Tea and South Africa

Looks like the last of the Gill pieces in need of conservation attention from our end have now been completed! Yesterday, Melissa Williams and I worked on the remaining items that consisted of six pieces that make up the plan for the South Africa tapestry from 1932 and the ‘Tea Revives the World’ piece from 1940.

South Africa tapestry, Max Gill, University of Brighton, Sirpa Kutilainen
Two examples of the six separate plans for the South Africa tapestry

The South Africa tapestry pieces were watercolour, ink and pencil on a heavily sized paper that has an almost rubbery surface to it. The background of the image appeared printed on and watercolours were painted on to fill in the colours.

South Africa tapestry, Max Gill, conservation, detail, University of Brighton Design Archives, Sirpa Kutilainen
Recto of a tear in the corner of one of the South Africa tapestry pieces
South Africa tapestry, Max Gill, conservation, University of Brighton Design Archives, Sirpa Kutilainen
Verso of the same torn corner. This had been ‘repaired’ using a piece of white tape, which was very easy to manually remove. This was replaced by a repair using heat-set tissue.

The watercolour areas on the tapestry plans were very fugitive, which meant that surface cleaning was only done on the areas not coloured. We used rubber to clean these areas. It was interesting to observe that with this type of waxy paper, all of the surface dirt sits quite neatly on top of the paper surface and is not let in to penetrate any paper fibres. Has anyone else out there worked with items like this?

The ‘Tea Revives the World’ piece is on a much softer and pourous paper that can be damaged much more easily. We did however assess that it was strong enough to not need backing, which is what we originally thought we might end up doing. Both this and the South Africa tapestry pieces were made their own Melinex sleeves ready for transport back here to Grand Parade.

Tea Revives the World, detail, Max Gill, University of Brighton Design Archives, Sirpa Kutilainen
Detail from the ‘Tea Revives the World’ poster from 1940 that specifically caught my eye. Russia fought the eastern border of the already independent Finland further inland to the west in The Winter War of Finland in the same year. I am also surprised to find our capital called by its Swedish name, Helsingfors.

The pieces will get picked up from the conservation studio tomorrow and will then join the rest of the items we have conserved for framing. The number of objects we worked on, conservation-wise, has totalled at 34. This is obviously only a fraction of the material chosen for the exhibition – some objects are being conserved elsewhere and/or brought in from different places.

The next big push will be for the cases to be built for the items that will be exhibited this way. We are currently on a mission to determine how many of these items will need glass weights to secure curling corners to keep the items happy in the cases – the objects most likely in need of some help will be a selection of the photographs on show. A selection of the other materials will be heavy enough to be placed in the glass cases as they are.

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