Closed Season Deep Clean

January 29, 2013 - Judith Mellowes

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During the winter months the Museum is closed to the public. On the surface, this appears to be a quiet time for everyone at Claverton Manor. Nothing could be further from the truth as staff members are busily preparing for the new season. Conservation Cleaner, Judith Mellowes, is one such person. She spends the first three months of the year carrying out a deep clean of the Period Rooms. Here she shares with us what this mammoth task involves.

The deep clean is undertaken throughout the closed season, January to March – an extremely busy and important time for us. This period of time offers the best opportunity for extensive inspection and cleaning, as well as any other necessary treatments of the house and its contents, in preparation for the coming open season; without the pressure of preparing for daily opening, long periods are available for sustained concentration on cleaning. This annual check of conditions, and detailed in-depth, deep or winter clean, are usually carried out together.

The order in which rooms are tackled is governed by practical considerations, especially the need for access – the need for equipment to reach ceilings and upper parts of walls, mirrors, and pictures – and the necessity of preventing dust from transferring from one surface to another. Normally, this means that the house is cleaned from the top floor downwards, and each room from ceiling to floor. It makes sense to inspect and clean the ‘shell’ of a room first – including historic surfaces, fixtures, and fittings – and afterwards to clean items at ground level. During this time it is wise to tread very carefully! There is much equipment involved in the way of ladders, extension leads, inspection lights, and various types of vacuum cleaners, with leads trailing across walkways (because sockets are never in the right place!).

In addition to the removal of dust from areas and objects inaccessible during the open season, deep clean tasks include a more extensive examination of objects on display: for example, checking the inside and outside of furniture, drawer by drawer, for signs of woodworm. Portable furniture must be moved away from walls and off carpets to enable the safe erection of ladders for detailed high-level examination and cleaning. This action also allows for the inspection and cleaning of the floor beneath and walls behind, as well as the backs of furniture. Moving furniture is also essential to allow carpets to be inspected for possible signs of carpet beetle. If insect damage is found in any item, large or small, time and space must be factored into the deep clean for appropriate treatment. Insect damage does unfortunately occur and we prepare for its possibility.

All textiles, including carpets, drapes, upholstery, and bedding, have to be vacuumed and closely inspected for signs of insect pests. Dust accumulates on the horizontal surfaces and must be removed to prevent it from cementing to the fragile textiles. Glass, ceramics, and other objects have to be checked, gently dusted, or wet cleaned depending on the object. Silver, other metalwork, and metal fixtures are buffed or polished. Display cases are emptied, and objects and cases carefully cleaned. These actions are all very time consuming; an entire morning can be spent just examining and cleaning one large object.

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Finally the Period Rooms are set up, furniture is buffed, objects are replaced, and most importantly, every object at risk must be securely tied down. Enough time must also be made available to perform a final routine clean of each Period Room prior to opening.

To summarise, there is much to guard against in the care of Museum objects. Regular checks on the condition of interiors and collections are essential, as are the day-to-day tasks of preventive conservation, such as controlling light levels, temperature, RH (relative humidity), and pollution. However good the standard of preventive conservation, it can only slow the rate of deterioration – it unfortunately cannot stop it. During the open season, Period Rooms are maintained daily with minimum intervention with the objects and furniture. Such routine care ensures the highest presentation standard to which the American Museum aspires. We are the caretakers of an absolute gem which we hope will continue to delight generations for another 50 years and more!

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