THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Collection Care blog

122 posts categorized "Conservation"

08 October 2019

Conservation and Storage of the Panorama of Lahore

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Panoramic Depiction of the Fort and Old City Walls of Lahore’ is a rare scroll painting of the city walls by an unknown artist and dated broadly between the late 18th and early 19th century. The panorama of the city of Lahore arrived into the conservation studio tightly packed into a small custom made box measuring 71 mm x 193 mm x 71 mm.

Scroll housed in the original box

Picture 1. The scroll in its original box.

The box and the item looked unexciting until taken out of the box and opened up. But even then the tight storage made it difficult to appreciate fully the exquisite detail of the painting without damaging the scroll and risking the loss of pigments. The panorama could only be seen in small sections. The scroll did not lie flat, had a cracked surface and a tendency to curl with pigmented areas detaching, particularly in areas where panels of the scroll were joined or cracked.

Damaged area before conservation Scroll panel with joint damage
Pictures 2 and 3: showing a damaged area of the scroll along panel joints before and after conservation.

Once the conservation was carried out to consolidate the pigments and the paper support, and to relax and flatten the tightly rolled scroll, it became obvious that the old box was no longer fit for purpose. In consultation with the lead curator, Nur Sobers-Khan, it was agreed that a Perspex mount (holder) with moving rollers needed to be designed, to enable viewing of larger sections of the scroll without handling the object.

The scroll is often requested by readers, researchers, scholars and historians, interested in studying the painting for its historical, artistic and cultural aspects. The whole panorama of the city measures 2.5 metres, therefore, a larger opening of 55 cm in length of the scroll was considered adequate for viewing and studying it at one time. The construction of the Perspex mount with moving parts and the diameter of the rollers were agreed with the maker, Jonathan Hoskins, who has constructed a similar mount previously for a scroll shown below. He also regularly designs and makes mounts for 3D object for our exhibitions..

The scroll showing Bhagavata Purana

Picture 4, showing ‘Bhagavata Purana’ - Hindu religious text, Sanskrit on silk paper (18th century).

The scroll above, although a lot longer than the panorama, is narrow and attached to thinner rollers while the Panorama of Lahore can be taken off the rollers and displayed in its full length, if needed. Due to the previous damage to the painting which restricted its viewing, the rollers were designed to be larger in diameter. This ensured that the panorama is no longer rolled as tightly as before and that the panel joints lie flat when viewed.

Conservation staff testing the mount

Picture 5, showing a colleague viewing the scroll and testing the mount.

The painting of the walled city of Lahore was much appreciated while in the studio by the public visiting the conservation studio. When viewed from a distance, its beautiful turquoise surroundings often mistaken for the sea until an entourage of people and elephants was spotted when further unrolling the scroll!

The scroll in the new roller open on an image of an entourage of people and elephants

Picture 6: Entourage of people and elephants.

The painting of the city of Lahore can be viewed and appreciated for its artistic value, but it also is a capsule in time showing the city with its walls intact during the Sikh rule. The walls were later pulled down and the course of the river Ravi altered. The river no longer sweeps by the city walls, as shown in the painting.

Part of the scroll showing the River Ravi flowing by the city walls

Picture 7, showing the river Ravi flowing by the city walls.

Annotations marking the location of Maharaja Ranjit Singhs cremation

Picture 8: Annotations marking the location of the Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s cremation spot.

The present conservation of the Lahore scroll and the new mount for the scroll would enable easier and safer access to the scroll in the future, which in turn would add to the research and knowledge of South Asian history and culture, and perhaps …. solve the dating conundrum!

Iwona Jurkiewicz-Gotch

I would like to thank everybody involved in this project, in particular – curators - Nur Sobers-Khan, Manzo Pasquale and Saqib Baburi for information about the items discussed in this blog as well as Jonathan Hoskins for making the mount and Rick Brown for helping me construct the box and gold-tooling it.

06 September 2019

From Tackling Digitisation to Preserving Historic Photos - Autumn One Day Courses at British Library

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By West Dean College of Arts and Conservation

A woman inspects two historic photographs using a microscope.

