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Door to store caring for your collection - Springfield collection

Sara Kelly, Patrick Baum and Anne Kelly, National Museum of Australia, 18 January 2013

SARA KELLY: Good afternoon, my name is Sara Kelly and I would like to welcome you to the National Museum of Australia. Before we begin the presentation, I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land upon which we meet. I am the head of the Registration section and, as an introduction, I am going to give you a very brief overview of what Registration does at the Museum. I will give you something nice to look at as well [images shown]. That is the Springfield property.

Collectively we will talk for about half an hour and then there will be up to half an hour for questions. However, if there is something that you do not understand during the presentation, please feel free to interrupt, but be aware that the session is being recorded and filmed. If you do ask a question during and after the session you are being recorded so, by asking a question, you give your consent to be filmed. If I could ask everyone to turn their mobile phones off, if they haven’t already done so.

The registration department here at the National Museum of Australia comprises five teams made up of 23 full-time positions. These teams undertake a range of responsibilities related to the development, documentation, digitisation and storage, movements and transport of the Museum’s collections. They provide information on the physical and digital access to the collections. They are responsible for managing the National Historic Collection, the Museum Collection and the Archives Collection, which comprise over 230,000 objects of diverse types across four Museum sites and, through travelling exhibitions and outward loans, a range of external sites. We also have a team that manages the collection database and the digital assets system, providing user support and training for these tools. Of course, we are very much a part of the larger Museum team and we work very closely with the Conservation, Exhibitions and Curatorial sections here at the Museum.

To start the presentation on the Springfield collection I would like to introduce you to Patrick Baum, who is the Associate Registrar for Exhibitions, Loans and Collections Storage. This section manages inward and outward loans and quarantine inspections. It participates in planning and developing new galleries and exhibitions, coordinates the installation of objects, and moves, tracks and stores the objects. Please welcome Patrick.

PATRICK BAUM: In 2004 the Maple-Brown family offered the National Museum a collection of objects relating to life and wool production at the Springfield homestead, a merino stud. Springfield is a large wool-producing property in the Goulburn region and was home to the descendants of the original owners for 170 years. There is a closer image of the homestead.

The Maple-Brown and Faithfull families’ long connection with the Springfield homestead enabled the preservation of many historical objects connected to the family and the Springfield property. In the 1950s, Bobbie Faithfull, a descendant of the original owners, began collecting personal objects of the past family and moved them into disused rooms within the homestead forming their own Springfield museum, which helped retain and preserve the family’s story and the Springfield homestead history. As you can see, these two windows hold the Springfield Museum on the second floor of the older part of the homestead [image shown]. The garage that you see there was part of our staging area for the pack-up of the collection. The images will cycle through. You can see now an image of the Springfield museum. Following the offer of a donation, the Museum began preparing to receive the Springfield collections into store in Canberra. A project team, including senior staff from the Museum’s curatorial, conservation and registration departments, was formed.

At the time, the Springfield collection was estimated to contain over 1000 objects. This would be the largest collection of objects offered to the Museum under the Australian government’s Cultural Gifts Program. A number of site visits to Springfield followed as the project team collected information about site access, availability of work spaces and collection packing requirements in preparation for packing of the collections. Other considerations included staff transport to the site, pest treatment requirements, and access to objects for valuers when the collection is returned to Canberra.

[Image shown] This is one of the initial visits to the site by our former director and some of the curatorial team. The Museum’s photographer also visited the homestead to document the Faithfull Family Museum layout and homestead site. These images now form part of the Museum’s own Faithfull Museum archival record, and many of the images included in today’s presentation were sourced from this resource.

The project team went on to develop a detailed packing and transport plan, refining packing and treatment requirements for the collection at Springfield and at the Museum. A key component of the plan identified the need for handling and processing space for when the collection arrived at the Museum, with consideration for the processing space to be close to the Museum’s collection stores. A large container freezer was also identified as a requirement for pest treatment. It’s important for us to treat our collections for pest activity because, if they are brought into our collection storage areas with pests, it can infect other parts of the collection.

