Decant Day, 16 March 2016: Volunteer Packing Sessions

By Lottie Clark, Decant Curator

You heard from our Decant Officer Steve in our last blog post, so it seemed only fair for me to introduce myself too as the other new member of the Decant Team here at the City Museum and Art Gallery!

So, hello everyone I’m Lottie and, as Steve mentioned, one of my first decant tasks has been undertaking the packing of the ceramic collections. There are, approximately 5,000 individual pieces that come under the heading of ceramics so using this as one of our first collections to pack and transport offsite is no mean feat.

The first thing we needed to do, and arguably the most important, was recruit some help – I didn’t fancy being the lone soul down in our stores packing by myself! So, back in January we ran a day-long workshop that covered all the aspects of ceramics packing from the computer-based documentation and paperwork, through to packing of objects ready to be transported. The day was a great success.

The volunteers and members of Museum staff that attended learnt the theoretical reasons behind why we pack museum collections the way we do. For instance, did you know that we employ a system known as ‘visual packing’? This simply means you have to be able to see the objects in place when you open their box.

Most people want to wrap things up to keep them safe and protect them from breaking. We’re used to wrapping our mugs and teapots in paper, tissue or bubble-wrap to help shield them from bumps and knocks. But for Museum collections you may not be the person opening the box at the other end, so the objects need to be visible. This makes it easy to do a quick inventory of each box – so if the label says there are 6 items inside you can quickly count them and check. It also means objects don’t get accidentally lost, left in the box, or damaged by being flung out amidst a flurry of tissue puffs!

Our first ceramics box packed
Our first packed box with the top layer clearly visible

Our workshop attendees also had fun creating tissue puffs and rolls, which are used to pad out boxes and pack objects in. Our Learning Centre became awash with piles of tissue very quickly!

The final practical session of the day was getting small teams to pack a selection of objects in different size boxes. They had to document the items they were packing, line their boxes correctly and then pack their ceramics using all the techniques learnt throughout the day. There was no overall winner as all our teams all provided some top-notch packed boxes!

Some finished boxes packed and ready to go!
Some finished boxes packed and ready to go!

Since then we’ve had regular packing sessions in our decorative art store and, to date, our volunteers have packed 81 boxes and 860 objects. It means we’ve still got a way to go but a selection of objects will be going on loan to other institutions while the Museum and Art Gallery are closed – so you will still be able to see key pieces on display in other places.

We also have all of our public galleries still to pack. Watch this space for summer activities that will enable you to get involved in packing up our collections too.

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