Scissors, scalpel blades, and various sized paint brushes sitting in stainless steel holder.

Inside a Conservator's Toolbox

Inside a Conservator’s Toolbox

The tools Conservator’s use to fix, repair, and clean objects in a Museum collection are pretty unique, in that many of these items come from different professions or have been custom-made to suit the job.  During a recent behind-the-scenes tour I was asked about the tools I had laid out in my tray, stuffed into foam to protect the sharp edges, and things that looked a bit like they came from another planet. I thought I would share some of the tools used in the Conservation lab, as a way to spark imagination and inspiration for anyone that has been stuck on a project not knowing what tool could be right for the job!

Two pairs of scissors on a white background with the left scissors having a purple handle and the right scissors having a pink handle.

Can’t touch this …

The first item that I am deeply passionate about are my purple and pink scissors.  Everyone in the lab knows that if you borrow these purple and pink scissors to make sure to return it to the tray immediately, as I am very invested in these little tools! These small delicate scissors, come from the cosmetic industry and are mostly used by estheticians.  Slightly curved, incredibly sharp, and a very fine pointed tip, these scissors work magic for repairing textiles, cutting extremely detailed molds and casts in reproductions, and any other work that needs an accurate slice.


Image of thirteen dental tools laid out evenly in a row. Tools are composed of stainless steel and have various tips on both ends

Say “aaaahhhhhh” …

Dental tools would be the next array of instruments that we use in the Conservation lab. Not only are dental tools good at cleaning your teeth but they are great for cleaning objects!  Caution is used however when we pick-up these strong metal tools, because they can cause damage if used on an improper object.  Dental picks and scrapers are often used on wooden objects, when there is something deep in cracks or crevices that needs to be removed.

Let’s get digital .. digital …

Diving into a different industry that Conservator’s seek tools from, would be the world of circuit boards and computer repair.  The glass bristle brush is about the size of a pen, and has a fibre glass tip that is adjustable in height depending on the work being done.  Archaeological metals, such as brass buttons or thimbles, are where these fine detailed tools work well to burnish or remove corrosion products.  A few cautions are followed when using a glass bristle brush, including wearing a respirator, safety glasses, and protecting the body with a lab coat. The fine glass bristles break off as the tool is brushed back and forth, which is why safety is of utmost importance.

Five glass bristle brush dispensers, from left to right the handles are yellow, black, blue, blue and grey with a white twist bottom used to make the brush larger. On the left of the image are five glass bristle brush replacements with a gold coloured ferrule crimping the bristles together.

Bone folders, micro spatulas, tacking irons, brass rulers, tweezers, and scalpels are a small list of names of other unique tools that we reach for most often.  It’s important that before we perform a conservation treatment on an object in the collection that we ensure the method we choose will be successful, causing no further deterioration then what has already occurred.  This means, we really have to think outside of the box, not rush into a treatment, and make sure we have the right tool (wherever that is found) for the job!

Carolyn Sirett

Carolyn Sirett

Senior Conservator

Carolyn Sirett received her B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Manitoba, Diploma in Cultural Resource Management from the University of Victoria, and Diploma in Collections Conservation and Management…
Meet Carolyn Sirett

Fixing Shattered Plants – Welcome to my World

As the Assistant Conservator at the Manitoba Museum, one of my main duties is the preservation and maintenance of all the dioramas throughout the galleries. Dioramas have a variety of challenges in their up-keep, so I constantly have to adapt and find solutions to issues that arise.  As part of my daily routine, I visually inspect each of the dioramas before the museum opens to make sure everything is in tip-top shape for visitors. 

One of the dioramas I inspect daily is The Ukrainian Farm and it is one of my favorite dioramas at the museum. It depicts a complex scene of a family working their farmland which borders the Delta Marsh. Every time I look at this diorama, I see something new and fun. The marsh area of the diorama is teeming with an unexpected diversity of wildlife species nestled amongst the reeds, soaring in the sky, or concealed under the water’s surface.  

Prairie scene with green prairie grasses growing next to a wheat field. Wall of small boulders on the left of the image.

However, during those daily inspections I often see something less exciting in the diorama – many plants suffering damage!  For example, one morning I found a poor Smilacina stellatum (more commonly known as “False Solomon’s Seal”) with several leaves broken off and scattered in the grass around it.

