Preserving objects

Three dimensional objects and textiles are held in our repositories. They comprise 0.06 per cent of our holdings and include:

  • physical evidence attached to court files (for example, spent bullets, broken glass, pieces of clothing)
  • copies of objects submitted for copyright (for example, paintings, statues, games, toys)
  • personal property of Commonwealth persons (for example, Stanley Melbourne Bruce's presentation cutlery set in a wooden case, Harold Holt's briefcase).

Our preservation activities include providing good storage, rehousing appropriately and repairing existing damage. When we consider preservation treatment, our conservators analyse the object to determine its composition.

Example of an intensive repair

This plaster bust of Mae West (1935) was selected for intensive treatment because it was to be placed in an exhibition.

About the item

Series A1861 consists of applications for artistic copyright (with exhibits) from 1907 to 1969. When an application for copyright was submitted, a copy of the item being copyrighted had to be provided. The Mae West plaster model, submitted for registration in 1935, is 44 centimetres tall and brightly coloured.

The existing damage

The model was broken at its lower neck. An internal wire support, which had been bent out of alignment, held the head and neck together. The plaster and paint were damaged and some pieces had been lost.

What we did

The wire was cut back flush with the plaster surfaces between the head and body. Small pin-holes were drilled into the exposed surfaces of the neck and acrylic pins were inserted. A barrier of methylcellulose gel was used to protect the plaster from the adhesive used to stick it back together. A frame was placed around the model to support it in the right position while the glue dried.

The model was cleaned with deionised water, enzymes and an aqueous ionic detergent solution applied with cotton wool swabs. Methylcellulose was applied to the exposed plaster surfaces to create a barrier layer before the plaster losses were filled in and repainted.

We made a new archival storage box with a drop-down front and separate lid for easy access. We used a polystyrene cushion with a cloth cover to support the model in the box and allow safe transport.

Before treatment

Mae West before treatment  

Plaster model of Mae West (1935) before treatment. (​NAA: A1861, 6611)

After treatment

Mae West after treatment

Plaster model of Mae West (1935) after treatment.

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2019