The professionals in our Preventive Conservation and Restoration unit serve our other departments, working not only with our artefacts but also with our archive, library, exhibits, etc. In a certain sense, they are in charge of keeping our heritage in good health through constant supervision.
The Museum has a professional Preventive Conservation and Restoration team that works basically in three areas: preventive conservation, restoration and specific work on watercraft. Therefore, we need to guarantee that any object is kept under the best possible conditions to ensure that it can be passed on to future generations.
Museums are not just warehouses full of old objects. They are spaces where the past is preserved in the best way possible, and brought back to life through research and education. In the case of the Maritime Museum of Barcelona, our responsibility is to preserve artefacts and documents of all different shapes, sizes and materials, always related to the sea.
Whether on display or kept in one of our storage spaces, our collection includes everything from watercolour paintings on paper to steam engines, from 80-year-old fishing boats to 15th-century documents, as well as all manner of instruments, model ships and other objects made of all sorts of materials (wood, metal, plant matter, etc.) that complicate conservation. In addition, many objects have been used at sea or in humid environments, which makes their conservation even more complicated.
One of their first objectives is to ensure optimal preventive conservation for our collections, controlling anything that might damage them or cause problems in the future. Just like in preventive medicine, we protect the health of our pieces wherever they are kept, be it in public spaces or behind closed doors.
Our Museum currently has three main storage areas: one for moveable pieces (paintings, model ships, navigational instruments, weapons, etc.), another for paper (documents, nautical charts, books, archival collections, etc.), and a third for large pieces (full-sized vessels, machines, anchors, cannons, etc.). In each of these spaces, we monitor cleanliness, temperature, humidity, light and natural agents (fungi, wood-boring insects, etc.) as much as possible. We do the same with the pieces and documents that make up our temporary or permanent exhibits, whether they are kept inside or outside the Museum.
The Maritime Museum of Barcelona is located by the sea, in a notably humid environment. Although Barcelona is a temperate climate, summers are quite warm. This combination of temperature and humidity requires extreme care. In addition, the building of the Drassanes Reals, with its high arches and wide, open spaces, makes it quite difficult to control the environment and natural light. As a result, preventive conservation needs to overcome many challenges through discreet, constant work and careful monitoring prepared for any sort of incident.
Often, we need to move beyond conservation to restoration. In some cases, we need to restore pieces suffering from a deterioration that threatens their existence (like the 16th-century documents of the Porter’s Guild of Barcelona). In other cases, the document or piece is to be used in an exhibit, and it needs to be shown to the public in perfect condition (like a 19th-century mariner’s chest on long-term loan to a coastal museum in Catalonia). In some cases, restoration is even linked to a research project on the piece, like with part of a 17th-century altarpiece or an ex-voto model galley from the late 16th century.
Our Museum has a restoration workshop well-equipped with tools and materials. We also have a team of restorers specialized in the different possibilities to be found in a maritime museum, where a broad range of materials are present: wood, metal, paper, textiles, paintings and pigments, bone, ivory, or many others.
Even though our restoration team is ready for any sort of intervention, the activity of the PCR unit can be generally classified into three fields: wood and paint on cloth, restoring model ships, and paper and paint on paper.
Our museum collection includes a type of artefact that requires special care: full-sized vessels. After a life of work on the water, some are retired and kept dry; others continue to ply the waters. In order to ensure their conservation, our Museum has a specialized workshop, a traditional shipyard, worked by a group of professionals separate from our restorers. In this case, the work is done by shipwrights, practitioners of the traditional trade of building and repairing vessels. Shipwrights are part of a profession with over 5,000 years of history, and as a result their daily work is of special importance: they preserve and transmit traditional knowledge and working techniques that have almost disappeared.
Our traditional shipyard is a workplace and, at the same time, an exhibit that reproduces spaces that have existed on our beaches for generations. In this workshop, a wide range of interventions take place. On the one hand, vessels are repaired so they can take to the water once again, like with the Drac, a Dragon-class boat for regattas, or the Patapum, a recreational motor boat. On the other, old boats that are to be kept dry are restored minimally, maintaining as many original parts as possible. This is the case of the Snipe-class boat, the San Fernando. Work is even done on singular structures that are not watercraft but that do need special care, like a wooden shack from the bathing area at Sant Pol de Mar. Finally, our shipwrights are in charge of monitoring the health of the fleet kept by the Museum in the Port of Barcelona.
Another important task is helping to train students completing their internships. The unit was recently recognized in this task by the Government of Catalonia. At the same time, through a volunteer program, non-formal training is also offered. Finally, our traditional shipyard offers guidance and advice to professionals from other institutions or private citizens.