Day 17

3 May

My first day back at work for 10 days and of course, more packing! Carolin, a German intern joined us today for 8 weeks. She was surprised at the stairs; she doesn’t think her friends back home will believe she’s got fit in a museum. I know the feeling, even after 10 days away, I am puffing a bit.

Mary Greensted, the former Arts & Crafts curator kindly came to give us a hand today, so the 3 of us ventured into the very top of building number 51 to start to pack the larger social history pieces. I have used no 51 to store collections from the world of work, so we were confronted with shop fittings, tools, farming equipment, fire extinguishers, signs and vacuum cleaners. All shapes and sizes but heart-sinkingly large.

Slades, the former shoe shop in the Promenade, provided several items to delight; shoe lasts, art deco style door handles, and a beautifully carved wooden crown from one of the display cases. Also a stool for the customers to rest their feet on for fittings.

Sheila and Sylvia from the front of house joined us later, they packed engineering models of the Gloster Meteor – the first jet engine craft, designed and made in Cheltenham by Frank Whittle. Then on to teasels, carders, bale hooks, skewers and weights from the woollen industry. I didn’t realise we had the weights; they should be on display they are important pieces. So a note for the future.

Day 16

23 April

The first human chain …This was to move the herbaria collection, boxes filled with pressed and dried flowers, and leaves and mosses, from the top floor of Gibraltar House to the galleries.

Each box contains crisp paper sheets, with the dried plant material neatly fixed to it with paper strips, and annotated in fine small handwriting. A wiff of times gone by exudes from the pages, as almost all of the collection is old now, some dates back to Victorian and Edwardian amateur botanists. Edward Wilson, the Antarctic explorer, and his father Edward Thomas Wilson, put some of the collection together, plants from the hills around Cheltenham, some no longer in existence.

So, after sundry emails, recruiting a team of staff to help, and the obligatory health and safety talk, we walked the course, leaving someone behind at their post every few yards. So I passed boxes to smiley Sheila, and she passed them to Sylvia, Sylvia to Paul, Paul to Annik, Annik to Chris…. Chris to Bruce who was wielding the trolley. We passed a camera down for fun, taking photos on the way. Paul fitted up music so we passed the parcel to a musical refrain.

At the other end, Bruce brought the trolley of boxes from the lift to Helen, and Kirsty to stack away. Each box was counted out by me, and counted in again at the other end, in true Brian Hanoran fashion. A fun and successful operation.

Day 15

22 April

Another day packing. I feel as if I’m in the swing of it now, but the deadlines loom ever nearer. The aim it so vacate Gibraltar House, and the other stores in 51 Clarence Street by the end of May. In my part time hours that is 5 packing days!

Bought some multi vitamins at lunchtime to help to boost energy levels.

Packing metal work again today, Kirsty made remarkable progress last week, so it was not quite as daunting as I feared. Corrine was helping today, she is a textile teacher in her other life, and unbeknown to me, the shields I set her to wrap all had beautiful padded fabric backings – a real bonus for her!

Terry, the archaeology volunteer, came in to purple spot the metal work boxes we might need access to in the next 2 years. My plan is to use drawers under the current prehistory cabinet to create pull-out mini displays. I thought it prudent to mark those we need access to. Else it will be a hands and knees cum hide and seek game. Hence purple spots to denote boxes we want kept at the front.

Paul manfully continued his marathon through the social history in the roller racking. His piece de résistance was a very Victorian arrangement of wax fruits, a tall teetering pile, wired together in a red basket to create a centrepiece. Always delicate I guess, but now extremely fragile, with wax and wire a century old. It certainly would be a focal point of any dining room, and I guess will remain in Paul’s mind as his triumph of packing. (photo here)

And as for me, I spent the day going up and down and down and up stairs, partly as I had packers on 3 floors apart but mainly because I moved complex and intricate metal pieces to the Gallery 13 cases. A canny plan, devised by Helen, and aided and abetted by Bruce the Technician, to cut down on the fancy, time consuming packing these pieces would have needed…my legs knew they had had a serious work out by the end of the day. Who needs a gym? Join the AG& M packing team!

