Standen

What goes on behind the scenes at Standen House, an Arts & Crafts family home


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Picture Rehang in the Drawing Room

The majority of our paintings downstairs (with notable exceptions!) come from our first custodians, Arthur and Helen Grogan. They enabled the Trust to take on Standen in 1972 by providing an endowment and becoming tenants of the house. They were avid collectors of Arts & Crafts objects and also of Pre-Raphaelite and Victorian art.

Certain paintings – like Mr and Mrs Beale at the bottom of the stairs – we know were the Beales had them so we like to keep them there. Our collection of New English Art Club paintings were collected by Helen and Arthur, so are a bit more flexible.

Not all of our paintings are easily visible to our visitors, particularly those on the far side of the Drawing Room (although you can see them on the NT’s collection website here), so we decided to move a couple of our favourites by James Charles nearer to the visitor route.

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Ben the house manager and the handlers checking the position of one of the relocated paintings.

We had the advice of our new curator, Jane Eade, who works across several properties in the region and has previously worked at the National Portrait Gallery, and the help of two trained art handlers who are very experienced in moving and hanging paintings.

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Our art handlers measuring out some new picture chain for rehanging one of the paintings.

After trying two paintings in different locations  we decided where we’d like them to go – and here they are! We took into account the size of the paintings and their frames and the spaces we thought they might go into, but we also experimented to see what looked best.

We really think they brighten up this end of the room – what do you think?

 

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Farewell for now…

Tomorrow is May Day, but you probably won’t find me dancing round the maypole with joy as it also marks my last day working at Standen. Since arriving in September I’ve met many wonderful people – both staff and volunteers –  and learnt a great deal from all of them. I’ve also become overly familiar with the local bus timetable thanks to my inability to drive.

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The 84 bus stop at the end of the drive.

I’m incredibly grateful that Ben and Vicky chose me for this internship and for the knowledge the house team have imparted. The support they’ve given me has allowed me to learn new skills, whether it be checking pest traps with Caroline, inventory marking with Sally, book cleaning with Sarah or packing archives with Lizzie. I’ve also presented my first piece of interpretation that is currently on display in the Butler’s Pantry, so I’m leaving a little reminder of me behind.

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My Butler’s Pantry display about servants at Standen.

My time in the house gave me the opportunity to have a go at actually doing the conservation work I’d previously only read about in books and it is because of this invaluable experience I’ve been able to move on to my new job. On Monday I started as an Assistant Collections Manager at the British Museum with a focus on moving the European ceramic collection to a new storage facility. To make me feel at home, some of the first things I got to handle were De Morgan tiles!

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A dust monitoring slide.

This isn’t the last you’ll be seeing of me though. Vicky and I are still working on a paper to present at the Institute of Conservation Conference in Birmingham in June so I’ll back in the near future to analyse the dust we’ve been collecting on our monitoring slides and have a chat over a piece of cake with you all.


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Standen’s deep clean

If you visit Standen you may see some of our conservation team working in the house. They might be dusting, but they could also have pulled all the drawers out of a cabinet and are cleaning them. There also might be a team of volunteers dusting books or cleaning metal objects.

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Metal cleaning in the kitchen

So what’s going on? Well, as part of the routine of caring for the house we clean all of it, every year, from top to bottom, and everything in it.

Our team of specialist preventative conservation cleaners work systematically through the house, dusting glass and ceramics with special brushes, vacuuming textiles with low suction and taking furniture apart to get to all the nooks and crannies and to make sure they are in the best possible condition.

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Dusting the dining table glassware with a soft brush.

They note any changes on object condition reports and record what they have done. This is important as we have over 6000 objects in our collection and couldn’t possibly remember them all!

So why are you seeing this now? Traditionally, National Trust houses would close for 3 or 4 months in winter to do all of this work behind the scenes. The house would be “put to bed” and covered up, only uncovered to be cleaned and finally when we reopened to the public in March. Now we are open we can share the work that the house and collection needs to ensure that it is in the best possible condition for our visitors to enjoy.

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The Hall covered up for winter in 2009.

If you want to know more we run three weekends in November where we talk about the work we do – you might even get the chance to have a go! Or you could read the blog next time…

 

 


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An unexpected closed day

Last Monday, the 8th of February, was the day of Storm Imogen and for the first time ever we were closed due to wind! We did of course suffer badly in the 1987 storm, but that was back in the day when the property closed for long periods. Imogen was nowhere near as bad as that storm, luckily.

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Standen in 1987

We have a number of criteria that we use to decide whether it is safe for us to open on a day like this. These look at wind speed, speed of the gusts, direction and what the rest of the weather is like (if it’s been very wet, for instance) as well as if there are leaves on the trees. So for us, like many other NT properties in the south and west, on Monday it was not safe for us to open to the public.

However, we were able to let staff come onto the site. The house team took advantage of being closed to clean a part of the house which is a little awkward to do when we are open – the Morning Room Corridor.

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The Garrett bookcase without books! You can just see the Rooke paintings above the bookcase here.