The collection processing space required storage for the Springfield collections that were in the process of being documented. The space required air conditioning suitable for maintaining conditions preserving the collection as well as security and fire alarm systems. A large capacity freezer was also required, and this was housed at one of the Museum’s storage facilities. That is one of the Faithfull family carriages and some more objects from the site [images shown].

The plan also called for a minimised approach to handling of the objects. Collections were packed down into small containers and then bulk-packed onto pallets for transport back to Canberra. This minimised handling and also the risk of damage to the objects during its movement. In preparation for the uplift, standardised forms were developed for consistently recording object information, and labelling systems were devised for identifying treatment requirements and any other related handling issues.

During packing, object details were recorded on a packing list and a unique number was assigned to the objects, identifying each object in the recorded list. The Museum used a labelling system for identifying objects that required freezer treatment. This took the form of a green label with the words ‘freezer treatment’ on the label; and a red label for objects that did not require treatment or should not have been put through the freezer. This was applied to the external packaging of packed objects.

Objects that were suspected to contain hazards like chemicals - for example, a medicine chest that was collected from the Springfield museum - were identified with large hazard labels, and the handling team was notified of handling requirements for this type of material. Barcode labelling was also used to enable efficient object tracking, and each object was assigned a barcode number. The barcode number was also cross referenced against the packing list for each object.

During packing, objects were also assigned to broad collection groupings in an effort to streamline access and evaluation while objects are stored in Canberra. Objects at the Springfield site were bulk packed onto pallets within these groupings to enable isolated access so that we could retrieve pallets based on the collection grouping. Some of the groupings were textiles, photographs, books, household objects and wool growing related material.

The NMA site packing teams included eight staff from the collections management area and this included a mix of registration, conservation and curatorial departments. Two packing teams were identified on a roster system. When the second packing team was not at the Springfield, they acted as a shadow in Canberra providing support for the Springfield team. They usually filled in requests for equipment and supplies and prepared these for the following day’s visit.

Over an eight-day period the packing team met each morning at the Museum’s stores and then travelled to Springfield for the day, returning to Canberra in the afternoon after spending a day solidly packing objects away into containers. At Springfield, the billiard table room was converted into a packing area. A hard surface was temporarily attached to the billiard table to provide a large work surface for packing collection material. Later, more fragile objects were packed in the Faithfull Museum and adjacent rooms close to the Faithfull Museum. These rooms were on the second floor.

During the packing process the teams recorded vital information about objects. This included any identifying characteristics, any hazards and any identifiable pest activity. Descriptive information enabling future identification during unpacking and the control number was applied to the external packaging so that objects could be retrieved easily.

The packing process included wrapping objects in calico and then they were shrouded in a polypropylene bag. In many cases, the bags had a vacuum applied to them to make them collapse and pack tightly against the contained object providing additional support during transport. These objects were then also packed into, usually, a polypropylene case, and foam padding was applied between the voids of the object and the packing case to protect it during travel.

The Museum outsourced transport requirements for the Springfield uplift. A local company provided two trucks, two delivery services from Springfield to Canberra, bringing back to Canberra approximately 30 pallets of collection material.

That brings the Springfield collection material to Canberra. Material was then placed into climate-controlled storage and allowed to acclimatise until the Museum was ready for the next stage, which takes us on to the evaluation and documentation process. Anne Kelly is going to talk a bit about the documentation process. Thank you.

SARA KELLY: Thanks, Patrick. Now I would like to introduce Anne Kelly, who is the Assistant Registrar for Archives and Access. Anne is part of the documentation and archives team which, with others, manages material coming into the Museum, documenting objects required for exhibitions and outward loans, and managing the Cultural Gifts Program donations and public access visits.

ANNE KELLY: Thank you. I am going to talk about documenting this collection. Here you can see some of the dresses as they were hanging in the wardrobes in Springfield [image shown]. You might even be able to identify some of the ones that are currently on display. The one that is closest to us here in the Visions Theatre is the one we call the pink merino, which is in the left-hand side picture in the middle. On its arrival, we documented this collection and now I will show you how it looks stored in the Museum. These are our shelves in the Museum repository.

