The Investigation and Redisplay of Bristol’s Chinese Glass Collection
Kate Newnham, Bristol Museum and City Gallery
Bristol Museum has a collection of about 300 pieces of Chinese glass, the majority of which were acquired in 1950 from the late Mr H.R. Burrows Abbey with the aid of the National Art-Collections Fund. It is one of the most significant collections in the country, consisting of a wide variety of pieces, many of which date to the Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911).
Unfortunately, the collection suffered during a period of under-investment in the museum. A 2003 conservation audit showed that some 40% of the collection showed signs of glass disease, including surface cloudiness, weeping, and crizzling. The old display cabinets exacerbated this, as there were substantial daily fluctuations in their temperature and relative humidity.
Thanks to funding from the Designation Challenge Fund, the museum was able to appoint a conservator to treat the collection and embark on a two-year project to improve the display and storage conditions of the glass, also research on the collection and the ways of treating it.
One of the aims for the project was to improve access to the collection. This has succeeded, with the percentage of glass on display increasing from 27% to 70%, with plans for additional cases in the future. Storage conditions were improved, with new, easily accessible cabinets being installed in the store. The entire collection was photographed by the museum’s digital photographer, so that a complete digital archive could be provided online. Part of the project involved the consultation with Chinese groups in Bristol, where their knowledge of Chinese culture was used to aid the interpretation of the objects in the new display. All the text in the gallery is also now in both English and Chinese.
Work on the glass is ongoing, with recent study and analyses into material composition and history.
Kate Newnham and Jennifer Gosling
Kate Newnham is the Senior Collections Officer of Art, (including Eastern, Applied and Fine Art) at Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery. Kate’s undergraduate degree was in History, followed by a Masters in Museum Studies. She has fifteen years curatorial experience gained at Bristol and the Victoria & Albert Museum, London. She has also worked for arts festivals, museums and Japanese organizations on a freelance basis.
Jennifer Gosling is an objects conservator at Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery. Jennifer studied at Cardiff University, gaining a BSc and an MSc in Conservation. She has twelve years experience as an objects conservator, working at Bristol, the Wiltshire Conservation Centre, Cardiff Conservation Services, National Museums Wales, and the National Maritime Museum of Bermuda. She is interested in the conservation of glass and Egyptian artefacts.