Open Hertitage Day tour – Wolverhampton Art Gallery

The Heritage Open Day tour of Wolverhampton Art Gallery was given in three parts, the first part was led by the Collections Manager, Rachel Lambert-Jones. Rachel took us down to the Resource Centre where they hold some of their stored collections of approximately 1800 objects including fine art, sculpture and their weird and wonderful items such as geology specimens. Following a talk about caring for art collections we were then taken back upstairs and the second part of the tour commenced. This was led by Jessica Bromley who gave an insight into how an exhibition of works from the collection is developed, focusing on the ‘Traced’ Exhibition about Wolverhampton Art School.

The tour then continued to the third and final part- the geology collection!

Halysites Coral, The oldest chain in the Black Country!

Chris Broughton led this part of the tour which focused on the geology of the Black Country. Chris is both a Documentation Assistant and Geologist. The collection itself contains 10,000 British fossils! It is because of Dr. Fraser that the collection exists. As a keen scientist, he collected specimens which date back many millions of years. The collection itself contains some amazing finds, such as the ‘Dudley Bug.’ There is also the fantastically preserved head of a 170 million-year-old fish, a proto-dinosaur footprint and an Ichthyosaur jaw. What is really important to note is that a significant part of the collection are local finds. I didn’t realise that there is such a wealth of fossil finds here in the area!

Alethopteris sp. Coal Measures Fern, gl1339

If I thought the conservation of art was tough enough to manage, nothing prepared me for what Chris told me about geology conservation. There are so many threats, for example dust and pollutants (managed through dust covers in drawers where specimens are kept), flood (due to pipes in the basement, the risk of flood is possible, so the collection is placed in raised cabinets), pests (monitored through sticky insect cards), pyrite decay (humidity needs to be below 60% or fossils can crumble to dust!, specimens are therefore placed in sealed boxes. HOWEVER, too dry or below 45% humidity, bones in the collection can crack and fall apart), radioactivity and radon gas (this comes from rocks and minerals such as Granite and can cause problems for curators), toxic minerals such as Lead, Mercury, Arsenic, Thallium and also asbestos minerals (these are dangerous to us when handling the collection).

Chris then took us through a bit of time travelling and we explored the area from millions of years ago and how the landscape has changed over time. It was a fascinating presentation and I probably sat with my mouth gaping through most of it, I was a bit in awe.

To find out more, I was told about the website Geology Matters. This details more about the fossil, mineral and rock collections in the Black Country.

Overall, I had an amazing time on this tour, it was so informative and my mind was buzzing with everything I had learnt. Thank you to all the people who produced the tour and were a part of the tour.

 By

Kerry Grocott
Birmingham

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