Unpacking a new box of parasols

While looking through the list of ICP Placement options, the Costume Collections Assistant placement at the Touchstones Rochdale Arts and Heritage Resource Centre caught my eye. I have experience handling manuscripts and artifacts, but I wanted to gain experience in another field, handling fabric and textiles, which the Collections Assistant placement at Touchstone would provide. The project consisted of digitizing and reorganizing the gallery’s collection of costumes dating from the 1830’s to around the 1970’s. Since the collection had been in storage for so long, the gallery felt that it was time to make it more accessible by creating an exhibit and featuring some of the items on-line.

I began working with the costumes at the Resource Centre in February as intended and for a short time I helped unpack and choose 1950’s costumes for the gallery’s upcoming exhibition. However, it appeared that the accessories that were meant to be a part of the exhibit needed more attention as they had not been taken out of storage or thoroughly inspected. The team at the Resource Centre knew that there were a vast number of parasols in the collection and planned to hang a select few from the ceiling of the costume exhibit room, but they had not looked through the majority of the boxes or documented the parasols in quite some time. Thus I took up the task.

1950s dresses that will be in the upcoming exhibit

I remember reading documents about methods used to preserve and store parasols in preparation for the following week when I would open the first box.  What I encountered as I lifted the cover was not at all what I expected. About twenty parasols, some wrapped tight, some stuffed, some just thrown in, were all piled into one archival box. It was like an archaeology dig, from what I could see of the parasols that had accession numbers, the oldest parasols at the bottom of the box were accessioned in the 1960’s, while the ones at the top had been accessioned in the late 1990’s or early 2000’s. While looking through the archival boxes, I found that many of the parasols were in poor condition and thus needed cataloguing, repacking and a bit of conservation work.

Most of my work had to do with storing and documenting the parasols on KeEmu. Usually after briefly evaluating the parasols in the box, I would assign numbers to unaccessioned items. I would then photograph and conditions check each parasol. Based on the fabric, size, and condition, I would wrap and fill them in with acid free tissue paper. Filling the parasols with paper would create fewer creases in the fabric, thus stopping the fabric from weakening and breaking in the folds.  A large part of my work also involved building foam mounts to keep the objects more secure within the archival boxes. Each mount had to be individually structured based on the specific measurements of each parasol, which required a little experimentation at first. The process was time consuming, but rewarding in the end.

Before and after

While at the Arts and Heritage Resource Centre, I dove head-first into a project unlike any I had experienced before. It was extremely satisfying to see the finished product and I hope that my efforts in organizing the collection will benefit future Touchstone Gallery Exhibitions. I am very grateful to Karen, Sarah, and the rest of the Resource Centre team for the opportunity.