What many may not know is that these plants have been collected in the wild, preserved, and painted to look alive. Like all plant materials after they have been picked, the plant gets increasingly brittle over time (think of a what a bouquet of roses feels and looks like after a month of receiving them). When the plants are knocked or improperly handled, the fragile parts of the model crack, shatter, and fall off. The process of getting new plants and preparing them to replace the damaged ones takes a long time, so most often I do what I can to repair the plants that are on display. 

Right image: Surveying and inspecting the diorama’s many plant models for damage.

Plant model with green stem and leaves made of plastic sitting in a white tray lined with white foam

Quick! To the Laboratory!

First, the plant model is removed from the diorama and carefully placed in a tray to prevent further damage during transport.  

The plant is then brought up to the Conservation Lab, where I “assess the object’s state and formulate a treatment plan” which is a fancy way of saying ‘plan the best way to fix it’. As a conservator, I have to think about what materials the plant model is made of and how those materials react to different adhesives and chemicals that might be used in its repair. For example, records show that the model has been painted with acrylic paintsTherefore, it is important to avoid chemicals or adhesives in the treatment that would affect the paint layer on the plant. Acrylic paint is sensitive to acetone, so the repair methods used would include avoiding acetone or an acetone-based adhesive.

Left image: Safely placed in a tray this plant model is ready for transport up to the Conservation Lab.

Plant model sitting inside of a white container with a piece of glass on top of the container. Inside of the container the green stemmed plant model rests on a piece of blotting paper and an electronic datalogger sits beside it in the top right corner. A beaker of water is sitting on the table beside the container.

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

As the plant was so brittle, it was important to try to make the leaves more pliable before I repaired them. To do this, the plant was placed into a chamber with distilled water added to the bottom to help raise the humidity and left inside the chamber for 24 hours. After 24 hours, the dry plant material did pull some of the moisture from the surrounding air which allowed the leaf structure to bend a little. This movement allowed the broken leaves to line-up better during my repairs.

While waiting for the plant material to become easier to work with, I mixed acrylic paints to match the colour on the front and back of the leaves. Mending paper was then tinted with the mixed paint.

Right image: The humidity rises in the chamber and is pulled in by the dry plant material.

Plant Repair

The next day the plant was removed from the humidity chamber and work began on repairing the leavesTo start, small strips of the tinted mending paper were cut and attached to the broken leaves with a conservation grade adhesive. This required paying attention to the natural curves of the leaf so that the leaf wasn’t forced into an unnatural shape. I then aligned the leaf back into position against the broken edge and the two pieces were attached together. Another small piece of paper was then placed on the bottom of the leaf to secure it into position. The mended leaf was secured in place with thin florist wire as a support and left to dry overnight. 

Pair of small pink scissors sitting on a piece of white paper. A green plastic plant leaf is sitting below the scissors, with small pieces of tinted paper to the left.

1. Cutting the tinted mending paper.

Two fingers are holding a small piece of a green plastic plant on the left, while a paint brush with white blue applies the adhesive to the end of the plant.

2. Applying adhesive to the edge of the leaf.

Left hand holding a green leaf.

3. Uniting the two sections of leaf together.

Plant model with green leaves sticking out from either side of a green stem. Plant model is sitting in a piece of white foam to hold upright.

4. Repaired plant model after conservation treatment.

Time to Grow Again

The next morning the supporting florist wire was removed, and repairs were checked from the previous day. Everything seemed to be in stable condition, so the plant was placed back into a tray, brought down to the diorama, and finding the exact position the plant had been previously, I essentially “planted” it back into the diorama.

Maintaining the dioramas is full of complex tasks like the one I’ve outlined here.  I hope this blog sheds some light on one of the more complex aspects of diorama maintenance.  

Fingers crossed this little plant model survives the coming years! 

Man wearing a grey coloured baseball hat and a grey plaid short holding a box with a green coloured plant model inside of the white box. His hands are resting on a black coloured table. Background has a washer and dryer to the left of the man and four windows are visible behind him.

Assistant Conservator Loren Rudisuela holding the repaired plant model. 

Prairie grasses in a diorama scene. Boulders in the left side flanking the grassland.

Plant model installed back into the diorama. 

