The 2008 Silver Swan Conservation Project - week 11
Day 51 - 10 November
The automaton is beginning to resemble a Swan again, now that the skeleton of the head and neck is back in place.
The music movement has been reinstalled and will now play 8 tunes. Before it was put back the barrel was rolled over carbon paper to give an impression which will now be transcribed into a musical score, enabling the tunes to be played on a piano.
The ongoing problem with the music continuing after the performance has stopped has also been rectified.
After much painstaking investigation by Miles the fish are to be reinstated in their original ‘sporting about’ manner. He has worked out how to bring the auxiliary rollers back into use to allow the fish to swim in different directions, so that when the Swan tries to grab them they hastily retreat.
Meanwhile, Karen continues her work on the reserve collection of pieces to determine which are 18th Century and which are later adaptations. These will then be measured, photographed and catalogued.
If all goes to plan, the team will look to put the water movement back in place today.
Day 52 - 11 November 2008
Yesterday saw the water movement installed. When this part was being dismantled the two wheels were discovered to be bound together. These have now been restored and so the water effect will run smoother and more freely.
Today Matthew and Miles will work on fitting the reflective backing plates with shims underneath – little slithers of metal. This is so that the plates sit level.
Karen is documenting the spare and damaged glass rods in preparation for Ken Robinson, Glass and Ceramics specialist arriving tomorrow. He will be bringing the sparkling glass rods back which he has been cleaning and removing the old oil from at his workshop.
Today we welcomed the BBC News Crew. They have filmed the Swan during its reassembly process and it can be viewed tomorrow on Breakfast News, followed by News 24 and Look North.
Day 53 & 54- 12 & 13 November 2008
The glass rods have been cleaned and repaired off-site over the last three months by Ken Robinson, a glass and ceramics conservator.
Ken has had the unenviable task of cleaning the insides of the rods to remove grease and oil which has seeped in. He has done this by using thin brass rods with cotton wool buds attached, but as the glass rods are also square internally this has made the task more difficult, especially reaching dirt and oil in the internal corners. The brass rods with their cotton wool plugs are continually passed through the glass rod until the swab shows no sign of dirt.
Each glass rod has a brass collet at either end. Ken has had to remove these in order to clean the inside of the rod. This has been no easy task; almost every conceivable method of fixing has been used to secure the collets onto the rods – shellac, plaster of paris, pitch, silicon which requires considerable ingenuity, time and patience to remove them and care not to break the glass rod. A quote from Ken himself illustrates the difficulties he has encountered: Many of the glass rods were only just located in the collet, some were held in position by silicon and not in the collet at all (broken in the past and the glass fragment inside the collet missing)…The black pitch type material used in the past was heated, applied to the collet and the rod quickly located into the collet. The pitch set hard on cooling; I’m pretty sure some of the glass was damaged through thermal shock at the time…
Because of these difficulties, the rods after repair may differ very slightly from their original length; only a few millimetres’ difference is enough to make refitting them on their brackets onto the new brass backing plate, a trickier job.
Matthew and Ken will, on Wednesday and Thursday, lay the rods in their position onto the backing plate and measure up where the bracket holes need to be drilled. They will not fix them yet, not before the leafer has coated the backing plate with a layer of palladium leaf next week.
Day 55 - 14 November 2008
Over the last two days Matthew and Ken have been working with the glass rods. Ken brought them back to the Museum on Wednesday along with the sealing wax (shellac), pitch and a host of other later adhesives which he had removed to make them sparkle again. The end caps have now been secured by a modern reversible adhesive. After this work had taken place and they were placed on the new backing plates that Miles has been working on, it was discovered that they are now different lengths than previously.
Today the 20th century mounting brackets will be moved, which fits in with the conservation remit, and new backing plates will have to be produced starting from the beginning. Because of this setback Matthew and Karen will be working over the weekend to fit the new wire on the Cam and making sure as much has been reassembled as possible before the leafer arrives next week. He will be coating the brass backing plates with palladium leaf to give them an appropriate finish.
For a full BBC INside Out film of the Silver Swan please click on the following link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediaselector/check/england/realmedia/insideout/northeast/090114_io_north_east_swan?size=16x9&bgc=C0C0C0&nbram=1&bbram=1&nbwm=1&bbwm=1
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