British Library and West Dean College of Arts and Conservation collaborate to deliver Continued Professional Development for those involved with, or with responsibility for care of libraries, archives and collections, and for conservation students. Autumn 2019 courses include:

Writing and Using a Preservation Policy – 28 October 2019

A preservation policy provides the opportunity for your organisation to develop a framework for thinking about the role of collections management and care. This training day equips you with the insights, understanding and practical guidance to review or draft a policy for your organisation.

Tutor Jennifer Dinsmore has 40 years of experience working with heritage organisations to evaluate and develop conservation provision, strategies and policies in museums, libraries and archives.

Preserving Historic Photographs – 14 November 2019

The sensitivity of the photographic collections in libraries, archives and museums to environmental conditions and the speed with which images can deteriorate present special challenges. This one day course is led by Susie Clark, an accredited paper and photographic conservator, formerly responsible for a collection of 20 million photographs at the BBC Hulton Picture Library (now Getty Images).

Digitisation: Planning and Processes – 10 December 2019

Digitisation can increase access to collections, provide surrogates for vulnerable originals and enable virtual reunification of collections.  But do you know where to start?

This training day offers you guidance on image specification, file formats, condition assessments, choosing equipment and planning for online access. It focuses on the digitisation of library and archive materials, though the principles are transferable. The day is led by British Library’s team including the Digitisation Conservation Team Manager, Digital Curator for Collections and the Photographic Studio Manager.

Courses are £147 each and take place at British Library.

Book online

Enquiries +44 (0)1243 818300

10 May 2019

All sewn up: British Library colleagues work together to ensure the survival of 100 embroidered and textile bookbindings

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Mary Horrell, Conservation Support Assistant, and Mark Oxtoby, Collection Care Workflow Coordinator stand in front of the enclosure system they have created.
Mary Horrell, Conservation Support Assistant, and Mark Oxtoby, Collection Care Workflow Coordinator

The Felbrigge Psalter’s decorative 14c covers (pictured below) are the oldest known examples of English embroidery on a book and a prime example of the type of binding this project is working to protect. 

The Felbrigge Psalter cover featuring faded embroidery that illustrates The Annunciation, with the Virgin Mary on the right and another figure, thought to be St. John, on the left.
Felbrigge Psalter

Although faded with areas of lost stitching the design is clearly visible. Luxury bookbindings like this have covers of fragile silk, satin, and velvet and are often decorated with pearls, sequins and gold and silver embroidery threads, all of which may require different approaches to conservation but should all be stored in a similar way.

The project to re-box collection items with ‘at risk’ embroidered and textile bookbindings has been ongoing since 2016 and has involved colleagues from various teams including; Conservation, Western Heritage Collections, Basements, Collection Care North and Reader and Reference Services.

The prayer books cover which features green, white, pink and blue thread. The thread is embroidered in a plaid-like pattern, which each square having an optical illusion giving the impression that the square gets smaller and moves further back in space.
C.108.aa.7: 17c English prayer book.  The design has a stunning trompe l’oeil effect which can still be seen despite the loose threads.  The spine piece has also been lost.

The first step of the project involved Maddy Smith, Curator Printed Heritage Collections, and Philippa Marks, Curator Bookbindings, selecting around 100 bindings which needed attention and preparing a preservation bid. Traditionally these items were boxed to resemble leather bindings on a library shelf, stored in sometimes abrasive slipcases, or in tight drop-back boxes lined with woollen fabric.

Curators Maddy Smith and Philippa Marks look at a book with an embroidered cover featuring imagery of deer and plants.
Maddy Smith (left) and Philippa Marks (right) reviewing some embroidered bindings.

Philippa says: ‘The Library’s collection of textile bookbindings is so rich that the problem regarding selection was not what to include, but what to exclude! An important first step was to identify the books which had been boxed in the past or were not protected at all. Boxing provided an effective and practical solution historically, but we now know some elements of the construction can put bindings at risk. Today conservators have a choice of modern materials, all of which have been tested by Paul Garside, Conservation Scientist, and will remain stable and protect the textile and embroidered surfaces’.

A close up of a 16th century embroidered binding.
C.183.aa.6: enlargement of 16c English binding shows red and green embroidery threads, metallic coils and sequins which have oxidised (blackened).

