Penelope Returns, and Lucretia Leaves

It has been a very exciting (and busy!) couple of weeks at Hardwick as we have been getting ready to open a new exhibition highlighting our ‘Great Hanging’ embroideries. Many, many months ago (three years actually) the first of the Great Hangings went away to Blickling Conservation Studios for conservation work. This is the start of a long-term conservation project for Hardwick. The Blickling Textile Conservation Studio Blog has lots of interesting info and nice pics of the conservation work they did on Penelope.

Penelope

Penelope

Eventually all four beautiful works of this set will be displayed in the Hall in a new exhibition that is being created specifically for this project. They are going to be displayed in the Butler’s Pantry, that used to house an introductory exhibition about Hardwick Estate. The past couple of weeks we have been focusing in installing Penelope in this space and getting it ready to open to the public.

The Empty Exhibition Space

The Empty Exhibition Space

I was not working at Hardwick when Penelope went away for conservation, but remember seeing the hanging on display in their screens in the Entrance Hall. Duchess Evelyn placed the embroideries in these screens, where previously they had been displayed on giant A-Frames, and prior to that hung on walls. Now it has reached the point where these virtuous ladies really need some TLC.

Taking Penelope out of her packaging

Taking Penelope out of her packaging

Penelope returned to Hardwick at the beginning of the month, and we brought her into the newly refurbished Butler’s Pantry to await the arrival of her custom-made display case. The vision for the Butler’s Pantry has been to turn it into a really absorbing gallery space where your attention is focused solely in Penelope and eventually the rest of the Great Hangings.

Un-rolling

Un-rolling

The Great Hangings were created by Bess out of clerical vestments her husbands collected from their involvement in the dissolution of the monasteries. Originally there were five hangings, each featuring a strong woman from history or mythology that Bess admired. The five women originally featured in the five hangings were Penelope, Lucretia, Artemisia, Zenobia and Cleopatra. I love that Bess herself has now joined the ranks of these women, and is a role model to others as these five were to her!

Lining the embroidery up with the frame

Lining the embroidery up with the frame

Penelope was the wife of Odysseus (also knows as Ulysses). It took Odysseus 10 years to return from the Trojan War, all the while Penelope waited for his return, not knowing if he was alive or dead. During this time she was harangued by many suitors wanting her hand in marriage. She told the suitors that she would marry once she had finished weaving a shroud for her father-in-law. So every day Penelope sat at her loom and carried on her weaving, and every night when she was alone she un-wove the work she has just done so the task would never be completed. Eventually Odysseus did return and rid his home of the suitors that had been taking advantage of his lands and possessions for too long, and he and Penelope were joyfully reunited!

Going up!

Going up!

Penelope is depicted alongside Patients and Perseverance on our hanging, two virtues she definitely displayed and that Bess must have admired. The tapestries hanging in the High Great Chamber also depict Penelope as the follow the story of Odysseus (Ulysses) returning from Troy. I studied the Odyssey at A-Level and think it is a really interesting story full of myth and magic, fantastic creatures and plenty of danger! Worth a read if you enjoy mythology and adventure.

Penelope gets a final spruce

Penelope gets a final spruce

Her display case has been fitted with perspex panes as large as we could get them, so as to interfere with the piece as little as possible. It has also been chosen to reduce and reflections so visitors can see Penelope clearly. It works really well and you barely notice it is there, I just hope we don’t get sticky fingers touching it as removing fingerprints off our display cases seems to be an endless job already (I don’t know how people in museums cope!).

Un covering the perspex

Un-covering the perspex

As well as her custom-made display case Penelope has had state of the are LED lighting fitted overhead, set specially to pick out the wonderful colour that still remains in the piece. Each embroidery is made a church vestments, this mean each piece of the image is made from the most fantastic fabrics, velvet and brocades covered in gold and silver threads and spangles! I have been doing a detailed condition check of the piece and keep getting distracted by the way the detail had been created, there is so much to see!

The detail on the eagle held by Perseverance

The detail on the eagle held by Perseverance

I am so pleased to have been involved with this project, in the small way I have been, and so proud of the team for creating a stunning exhibition fitting for such a work of art, and I am in no doubt that Penelope and Bess would have been very pleased with the result! The exhibition officially opened 18th June so if you can come and have a look for yourselves!

