Description of condition: Traces of life
If the theatre puppets in our museum collection are “brought to life”, e.g. because they are to be exhibited, they may be exposed to external dangers. For example, incorrect transport, light which is too bright, unfavourable climatic conditions or pests could damage our objects. Therefore, their condition before and after an exhibition is documented in detail. This is done both in writing and photographically.
Many of our puppets represent a special challenge in this respect. On the one hand, they are partly equipped with elaborate clothing and accessories and on the other hand, many of these puppets have experienced a busy life on the stage, which of course has left its mark. In addition, not all of the puppets’ designers had a comprehensive knowledge of the different materials they used. For example, how the materials affect each other or what influence the environment and time has on them. So we have figures in our collection with dissolving materials, such as flaking paint, crumbling foam or worn, faded fabrics. Some puppeteers as was necessary also repaired their figures, concealed missing parts or repainted their hands and faces. All these traces must be documented and some of them restored.
In order not to lose the overview and our patience, a well thought-out system and sometimes a little chocolate is needed.
The system; for the puppet / collection object, the chocolate afterwards for us. This is how we describe from top to bottom, left to right, inside to outside and from front to back. We document every dent, every scratch, every scrape, every flaw, every hole, every patch etc. The formulation of a detailed report as to the condition can take a lot of time under certain circumstances. In order to document the condition visually as well, we also take detailed photos, which we also label according to a uniform system. In this way, we and others can understand what detail is involved.
The exciting thing about descriptions of the condition of an object / puppet is that our view becomes much clearer. By observing and formulating the condition in detail, one virtually merges with the object and its history. Sometimes you discover important details that remain hidden from you when you simply examine the object. This task requires a lot of concentration and patience. Therefore, it should be done in a well managed way, so that the excitement and fun of the work is maintained. Afterwards a piece of chocolate or two or three!