From Stornoway with love

Under our National Partnerships Strategy (2006-2011) we developed four strategic partnerships. These relationships have benefitted National Museums Scotland and all partners to build confidence around lending, exhibitions and sharing skills, as well as informing future models for working in partnership across the museum sector in Scotland.

In December we were joined by two colleagues, Ashley Ferrier and Isabel Maclachlan from Museum nan Eilean in Stornoway as part of our ongoing support and in preparation for the Lewis Chessmen tour to Stornoway in April. Unfortunately with the unexpected arrival of the big freeze things didn’t go quite as smoothly as we’d hoped! Here Ashley tells us about the setbacks and unanticipated successes of the trip:

Being mainly front-of-house, Isabel and I are very rarely released from behind our desks in the galleries of Museum nan Eilean, Stornoway. However, on 30 November we broke free and headed to Stornoway airport, bound for a one day course on Object Handling at National Museums Scotland as part of the Knowledge Exchange Programme…. except our flight was cancelled due to snow in Edinburgh.  ‘How bad can it really be?” we wondered as we headed back to our desks.

VERY bad. Over the next five days our flights were re-booked, cancelled, re-booked, cancelled many times but finally an opportunity presented itself and we were able to land in Edinburgh, all set for some intense training (and a bit of light Christmas shopping)*.

Although the original course had been snowed off the day before, Megan Combe, National Partnerships Officer at National Museums Scotland, made a heroic effort to ensure that our time in Edinburgh wouldn’t be wasted and that we would be able to visit the National Museums Collections Centre in Granton to have condensed training with members of the Collections Care team.

However, with the weather still conspiring against us and Edinburgh’s roads and transport network ground to an unprecedented halt, the trip to Granton was inevitably cancelled. Undeterred, Megan made another round of phone calls and arranged for us to meet a number of staff members who were able to advise us on a variety of things.

It was great to be behind the scenes at National Museums Scotland and to finally meet people that we’ve emailed or spoken to on the phone over recent months. With the upcoming tour of the Lewis Chessmen arriving at Museum nan Eilean in April we had a lot of questions to ask about environmental conditions, treasure trove, loan conditions, marketing and facilities reports, amongst others, but we left reassured and feeling very knowledgeable!

In advance of the Chessmen tour we needed to decant one of our galleries and so it was great to spend time with Sarah Brown, Collections Care Officer,  who shared her expertise on the latest techniques and best practices of handling and packing a variety of artefacts. More importantly, Sarah instructed us in the fine art of making a variety of doughnuts and sausage shapes with acid-free tissue paper!

Sarah demonstrates techniques for packing textiles
Sarah demonstrates techniques for packing textiles.
Isabel creates a tissue sausage
Isabel creates a tissue sausage.

We were able to put into practice what Sarah had taught us as we decanted our upper gallery over January and February, with the help of our colleague Caitriona Maccuish (who was able to use the guidance material from Sarah) and some National Museums Scotland supermen Stuart and Stevie, who made the long journey north in January to pass on their case building expertise (“just gi’e it a guid dunt”).

Ashley and Sarah discuss decant options
Ashley and Sarah discuss decant options.

Having the training with the National Museums in Edinburgh made a huge difference to how we approached the decant and we were a lot more confident when handling artefacts, particularly the textiles, because of it.

Without exception all the staff we met were welcoming and generous with their time and advice – and both Isabel and I really appreciated the chance to meet everyone in person. We were disappointed not to make it to the Collections Centre as it sounds amazing but maybe next time!

Many thanks to Megan who went out of her way to make sure that we got as much out our trip as possible, despite the very trying circumstances (not only the snow but transport problems, power cuts and the lack of heating!).  She even baked cakes for us!

* We didn’t get any Christmas shopping done because the shops closed early due to the snow. Thankfully however, not even the snow could prevent the determined duo from their bottle of ‘warming’ Prosecco in the Dome!

Back at Museum nan Eilean, Ashley demonstrates the textile packing techniques she learned from Sarah.
Back at Museum nan Eilean, Ashley demonstrates the textile packing techniques she learned from Sarah.
Catriona demonstrates her tissue puff making skills
Isabel demonstrates her tissue puff making skills.

- Posted

Add your comments


Related posts