Necklace. Leather, iron, glass. Maasai, Kenya or Tanzania. Late 19th – early 20th century. Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.
Removed post-collection dirt, removed old repairs and returned chains to where evidence showed their original positions were, consolidated and supported weakened cordage and added beads to strand at bottom of chains to stabilize the necklace and emphasize its appearance during use.
The necklace is composed of a leather collar with red, white and light blue beads and an iron ring, from which lengths of chain and beaded cords hang. The ends of the chain are linked by a strand of beads.
The necklace had been stored folded, so the chains had become badly tangled. Old repairs using metal pins were holding some broken chains in incorrect positions on the collar; other repairs using original links joined broken chains to intact ones. Many links had become locked in place by a light level of corrosion. Overall the necklace was dirty, showing evidence of both ethnographic and post-collection dirt; the dirt from use was reddish and compacted between the beads while the post-collection dirt was yellow-black and greasy. The accession number was written on the front of the iron ring in red enamel paint.
The necklace was analyzed using pXRF to ensure that no heavy metal pesticides were present; the results were negative for any concerning levels of lead and arsenic, but showed that the chain was pure iron.
First, the chains were untangled to the extent they could be without removing the repairs using the original links; the pins were removed as they were damaging the leather. A very light application of WD-40 with a toothbrush softened the corrosion enough that the links could be loosened and the chains straightened. After consultation with the curator, the repairs using the original links were also removed and the chains were completely untangled. New chain was toned using acrylic paint and used to replace and support the missing chains.
The post-collection dirt was removed from the surface of the beads using deionized water and cotton swabs; the ethnographic dirt was left intact as evidence of the necklace’s use.
The red accession number was not soluble in any solvent, so had to be carefully removed with a scalpel.
A fragment of beaded cord had been tied around one of the chains. Once this was unknotted, the cord was straightened by pinning it out against Plastazote and relaxing it gently with humidity from a Preservation Pencil. Thin polyester thread was knotted and run along the cord to support it and attach it to the collar; the longer beaded cord was also supported in this way. The frayed ends of the cord were very brittle and so were consolidated by applying 1% Klucel G in ethanol with a brush.
The beaded strand across the bottom was reconstructed using glass beads and polyester thread. The thread was knotted around the frayed ends of the cord and adhered to itself with 5% Paraloid B72. Adding the beaded strand not only completed the necklace aesthetically, but helps to support the chains and prevents them from becoming tangled again.
Housing was made for the necklace using a Correx base and Plastazote for cushioning. The lid has a Melinex window, which allows the necklace to be seen even while the box is closed, and also discourages other objects from being stacked on top of it.
The goal of this treatment was to emphasize the period when the necklace would have been most used and valued. Fortunately, all the evidence was present to do so and the old repairs were removed. The result is an object that is cohesive and integral, and the conservation treatment is evident without being obvious.