Mind the Gap…

A recent trip to London wouldn’t have felt complete without popping into the immense British Museum, a highlight of which for me is the Reading Room. Although unfortunately it’s currently closed, it’s well worth a visit should you get the chance in future. While the huge beautiful gold and azure blue dome is breath-taking to see, what amazes me even more is that the lining is papier mâché.

Unfortunately, restoration work had to be undertaken in 1998 to stop the advent of cracks caused by shrinkage of the paper. An ingenious method, inspired by the Royal Navy’s method for waterproofing ships using hemp and caulk, was applied. After first filling the cracks with cotton wadding, one and a half miles of a type of surgical bandage was attached over the cracks before an oil-based paint was applied over the top.

The solution is one which is typical of conservation; sometimes, damage can’t always be stopped but by applying a method which is sympathetic to the problem and original materials, further damage can at least be slowed and controlled. In the above instance, the wadding and bandage will permit the cracks to continue to move as is the nature of the component materials, however, the new support will preserve and protect the tremendous dome for years to come.

The British Museum Reading Room Dome. Building work began in 1854.

The British Museum Reading Room Dome. Building work began in 1854.

 

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