At this point it was down to the Library’s Textile Conservator Liz Rose to devise storage solutions to protect these fragile bindings. Liz was invited to attend an embroidered books rehousing workshop at the Herzogin Anna Amelia Bibliothek in Weimar, Germany, where conservators from Germany, France and Austria discussed storage and handling solutions for these delicate structures to both prolong their lifecycle and enable access.

Liz says: ‘It was a privilege to be the only textile conservator invited to attend the workshop. The organiser, Jonah Marenlise Hölscher, from the Anna Amelia Bibliothek had visited St Pancras in early 2016.’

A closeup of a 16th century embroidered binding showing pearls, metallic thread and a dark green background.
C.23.a.26: enlargement of late 16c binding design comprising pearls.

Following this workshop Liz pursued her idea of using standard sized phase boxes (these are archival storage boxes) lined with Plastazote®. The new boxes were made by Mark Oxtoby, Collection Care Workflow Coordinator in Boston Spa and then lined with removable Plastazote®, a type of foam. The bookbindings were wrapped in Bondina® (a smooth polyester tissue used for conservation).

A close up featuring a figure's head in profile surrounded by a circular frame of gold thread against a red background.
C.65.k.9; enlargement of centrepiece of 16c Italian embroidered prayer book.

 

During the following period Liz and her colleague Mary Horrell, Conservation Support Assistant, consulted with colleagues from other Library departments to ensure that the change from 18c methods to the new approach was approved by all. Prototype phase boxes and bespoke inserts were constructed.

Peter Roberts, Basement 2 Manager, says: ‘The main consideration from the Operations side was how much extra storage space and what sort of storage would be needed when the items returned in expanded, padded boxes.'

‘We got an estimation of the expected dimensions, numbers and configuration of the new boxes from BLCC. We have begun moving four ranges of Case books (rare printed books) to provide enough shelf space to accommodate the new boxes and to ensure each item can be safely shelved. We recently attended a demonstration of the padded boxes so I will be able to brief my team on how to assemble the boxes and what to look out for if any parts go missing/get damaged with use.’

A Danish embroidered binding from the 17th century featuring 3-D floral motifs embroidered in a silver thread against a red velvet background.
C.130.a.11; note the wear around the edges of the velvet covers of this 17c Danish binding and the raised decoration (called stump work).  The clasps (in the shape of a face) would cause damage to neighbouring books if not boxed.

 

The consultation stage of the project is now almost complete and a collection handling morning has taken place where Liz and Mary demonstrated the new storage solution to colleagues across the Library.

Philippa concludes: ‘I was so impressed by the way colleagues worked together, each using their individual skills and experience to ensure that these items, some of them 400 years old, last another 400 years ... at least!’

A close up of an embroidered binding featuring an image of an angel surrounded by foliage.
G.6319 19c French binding by Louis Janet. Enlargement shows the raised nap on the velvet covers at risk of abrasion.

 

09 April 2019

Consider the cover: conserving a Chinese book

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The British Library's next major exhibition, Writing: Making Your Mark, opens 26 April and runs until 27 August 2019. In preparation for the exhibition, conservator Rebecca D'Ambrosio has been working on the conservation of one of the items which will be on display.

The story of a book through its binding

What does the cover and structure tell us about the story, provenance, use and journey of a book? Do they add value to the information it contains? The history of book binding has gone hand in hand with the history of writing. So, what happens if a covering is changed? Has anything been lost or gained? These are some of the questions we ask ourselves as conservators as we try to understand a book and consider how best to repair it.

The front cover of a book, bound in black leather with a design of a gold crown in the centre. The book opened to a page displaying Chinese characters in columns.

The lost original binding: A Chinese and Western book

The book, titled Zi bu ji jie (Explanation of the Radicals of Chinese characters), introduces the concept of how Chinese writing works. It was made in a Chinese style binding in Macao, China in 1840, commissioned by an American man, Issachar Jacox Roberts as a gift for Walter Medhurst who was translating the bible into Chinese at the time.

An inscription page which reads, 'L.J. Roberts Presents this page with his kind regards to Mr. Walter Medhurst. Macau, China, Oct 13th, 1840. The book opened to the first page. The back of the front cover has Chinese characters, and the titled page has an inscription stating, 'Roberts (Issachar Jacox)'

The broken second binding: The British Library style

Many years ago the book was dis-bound from its Chinese-style binding and re-bound into a Western-style binding. The disadvantages of this binding are that it does not respect its original opening direction from right to left, it deforms the structure of the book and new sewing holes were made in the process.

