Monday, 4 February 2013

Plastics SSN Meeting, HMS Belfast, 24 January 2013

(PhD Studentship available at AUB

MoDiP was pleased to organise a meeting of the Plastics Subject Specialist network made possible by Arts Council England funding. It took place on Thursday 24 January on HMS Belfast, launched in 1938, which was a wonderfully engaging venue. We had a lovely pair of low-ceilinged officers' mess rooms with urea formaldehyde light switches and formica covered walls.

The dentist
The day began with a riveting talk given by Andy Holbrook, Head of Care and Conservation at the Imperial War Museum, about its plastics. He focused on the storage of  cellulose nitrate and cellulose acetate negatives and films but touched also on keeping plastics artefacts that lose their flexibility in the configuration they propose to display them. We were also given a fascinating tour of the ship itself by Andy Curran, responsible for it as a (very large)museum object, and Kevin Price, its Chief Yeoman, taking in torpedoes, cannons, stuffed cats and figures frozen in motion.

Materials' samples
The pretext for the day was trialling a toolkit aimed at helping people responsible for collections to identify the particular plastics of which artefacts in their collections are made.  The toolkit is divided into two parts - plastics in general use before and after World War 2. Each part includes a brief introduction to plastics, a methodology for interrogating artefacts made of plastics, a selection of samples of different types of plastics with descriptions of their development, their characteristics and how they are most often used.

Artefacts from post WW2 toolkit
There are also artefacts made from the same plastics accompanied by photographic details to help you know what to look at and on the back of the sheet an explanation of what you might have deduced from the artefact and how it could have contributed to the identification of how or of which plastic it was made.This is important not only in terms of documenting the collection to a high standard but also because different plastics need different conditions and how they are looked after can seriously affect their life expectancy.
It was an interesting and enjoyable day thanks especially to the input from the Imperial War Museum. People certainly welcomed the idea of such a toolkit and there were many constructive criticisms in terms of materials that are missing and how it can be made more user friendly. These will be worked on and then the kit will be made available also on line and trialled again.

Delegates trialling the toolkit

The Plastics SSN would like to thank members of the  Plastics Historical Society who attended the meeting and shared their expertise with less expert delegates, and especially its Chairman, Steve Akhurst for supplying most of the objects for the toolkit. It would also like to thank the Imperial War Museum for providing such an enabling venue for the event and, of course, Arts Council England for  providing the funding for production of the toolkit.

Susan Lambert
Head of the Museum of Design in Plastics


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