Curators then research these objects and, with the work of Conservation, bring them to you in exhibitions. These are some of the dresses you can see on display now [image shown]. When a collection arrives at the Museum we document it and we ensure that each object has a record on our database. We call this process receipting. We ensure each object has an incoming receipt number, a description, measurements and an image. That is the basic information.

I was a member of the team who unpacked this wonderful collection. [image shown] Here we have some of the dresses when we were unpacking them, measuring and describing them, and taking images of them. If you look at them individually, on the right I have added some of the descriptions. We had some staff members with great expertise in this area so the descriptions are quite detailed. This is one of the oldest dresses in the collection which dates from about 1785 [image shown]. The next one dates from about 1845, which is roughly when Mary Deane married William Pitt Faithfull. It has a lovely rosette on the back of it [image shown]. This last one is a dress that dates from the 1880s [image shown]. It is actually a skirt and bodice. One of the images that Patrick showed you shows Aunt Deane, as she was known, wearing that dress. That is from the 1880s.

I thought I would also give you a glimpse at some of the bonnets in the collection [image shown]. Once on our database, as Patrick mentioned, each object receives a unique barcode number which, when printed on a label, stored with the object and scanned to the location means we can track the object throughout the Museum. We can tell which building and aisle it is in, what bay, what shelf and whether it is on display. Why do we need all this information? First of all, we need this information to ensure that our acquisition documents are accurate, and in this case we also needed the information because it was a cultural gifts donation.

The Cultural Gifts Program encourages the donation of culturally significant items from private collections to public institutions, and in return donors are eligible for a tax deduction. Valuations are required to be done by two approved valuers and then a submission is made to the Committee on Taxation Incentives for the Arts. As Patrick mentioned, at the Springfield uplift stage the incoming receipt numbers had been allocated to groupings so we already had groups of objects so that they would tally with the valuers who were being brought in. We had one valuer who valued the whole collection, and then valuers with particular expertise in textiles or wool growing material, etc.

What did this mean for our work in registration? We had to pull together all those object listings for the different valuers. We had to coordinate their visits. Most of them came to the repository to look at the collection. Others valued the collection based on the information and images we sent them. We had to compile the evaluation reports and then prepare and deliver the submission to the committee.

So in 2004 the collection arrived, as Patrick described, and in 2005 we had a very busy year. The collection was receipted, the valuations took place, the donation agreement was signed, it was approved by the Museum’s council, the collection numbers were allocated and the cultural gift donation was approved. So that was a very busy year.

In 2006, we began the accessioning - I think we need to explain that the Springfield collection actually contains two collections. There is the Faithfull Family collection, and the number for that is 2005.0005 and the Springfield merino stud collection for all the wool related material, which is 2005.0030. So all the numbering of those collections begins with those two. So in 2006 we moved on to accessioning. The project team finalised the acquisition by replacing the incoming receipt number with a new accession number. We physically numbered each object and we created new accession records.

What does this physical numbering involve? We have several methods for numbering objects. We have a cloth tag method where we write the number onto a piece of cotton tape with an archival pen and we sew that to the items. That is particularly for textiles and for leather. If you are wondering what the little object there is on the right, it is actually the case for a thimble [image shown]. One of the bonnets we saw earlier, that is its accession number [image shown].

Then we have what we have we call the barrier layer method. I thought I would show you this little teacup and saucer. We talk about 1000 objects coming in but we have many more records on our database. When this came in from Springfield, it was just one record on our database as a toy teaset. But with all the cups and saucers, the teapot, the sugar bowl and the milk jug, it ended up having 15 records on our database. How do we accession number objects like that? We use this barrier layer method where we put a layer of B67, which is a clear transparent inert substance - it’s not nail varnish but it might look like it - on the object and then we write the number on it and then we put another layer on top of it. All our objects are numbered like that.

Then our paper objects - photographs, documents and books - are all numbered in pencil. [Image shown] That is a lovely portrait of Pearl Faithfull, who was the daughter of Monty Faithfull, so a granddaughter of William Pitt Faithfull and Mary Deane. On the back of that, in the lower right-hand corner, we have the accession number for that photograph.

