Conservation for a Virtual Exhibition

Last year the BSM received funding to support an online exhibition about the history of figure skating. This project was managed by the BSM's Collections Manager Suzanne Petersen. In the late spring of 2021 she went through all the skates in the BSM collection to determine which ones would best tell the story. Once her selections were finalized, I examined the skates to see which ones required treatment in preparation for photography.

Out of 53 pairs of skates 14 pairs needed conservation. Once COVID restrictions were eased, I was able to work full time at the museum. I had two months to complete my portion of the project before handing everything over to the photography team. There was a group of eight pairs of skates, from the 19th century, composed of wooden footrests, into which steel blades were imbedded. These would have been attached to the skater’s boots with leather straps, a few of which were extant. Some of the straps were exhibiting red rot, a form of deterioration that undermines the stability of the leather, causing embrittlement of the fibres. Several leather straps were so degraded, they had broken into smaller sections causing delamination of the grain (the smooth surface of the leather).

In several instances, leather straps had buckles and rivets used to keep everything in place. At some point, a previous owner had applied a leather dressing attempting to keep the leather supple. The oils from these applications interacted with the metal components creating a greasy, green crystalline residue called verdigris (you can see in the photo below how the paper support is stained yellow from the migrating oils). As the verdigris continued to accumulate it caused the leather to split and crack at the point of contact. The buildup of verdigris was removed with wooden picks, micro brushes and dental tools. Afterwards, soft bristle brushes were used to sweep the debris into a low suction vacuum.

Some of the wooden footrests had a buildup of dirt that had accumulated over their approximately 150-year lifetime. This was removed with latex free cosmetic sponges and dry cleaning sponges. The crumbs from this process were removed with a soft bristle brush and a low suction vacuum.

The BSM has shown individual pairs of skates in previous exhibitions but never together on such a specific topic. This project was a great opportunity to have a closer look at our collection of skates and treat them as a group. Boots & Blades: The Story of Canadian Figure Skating is now live and can be viewed here.

Ada Hopkins, BSM Conservator

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