To slightly misquote Avery Aames, of A Cheese Shop Mystery fame: ‘Libraries are great. Cheese makes them better’. The Chantry Library recently received some publications from Jane Thompson Webb and colleagues from the Birmingham Museums Trust that are certainly helping us on our ‘whey’. The Museum was undergoing refurbishment which coincided with the relocation of the conservation department’s library. Jane very kindly got in touch to see if any of their books would be useful to the Chantry, and we selected a small group of periodicals, conference papers and reference works that fill gaps in our collection. They are now here, awaiting cataloguing, and looking through these books, I’m struck by how material carries the technical information which you might expect, but also messages for the future. On opening British Museum Occasional Paper Number 145, Past Practice – Future Prospects (Oddy and Smith editors), I came across a heartfelt dedication to ‘all those craftsmen, restorers, conservators and conservation scientists who laid the foundations for the conservation profession as we know it at the start of the third millennium’. In their foreword, Andrew Oddy and Sandra Smith wrote:
The history of conservation is hardly a fundamental grounding for the [conservation] students of today, but a study of the pioneers of our profession and of their methods and materials is both an enriching and a humbling experience
They also hoped with their conference publication to do something to fill the gaps in the available historical record, by looking at both the contributions of the ‘giants’ in the field as well as the achievements of lesser-known figures.
So what is the connection with cheese? A previous reader had circled the papers that were of interest in the table of contents, and this led me to a paper entitled ‘The more cheese the stronger it is; the life and work of George Nathan Maynard’ (by Robert M. Entwistle, pp 67-74). Maynard, curator of Saffon Walden Museum from 1880 to 1904, kept a daybook and recorded over 100 adhesives and procedures for restoration. His recipe for mending china includes ‘powder of Suffolk cheese dried powdered and sifted, unslaked lime in powder’, hence Entwistle’s title. Nathan’s day book was found in the Ipswich Museum archives, and the paper goes on to describe the recipes tried by the conservation team at Saffron Walden Museum and Ipswich Museums Service and their results – in the case of cheese and lime for ‘china-mending’, not very successful!
Thanks to Jane Thompson Webb of the Birmingham Museums Trust for the kind donation and for bringing a lesser known conservation figure to light!