To get an idea of our numbering, this is not a full number of all the objects but we have about 4,000 records for this collection on the database of which 500 are photographs. If you imagine writing those numbers in the lower right-hand corner on 500 photographs and 250 books on the lower right-hand corner of the back cover. We stitched 650 little pieces of tape onto different objects and we numbered the paper items.

Then we had to look at storage. One of my colleagues measured all the textile items and we had quite a number of boxes especially designed for each outfit. That is a mourning outfit from the 1830s [image shown]. You can see that the skirt is stored in the lower part of the box, there is a tray that fits over it and the bodice sits in that tray. [image shown] That is another dress I had to put in because it’s my favourite object in the collection. It’s the oldest dress in the collection and dates from about the 1750s. It’s a beautiful green silk brocade dress and of course it’s all hand-stitched inside. It was remodelled probably in the early twentieth century when it was worn to a special event in Sydney.

We had to look at the storage of objects. [image shown] There’s the little thimble case again and its thimble. It is stored in this box with lots of other little small objects.

Photographs - we measured all the photographs, calculated how many boxes we would need, calculated how many mylar sleeves of certain sizes we would need. That is how our photographs and documents in the collection are stored.

In conclusion, every object in the collection is described on our database and we can track its location. It is accessioned into the National Museum’s collections and it’s stored safely for future generations. Thank you. [applause]

SARA KELLY: Thanks very much, Anne. Now we are going to open up the session for questions. For those that missed my introduction, just be aware that, if you do ask is a question, you are giving your consent to be recorded because this session is being recorded. If you could wait for the microphone before you ask your question and also speak clearly into the microphone and give your name when you start. You can ask questions of Anne or Patrick about the Springfield collection. I am happy to take questions about Registration in general. So if we could open up the question session.

QUESTION: I am Anne Clifford. I am wondering if amongst the items you have whether there are any records relating to people that worked on Springfield or in fact in some of the photographs.

ANNE KELLY: We do have a few photographs which record the staff on Springfield. They are usually group shots with the family - not a great number but there are few. We do have a ledger which records the staff during a certain period, what they received or what their payment was. I think there are other ledgers like that. Bobbie Maple-Brown also donated a large amount of material to the National Library, so the National Library also has a lot of paper-based material and books relating to Springfield.

QUESTION: The reason I am asking is that in 1853 my two times great-grandparents arrived in Sydney and the next place we have them at is Springfield. I am chasing family history, but thank you.

QUESTION: I was just wondering if you ever use volunteer labour in any of this work, like Friends or people who volunteer and get some basic training.

SARA KELLY: Generally we use trained staff for this sort of activity, because it is a museum activitywe need people who are trained. However, from time to time in the Registration department, we do have internships and we have people on placement who can work with us under supervision on some of these projects. Before objects become ours, we have to take extra care to use experienced people, especially when we are dealing with other people’s objects. Does that answer the question?

QUESTION: Yes, it does. You have probably realised there is a few grey-haired people here with various experiences and backgrounds and I was just wondering, because probably a lot of us volunteer in what we think are very worthwhile pursuits, if there was any avenue for that here.

SARA KELLY: There are opportunities from time to time. It all depends on the project and on the material. But it is certainly something that we do consider, and then people would be trained and under supervision and be given training in object handling or other techniques. So it is something that is considered.

HEIDI PRITCHARD: If I could hop in here as well: if you would like to contact our volunteers manager here at the National Museum, all the information is on our website or they did direct you down at the visitor information hub. We do have quite a few volunteers working in various ways through the Museum. We love our volunteers and we cherish them. If you would like to join us, please do. It’s an important part of what we do; it’s an important part of how we achieve the successes we achieve. Or you can talk to me at the end. I just thought I would help.

SARA KELLY: I know people like to be involved with objects and handling objects because it is wonderful doing that sort of work and having that direct contact.

QUESTION: It is such a wonderful collection, would it be possible to have an exhibition that features things from Springfield? You would have enough, wouldn’t you, for a lovely exhibition? You have probably been asked this before.

SARA KELLY: A number of items are on display in the Museum Workshop exhibition and also in some of the permanent galleries. In regard to an exhibition, that is a question for management and the exhibitions committee, but it is certainly something that we can suggest to them.

QUESTION: It would be lovely if it could happen one day, thank you.