In addition to all this, the western-style binding has become worn around all edges and the back board of the cover is detached.

The back cover of the book, showing the cover has detached from the spine and is now loose.

The new conservation binding: Sympathetic to its origins

Rather than repairing the back board, it was decided with the Curator that this was an opportunity to return the book to a style of binding similar to its original.

Firstly, the spine was removed and the adhesive below was softened with the application of wheat starch paste. The Chinese book was now free of the Western binding but the remaining adhesive residue prevented the separation of the pages.

The book's spine with wheat starch paste applied. The milky adhesive covers the spine in a thick layer to soften the old adhesive. The spine with the wheat starch paste and old adhesive removed.
The original Chinese-style binding, showing a damaged spine.
The tears and losses in the cover were repaired and the spine strengthened with a toned Japanese tissue paper and wheat starch.

The repaired Chinese-style cover with a strip of Japanese tissue adhered down the spine. A close up of the new Chinese-style cover in an off-white cover.

Finally, because of the fragility of the book, new covers of a neutral-coloured Japanese paper were added, folded in the same way as the rest of the textblock pages. The whole was sewn together with linen thread re-using its original sewing holes and following the traditional Chinese binding pattern.

Adding to the story of a book

As conservators, knowledge of the history of the book format inspires every conservation treatment we carry out. We must take into consideration how our decisions will impact aesthetics, use and durability, historical aspect, value and significance. Every treatment will have a certain degree of impact on a book and adds to its story.

It was exciting to return this Chinese book to its original style, and learn more about its story as I added to it. Soon you will be able to see this book for yourself on display in the exhibition ‘Writing: Making your Mark’.

Rebecca D'Ambrosio

25 February 2019

British Sign Language Tours at the British Library Centre for Conservation

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The British Library Centre for Conservation offers a number British Sign Language (BSL) tours during the course of the year. The next tour is on Wednesday 13 March at 2.00pm.
You can book your tickets from the box office +44 (0)1937 546546, by contacting the
boxoffice@bl.uk, or by following this link: https://www.bl.uk/events/conservation-studios-guided-tour-with-bsl

Ticket information: Full Price: £6.00 and Carers go free, other concessions may be available.

This tour leaves from the main information desk at 2pm. Please be aware that there is a considerable amount of walking and standing as the tour lasts for approximately 70 minutes.

A British Sign Language interpreter signs for a book conservation inside the British Library Centre for Conservation.
Wayne, BSL interpreter and Roger, Book and Paper Conservator. Image © British Library Board

 

Things to remember:
- Bags and coats cannot be taken into the BLCC but can be left in the Conservation Manager’s secure office
- Unfortunately, the tour is not suitable for children under 12
- There will be another tour on Wednesday 11 September at 2pm – information will be available on https://www.bl.uk/events/conservation-studios-guided-tour

18 February 2019

Condition Surveying British Library on Demand

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British Library on Demand (BLoD) is the document supply service from The British Library. Items are purchased specifically for the purpose, in addition to the legal deposit collection, to provide remote access to over 42 million items. Users include libraries, higher education institutions, individuals and commercial customers across the UK and internationally. Launched in 1962 as the National Lending Library, with a focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), at its peak in the mid - late 1990s, four million requests were received a year. Items can be supplied as scanned digital copies that are e-mailed or physical copies are sent by post.

A screenshot of the British Library on Demand webpage.
BLoD webpage



The material in BLoD ranges in age and format. We have items that are over 100 years old, pamphlets with a few pages to directories that are five inches thick! Some items are fragile because they are older and the paper and/or structure of the item is naturally deteriorating with some damage accelerated through use. Others are new items where modern day mass production of publishing books means they do not always last very long before damage occurs.

The spine of the The Post Office London Directory.
The Post Office London Directory 1922
The foreedge of the The Post Office London Directory 1922 with a ruler indicating the volume is 5 inches thick.
The Post Office London Directory 1922

Collection Care North carry out conservation repairs to the collection, which can include tear repairs, repairing the sewing of bindings, re-attaching boards and many other repairs. It is currently unknown what the overall condition of the BLoD collection is. Collection Care North are in the planning stages of a collection wide condition survey. This will not mean surveying every book, but we will end up with a snapshot overview of the collections condition.

