On my first day at Winterthur, I met with Senior Curator of Ceramics and Glass, Leslie Grigby to see the unmounted tiles in the museum's storage areas. 160 of the 515 tiles in the collection are kept in storage and 22 are displayed in the Ceramics and Glass Study Area (below). A major component of my project at Winterthur involves conducting a condition survey of all of these tiles.
Where to Begin?
Before I went into the collection to start my survey, I had to come up with a way to record my data. I decided to create a survey spreadsheet on Microsoft Excel rather than using a paper form. This way I could take my laptop into the collections and enter data right away rather than having to type up my observations later. The information I collected would be used to prioritize my conservation treatments.
One of the major challenges in creating a database or survey form is standardizing the nomenclature, or wording that you use. Consistency makes information much easier to find and sort during data review. To this end, I made specific categories and wrote in set terms to organize the information I wanted to collect.
I placed an image of each tile in my spreadsheet in order to make sure I was assessing the correct tile. The next field is "Object ID," where I placed Winterthur's accession number, for example 1969.4732.005. An accession number identifies each individual object in the collection and relates it to similar objects based on the year they were collection and their “accession group number.” For example, a group of objects donated by the same person at the same time would be part of the same accession group.
"Other Number" records any number on the back of tiles from other cataloging systems. "Condition of Tile" is a free text field in which I recorded any condition issues with the tile, such as structural instabilities and historic repairs. "Condition of Mortar/Mounts" and "Condition of Fireplaces" applies more to the mounted tiles in the house. "Priority" sorts the tiles by minor to major condition problems and will help me prioritize which tiles to treat first. "Maximum Dimensions" gives the measurements of each tile. "Current Location" shows where the tile is located in the collection.
A “Priorities” field in a condition survey allows conservators to easily rank objects by conservation needs. For example in my survey, I sorted the tiles into four groups:
Low Priority: treatment not necessary, minor aesthetic repairs, dirty surface, structurally stable
Medium-Low Priority: treatment suggested, more significant aesthetic repairs, chips, small cracks
Medium-High Priority: treatment recommended, significant aesthetic repairs, structural cracks, spalling, chips, large areas of loss
High Priority: treatment necessary, ceramics is actively deteriorating, extremely disfigured by historic restorations, or unstable
A majority of tiles will probably fall into Medium-Low or Medium-High priority.
Organizing the Tiles
The first thing I noticed when I got into the collection was that the tiles were stored and stacked seemingly randomly. Because my spreadsheet was sorted by object number, step one involved sorting the tiles by number.
Once I finished sorting the tiles, I was ready to start my survey! Tune in next week as I talk about some of the major condition issues I noticed as I began to look at the individual tiles more closely.
Watch this blog for weekly or biweekly updates and follow me on Twitter to learn more about some of the individual tiles I’ll be looking at on #WeirdTileWednesday and #WeirdTileoftheDay.
Winterthur Postgraduate Fellow in Objects Conservation