more about the workshop
The mim workshop is built according to the guidelines of the Comité International des Musées et Collections d'Instruments de Musique (CIMCIM Section of the ICOM).
The 9 restorers work in a spacious studio on the eastern side of the museum - eastern daylight is ideal for precision restoration and retouching -. There are extraction hoods for use with toxic products and a safety shower. These hazardous substances are stored in separate rooms, as are the machines. Safety and dust prevention are key and modern devices such as endoscopes, binoculars and UV lamps are in everyday use.
Many different disciplines are practised in the workshop: woodworking and lutherie, the mechanical aspects of keyboards and mechanized instruments, consolidation and retouching of polychrome surfaces, removing oxidation from brass. Other disciplines, such as leather and paper or textile restoration, are entrusted to specialist external workshops.
The complex structure and the historic journey of many musical instruments make their treatment exciting, but not easy. To understand their construction and possible restoration, it is important to understand their internal structure. A modern method is the radiographic image which has been used at the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage on behalf of the mim since the 1970s. Their precision images allow an in-depth analysis and comparative study of the construction of the instruments with no mechanical intervention.
A wider benefit of this method is that previous interventions and damage that are undetectable with the naked eye, become visible. For example, the scale and pattern of worm holes in the inner structure can be evaluated and treated appropriately.
Parasites love soft wood, glue, varnish and other organic elements and are a constant concern for the curator. In 1999 for the first time the mim opted for treatment with nitrogen: this method is safer than traditional gassing methods and does no damage to the treated articles. The oxygen is almost completely extracted from a closed tent and replaced by nitrogen. This long-lasting treatment kills every living organism.
All interventions are carefully documented. New elements receive a "mim", stamp and photos are taken of each relevant intermediary treatment, while details of the intervention are entered into a central computer file. For instruments of great documentary value, the restorer makes a detailed technical drawing during the work. Plans of strings and keyboard mechanisms are also studied and drawn. Restorations are thus a direct and major source of organological research and especially useful for the construction of historically accurate copies.
The mim does indeed walk a tightrope between the passive conservation of instruments in their original condition and keeping them playable for today's generation with the risk of further damage through use. Copies are often a good compromise.
Through sound preparatory work, professional, technology- based interventions and good
documentation, restoration is a very important tool for historical and organological research.
Our knowledge of historic musical instruments has come on in leaps and bounds over the last few years. And music itself can only gain from this.