Conservation at QAGOMA

Perhaps it was the freshly milled timber reminding me so vividly of my grandfather. Or maybe it was the containers of gold leaf and rabbit wax, the delicate resin moulds and the big old reference books. Whatever it was that did it, today I fell in love with the framing department at the Queensland Art Gallery.

It wasn’t what I had envisaged happening on a field trip to see the conservation labs at QAGOMA. I was expecting to be fascinated by finicky repair work being done on paintings, and intricate cleaning techniques for sculpture. To be honest I didn’t even know there was a framing department. But there is, and it’s fascinating.

Don’t get me wrong – the labs in GOMA are stunning (what a view!) and the technicalities of washing works on paper, and analysing paint compositions at QAG were super interesting, but there was something so old school and unexpectedly sensitive about the conservation methods for framing. Recreation and restoration of classical frames requires a delicate balance between current technology and old world craftsmanship. Period designs are sourced and researched, with the team regularly consulting experts from museums such as the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam to ensure they are working as authentically as possible. Frames and stretchers are made to exact specifications and finished by hand.

I am well aware that having so many memories of time spent with grandad in his workshop makes me a sucker for the smell of sawdust, but it wasn’t purely sentimentality that gave me the warm fuzzies today. It was knowing that in today’s world, when a replica anything is only one email to China away, there are institutions that still value integrity and craftsmanship over mass production – irrespective of the constraints of time and money.

With thanks to the team at QAGOMA for allowing me to photograph their conservation department.

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