Loren Rudisuela

Loren Rudisuela

Assistant Conservator

Loren Rudisuela holds a B.A in Art History from the University of Guelph, a certificate in Art Fundamentals from Sheridan College, and a Graduate Certificate in Cultural Heritage Conservation and Management…
Meet Loren Rudisuela

Dressed to Impress: The Art of Fitting Historic Textiles 

By Carolyn Sirett, Conservator, and Lee-Ann Blase, Conservation Volunteer 

We have all seen those lifeless mannequins looking sad and lonely in a store’s window front, longing for the next wardrobe change of a new season. Here at the Manitoba Museum we like to give our mannequins a bit more attention to detail compared to their retail cousins, what some might call, a full spa treatment! 

Humans are uniquely different from one another, and our clothing choices are also uniquely different, from size to shape to style. These human qualities are well represented in our historic textile collection, and when displaying these garments, every detail is assessed to ensure its preservation. 

Dressing a museum mannequin is the opposite of fitting a living person. Instead of fitting the clothes to the person, the mannequin is made to fit the clothes. Many of the mannequins we use at the Museum have been custom made by our conservation department using conservation-quality materials. We first begin by measuring the waist, chest, neck, arm, and leg lengths. The mannequin form is then either trimmed down, or padded out with polyester fibre to reach the required dimensions to properly support the clothing. 



Once the basic form is made and covered with a suitable fabric, we begin to dress the mannequin. This is where historic photographs are useful to see how the outfits were worn, and to bring a little more personality to our frozen foam bodies. Edith Rogers’ cotton-crocheted tea gown, displayed in the Winnipeg Gallery, is a good example of using research to determine the best fit. A tea gown bridges the gap between dress and undress as a corset is not worn with it. Research shows only an upper-class woman could have afforded this type of dress among their ball, dinner, reception, and afternoon dresses. 

A similar style dress from a 1913 Eaton’s of Toronto catalogue was used as a reference when building the mannequin for the Edith Rogers dress.

Image: Eaton’s Spring and Summer Catalogue, No. 106, 1913 

When this dress was chosen for display it first needed to be stabilized in the conservation lab with a fine net in the bodice and a few minor tear repairs. In order to make this garment appear as it would, we added a petticoat from the Museum’s collection to help support the textile. With the petticoat slipped over the custom form, then carefully sliding the dress on and using acid-free tissue to fill any gaps – voila – the tea gown was ready for exhibition. 

The last part of dressing a mannequin is in the finer details. The arms, hands, legs, waist, and head all need to be positioned. For the modern Pow Wow dancer in the renewed Prairies Gallery, the Curator wanted to evoke the idea that the mannequin is dancing, to look as if the mannequin is in-motion. When trying to imply movement, it can be difficult to balance the mannequin as a structure, but also to balance the preservation of the artifacts that are being displayed. 

On your next visit to the Museum, hopefully you are able to see some of these fabulously fitted forms. 

Conservator Carolyn Sirett adjusts the headdress of Pow Wow regalia on a mannequin in the conservation lab.

Making final adjustments to the mannequin in the conservation laboratory.

Image: © Manitoba Museum 

Intricate Pow Wow regalia on a mannequin posed to look as though it is mid-dance in a display case in the Prairies Gallery.

One of 22 custom mannequins created by Conservator Carolyn Sirett and installed in the new Prairies Gallery.

Image: © Manitoba Museum/Ian McCausland 

Carolyn Sirett

Meet the Conservation Team

Carolyn Sirett

Senior Conservator

Carolyn Sirett received her B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Manitoba, Diploma in Cultural Resource Management from the University of Victoria, and Diploma in Collections Conservation and Management…
Meet Carolyn Sirett

The Story of a Book: A Conservation Tale of Repair

As a repository for over 2.8 million artifacts and specimens, the Manitoba Museum possesses a collection that is made up of pretty much everything and anything you can imagine! One of the more humble artifacts that you might not think of in the museum’s collection, and one that is of practical use in everyday lives, are books. I personally only thought of books as the stories or information that was contained within, until two years ago, when a particular book came across my workbench. 

In the summer of 2018, a very excited Dr. Roland Sawatzky, Curator of History,  came into the conservation lab with a very large and heavy book in his hands. It was a Brown’s Bible, that belonged to Reverend John Black. I won’t delve into the specifics of John Black but will mention that his story is tied to the early beginnings of the Red River Settlement around 1851. 