We would normally do this over a few days, but moving and cleaning the large Garrett bookcase involves us taking all of the books off the shelves and having to find somewhere to put them. We have a large pile of displaced books from the Morning Room after it was painted recently stashed under the billiard table already so we haven’t really got any space for more books. However, because we were closed we could put them all in the Business Room without getting in our visitors’ way! It also meant that we could pull the bookcase out and give it a really thorough clean behind.

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The books from the bookcase, carefully labelled so we know where to put them back…

We also gently dusted the frames of the lovely T.M. Rooke watercolours – Rooke was good friends with Philip Webb and Kelmscott House have a lovely painting of Caxtons, the cottage near Crawley that Webb retired to with the help of his friends.

Luckily we had very little damage from the storm and opened again the following day – with the deep clean in the Morning Room Corridor completed!


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A Fond Adieu…

Yesterday was the 21st June, the summer solstice and the longest day of the year. It is really the turning point of the year, with summer holidays fast approaching and before we know it will be Christmas! It is also the turning point for me as I near the end of my contract as a Conservation and Interpretation Assistant – this year has just flown by. It feels like it was only yesterday that I started on one of the hottest days of 2014 (fyi – avoid long trousers and a jumper in the future).

I have learnt so much from the house team as well as from the volunteers and the visitors. Standen is one of those properties where you can see the results of a strong team in the atmosphere and the high level of detail that is apparent in everything they do, one which I am lucky to have been a part of. Also one that I look forward to continuing working with in the future.

So last year my predecessor, Hannah, left to be Assistant House Steward at Stourhead. I am not so much leaving as changing role. So from this week, I shall be the Conservation and Engagement Assistant here in the house. This blog through which I have shared my experiences, will become more of a collaboration between the house team and will give you more of an in-depth insight into Standen. Vicky, our House Steward, will be taking over and ensuring that we share some of the stories and tasks that are involved in the day-to-day running of the house.

Although the blog may be a little more sporadic, this will not be the last that you hear from me. In the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger: ‘I’ll be back

On that note, I will leave you with an image of one of my favourite objects here at Standen:

The Grand Piano in the Hall

The Grand Piano in the Hall

 

 

Time Passing

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This week, I thought that I would bring you the blog in a slightly different format then normal – via a video. Earlier this year, the Larkspur bedroom and dressing room went through a little bit of a makeover and was repainted in Standen White (do not worry the wallpaper is still there!) In order for the rooms to be painted, all of the furniture, paintings, ceramics and fixtures had to be removed  in order to protect them. The video below is a time lapse video that was taken over the 4 days it took the house team to empty both rooms. To add a bit of humor it is set to Tchaikovsky’s Trepak Russian Dance so make sure that you have the volume turned up:


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Preserving Plastic

There was an interesting article in the Guardian recently about the difficulties that the V&A Museum are facing when it comes to preserving plastic objects: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/may/19/va-conservators-race-to-preserve-art-and-design-classics-in-plastic

The Blow Chair

The Blow Chair Image Courtesy of The Guardian

The rise in technology has led to the creation of new materials which are used to create art and objects, both decorative and every-day. However, we know very little about the longevity and the process as to how these materials will change. This has become apparent with some of the plastics in the V&A’s collection. Objects such as the Blow chair, designed in 1969, and the Stephen Willats Mini dress, also designed in the 1960s, are starting to degrade to the point beyond repair, and the only way to protect them to keep them in dark, temperature controlled stores.

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Stephen Willats Mini dress Image Courtesy of The Guardian

The common assumption with plastics are that they are a stable substance, when in actual fact they are very brittle. The reason plastic is brittle is because plasticers are used in the process to make it malleable. Unfortunately, plasticers have a habit of leaking, making the object sticky, attracting dust and dirt. This stickiness also makes it very difficult to clean as brushes and water only further damage the object. Plastics are also susceptible to changes in temperature, humidity and light, which can lead to discolouration, decaying to a powder, warping, cracking and shrinking – all the things that we try to prevent happening to our collections as a whole.

As plastic is still a relatively new material we do not know as much as we would like in order to prevent damage to it. This is why the V&A has partnered with Imperial College London to try to see how we can prevent further damage as well as its causes. With most other materials that can be found in historic house, there is a history of research that has gone into how we can best look after them.

Light damage to the Sofa turning it from Pink to Green

Light damage to the Sofa turning it from Pink to Green

Temperature, light and relative humidity are monitored both weekly and biannually. This ensures that we keep an eye on things that might be in danger of deteriorating and we can then assess how best to limit any damage. Humidity causes objects to shrink and grow that leads to stress fractures and cracks as can be seen on the cabinet at the Top of the Stairs. Light not only causes objects to fade but also causes threads to fray and eventually tear. Light also causes a chemical reaction whereas the object will actually change colour – like in the drawing-room where the rose-pink sofa has faded to a murky green colour.

Deep Cleaning the Mosque lamp in the Drawing room

Deep Cleaning the Mosque lamp in the Drawing room

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, (https://standennt.wordpress.com/2015/05/19/deceptive-dust/) dust is another factor that damages the collection as it discolours objects but also forms a hard surface which not only attracts more dust but is also very difficult to clean off without damaging the object.

This is why knowledge and a good cleaning routine are so important. We dust and vacuum the house once a day plus every object gets an annual deep clean every year. It is also why the house may seem cold or dark as we try to preserve it for the future.