The tapestry of human history is woven with all manner of brightly coloured threads and curious strands. No wonder, then, that the museums which capture and preserve our heritage reflect this idiosyncratic design.
This collection, with its hundreds of ceramic pharmacy jars tells the tale vividly of a fledgling profession seeking to blend its knowledge of the healing properties of plants with folk lore and downright superstition into a rudimentary medical dispensing service. Regardless of the efficacy of their so-called universal cures, the apothecaries’ eye for design and beauty is a marvel to behold.
Collections like the Wilkinson bring history to life, yet are themselves painfully vulnerable to the attentions of the present. An intruding hand here or an accidental nudge there could result in thousands of pounds’ worth of irreplaceable artefacts being reduced to shattered fragments.
Clare Pardy, fine art and heritage manager for specialist insurer Ecclesiastical, advises museums and heritage property owners across the country on how to protect their collections, exhibitions and displays.
An art historian with over 25 years’ experience in the fine art sector, Clare leads Ecclesiastical’s team of risk managers and surveyors in helping hundreds of museums and stately homes across the UK to balance the need to protect their collections with the desire to make them accessible to the public.
"Any insurance company can advise on how to keep items safe," Clare explains. "It’s just a matter of keeping them under lock and key. But that’s not going to help, for example, a museum fulfil its role. What a specialist insurer like Ecclesiastical does is work with the museum to marry accessibility with security, thus allowing the museum to attract the visitors it needs without compromising the safety of its artefacts."
Ecclesiastical has been active in the museum sector since 2006 but its roots in protecting heritage properties and the country’s great churches and cathedrals go back 125 years.
The company employs a team of in-house surveyors and risk management experts who can provide museum staff with comprehensive guidance and advice on planning exhibitions. Sometimes small changes can make a big difference in terms of protecting valuable assets.
For example, the Ecclesiastical team will explore:
Proximity to exits
Ensuring that smaller, attractive objects are not placed close to exits or in unobserved area where they might prove tempting to a would-be thief.
Asking visitors to leave their bags outside an exhibit is an excellent way of reducing the risk of theft but it can create additional risks for the museum in terms of what happens if a bag is lost.
Depending on the type of artefacts being exhibited, temperature, humidity and exposure to light may need to be reviewed, but this is a subject on which most museums are experts in their own right.
To touch or not to touch?
Displaying valuable or fragile items under glass is one way of keeping exhibits safe but there are options which can be discussed.
The human factor
Having staff positioned around the exhibit can act as a highly effective deterrent against theft but many museums have staff shortages. How can these two competing needs be balanced?
You can find out more about Ecclesiastical’s insurance products and services by speaking to your broker or by visiting the company’s website www.ecclesiastical.com.
Ecclesiastical’s annual art and heritage magazine Aspect is packed with fascinating stories about places like the Thackray Museum, so why not pre-order the new issue of the magazine by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org.