Museum storage: the ultimate treasure trove
Behind the scenes, however, is a special area that is normally off-limits to visitors. This is the museum’s collection store, a space that has been custom-designed to accommodate a multitude of items, from archaeological artefacts, delicate costumes and artworks to furniture, building materials and machinery. Nothing enters this climate- and pest-controlled space without first being rigorously assessed.
Recently, Sydney Living Museums members were given a tour of the store at the Museums Discovery Centre by SLM’s Head of Collections Care, Sarah-Jane Rennie. Unlike in exhibition galleries, here objects can be found placed together for practical reasons and not curatorial rationale, meaning that objects from different times and locations and created for altogether different purposes sit side by side.
Wandering through we discovered a mid-century Paul Kafka dining chair sidling up to the hardworking bentwood chairs used in the criminal courts at the Justice & Police Museum during the 1920s. Handmade bricks from the Hyde Park Barracks stamped with their convict maker’s thumbprints were carefully housed in bespoke boxes, as were luxurious dresses of silk and lace from Meroogal. There was even a wardrobe cleverly concealing a foldaway cedar bed made in Parramatta in the late 19th century.
Sarah-Jane explained the variety of conservation methods and techniques used for different materials across different restoration projects. She also showed off the breadth of the collection, which not only relates to the 12 museums and historic houses that Sydney Living Museums cares for but also includes many extraordinary items that have come into our collection after being saved from demolished buildings across Sydney.
The Museums Discovery Centre's public galleries are open weekdays, 10am–5pm.
Entry is free for Sydney Living Museums members.
To visit Sydney Living Museums' collection store make sure to keep an eye out for the next members tour later in the year.
As Sarah-Jane Rennie, Head of Collections Care at Sydney Living Museums, reminds us, ‘at SLM, it’s less glamorous, more grimy, although never mundane’.
From battling outbreaks of mould and polishing antique silver to smoothing out wrinkles in a tattered doll’s dress, her workload is nothing if not varied.