Repairing the studio blind

By Charleston’s Conservation Cleaner, Kathy Crisp

A birds-eye view of the studio at Charleston. Photo © Kathy Crisp.

While Charleston has been closed over the last few months, you’d be forgiven for thinking that we haven’t been working on our collections. However, gratefully funded by Historic England,  I have continued working to keep the house and collections safe and secure.

In November, the rest of the curatorial team, Darren and Emily returned from furlough and we were able to work together on an urgent project, fixing the studio blind. During October the nylon pull cord from the highest blackout blind suddenly snapped. There was now no way of closing it and keeping out the daylight which can be damaging to the collection. The challenge was, it was very high up. To reach it safely we had to move all the objects and furniture away from that side of the room so we could carefully bring in the enormous platform step ladder from the galleries.

Tables were set up for the purpose of moving the collection of objects and art materials off the newspaper-covered table under the studio window. Another sturdy table was used for the several large pots from the studio windowsill. We moved the painter’s table — which is actually screwed to the wall — so there was room to place the ladder. These movements then allowed for the inspection and cleaning of the floor beneath, and the walls behind.

Darren went up the ladder first and replaced the cord successfully. I was eager to get up there afterwards and vacuum several years’ accumulation of dust, dead flies and cobwebs. Subsequently, I cleaned those generous panes of glass which flood the studio with diffused north light.

This high vantage point gave me such an unusual view of the room, I had to take some photographs. It felt like I was looking down into a doll’s house version of Charleston!

Beneath the dust: two carpenters who signed their names at the top of the studio wall in 1984. Photo © Kathy Crisp.

When I vacuumed the thick layer of dust at the top of the wall, I uncovered some pencil writing from two carpenters who signed their names in 1984.  Probably done back when the windows were replaced during the restoration of the house.

The wonderful collection of large pots and vases were then checked over and tiny spots of fly and spider excrement were removed with a touch of water and a cotton wool swab. Many of the ceramics in the house were repaired during the 1980s which makes them extremely fragile. To avoid the risk of damage, we move them as seldom as possible.

The ladder needed all three of us to fold it down safely and slowly manoeuvre it out of the studio door into the garden and then back up to the galleries where it lives. The assortment of artist’s supplies was then cleaned and condition checked before restoring them to the newspaper-lined table.

The blinds are now working correctly, blocking out the light when the house is closed. Too much light, artificial or natural, even with the UV protection, can cause irreversible damage to the collection. The new cord should remain strong for many years to come.

When Charleston can finally welcome back visitors, my first morning task will be to open the binds and shutters, bringing the house to life.

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