Conserving ‘Gerry’s Pompeii’
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Two second-year BA (Hons) Conservation students are set to take part in a new conservation project at ‘Gerry’s Pompeii’, the London home of artist Gerald Dalton. The project, due to take place when lockdown measures are eased,  follows a successful campaign led by Dalton’s friends and family to secure funding to preserve the site specific collection of works left in his home after he passed away in August 2019, and open it to the public as a house museum.

Gerald Dalton was a prolific artist who made sculptures, models and other works mainly focusing around his interest in British history. Inside his flat, the body of work includes models of buildings in a variety of materials (wood, plastic, paper, metals, textiles) and found objects; small scale, mass produced sculptures that Dalton painted and modified; and framed works, mainly on paper, that he augmented and changed.  Painted concrete sculptures stand in the garden and along the towpath of the Grand Union Canal. These are sited along a wall decorated with tiles, pieces of mirror, found objects and other materials.

Second-year Conservation students, led by Art School Tutor and stone conservation expert, Jennifer Dinsmore, recently conducted a thorough conservation assessment of the site. The detailed assessment included material identification and observations to help understand conservation risks such as fading and chemical breakdown caused by exposure to light, or mould growth due to high moisture levels. It also involved monitoring the relative humidity, visible light and ultraviolet light at the site using specialist monitoring equipment. Visual assessments were made about the condition of some of the objects, the garden and of the building interiors, and risks from increased visitor access were considered. The group identified a priority list of treatments to minimise further damage to the site and objects, and noted the need for an ongoing maintenance plan for the building and the collection.

Conservation students, Cody Cochrane and Louise Davison, will join the team at the site to take part in a range of collection care measures and carry out environmental monitoring.  Louise explains the conservation challenges that lie ahead and what she hopes to learn from the assignment: “As a conservator the vast amount of modern materials used in the domestic setting creates an exciting opportunity. There are challenges to the project which involve establishing a system of cataloguing, stabilising the collection and assessing a priority rating within the collection. This, however, requires establishing the materials before treatment, through examination, monitoring and observations. As an emerging Object Conservator, the opportunity to be part of a community project that has been fiercely campaigned for, is fantastic. The project has scope to allow me to grow, learn and put into practice the knowledge and skills that have been taught at the Art School.” 

It is hoped that Art School Conservation students can have further involvement with the site in the following academic year. Tutor Jennifer Dinsmore describes the valuable learning experiences students would gain from working on Gerry’s Pompeii: “the conservation challenges presented by this unique collection would provide significant experience in dealing with modern materials, mixed media and understanding how to provide meaningful access to the site. Initially this could include students continuing with the monitoring programme and carrying out detailed condition assessments of the objects and could involve students on the existing Stone, Wood and Decorative Surfaces pathway as well as our new Books and Paper pathway.”

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