Preventive conservation at the Jewish Museum of Greece as a long-term collection management policy

Preventive conservation at the Jewish Museum of Greece as a long-term collection management policy.

In the framework of the European Day Conservation Restoration 2020, 11 October 2020

The Department’s first task was to re-organize the storage areas and some of the displays in the Museum’s former premises in 1994. In anticipation of the museum’s move to its new premises, the department then undertook to compile an inventory of all the artefacts of the collection and to record their state of condition. It was also responsible for their cleaning and protective packaging for the move. Finally, the department planned and supervised the biological decontamination of items made of organic materials before they were installed in their new home.

In the new premises, the department designed how the space available for storage should be organised to ensure the safe storage of all the artefacts not on display. It also drafted a protection policy, working out procedures for handling the items and providing access to them.

Α sealed, insulated area with its own air-conditioning system was created in the basement. It was decided to partition the area into three storage rooms of varying size, plus one bigger room for the conservation laboratory and an ante-chamber that would be used for the reception and management of the collection items. This made it possible to separate the items in the collection according to type and material, and to create areas for related activities that communicate directly with the storage spaces.

The Museum’s policies regarding exhibitions, education and research, played a prominent role in the design of the storage spaces and systems. It was for that reason that special attention was paid to making the collection accessible. Furthermore, care had to be taken for the future expansion of the collection.

As mentioned before the stored artifacts were placed in the three separate rooms according to the material they are made of, thus ensuring that each item is stored in the conditions best suited for its conservation.

The items in storage have been classified as follows:
• Room I: Items made mainly of inorganic material.
• Room II: Items, other than textiles, made mainly of organic material.
• Room III: Textiles, garments, furs and accessories.

The rooms are equipped with high quality, specially designed metal storage units of German manufacture. Opting for three small, separate rooms instead of a large unified area made organising the space rather complicated. The furniture had to be custom made in order to meet our needs. The storage units are all firm, dust proof, durable and deep enough to accommodate the full length of large items. They were designed to make the best use of the space available. The cabinets and drawers open in a way that poses no risk to the items stored inside, and all items are safely accessible. All the cabinets are fitted with locks and close securely, yet allow air to circulate freely inside.

The artifacts in storage are arranged by subject, date or size, as the case requires. As an additional precaution and for storing small items, special acid-free materials are used.

Environmental conditions in each storage room are adjusted according to the items in it and are maintained round the clock. In addition to the air-conditioners that regulate temperature and humidity in the rooms, independently controlled de-humidifiers are used to provide more control over humidity. The temperature and humidity are monitored electronically.

All three storage rooms are used exclusively for housing the artefacts of the museum’s collection. Each item is given a unique number, displayed clearly on the packaging material on labels with a special metal coating. At the entrance of each room there is a topographical list of all the items within, making them easier to locate. There is adequate room to move objects around in the storage rooms and along the corridors between them. Records are kept of the movement of items, as well as logs of work carried out, while inspection and maintenance cards of the environmental conditions are kept on file.

And finally, inspections of display cases are made on a regular basis, to ensure not only that the items on display are in good condition, but also that the surroundings inside the display cases meet desired standards. In 2007 the display cases in the exhibition were closed to the public one by one, in order to be cleaned and renewed.

The costly custom made, top of the line furniture led management to cut back the budget for the conservation laboratory that was planned to function at the basement. Therefore it was jointly decided by the board of directors, the director of the museum and the conservation department that, at the time, priority should be given to prevention and proper storage and that the room for the conservation lab should be used instead as a reception area, where objects would be recorded, and as an area for the management and preventive conservation of the stored collection. It was also decided that in cases where systematic conservation was required immediately, especially when objects were to be used in periodic exhibitions in the Museum or elsewhere, the work should be carried out by specialised independent conservators in their privately οwned workshops.

Αfter ten years of implementation, this system of management seems to have produced very good results, exceeding expectations. The monitoring devises for the temperature and the relative humidity, the insect traps and regular inspections by the conservator have shown that the collection in storage is being maintained in a stable condition and is effectively protected. The location of every object is easy to trace and most of them are easy to retrieve.

The financial cost of equipping and operating a systematic conservation laboratory and to occupy a full time conservator is prohibitively high for the budget of a small museum. Furthermore, the laboratory would have to conserve the collection only partially since it is an ethnographical collection, made of all kinds of materials, e.g. paper, leather, metal, even modern materials like plastic.

The initial cost of the storage rooms may seem too high for a small museum of limited means, such as the JMG, but the cost of operating and running the system in its present form is small and predictable. Additionally, a part time conservator can adequately manage the stored collection.

It has therefore been decided that the initial decision for conservation on the premises as a purely temporary measure should be extended indefinitely. Therefore, preventive conservation as a standard policy for the protection of the artefacts proved to be an efficient solution, and perfectly suited for a small museum with a limited budget and a multi-material collection in relatively good condition

Text: Mary Kapotsi
Editing, translation: Zanet Battinou
Pictures – plans: Jewish Museum of Greece, Mary Kapotsi, Aristotelis Sakellariou
For the Jewish Museum of Greece