Home » Behind the Scenes of an Exhibition – Blog Post 1

Behind the Scenes of an Exhibition – Blog Post 1

Is it safe for me to touch that? A study in correct object handling.

My name is Millie and I have recently started working in the Highland Folk Museum as a Collections Assistant through the Kickstart scheme. My main responsibility is working with the collection – whether this be cleaning recent acquisitions or scouring the catalogue for research requests.

Recently, I have been working on researching and looking out objects for an upcoming exhibition at the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery (IMAG) named ‘Health, Wealth and Happiness.’  This exhibition will look at the history of healthcare in the Highlands. In their preparation for this exhibition, the curators, Joe and Kari, reached out to the Highland Folk Museum requesting to borrow some objects for their display.

So, equipped with my trusty purple latex gloves, myself and the curatorial team at the museum, found ourselves rifling through several Gladstone bags and cases that belonged to local doctors to find items that may be suitable for display.

The bags belonged to a local family in Kingussie who had produced three generations of doctors, the Orchard family. Consecutively, the three generations of doctors served the Badenoch area for over a century! These bags and several other items were donated to the Museum by Margaret Anne Byron, the daughter of the Dr Orchard, who went on to become a nurse. Her mother, also a nurse, was consistently recognised by the Red Cross for her work and the museum holds a certificate gifted to her for this work.

Searching the bags felt not too dissimilar from travelling through a maze as they were each made up of countless compartments which held various books, medical equipment and jars of medicine. One jar, never opened, was completely full of perfectly preserved little, white pills. With items such as these, however, it is essential to be conscientious and handle them with respect and care. Hence, the fashionable gloves.

While working in the Am Fasgadh (meaning ‘the shelter’ in Gaelic) store, I have often been sporting a pair of bright-purple latex gloves. These are an essential bit of kit for anyone who wishes to work with collections. Our hands secrete natural oils that over time, can damage objects. This was particularly relevant when working with the leather bags as this material is susceptible to growing mould and micro-organisms on your hands can begin this process.

Gloves are also essential when searching through medical bags as they often contain old jars of medicine or medical equipment which may be potentially dangerous to touch. For example, old thermometers contained mercury which is toxic to humans and definitely not something you want to be exposed to!

 Wearing gloves, however, isn’t the only consideration to take when handling objects. For example, areas of vulnerability should be identified, equipment and materials for handling should be prepared and forward planning are other essential areas that must be addressed when working with an object.

So, to answer the question: is it safe for me to touch that? Yes, but with a bit of forward planning and consideration taken first!

Keen to learn more about handling objects safely?