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.
April 18, 2019

Monumental Moves: Sweating over Big Artifacts (Part 1)

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