When Dr. Sawatzky brought the Bible into the conservation lab, it was in very poor condition. Perhaps a sign of its dedicated use and a symbol of how far it has travelled both in time and distance. The coverboards were falling off, the spine was torn and abraded, numerous sections of pages were loose as well as heavily soiled and damaged. Chosen to be displayed in the new Prairies Gallery, opening in the fall of 2020, it would need a lot of love and care to ensure its safe display.

In January of 2019, I began to dissect the Bible, knowing the repair would take a few months. Books are interesting objects to work on because they are all created differently depending on their age. Binding structures, sewing methods, the type of glue used, printing methods, and machinery all play an important role in telling the history of these otherwise mute objects. The Brown’s Bible is an excellent example of this, in telling a larger narrative based on how it was made rather than the person who owned it or the written text. 

 The repair began with taking a large portion of the Bible apart. Loose pages were removed, the front and back cover boards were taken off, including cutting the spine. This was a frightening feeling for someone who is used to repairing damage, not creating more! From there, about one hundred of the loose pages were mechanically cleaned, washed, flattened, dried, and repaired. Did I say washed? Yes, that is correct. A small “secret” in conservation is that paper can be washed, but inks are first checked for solubility and we make sure the paper fibers can handle the process. 

Two photos side-by-side. On the left, large, loose pages of the Brown's Bible are in three stacks on a table next to a fine bush. On the right, padded weights are placed around the edges of a page lying on a table to flatten it.

Loose pages were mechanically cleaned (left) and repaired once washed and flattened (right). Image: © Manitoba Museum, H9-4-973 

Two photos side-by-side. On the left, looking down on the spine of the Brown’s Bible with a torn section along the left side. The torn off section is lying beside the rest of the spine. On the right, the repaired spine in one piece.

To repair the spine of the bible, a cast was made and the detached piece was adhered back into position. Image: © Manitoba Museum, H9-4-973 

Two photos side-by-side. On the left, slices of gellan gum laying along the covered spine of the Brown’s Bible as it’s held in a vice. On the right, Conservator Carolyn Sirett uses her finger to apply some adhesive to the re-sewn spine of the Brown’s Bible, as it’s held flat and still on a table under padded weights.

Removing old adhesive from the original spine with gellan gum (left), and Carolyn consolidating re-sewn spine with adhesive (right). Image: © Manitoba Museum 

While the pages were drying, the front and back coverboards were worked on. These were cleaned, humidified and the leather re-adhered into the original position.  The spine was the trickiest part of the whole piece, in that the original cloth used to hold the coverboards to the text block was too weak and a new cast had to be made for the spine to go on. Small details such as the paper raised bands on the spine are telling signs of the type of intricate details the original bookbinder put into his craft. 

After about 8 months of work, the finale to this treatment was nearing. The old adhesive on the spine was removed, the cleaned pages were re-sewn and coverboards were ready to be attached.  Looking at this book now, as it hopefully resembles what it once did over two-hundred years ago, I am excited to see it showcased in the new gallery for others to learn not only who owned it, but how it was made and the story behind its repair. 

Two photos side-by-side. On the top, looking at the spine of the Brown’s Bible as it lies flat. The book is worn and falling apart, with the cover torn and peeling. On the bottom, the Brown’s Bible after conservation treatment, still looking its age, but now intact and lying flat.

Spine of the Bible before and after conservation treatment.

Image: © Manitoba Museum, H9-4-973 

Carolyn Sirett

Meet the Conservation Team

Carolyn Sirett

Senior Conservator

Carolyn Sirett received her B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Manitoba, Diploma in Cultural Resource Management from the University of Victoria, and Diploma in Collections Conservation and Management…
Meet Carolyn Sirett

Monumental Moves: Sweating over Big Artifacts (Part 2)

It’s time for the sweaty part of the blog – not the panicky sweating type of emotion I first experienced when large fragile artifacts were being transported all over the city – but literally sweaty in the sense that big artifacts get your muscles moving prepping them for exhibition. Our first workout began after the stained glass window was delivered to Prairie Studio Glass for its complete restoration. Prairie Studio undertook the joyful task of dismantling the entire window, which started with making a template and numbering over 300 pieces of glass. Next, the components were taken out of the original wood frame and piece by piece placed into containers. That’s when the conservation team decided to join in on the fun and help scrub 100-year-old putty and dirt off each individual piece. After three and a half hours, and only a small section of the puzzle back together, Conservation Technician Loren Rudisuela and I decided we would leave the rest up to Prairie Studio Glass staff. 