Day 14

21 April

Started this blog very early …awoke with packing schemes revolving in my mind. Can I finish the metal work store today? I’ve roped in a friend, Kate, to help today. Kate normally works in Africa, teaching sport, so volunteering in the museum will be rather different, but at least the challenge of the endless stairs should not be a problem for her fitness levels.
Later …much later…we finished! Every piece packed and ready for the human chain tomorrow. Looking back, as I locked the door, all I could see was neat piles of bubble wrapped parcels, like a special display of gems, and piles of purple and red dotted plastic boxes. Very satisfying.

Day 13

20 April

A good day and a sad day. For over year Yvonne has been coming to the Art Gallery & Museum to volunteer. Most of the time she has been working with Ann-Rachael on the Edward Wilson photograph albums, but she has turned her hand to many different aspects of curatorial work. With me, she has helped with the rather unrewarding task of inventorying the costume collection, and recently she has been working for Ann-Rachael on the foreign archaeology. And that’s how she spent her last day.

Much of the foreign archaeology consists of ancient pottery. It has mostly needed repacking, not just for the move, but for future storage. Today, however, we unearthed a more problematic box – ancient glass. Superficially, it looked solidly packed – the box was filled, and each object was seemingly well padded in individual bags. But the first one she took out made a sickly tinkling sound.

Broken objects are always a hazard – we are packing very carefully for our move to ensure that we have none, but accidents happen. They are most likely to happen when things are not packed or moved in a suitable way. Some ancient glass is very sturdy – thick and dense and opaque, it is only as vulnerable as ceramics, maybe tougher – but much is very delicate. When glass has been buried, it often undergoes a chemical reaction

Day 12

19 April

PACKING SHIELDS in the Metalwork Store by Corinne 19

Up thirty-four steps to the top -
a view out over spiked walls and overlapping tiles.
Today we are packing shields
a cubit wide, metal heavy and circular,
four domed bosses each.

They lie in piles on the shelves,
every one to be lifted carefully,
turned over, accession number noted,
then wrapped in six layers of soft paper and tissue
protected with bubble wrap, (bubbles in),
and labelled ready for storage.

Their metal is finely engraved with birds,
flowers, swirling patterns, calligraphy;
some inlaid with copper
or pierced to show a shining red.

One has lions and hunters, brandishing sword and spear,
chasing round its edge.
Another has lions attacking elephant and gazelle.
There is a hunting dog with a bold bead necklace.
A third has one larger central boss, as on a gong,
a sun’s face, radiating out across the surface
like directions on a compass.

Yet for all their proud magnificence
and ceremonial display
it is the backs, the unseen side,
that fascinate me.

Here are fabrics, rich and old, bright linings.
Red velvet, green velvet,
green and gold silk damask,
patterned cottons.
The short handles are of velvet too
attached by four metal rings.

Between the rings is a central square
packed with raw wool.
Each pad edged with
red and yellow stripes
a strip of leather
a narrow woven band in cream, black and rust
or chain-stitched in purple, white and yellow.

More interesting still are those larger shields
lined completely in layers of disintegrating printed cotton,
like an animal showing its vulnerable underbelly.
Each tiny piece sewn to another and quilted
in strong brown thread,
the fabric next to the metal
taking on the patina of rust.
The stitches speak of a person sat, simply,
recycling scraps, in contrast to
the intricate metalsmith’s work.

Day 11

15 April
Sheer mayhem, or so it seemed. I certainly did not do what I set out to do in the morning. Since last week (I last worked on Thursday, I am part time), the foyer had become a packers paradise of plastic crates, blue parcels of acid free tissue,and huge rolls of bubblewrap. Sylvie, one of our wonderful volunteers, suggested we call it ‘Wrap it’ and offer it as a free art installation for visitors peering though the front windows!

But, we did do the first move, courtesy of Stuart, Simon, Steve, Magic and Jonathon, the cheery men from Whitemove, who we will get to know very well in the next 3 months.

So first up,the dolls. We have 36 boxes of dolls, each with a maximum of two dolls nestling inside their acid free tissue wrapping. Some have wax heads, some ceramic, one is wood, and others are early plastic and rubber. They blink at you under their blond fringes, and look older than their years.

I explained the contents of the boxes to the stalwarts, and they gingerly, lifted and carried the boxes keeping them level at all times, up to the World Cultures Gallery. Here Helen took over and supervised their careful installation on top of the African cabinets. I ticked off the box numbers my end, and she ticked them in at her end.

So ended the first move. It was strangely exciting, and satisfying, after a year of talking and planning and packing, the adventure was finally beginning.