Rene Hoppenbrouwers is Director of the Stichting Restauratie Atelier, Limburg (SRAL), Maastricht, the Netherlands, which specialises in conservation and restoration of paintings. SRAL also does research, consultancy, and education programmes. Mr. Hoppenbrouwers, who is in the city for a workshop on ‘Preventive conservation for museums’ , spoke about the Napier Museum, conservation of museums, and what lies ahead. Edited excerpts from the interview
Tell us about your impressions of the Napier Museum
It is a beautiful historic building. It is interesting that it was built as a museum, as a lot of museums are located in buildings that were intended for other purposes. And nearly 150 years later, it is still functioning as a museum.
I hope when they focus on renovation of the structure, the old vitrines (glass display cases) and cabinets inside are respected and they don’t put new vitrines in, as it will clash with the historicity of the building.
What are your observations about the object display?
It is nice that in some showcases, they have LED lights which do not emit UV rays or have temperature problems, but some vitrines have old fluorescent tubes which need to go. That is easily addressed.
As the museum is in a park, the vitrines offer extra protection to the objects against the natural environment. Then there is the pollution and monsoon. So it is good that most of the things are behind glass and protected.
The pigeons flying around. They probably come through open spaces in the roof. Pigeon dropping may cause corrosion of objects. This needs to be seen in the context of affordable and long-term solutions for object display. So if one wants ventilation, a gauze can be put in front so that big insects, pigeons, or bats can be kept out.
Tell us about the Indian Conservation Fellowship Programme
At a conference of the International Council of Museums – Committee for Conservation in New Delhi, I suggested exchange programmes and those for teaching, as India has a rich wealth of culture and ideas. Nine institutions agreed, and over time, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, New York, came on board. Eighteen fellowships were provided to people across India during the pilot project of two years.
And now, it has been extended up to 2021, to provide 45 fellowships, and also exchange exhibitions between the Metropolitan Museum and India.
The fellowship will cover people from national museums and from INTACH chapters. The idea was that the conservators could go back and transfer their knowledge and experience to other people in India.
Can you shed light on the conservation workshop here
Besides the exchange programme, we wanted to conduct courses on preventive conservation for larger groups of people at least once a year. We have held two workshops in Delhi and Kolkata, but wanted to reach out to south India and the east too so that people from different regions benefit. This is a form of capacity building for museum managers and museologists.
Your takeaway from the workshops
Young people have the drive and want to go forward with heritage conservations. They are very clever and eager to pick up information.
It is also important that we don’t impose regulations and rules, as we learn as much here as the other way round. And I take these home and try and put them in practice there. It is both give and take.
In your presentation, you spoke about inadequate museum storage, even in the Netherlands
Museums mostly focus on displays and exhibitions as they need more people to come in and need private funding as the governments do not provide enough money. So they don’t concentrate on storage.
One solution could be regional centres where museums without good storage space store all their objects that are not on display. There could be a small restoration laboratory alongside. Such collection centres are there in the Netherlands and Singapore.
These could be open to the public too so that they can see what the conservators do.
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