The Pickling Project, St Albans Museums
This ambitious project involved the conservation of St Albans Museums’ fluid specimen collection, previously in a critical condition. I planned an approach to combine improved care of, and access to, the collection, with the training of volunteers and increased awareness of conservation within the museum service, culminating in an exhibition with associated events and activities. The dedication of the volunteer team was recognised by the Museums + Heritage Awards, being ‘Highly Commended’ in the category of Volunteer Team of the Year 2020.
The first stage was to provide training to volunteers with no prior conservation experience. Topics included: handling and working with historical artefacts (including awareness of the context and integrity of objects); health and safety, and working with hazardous materials; fluid specimen preservation (including the ethics of intervention versus doing nothing); recording and documentation. Over a period of 6 months I managed and supported the team, working intensively with them to conserve 80 specimens.
Beyond preventive and remedial conservation responsibilities I also curated the exhibition, commissioned a film to document the process and planned events and activities to run alongside the exhibition, including a private view to celebrate the success of the project and the fantastic work undertaken by the volunteers (see more at https://www.stalbansmuseums.org.uk/whats-on/pickling-project).
The project exceeded expectations, providing multiple opportunities to enhance visitor engagement. Visitors were intrigued by the fluid specimens, which had not been displayed for over 50 years, and visitor numbers were higher than expected. Tweets, verbal comments and pictures left in the galleries proved the popularity of the display and interactives. Feedback also highlighted how much the volunteers learned, how much they enjoyed the high level of involvement and responsibility, and how they were inspired and eager for more conservation projects.