A large section of the stained glass window on a flat surface. To the left, gloved hands of someone out of frame are removing pieces of glass from the came.

Removing the glass pieces from the old lead came.

Image: Prairie Studio Glass 

The second time the Loren and I went back to the studio was to help squish new putty in-between the lead came after the pieces were put back together in their new frame. This was a lot of elbow and thumb grease to make sure everything would be secured. A few weeks later and the big day arrived for the window to be installed into its new wall niche, again making me sweat a little more watching it being hoisted about fifteen feet in the air after having it painstakingly restored. But everything went according to plan and you can now see this amazing artifact on display in our new Winnipeg Gallery! 

Conservator Carolyn Sirett (left) and Conservation Technician Loren Rudisuela (right) working either side of a work bench, putting putty onto the new lead came of a large stained glass window.

Carolyn and Loren putting putty into the new lead came. Image: Prairie Studio Glass 

Three individuals supporting and lifting a large stained glass window up to a hole the shape of the window near the top of the wall in front of them.

Installing restored window into the new gallery. Image: © Manitoba Museum 

Two photos side-by-side. On the left, an adult and child walk hand in hand towards a doorway leading into the Winnipeg 1920 Cityscape. Above the doorway is a large half-circle stained glass window. On the right, two adults with a child between them stand facing a doorway leading into the Winnipeg 1920 Cityscape, looking up at the half-circle stained glass window above the doorway.

Restored stained glass window now on exhibition in the new Winnipeg Gallery. Images: © Manitoba Museum / Ian McCausland 

Another big workout was prepping the Eaton’s lintel for its debut and installation. Architectural features are beautiful to look at, however harsh outdoor environments can really change the finish to some of the materials. For our Eaton’s lintel, the visible deterioration was mainly on the brass components where years of oxidation, rain, snow … lots of snow … and pollution left a layer of thick corrosion along the surface. Once again, we rolled up our sleeves and spent several days scrubbing off the corrosion. 

Conservator Carolyn Sirett and Conservation Technician Loren Rudisuela, both wearing face masks, sit or kneel on the ground working on the brass edging the limestone lintel laid out on the floor in front of them.

Carolyn and Loren cleaning the brass on the Eaton’s lintel.

Image: © Manitoba Museum 

Another added touch to the treatment included making a replica rosette for one that was missing. Installing this artifact was a monumental feat on its own as it required careful lifting, mounting and engineered bracketing in order to ensure its long-term preservation. Now in its new home, I think I can finally put down the workout towel for a little bit – until the next big artifact rolls into the lab. 

A limestone lintel framing a projector screen in the Manitoba Museum Winnipeg Gallery.

Eaton’s lintel installed in the new Winnipeg Gallery.

Image: © Manitoba Museum / Ian McCausland 

Carolyn Sirett

Carolyn Sirett

Senior Conservator

Carolyn Sirett received her B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Manitoba, Diploma in Cultural Resource Management from the University of Victoria, and Diploma in Collections Conservation and Management…
Meet Carolyn Sirett

Monumental Moves: Sweating over Big Artifacts (Part 1)

If you want to see the blood pressure rise in a conservator, display really big, historically significant, breakable objects at least ten feet off the ground. It’s the next phase in our Bringing Our Stories Forward capital gallery renewal project, and the conservation team has moved to treating artifacts for the Winnipeg Gallery set to open in the fall of 2019. The objects going on display are not only monumental in size, but genuine monuments from some of the city’s most iconic architectural buildings. 

Remember the second old city hall? For anyone born after 1962, probably not, as this was the year the building was demolished. But that’s OK! Before the wrecking ball came crashing down to make way for the new modern city hall, the Manitoba Museum was given two large stained glass windows that stood above the main entryways. These beautiful stained glass objects measure approximately nine feet wide by four feet tall and weigh a little over 100 pounds. Being so large, and obviously fragile in nature, you can see why a conservator, who repairs artifacts daily, becomes hesitant when they are handed design drawings of one of these windows being displayed above the entrance to the new Winnipeg Gallery. 

