Cleaning a chandelier
City of Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museums Service asked Will Murray to clean an 18th Century chandelier that hangs in Provost Skene's House, a medieval building in the centre of Aberdeen. The chandelier is not original to the house but furnishes a room display showing life in the house more than 200 years ago. After discussion of health and safety issues, Alison Fraser, Keeper of Applied Arts, arranged for the furniture to be moved and safe access provided via a set of airport steps.
The chandelier is made mainly of glass with metal supporting structures. Originally designed to hold candles, it had been converted to gas and then electricity. Part of the current works included replacement of bulb-holders and wiring by an electrician to ensure continued safe use. The chandelier was looking very dusty and dull and in need of a good clean. Some sources of advice suggest that chandeliers can be cleaned simply by spraying them with an alcohol-water mix but that is only likely to be useful for light soiling, particularly where there are no places (such as the interior of glass tubes) where dirty water could gather. In this case, after an initial dusting, all the fixed parts were cleaned in situ with swabs dampened with water and detergent, and rinsed with swabs dampened with clean water. Even after cleaning, the glass was often dull and watermarked, and a polish with a dry paper towel was required to bring up its glittering transparency.
The swags of brilliants were easily removed for cleaning as they were hung on small metal chains with hooks and loops - the main thing was to take one off at a time to ensure that the original arrangement was not lost. Each swag was carefully cleaned with soft brushes in shallow dishes containing detergent solution and rinse water, and dried and polished with swabs and paper towels. Luckily the wiring of the swags was in good condition as the wirework of chandeliers is very fine and can be difficult to conserve without the correct tools. One or two paperclip repairs were discovered during the cleaning, but these were functioning well and were left in place.
Due to the many parts and the need to work slowly and carefully, two days were required to clean the chandelier. Members of the public were admitted to the room as part of the tour of the house and conservation issues were discussed with many of the visitors after they had got over their initial surprise. The project was also visited by a press photographer and article later appeared in the Aberdeen Press & Journal. The project was funded by the Friends of Aberdeen Art Gallery with the support of a grant from Museums Galleries Scotland. Finally, many thanks to the warders of Provost Skene's House for their warm welcome.