Judith's on-the-road diary - December 2013 

What’s been happening in the south?

Heritage Impact 150 Symposium

I attended the first Industrial Symposium at the Gasworks Museum, Dunedin, organised by the Southern Heritage Trust. The two-day event in October attracted over 90 enthusiastic museum and heritage people from all over New Zealand and a few from Australia. It included great hospitality, and 27 interesting presentations covering an extensive range of industrial heritage issues, projects, and achievements which provided inspiration for everyone.

Presentation themes were: industrial heritage stories, preserving the evidence, planning, management and people, and heritage-led regeneration in community development.

Highlights for me were renowned New Zealand potter Barry Brickell’s wonderful investigation of his lifelong passion for industrial heritage, and Sir Neil Cosson’s public keynote lecture ‘Heritage: Asset or Liability?’ Sir Neil has worked internationally with industrial heritage projects and monuments, is a past director of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, was director of the Science Museum, London, and is a past chairman of English Heritage. Many thanks go to the small organising committee for running this great event.

Jeremy Salmond presenting. Image courtesy of Craig Bush, Gasworks Museum.

Forums and museum developments

The North Canterbury Museums cluster held a forum meeting on 10 October. The group shared their news, and panellists Thérèse Angelo (Director, Air Force Museum), Natalie Cadenhead (CERA) and I responded to a wide range of questions about museums and community engagement.

Also in October, Geraldine hosted the busy Mid and South Canterbury Museum Forum day. The extensions underway at Geraldine Museum were explored and admired by those who attended. The day included World War I projects discussions. Wendy Hurst, South Canterbury Museum LEOTC (Learning Outside the Classroom) Educator, explained the services they offer to the region’s museums. New Otago Museum Director from the United Kingdom, Dr Ian Griffin, talked about his background in national museum-related administration and the new direction the museum is taking.

Geraldine Museum extensions being admired. Image courtesy of Philip Howe, South Canterbury Museum

Returning to the Canterbury Cultural Collections Recovery Centre (CCCRC) at Wigram, I took a quick detour to look at the interior of the new Ashburton Art Gallery and Museum building that has taken its final shape. Staff are working towards opening in June 2014. The new KaiapoiMuseum development is in final planning stages and they are making use of the CCCRC for preparation work.

Digitisation for Preservation workshop hosted at Toitū Otago Settlers Museum

This November workshop was developed as the result of a specific training need identified by the Clutha District’s six museums, and was led by Michael Hall, Photographer at Te Papa.

The workshop focused on using the photographic technique for digitisation. The day started with Jenny Sherman, Conservator from Dunedin Public Art Gallery, demonstrating how to safely de-frame art works and photographs. David Luoni, Heritage Projects Officer, Gore District Council, shared his experiences of guiding a volunteer team project through the cataloguing and digitisation of collections at Mataura Historical Society. David was initially assisted with photography studio set-up and skills development through an Expert Knowledge Exchange.He also showed how to use NZMuseums.co.nz to showcase collections.

Jenny Sherman demonstrates de-framing. Image courtesy of Michael Hall, Te Papa. 

According to Kaaren Mitcalfe, Director of Owaka Museum, the workshop was

an excellent example of what National Services Te Paerangi can do to tailor group training needs into a joint workshop. The minimisation of administrative and financial impacts are a great advantage and the workshop was a successful and effective way to provide training to a wide ranging group.

Discuss your museum group or individual training needs with your Museum Development Officer. We can help!

About NSTP’s Development Officer service

Hidden hazards in collections

National Services Te Paerangi responds to enquiries about hazardous substances and how to manage the unique and sometimes alarming situations that can arise when researching, handling and caring for historical collections. Museums aren’t generally high on the list of hazardous places to work but there are some hidden dangers that it’s handy to be aware of.

Because collections are so varied and contain materials used over long periods they can harbour substances that are now banned (for example, DDT and asbestos).

In the past, toxic pesticides were routinely used on items including wood, textiles, and feathers. Many of these are not permitted today but residues still remain. Medical and industrial collections can incorporate very toxic substances that should be carefully handled.

Even everyday items can require caution. Did you know that the luminous paint used in some old instruments, dials and watches is a potential hazard?

Museums can have to deal with flammable film, rodent-damaged items, blood, mould and dust, toxic substances such as arsenic that was used in taxidermy in the past, lead or solvent-based paint, chemicals, and radioactive materials, as well as unknown contents in containers, pesticides, and preservatives that can be incorporated in and on collection items.

Follow measures to prevent inhalation, absorption, and accidental ingestion of substances in and around collections. Washing hands before and after handling collections and using disposable masks and Nitrile gloves will not only help protect your collection, it may protect your health. Washable coveralls are also a good idea.

Address any issues of damp as high humidity will promote mould growth and corrosion, as well as producing an unhealthy work environment.

There are the occasional more extreme dangers that come up too: live ammunition, loaded firearms, and explosive devices from various industries such as whaling or mining for example. You will need to have them assessed if there is the slightest suspicion that they are not deactivated. Notify your local Police and Firearms Officer of any concerns about weapons and ammunition. They can put you in touch with the NZ Army disposal team who are trained to deal with live ammunition if this is necessary.

If you have identified a potential hazard in your museum and are unsure about what to do next, please contact National Services Te Paerangi. Here are some links to resources that cover the range of hazards and some suggestions about how to safely respond to them.

Hazardous materials – advice from Museums and Galleries New South Wales
Museum Management Program – US National Parks Service

Judith