So what’s the big deal? No matter the size, all artifacts are prone to deterioration. The issue that was assessed for our chosen window is that over the last one hundred years the glass on the window has begun to slump and a visible concave shape has formed in the object, as well as several cracks and some areas of loss. In order to reverse this damage, we teamed up with Prairie Studio Glass who will help us with the restoration process. The first big step was moving the nine foot wide window from our basement storage, to the loading dock, onto a trailer, and safely transported to Prairie Studio Glass’s workshop twelve blocks away where they can begin to dismantle each piece before putting it back together again – did I mention that this all needed to be done without causing more damage? 

Three individuals moving a large half-circle stained glass window onto a wheeled cart.

Moving the stained glass window out of basement storage. © Manitoba Museum 

Conservator Carolyn Sirett and Conservation Technician Loren Rudisuela standing smiling at the camera behind a large half-circle stained glass window on wooden supports. The stained glass has a City of Winnipeg crest in the middle.

A very excited conservation team that we made it all the way to the loading dock. © Manitoba Museum 

Large half-circle stained glass window propped up on wooden supports in front of a window. The stained glass features a City of Winnipeg crest in the middle framed by a green wreath.

Stained glass window successfully transported to Prairie Studio Glass’s workshop. © Manitoba Museum 

Our second big artifact preparation is what we like to call the Eaton’s lintel. This structure once resided on Portage Avenue as part of the exterior facade of the downtown Eaton’s department store (1905 – 2003), which after demolition became the home of our beloved Winnipeg Jets. Spanning seventeen feet in length, weighing approximately 5,000 pounds, composed of 17 separate limestone blocks, and three brass fixtures, it is the largest and heaviest artifact going into the new gallery. Currently located in our off-site storage facility, groundwork for this object will include construction of an engineered mount to support the weight of stones, pre-assembly of all the pieces (to make sure everything fits!) and general cleaning of the limestone and brass surfaces. 

Four individuals lining up a metal support beam along the edge of a limestone facade lined up in several large pieces on the ground.

Beginning to piece the lintel together in our off-site storage facility.

© Manitoba Museum 


Once this is complete the lintel will be moved to the Museum, carted across the galleries, and installed in its new home. Again, a lot of moving around here! 

Several individuals standing and crouching around the pieces of the Eaton’s lintel and metal support beam in a storage space. Conservator Carolyn Sirett is turned, facing the camera, grinning.

How many architects, engineers, and museum staff does it take to build a mount for a 5,000 pound artifact? © Manitoba Museum 

No matter the size of the artifact, as a conservator we are always up for the challenge of preserving our biggest or littlest objects. Stay tuned for part two of this blog which will capture some of the treatment work performed on both of these monumental pieces. 

Carolyn Sirett

Meet the Conservation Team

Carolyn Sirett

Senior Conservator

Carolyn Sirett received her B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Manitoba, Diploma in Cultural Resource Management from the University of Victoria, and Diploma in Collections Conservation and Management…
Meet Carolyn Sirett

Reshaping Chemical Structures: The Conservation of a Home Chemistry Set

This home chemistry set came into the conservation lab for treatment after being selected for display in the soon to be constructed Winnipeg Gallery which is part of the Museum’s Bringing Our Stories Forward Capital Gallery Renewal Project. The set was acquired by the museum in 1979 and was manufactured by Lotts Bricks Ltd., a toy company based in Waterford, England. 

It was noticed during an initial condition report that the cardboard insert was weak, ripped, and warped in several locations and needed to be stabilized before display. Since the cardboard had warped over time, the loose and broken parts would no longer fit together and therefore the cardboard would need to be reshaped before repair could be completed. 

Two photos side-by-side. On the left, a detail image showing the tears in the upper left corner of the chemistry set’s insert. On the right, a detail image showing damage to the insert in the upper right corner of the chemistry set insert.

Detail images showing damage in upper left and right corners of chemistry set.

Catalogue Number: H9-9-622 © Manitoba Museum 

The chemistry set consists of a red cardboard box which has a grey blue box adhered to it. There is also a moss green cardboard insert which holds the pieces of the set in place. There are twelve cardboard canisters with pop-off metal lids, and four glass bottles with metal screw-on lids. All of these containers still have their labelled chemicals inside. There is a small glass tube with a cork stopper which containing purple coloured litmus paper. Hidden under the cardboard insert is a small envelope labelled ‘Litmus Paper’ which has two pink papers inside. Lastly, there is an orange rubber tube with a glass end covered in a black coating. 

