In Our Hands at Grimwade Conservation Services

In Our Hands at Grimwade Conservation Services

In 2019 and 2020, Grimwade Conservation Services undertook three exciting restoration projects that upheld their legacy of conserving art, culture and history.

Led by academics and industry partners, The Grimwade Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation is the only centre of its kind in Australia, and combines both the theory and practice of conservation .

Students of the Grimwade Centre have access to interdisciplinary expertise across the Arts and Science faculties and The University of Melbourne’s vast cultural collections on campus.

The Grimwade Centre is part of the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies in the Faculty of Arts. The Grimwade Centre is housed in state-of-the-art facilities on Swanston Street thanks to the extraordinary generosity of the Cripps Foundation.

Conserving Art

Deep in the Victorian Archives Centre are the laboratories of Grimwade Conservation Services.

The Grimwade Conservation Services specialises in the restoration of art, including paintings, works on paper, textiles, inorganic objects such as ceramics, and archaeological materials.

In late 2019 the painting conservation team, led by Senior Paintings Conservator Cushla Hill, worked to restore a small oil painting by Australian artist Hugh Ramsay (1877-1906) dated back to 1879.

“It’s an early student work by an exceptional Victorian College of the Arts student Hugh Ramsay, who went to Sorrento Beach on a camping painting trip with fellow student, Harley Griffiths [the subject],” she said.

“Preliminary microscopic investigation revealed a seascape of embedded sand and shell in the paint film,” Ms Hill explained, adding that removing the discoloured varnish layer to restore the natural colour scheme without disturbing the fragile surface was a painstaking and slow process.

“The sand grains themselves tell a story of plein air painting, youthful summer days and the Sorrento Beach location”, she said.

Conserving Culture

In 2020 Grimwade Conservation Services performed conservation treatments on a collection of glove puppets from the Tatura Irrigation & Wartime Camps Museum funded by a Victorian State Government Living Heritage Grant. Conservator Peter Mitchelson detailed the extent of the restoration:

“The suite of fourteen puppets were donated to the Tatura Museum in very deteriorated state,” he explained. “Textile conservators cleaned fabrics, repaired tears and reduced staining. Where faces were damaged, losses were infilled and in-painted to match the original surroundings. Permanent armatures for display and storage were fabricated to conservation standards.

“These puppets join hundreds of artefacts in the Museum’s collection made by internees living in the Tatura camps during WWII. The puppets derive from the German tradition of glove puppetry that underwent significant change in the 1920s with the development of the ‘Hohnsteiner’ style.

“This tradition has parallels with the English ‘Punch & Judy’ tradition. This collection includes famous characters such as Kasper, the Devil and the Crocodile and helped entertain the internees and their children during their internment at the camps near Tatura.

“The maker of this suite of puppets was a German prisoner of war internee. What is interesting and significant is that this German performance tradition was replicated from found materials and from memory.

In June 1940, the Australian Government agreed to accommodate Britain’s civilian internees as well as the thousands of civilians detained by the allies from across the world. These Seven camps were set up near Tatura, and were closed from 1945 to 1947. Many of the internees settled in Australia after their release.

This significant episode in 20th century Australian wartime history had been largely forgotten by the broader community.

“International communities have come to value this depository for their social history seeing the collection grow over time with many donations and the conservation of this collection will help create a greater understanding of the cultural significance of this collection within the wider Australian community.”

Conserving History

Over 350 years ago, Dutch traders produced the first large-scale map of Australia, now painstakingly restored by a team of conservators at the Grimwade Centre.

The epitome of Dutch cartography, Joan Blaeu was a leader in the production of large and intricate wall maps, such as the Archipelagus Orientalis (Eastern Archipelago), now in the collection of the National Library of Australia.

It took over one thousand hours for the 11-person team at the Grimwade Centre to painstakingly restore the 354-year-old map.

“Normally we’d only dedicate one or two people to a conservation project, but this was a very special object, and it was significantly more difficult to conserve than most of our projects,” Says Libby Melzer, Senior Paper Conservator from the University of Melbourne, in an article published in Pursuit.

“The surface was very fragile and there were a lot of complications along the way.

“We thought we were just removing varnish, but we discovered a dirty layer underneath which meant we had four passes at each square on the gridded map – of which there were around 300.”

Scholar of Dutch cartography Prof G√ľnter Schilder has described the map as one of the most important maps of the Dutch East India Company, and probably the best general map of Dutch sea power in South East Asia. Read more about the restoration on Pursuit.

If you would like to know more about the many areas of restoration the team specialises in, please visit the Grimwade Conservation Services website.

For behind-the-scenes photos and videos on current projects, follow them on Instagram @grimwadeconservation

  • Conservation