelerate chemical reactions which can in turn cause materials to deteriorate more quickly. You may have noticed that the writing on some of the manuscripts in the exhibition is ‘eating’ away at the paper. The iron gall ink, which actually contains iron, is very corrosive and over time becomes acidic, destroying the paper or vellum it is written on. This is the type of reaction that high temperatures can accelerate.
Humidity and moisture fluctuations can cause swelling and subsequent cracking or cockling in material such as paper. You may have seen humidity damage in your home in rooms such as your bathroom or laundry where fluctuating humidity can damage paint or wall paper. Our airconditioning keeps the humidity stable, preventing such damage.
It is because of this type of care that these manuscripts have survived so long and were able to travel to Australia for this exhibition. Enjoy!