QUESTION: Those dresses look in remarkable condition. Was there some conservation done to freshen them up, as it were?

ANNE KELLY: Conservation has, particularly when you saw the dresses in the boxes, they are all beautifully packed in those boxes with special dacron and silk sausages that are there to help them hold their shape. The dresses that are on display have had more attention, but all of them have been looked at and cared for by our conservation section.

SARA KELLY: But I believe they came to us in very good condition, didn’t they, because they had been so well looked after by the family.

QUESTION: I was thinking about the capacity of the Museum as a whole to store things. That seems to be a fairly comprehensive collection. One would think there might be other houses or other families around Australia who would have a similar type of collection. Firstly, you can’t continue to keep storing every collection you are offered, I would think. How do you choose what you accept and what you don’t accept, given there may be part of a collection that is particularly important for social history and another part that isn’t?

SARA KELLY: We don’t necessarily accept every offer of a collection. There is a committee that decides on the offers that are made and whether they will be accepted or not. There is a whole process around acquisitions so we wouldn’t necessarily accept everything that is offered. But once we do, then we make a commitment to manage that material in an appropriate way. Storage is always an issue for every museum. So then we have to look at extensions to existing facilities.

CAROL COOPER: I was going to make a couple of comments. It’s Carol Cooper and I am now a senior curator at the Museum but I was Registrar when this collection came in.

HEIDI PRITCHARD: Carol Cooper, who starred in most of the photographs.

CAROL COOPER: Thank you, and I did star in a few of the photographs. We were offered this collection in a magic time for us because we had just had a review at the Museum, the Carroll review - nothing to do with me; it was the surname of the man who did it. That review criticised the Museum for not having - because we came late or we weren’t a nineteenth-century state museum – a lot of colonial material from the nineteenth century. When we were offered the Springfield, or the Faithfull Family Museum especially, as a cultural gift, it enabled us to collect in one go, so to speak, an enormous range of material that has been incredibly valuable.

As various people have mentioned we have various of the dresses and other material on display. There’s a whole section in our Landmarks exhibition on the Springfield station. We were very lucky to get that material in at that time and able to acquire it in one go. What was also very important was that we were able to plan for that and also obtain funding for extra staff, for example. To do all this massive amount of work that was done we had a project team who were able to work solely on that collection over a period of time. As Patrick pointed out, we got a new porta-cabin - we call the Springfield cabin – that still exists out at Mitchell where we are able to keep that area separate to just work on that collection.

A lot of things came together to enable us to work on that collection and bring that material together. You are right in that, if we were offered another homestead, collection or something like that, it could be quite difficult and we might have to get external funding. But at that time we were able to use extra money that we were given by the government to really good effect.

QUESTION: You have all the objects, but has anything been done about writing the story of the Springfields or the Faithfulls or documenting their story to go with it?

ANNE KELLY : A couple of books have already been written some years ago by Peter Taylor on the Springfield homestead and also on Bobbie Maple-Brown.

CAROL COOPER: Even though we don’t plan at this stage to have a whole exhibition on the Springfield collection as such, we are planning a website. A lot of the photographs that you saw in the presentations were taken by our senior photographer, George Serras. When he did that work, he took complete photographs in the round of the two-room museum so we will be able to recreate a walk through that museum where you will be able to click on objects and get all the information. We are planning that work, which curatorial, registration and conservation will be involved with. That will enable us to use a lot of the material that has already been fortunately researched by this man Peter Taylor, who spent a lot of time talking to Bobbie Maple-Brown, who is Jim Maple-Brown’s mother, and she had a lot of the family history. A lot of that was also passed on to Jim’s wife Pamela, so she also knows a lot about the oral history that goes with those collections. I did initiate a project to look at the actual oral history about the [Faithfull Family] museum when it was in operation, because the museum was actually in operation for over 50 years and a lot of people came to the museum when they were visiting. The Maple-Browns had little labels and things like that, so it’s a fascinating subject. We do hope to bring this out as a website, which will make a lot of the collection more available in one spot.

QUESTION: How do you preserve timber furniture that is cracked to stop it deteriorating further?

