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Behind the Scenes – Collection and conservation work

We think it is very important for the general public to be able to peak behind the curtain and get a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes in museums. Today we wanted to explore some work we have been doing in Collections.

We were recently gifted a wine crate from Applegate Wine Merchants Trowbridge, which had come up at auction. We noticed right away that there was evidence of woodworm, with some of the holes having the characteristic light appearance of ‘fresh’ activity. Right away we double bagged the box and sealed it tight with tape. This is to ensure the box is airtight and that no insects can escape. Once it was wrapped tight we placed it in our collection freezer, and it spent a week sealed up at -26 degrees Celsius. The box was removed from the freezer and, after carefully removing the plastic, was inspected for signs of dead insects. It was clear that there had been woodworm active when it went in the freezer so it was decided that the box should be carefully cleaned before being bagged up again and returned to the freezer.

We set the crate up on the table with several sheets of acid free tissue paper under it. This is to protect the table form scratches and keep it protected during cleaning but it also lets us clearly see any pests or frass (insect excrement) falling off the crate as it was cleaned.

photo of a medium sized wooden crate with a hinged lid open up on a large table with tissue paper underneath
The Applegate crate sitting on acid free paper

We began by carefully inspecting the crate for signs of dead pests or debris. We used soft tooth brushes on the woodworm holes to clear them out and remove the cobwebs as they can still be pretty sticky even after being frozen.

photo of the crate being cleaned with a toothbrush by a white woman in her thirties wearing a black top
Hannah, a Museum Assistant, cleaning cobwebs off with a soft toothbrush

Once the webs were loosened and the biggest debris removed with tweezers we can break out on of our favourite toys – our backpack style hoover! We always have the theme song from Ghostbusters running through our head when putting on this brilliant bit of kit. When cleaning fabrics or delicate items a filter can be put over the head of the hoover to prevent it from damaging the item but for something as big as this it just needs a delicate hand and a soft brush. The inside of the box was carefully hoovered as this was where the most dirt and frass had accumulated, then attention was paid to the outside.

photo of nikki our collections officer a white woman in her early thirties dressed in black wearing a red back pack style hoover preparing to clean the crate
Nikki, our Collections and Exhibitions officer getting ready to hoover the box

A soft brush was used to gently agitate the surface of the box to loosen the dirt and debris and hoover was used to remove it – watch the short video below to see how it is done.

After the box was given a careful and thorough clean, it was wrapped back up in plastic and made ready to renter the freezer.

photo of the crate tightly wrapped in plastic and taped up with tape labelled fragile
Tightly wrapped up and airtight ready for a second freeze

The clear plastic allows us to inspect the box for fresh insect activity or frass without having to open it up and traps the insects inside. We carefully placed the crate in our freezer where it will spend another week at -26 degrees. This is cold enough to kill off live bugs but also to damage any eggs that are lying dormant in the woodwork. After the week is up we will remove the box and check for further activity. If it is all clear, then it will head off to our climate controlled store room where it will find it’s new home amongst our brilliant collection.

photo of the wrapped up crate sitting in the freezer
Carefully placed in our freezer which is kept at -26 Celsius
Photo of a small white chest freezer in a room with teal painted walls
The freezer where the crate will live for another week
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