We will sample 400 items from each of the stores that BLoD is stored in. We will place out shelf markers so we know which shelf to take an item from to assess. The 400 shelves are chosen by dividing the number of shelves with collections on them by 400.

For example, if we had 10,000 shelves:

10,000/400 = 25

So we would need to choose an item from every 25th shelf.

A red piece of paper cut in a long, thin strip with the number 400 listed on each side.
Shelf marker
A red piece of paper with text stating 'Please do not remove this shelf marker. Condition surveying in progress.'
Shelf marker

We are going to start in Building 3, where Official Publications are stored. It is one of the smaller stores, to ease ourselves in to the task and to check our methodology works how we want it to. There are over 3,500 occupied shelves in this store.

The survey will record:
•     Object type, e.g. hardback, paperback, monograph, serial, cartographic material, mixed format
•     Storage, e.g. is the item in a box; is there environmental monitoring; is the shelving adequate?
•     Condition, we use a set of four condition codes (see below)
•     Damage – physical, chemical, biological, previous repairs. E.g. Physical –torn pages, detached boards; chemical – brittle paper, light damage; biological – mould or pest/insect damage

A screen shot of the traffic light system used when surveying. Green is good, no evident damage. Yellow is fair, slight damage. Amber is poor, damaged with risk of further damage. Red is unfit for use, significant risk of further damage.

We hope to start surveying before the end of February. Watch this space to find out about our progress!

Emily Watts

07 February 2019

West Dean College of Arts and Conservation to hold series of courses in collaboration with the British Library

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Press Release: February 6, 2019 from West Dean College.

Two images side by side. On the left is a bookshelf with books leaning to the left. On the right is a stack of three dusty books.

For the 5th year, West Dean College of Arts and Conservation will be holding a series of courses devoted to The Preservation and collection care for libraries in collaboration with the British Library - the national library of the United Kingdom and the second largest library in the world.

These fascinating courses are for professionals, conservation students and those interested in
continuing professional development in this area offering access to relevant training and expertise. The first one takes place on Thursday, February 28, 2019 and focuses on Damaged books and bound archives, this is followed by a new course for 2019 - Writing and using a preservation policy on Friday, March 8, 2019 and then:

• April 23, 2019 - Dust and dirt: Strategies for prevention and management
• May 9, 2019 - Preserving Historic Photographs
• June 6, 2019 - Preventing pests by IPM
• June 19, 2019 - Disaster response and salvage
• July 22, 2019 Understanding bookbindings
• July 24, 2019 - Environment: Effective monitoring and management
• September 16, 2019 - Preservation Assessment Survey Workshop

West Dean College of Arts and Conservation is internationally respected for conservation
education, including MA Conservation Studies, and many alumni go on to work in museums and with collections of global significance.

Lizzie Neville, Head of School of Conservation, commented: “West Dean College is delighted to be able to support the delivery of training in this under-resourced area and the excellent reputation of these courses extends beyond the UK, with participants from Europe and as far afield as California and Argentina.”

Most courses are half a day or a full day and all take place at the British Library in London. Prices start at £143 and more courses will be added to the schedule during the year.

For further information and booking, see: www.westdean.org.uk or phone the Bookings Office: +44 (0)1243 818300.

31 January 2019

Remembering Legendary Bookbinder Bernard Middleton 1924-2019

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We note with great sadness the death of Bernard Middleton, a towering figure in UK bookbinding with close links to the Library. 

Bernard Middleton stands in front of a shelves of gold tooling tools, picking a tool from the selection.

Bernard spent much of his life working with British Library collection items at the Library’s bindery, then known as the British Museum Bindery, following his apprenticeship there.

To see some of his bindings and to hear him talk about his training please see a blog we posted in 2014 to celebrate his 90th birthday:

https://blogs.bl.uk/collectioncare/2014/10/bookbinder-bernard-middleton-celebrates-90th-birthday.html

Our thoughts and best wishes are with his family and friends.

16 January 2019

Course on Asian Papers and their Applications in Paper Conservation

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Instructor: Minah Song, independent paper conservator (www.minahsong.com)
Date: 18th, 19th and 20th June (Tue - Thu), 2019- 3 days
Place: The British Library, 96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DB
Enrollment limit: 12
Registration fee: 480 GBP (materials included)

A group of conservators listens as Minah Song teaches.