SARA KELLY: I think that’s more a question for the conservation people here. Patrick, do you have any suggestions?

PATRICK BAUM: Only to have good stable storage which does help to slow down changes in the timber.

SARA KELLY: If you have a constant temperature and relative humidity, you can minimise that.

QUESTION: I have three short questions. First: do the Maple-Browns still own Springfield? Two, is it still a working property? And three, is Springfield ever open to the public?

ANNE KELLY: The Maple-Browns did sell the property a few years ago so I don’t think it’s open to the public. They still own a lot of property in that area which they still use for merinos. I don’t know what proportion of the property around the house was sold.

QUESTION: You said there are ledgers here - or a ledger - of some paperwork and the photos. Is it possible to have a look at them and how do you arrange it? Is it a case of making an appointment to come in? And also, the granddaughter of somebody I know has recently had her wedding reception at Springfield. Now I think she knew the owners, but I’m not sure if that’s perhaps one of the ideas for the house in the future.

PATRICK BAUM: I did see a comment in a news article by Jim Maple-Brown suggesting it should be turned into some type of resort or short-stay type of property.

QUESTION: I think the bride knew the owners and they offered to do it for her. It was something that has happened recently.

ANNE KELLY: To do with the family history material, we do have a process by which people can apply to look at objects in storage. For example we have a form that is filled in and we look at whether access to that object is possible. All our photographs have been digitised and will be uploaded onto our database so they will be searchable via the website. The ledger is also going to be digitised so that it will be available, because if we had too many people come in to look for their ancestors in one ledger, you can imagine that means it’s being retrieved too often and handled too often. I think there will be processes in place whereby you will be able to look at those images.

QUESTION: In the next six months or?

SARA KELLY: We have a digitisation program starting up soon so we are hoping to digitise a lot of our paper material. It just depends on how quickly we can get that going. We are still putting the resources together for that project. It is on this year’s plan.

QUESTION: Thank you.

HEIDI PRITCHARD: Every time I see the Springfield dresses I am struck by the vibrancy of the colour of them. They are beautiful things. I encourage you all to go into Museum Workshop and have a look at the dresses that are being worked on at the moment. Is it unusual to receive clothing or fabric-based collection items in that kind of condition?

ANNE KELLY: What I like to think of is that that collection was very well looked after. I think those clothes were treasured by the family. In her will, Mrs Deane, the mother of Mary Deane who married William Pitt Faithfull, left her wearing apparel to her daughter Ann Deane. So those eighteenth-century clothes and the Regency dresses were obviously things that were treasured and were looked after. When the collection came into the Museum, it was mentioned that the cold climate of Goulburn, good housekeeping, thick walls on the house plus the fact they kept their house tidy and clean and checked the textiles often - I think that all helped to preserve them in the state that they are in.

CAROL COOPER: Just a comment that there are some delightful photos of young Maple-Browns wearing these beautiful dresses which are on display at the moment. They did use them for dress-ups and things like that, as any family does, but as Anne said they put them back carefully in cupboards and the cupboards were locked. The old part of the house - as Patrick explained is where the museum was – was made out of stone and the walls are about two-feet thick. Very little dust for anything like that seemed to get in. We talked to you about insects and pest management. But there weren’t for example silverfish or things like that – amazingly.

It was just one of those things where, again as Patrick said, in the 1950s Bobbie Faithfull, before she became a Maple-Brown, got all of the dresses that had just been put away in different rooms over 100 years as people had died or left and brought them into this two-room museum. Then they were cared for there and they didn’t move. Apart from these occasional romps outside on the verandah with some of the young children, they didn’t leave the Faithfull Family Museum. Then of course since they have been at the [National] Museum, Pamela Maple-Brown says this lovely thing that she thinks they must have felt that they had all died and gone to heaven when they came to the Museum and they were laid out in tissue in these beautiful boxes and things like that. They have certainly had an enormous amount of work on them from the registration and conservation teams since they have arrived.

SARA KELLY: I would like to thank you very much for coming along today. I encourage you to go into the Museum Workshop exhibition and the permanent galleries where some of the objects are located. I hope you enjoy the rest of your visit. Thank you very much. [applause]

Date published: 15 February 2013