The slow and arduous task of conserving the exhibits at the Napier Museum has begun. Centuries-old stone sculptures, wood carvings, metallic and ivory models will be cleansed of dust and grime that threaten to distort the colour and appearance of these historical treasures. This is the first, most crucial stage of a modernisation project that is being implemented after a delay of nearly two years.
A small portion at the Museum resembles more of a chemistry laboratory — where conservationists in white coats huddled around a single stone statue and used sharp instruments to carefully chip away at the dirt that stubbornly stuck to the model. They squirted neutral solvents such as ethyl alcohol and acetone to attack the tarry and carbonate ‘encrustation’ on the stone sculpture. It takes time, as this is possibly the first time that the artefacts inside this historical landmark are being cleaned. There are around 30 such stone exhibits alone.
With the building being an open structure and visitors streaming in constantly with their footwear on, dust gets deposited on the exhibits, said V.R. Shaji, the conservationist managing this project being implemented by the Kerala Museums. The ivory models, on the other hand, are better protected as they are cocooned inside cases. But even the items inside glass cases need to be washed since the humidity inside is not monitored.
Dr. Shaji retired as a conservation engineer from the Archaeology Department recently and is overseeing a group of trained chemistry graduates who have to their credit the conservation work carried out at the Shakthan Thampuram Palace at Thrissur.
After each exhibit goes through the slow process of being washed, dusted and chiselled, they are wrapped with a white cloth until the conservation project is complete. Ideally, Dr. Shaji said, they should be placed inside a closed environment where the conditions of temperature and humidity can be manually adjusted. Napier Museum Superintendent P.S. Manjula Devi said Rs.2 crore had been set aside for this project. This is being solely used for the preservation of the relics, their rearrangement and revamping the lighting system. The building will not be touched as yet, she added.
Dr. Shaji explained that the intensity of light must fall between 50 and 150 lux and should be UV-free. This scientific lighting system will also be installed inside the Napier Museum as part of this modernisation work.