Bess' coat of arms

Bess’ coat of arms

The next Great Hanging to head to Norfolk is Lucretia. Lucretia’s story does not have the happy ending Penelope’s does, but luckily the embroidery will have a happy ending and return to us as beautiful as the first now looks! Having seen Penelope’s transformation I cannot wait to see the four virtuous ladies on display, conserved and looking fab. However that is some way off yet so I will have to follow Penelope’s example and be patient.

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Goodbye Gideon

Or should I say ‘see you later’! We have just sent the next one of our Gideon tapestries away from conversation!

The latest Gideon we took down

The latest Gideon we took down

The Gideon tapestries projects has been on-going for years and I was lucky enough to help re-hang the last two Gideons that returned from conservation in May. Even though this was the first time I had taken down a Gideon the team are more than well-practiced so we were in safe hands.

The damage to the tapestry

The damage to the tapestry

The tapestry we were taking down this time is in the worst repair of the three that remain to be conserved, which is why we decided it needed to be the next to go. The closer we looked at the tapestry, the worse the damage is!

Bess' patch peeling to reveal  the original shield underneath

Bess’ patch peeling to reveal the original shield underneath

As this tapestry is one of the three largest in the property we had to re-think about how to approach handling such a massive weight. It was decided to help us this time round fixed scaffolding would be hired to cope with the weight of the tapestry, which was going to be a new experience for us (It was odd climbing a different scaffold that was so sturdy it barely moved at all!).

The fixed scaffold

The fixed scaffold tower

The first thing the Textile Conservators did we remove the bottom border of the tapestry. All the tapestries are woven in three pieces, with the top and bottom borders being separate. The bottom border is in the worst repair, having taken most of the wear and tear and the most dirt. Taking off the bottom border makes it easier to roll the tapestry later, and makes it a little bit lighter.

Removing the lower border

Removing the lower border

The tapestry had to be rolled onto a drain pipe so our carpenters built a brilliant little track for us. We had a trolley that the drain pipe stood upright on and this ran along the wooden track set at the base of the wall. This partnered with the fixed scaffold with three levels on made rolling the tapestry easier for us.

Our little trolley

Our little trolley

There were three levels to our scaffold, we had four people on each helping roll and another four or so at the bottom pushing the trolley and rolling the very bottom of the tapestry onto the drain pipe. It true when they say ‘many hands make light work’!

Starting to roll the tapestry

Starting to roll the tapestry

Starting at the side nearest the fireplace velcro was tacked to the lining of the tapestry and this was fixed to the velcro on the drain pipe. We then ran the trolley along the track, rolling the Gideon smoothly onto the pipe as we went. Once it we rolled on to the drain pipe the whole thing had to be lowered.

Rolling, rolling . . .

Rolling, rolling . . .

Thanks to the ingenious design of the trolley the pipe was on a hinged piece to make lowering it much easier. Two straps were tied around the roll and used to slowly lover the roll down to the ground. This had to be done very carefully to make sure we did not squash anyone standing below waiting to receive! A good test of my knot tying ability and it certainly flexed our muscles too.

Coming down

Coming down

The planning that has gone into this event, based on the previous tapestry removals, made the whole process very smooth and quite quick, once we started it took us about half an hour to roll and lower the tapestry. Then the textile conservators took the newest backing fabric off in the Long Gallery, and found an awful lot of detritus behind it!

Removing the backing fabric from the tapestry

Removing the backing fabric from the tapestry

After they had finished they rolled the tapestry onto a second drain pipe (without velcro on), padding it with wadding and acid free tissue as they rolled it. This mean the tapestry was properly protected and ready for transport the next day. It’s first stop will be the Textile Studios at Blickling Hall, where it will be made ready for being washed.

The tapestry in the Long Gallery

The tapestry in the Long Gallery

Our Gideon tapestries are sent to Belgium to be washed, not far from Oudenaarde where they were originally woven. They are sent here because it is the only workshop with tanks large enough to wash our tapestries flat. They tell us we have the dirtiest tapestries in Europe! (But to be fair they haven’t been washed in over 400 years!).

The tacks that were keeping the tapestry up

The tacks that were keeping the tapestry up

After washing the tapestry will be sent back to the Blickling Studio where the Textile Conservators will work on it, and then it will be returned to Hardwick in about 2 and a half years time! It will be absolutely amazing to see the whole set after they have all been conserved , but that is still several years away!

Chap photo in front of the Gideon

Our Chap photo in front of the Gideon