Conserving and managing STAM’s impressive collection of 17,000-plus items is an ongoing process. And it is no easy task, not least because it contains many valuable museum pieces, made of very diverse materials.
When it comes to restoring items, STAM works with experienced and reputable specialists, chosen according to material and period. They treat the objects with the greatest care and ensure that they can continue to withstand the test of time.
These days restoration is a highly specialized niche domain. A manuscript without miniatures requires different treatment from an illuminated manuscript but the same degree of attention in terms of presentation. So when it comes to restoring them, the two items are not placed in the same hands.
Equally delicate are the ancient records on display at STAM. Thanks to the invaluable cooperation with numerous partners, the museum is able to illustrate milestones in Ghent’s history by means of authentic documents. They range from the charter granted by Emperor Louis the Pious in 819 from the State Archives, to the Great Privilege signed by Mary of Burgundy in 1477 from the City Archive. And then there is the sine qua non of the collection: the Concessio Carolina, the statute imposed by Emperor Charles V on the people of Ghent in 1540 after the uprising, rescinding all their privileges and freedoms.
At STAM you will find items which were normally safely stowed away and only accessible to scientists. The folded documents were carefully flattened and attached to an acid-free base. The seals required a special fixing.
Textiles, metal, wood, stone… each material requires its own approach. Take for instance the fifteenth-century military standard featuring the Maid of Ghent, attributed to the artist Agnes vanden Bossche and rightly included in the Flemish Community’s list of Masterpieces. This unique piece painted on both sides was consolidated. It is now on display to the public in ideal conditions in terms of climate, lighting and support.
The same care was given to other masterpieces, including the early-seventeenth-century tunic of a herald embroidered with the coat of arms of Philip II, the fourteenth-century bronze memorial plaques of Willem Wenemaer and his wife, and the ‘Panoramic view of Ghent 1534’.
As a rule, STAM opts for gentle restoration. The seventeenth- and eighteenth-century procession torches only needed a light clean. The same applied to the Wenemaer memorial plaques, though they were then finished with a protective layer of wax. Sometimes earlier restoration work has to be reversed. In the case of the Romanesque font from the Museum for Stone Objects, an earlier application of wax was removed to allow the Tournai stone to come into its own.
More recent items also required attention. In the case of the ‘Gent Morgen’ (Ghent Tomorrow) maquette made by architects Jurg Lang and Helmut Schulitz in 1971, which STAM recently acquired for its collection, a light retouch was called for. In particular, the monorail around the historic Kuip in the model was in need of repair.
By no means all the items in STAM’s collection are on show to the public; most are stowed away behind the scenes in storerooms. Caring for the collection is an ongoing process and a great deal of work goes into preserving the collection according to current guidelines. Old packing materials are replaced, objects which are dirty or damaged are treated and a more appropriate spot is found for them in the storeroom.
In the coming years the objects not on show at STAM will be moving to new storerooms where they will be kept in ideal conditions. The staff responsible for the collection are currently fully focussed on this move. The inventory is being updated, the objects are being cleaned, repacked and, where necessary, treated so that when they move they are in spruce condition and can easily be located in their new home.