Three images side=by-side. Detail images (left to right) showing red box with insert removed, damaged cardboard insert, damaged right corner of insert of chemistry set.

Detail images (left to right) showing red box with insert removed, damaged cardboard, damaged right corner of insert of chemistry set. Catalogue Number: H9-9-622 © Manitoba Museum 

Two photos side-by-side. On the left, looking down at an angle on one of the cardboard canisters from the chemistry set with its metal pop-off lid. On the right, five of the cardboard canisters in a row. The canisters have “Lott’s Chemistry” written on the sides.

Components of Chemistry Set. Catalogue Number: H9-9-622 © Manitoba Museum 

Two photos side-by-side. On the left, the cardboard insert with an old pencil catalogue number written on it. On the right, the insert with the old catalogue number removed.

Eraser bits used to clean off an old pencil catalogue number. © Manitoba Museum 

In the conservation lab, the set was disassembled and the individual parts were examined. In general all surfaces of the set were dusty and covered in grime. The red outer box was very stable but the moss green cardboard insert was ripped in several areas and the structure was warped. The canisters and glass bottles have small areas of corrosion on the metal lids. 

The first step was to clean every surface of the set. This involved brushing all the components with a soft natural hair brush which loosened dust off the surface and allowed the dust to be carefully vacuumed away. The cardboard and canisters were further cleaned by gently rubbing eraser bits over the surfaces to pick up grime and loosen ingrained dirt. 

The most complicated step of the treatment was reshaping the cardboard insert. The insert was reshaped by misting the surface with distilled water, causing the paper structure to relax, which allowed for the manual repositioning of the cardboard to the original position. The insert was placed onto custom cut wood blocks which were covered in absorbent paper (blotter paper). The wood form was clamped and weighed down which prevented the cardboard from deforming during the drying process. 


Four images put together in a collage. On the upper left, the cardboard insert laid on a flat surface, wetted and being reshaped. On the upper middle, blocks of wood with blotter paper, used to reshape the wetted insert. One the upper right, blocks of wood with blotter papers placed onto wetted cardboard. On the bottom, wood inserts clamped and weighted down in a vice to hold the wetted carboard insert still as it dries.

(Top left) Cardboard insert wetted and being reshaped.

(Top middle) Blocks of wood with blotter papers.

(Top right) Blocks of wood with blotter papers placed onto wetted cardboard.

(Bottom) Wood inserts clamped and weighted while drying.

© Manitoba Museum 

After a week, the cardboard insert was dry and removed from the wood form. The cardboard was then repaired by reattaching the loose sections and reinforcing ripped areas with light-weight mending paper and conservation grade cellulose based adhesive. The ripped cardboard was further repaired on the front of the insert by adhering tinted light-weight mending paper to breaks in the structure. 

Three images in a collage. On the top, the cardboard insert being repaired with light coloured pieces of mending paper along the weak or torn joints of the insert. On the bottom left, the cardboard insert beside painting supplies, as the mending paper is painted with watercolours to blend in with the cardboard. On the bottom right, close up of the tinted mending paper now painted to match the cardboard insert.

(Top) Cardboard insert being repaired with light-weight mending paper and conservation grade adhesive.

(Bottom left) Tinting mending paper with watercolours to match cardboard.

(Bottom right) Tinted light-weight mending paper used to stabilize and hide rips in the structure of the cardboard.

© Manitoba Museum 


Once everything was stable and dry the insert was set back into the red box and finally all the components were set back into place. 

Treatment completed, the cardboard insert back inside the chemistry set’s red box.

Stabilized cardboard insert placed back into place.

© Manitoba Museum 


You will be able to see this home chemistry set in the new Winnipeg Gallery when it opens in the fall of 2019. 

Two photos side-by-side. On the left, Conservation Technician Loren Rudisiela, wearing a white lab coat and teal gloves, holding up the stabilized and reassembled chemistry set. On the right, looking down into the red carboard box with the stabilized insert holding the many pieces of the set in place.

Reassembled and ready for display.

Catalogue Number: H9-9-622 © Manitoba Museum 

Loren Rudisuela

Loren Rudisuela

Assistant Conservator

Loren Rudisuela holds a B.A in Art History from the University of Guelph, a certificate in Art Fundamentals from Sheridan College, and a Graduate Certificate in Cultural Heritage Conservation and Management…
Meet Loren Rudisuela