Blog

Unmasking Materials Conservation

By: Michael Hugill, Category: At The Museum, Date: 12 Sep 2011

Our crack squad of conservators are busy preparing an amazing variety of masks for our upcoming display, Spirit Faces...

Spirit Faces: Malagan Mask

 © Australian Museum

You’ve probably never heard someone say they want to be a materials conservator, but surely that would change if more people knew how fascinating a job it is.

With a workspace like something out of the TV show ‘CSI’, an incredible array of high-tech tools at their disposal and a variety of fascinating objects to work on, this website producer is thinking that Materials Conservation is the place to be.

Conservator Sheldon Teare was kind enough to provide an insight into the work they’re doing on some of the Museum’s masks for ‘Spirit Faces’, the first display to go into our brand new showcase.

Take a look at Sheldon’s photos (and explanations) below:

Spirit Faces
"This Mask is a Malagan Mask from New Ireland near Papua New Guinea. The makers of these masks used a wide range of strange materials in the construction of these types of mask and it is sometimes quite difficult from Conservators to figure out what has been used. The white chalk is very brittle and much of it has broken away from the underlying plant material packing. It is my job to reintroduce a glue to act as a binder, securing the chalk in place. The work is very slow and delicate as any wrong move with my brush could dislodge sections of chalk."

 

Spirit Faces
"This mask is from the lower Sepik River and is constructed from bone and feathers. While working on this mask I found that at some point a whole lot of insect larvae had started eating the feathers. We have a number of safe guards in place for keeping these insects at bay, and a number of ways of getting rid of them if they do get in. So luckily for this mask, those little bugs were killed before they could do much damage. Unluckily for me, I had the not very pleasant task of picking all the dead larvae out from amongst the feathers with tweezers and a magnifying glass."

 

Spirit Faces
"This is another Malagan Mask from New Ireland. This time the makers of the mask have secured hundreds of pieces of pith (which is the spongy inside of a grass like reed) onto the head of the mask. This spongy material is extremely fragile and brittle, braking with even gentle touching. The trickiest part of the treatment for me is getting access under the fragile sponge to re-secure the bark cloth. I managed to rehydrate the spongy material, allowing it to be more flexible and move out of the way while I stuck the bark cloth fringe in place."