This three-day intensive workshop is designed to provide both emerging and established conservation professionals with the theoretical and practical foundation for understanding Asian papers and their applications in paper conservation. The workshop consists primarily of hands-on activities with a lecture, group discussions and examinations of various Asian papers.

Participants will familiarize themselves with history and characteristics of Chinese, Korean and Japanese paper-making, including an overview of contemporary Asian paper production. Each participant will be presented with a set of different paper samples and will study the papers first hand and examine the fibers, sheet formation, alkali content and the results of different manufacturing processes and drying methods. Different Asian paper fibers will be compared with the help of microscopic images.

In a practical session, participants will make small-sized paper samples using simple tools with paper mulberry fibers and formation aid. They will also use cotton fibers as a comparison. Participants will make modern equivalent of drying board (karibari) using a honeycomb board and mulberry paper.

Participants will study and share details of various methods of repair and lining techniques using different Asian papers, depending on their opaqueness, texture, and strength, appropriate for specific objects. For example, participants will try double-sided lining with thin mulberry tissue, drying a lined object on a drying board, and making pre-coated tissue with different adhesives. Useful tips in toning techniques with acrylic paints for mulberry paper will be discussed.

Paper conservation tools and equipment including a drying board and rulers.

For further details and online registration see:
www.minahsong.com/workshop

Contact the instructor: minahsongstudio@gmail.com

23 November 2018

Conservation Cats: An Exhibition

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Cats on the Page’ is a free exhibition now open in the front entrance hall of the British Library running until Sunday 17 March 2019.

Have you ever wondered how all the items for an exhibition are prepared?

Once the exhibition concept has been approved and the curators have chosen all the items that they would like to display in the exhibition, conservation becomes involved.

We start by examining each item and checking for the following things:

  • Condition: is it in a condition that is stable for display?
  • Treatment: does it require any conservation treatment to make it stable for display? If so, how much?
  • Display: How is it going to be displayed, does it need any special mounting?
  • Vulnerability: Is it particularly sensitive to light or environmental changes?
  • Touring: Is it suitable for display at multiple venues?

Collection times on a trolley going through the exhibition selection and conservation assessment process

Any exhibition can have between 100 – 300 items selected for display and are spread over many different departments, so assessing each item can be time consuming.

Book entitled Orlando ready for assessment   A selection of books with a cat theme being assessed

Once everything has been assessed anything that requires treatment is arranged to be delivered to the conservation studio, this will usually be about 4-5 months prior to the install of the exhibition (or longer if needed due to high amounts of treatment required).

All items arriving in the conservation studio are brought up on a ticket which has a special code for the conservation department. Not only this, but everything is also entered into our ‘tracker’ book, which allows everything to be signed in and out of the studio.

The types of treatments that we undertake in preparation for an exhibition can range from simple treatments such tear repairs to the opening page or more in-depth treatments such as board attachments and pigment consolidation. Due to the high number of items that need preparation for exhibition, anything that requires more than 10 hours of treatment will generally be removed from the exhibition list and handed over to the Conservation collection care teams for full treatment.

This copy of ‘Puss in Boots’ is a pop-up book that was just one of the items that required treatment prior to going on display.

A pop-up edition of Puss in Boots

Pop-up books are inherently fragile because of the moving parts but this book is also made from very poor quality card that has become very acidic and brittle over the years. It required some minor treatment in preparation for its inclusion into the exhibition.

A shot of the inside of the Puss In Boots pop up book showing some damage to the paper  A shot of the inside of the Puss In Boots pop up book showing the paper repair complete

The Exhibitions team order custom made book supports for each book, specific to the page opening.

Books being installed in to the Cats exhibition

The book is strapped to the book cradle, using Melinex® strapping to help it stay open during the exhibition. It is then ready to be installed into the showcase by the Exhibitions install team with the other material.

Image of one of the completed display cases for the Cats exhibition

The variety of different books and artworks have highlighted the love of our furry friends, ‘Cats on the Page’ is open for three months and free to visit, so don’t miss this lovely exhibition!

 

Alexa McNaught-Reynolds, Conservation Exhibition and Loan Manager