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A forever home for our jewellery

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Blog by Abigail Timmins, Collections Manager

 

As an art collection manager I am lucky to work with beautiful and interesting artworks most working days. That said, it is a rare privilege to work with an entire section of a museum collection, such as I have been doing while rehousing The Dowse Art Museum’s jewellery collection.

Our old repurposed filing cabinets, totally full with The Dowse’s contemporary jewellery collection (with a set of new white drawers at the far right!).

Our old repurposed filing cabinets, totally full with The Dowse’s contemporary jewellery collection (with a set of new white drawers at the far right!).

Our second set of rattly old repurposed office drawers that were also nearly at capacity housing our contemporary jewellery collection.

Our second set of rattly old repurposed office drawers that were also nearly at capacity housing our contemporary jewellery collection.

Our gleaming new jewellery drawers!

Our gleaming new jewellery drawers!

So far, the most time consuming part of the rehousing process has been determining how to best order and arrange the jewellery into our new drawers. To make a starting point from which I could begin, I decided to rehouse the jewellery alphabetically by the maker’s surnames, as they had originally been stored here. However, this hasn’t been entirely straight-forward as not all pieces can be housed alphabetically due to a number of conflicting factors, so concurrently I am also considering:

  • Material: keeping like materials together, i.e. metals, wood, stone, plastics etc
  • Have other substances been used in its manufacture, i.e. adhesives, pigments, patinas, chemicals etc, that could be detrimental to it, or to any surrounding pieces, if stored together?
  • Type: rings, necklaces, bangles, earrings etc
  • Scale: we have three different drawer depths to accommodate our varied collection, contemporary jewellery can be large!
  • Acquisition grouping: are there pieces that have been acquired together that should stay together?
  • Era/stylistic similarities: not a necessary consideration but nice to do if and when possible

An example of this is our beloved Warwick Freeman jewellery that I rehoused.

One (of three) of our rehoused Warwick Freeman jewellery drawers

One (of three) of our rehoused Warwick Freeman jewellery drawers

This drawer holds two small custom-made archival cardboard boxes I constructed. These boxes have been made primarily to isolate the pieces from the rest of the jewellery in the drawer.

Above, is a small simple clamshell box holding a container that that has been made with adhesives and dye that could off-gas and affect the other pieces in the drawer. I will line the box with charcoal cloth to assist with absorption of any potential off-gassing.

This small two part box houses a work that has a deep black patina which is most commonly developed using sulphuric acid. While there is probably no remaining active sulphuric acid, it is best to isolate this work from the surrounding jewellery in the drawer as a precaution. Also this box tidily contains all components of this multi-part piece together.

An example of relatively straight forward rehousing is the Kobi Bosshard jewellery, of which we are fortunate to have a significant collection.

In the image above, you can see Kobi Bosshard jewellery, loosely sitting on dacron filled calico cushions with a sheet of silver cloth laid on top to prevent/limit tarnishing, in our old repurposed office drawers. An adequate storage solution for an art museum with a limited budget but not ideal as the jewellery can move and as many of the surfaces are highly polished and flat, this puts them at potential risk of scratching and damage.

In the imabe below, you can see that I have placed all the Bosshard jewellery, with consideration to all the previously mentioned points, onto sheets of polyethylene (PE) foam that have been cut to the internal dimensions of the drawer.

When satisfied with placement of the jewellery I use a pencil to trace around the pieces onto the PE foam, then cut out the foam with a Stanley knife to the required depth. This type of PE foam is layered like plywood enabling the removal of individual layers of foam to specific, even depths.

I then line the PE foam recesses with Tyvek to provide a smooth nest for the jewellery to sit.

The completed Bosshard housing inserted into a drawer. The drawer will get a new sheet of silver cloth to again eliminate tarnishing. Silver cloth should be replaced every few years as its effectiveness is limited over time.

Note: You may be able to see the strip of dark oxidisation on the far left silver pendant transferred from the dyed cord. I will clean this silver pendant with a polishing cloth and then form a thin barrier between the silver and the cord by wrapping the silver with a thin strip of Tyvek.

Housed pendants inserted into the drawers.

Housed pendants inserted into the drawers.

Future proofing this new storage has included ensuring we have enough room in our new jewellery drawers to continue to grow and develop The Dowse Art Museum’s jewellery collection. With this in mind I am leaving space in many drawers, and will leave some whole drawers empty as I go for new jewellery to be housed in over the coming years.

This is an immensely satisfying job and it takes me back to the very core of Collection Management and as a kaitiaki to ensure the artworks in my care are appropriately and well cared for in perpetuity for the constituents of this collecting institution.

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