Survey of 59 fireplaces: Winterthur Museum
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As a representative of conservation, I participated in a survey of 59 fireplaces located in Winterthur Museum.
Due to several incidents involving fireplace objects at Winterthur Museum, including a heavy, cast iron fireback falling from its mount during the storm window and Plexiglas replacement project, a survey of 59 fireplaces in the museum was conducted. The team, supervised by Joelle Wickens, Associate Conservator, was comprised of Matthew Mickletz, Supervisor, Preventive Conservation, Ann Wagner, Associate Curator, Mack Truax, Conservation Lighting, and myself, graduate intern representing objects conservation.
The survey team met for about one hour a week over the course of eight weeks. Generally each fireplace took approximately 10 - 15 minutes to survey and, depending on the complexity, the number of fireplaces surveyed varied from visit to visit. Matthew recorded notes in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, while Ann, Mack, and I inspected the fireplaces, making observations about pertinent features including: lighting fixtures, the presence of a fireback and any mounting hardware, general condition, additional mounted fireplace objects, condition of the masonry, the fireplace surround (generally stone, wood, or tile work), and the damper.
After the first few survey trips a consensus within the group was reached about the scope of the survey, while making notes about other important issues outside our prescribed parameters, should they be present. For example, we determined the survey should include heavy, mounted objects such as the firebacks, but not include lighter fireplace objects such as bellows or cookware set on the floor of hearth. However, we found it was necessary to note that fireplace fenders posed a potential risk to abrading or damaging fireplace surrounds. Installing padding or some type of interleaving material onto the ends of the fender is an example of one recommendation to improve the condition of the fireplaces.
The report includes an introduction to the survey, brief construction history of the Winterthur Museum building, methodology, and results, which include those fireplaces in need of a closer inspection by specialists and/or immediate attention, and recommendations for addressing specific issues. The information gathered in this survey will serve to address structural and aesthetic issues surrounding the fireplaces at Winterthur Museum. This will help ensure that safety of members of staff and collection objects are not adversely affected by fireplace elements that are structurally unsound.