J.CAC VOLUME 31 (2006)

Issues Related to the Conservation of a 19th-Century Swell-body Sleigh

Sue Warren

The conservation of transport collections poses many challenges within a museum context. Visitors and enthusiasts often expect to see restored and “as new” vehicles on display, a standard which has been accepted for generations. It is increasingly difficult to find historic vehicles in unrestored condition, and it is the duty and responsibility of museums to preserve them when they are acquired. Conservation must not only treat the object, but must address the attitudes of museum staff, public programming, and the visiting public, and seek to foster an appreciation for the original materials and the history of use of the object. The treatment of an Albany Cutter swell-body sleigh described in this article covers a variety of materials and techniques common to horse-drawn vehicles. While the techniques are similar to those used in other branches of conservation, the challenge in a composite object like a sleigh, is in combining and adapting the techniques of painting conservator, textile conservator and metal conservator to a single object. The treatment involved removal of discoloured varnish layers, consolidation of friable paint using Acryloid B72 and BEVA 371 Original Formula, and cleaning and support of fragile textiles. Equally challenging and interesting is the discussion that must occur concurrent with conservation treatment, to help interpret the objectives of the treatment and to ensure that those fall within the ethics and guidelines of our profession.

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