Museums shake off the cobwebs as they prepare to welcome visitors

The longest winter for state museums and galleries is coming to an end.

Curtains were drawn at the city’s cultural institutions for an initial two-week lockout on June 26 that dragged on for three months. But from Monday, the front pages of exhibitions, new and those that were shortened, are drawn, with interiors shining from spring cleaning and renovations that took place under the vacuum in the lockdown.

At the Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo, five new exhibits will be unveiled to the public, the three-month period of darkness also serves as an opportunity to clean large objects on permanent display.

Conservation staff used microfiber brush mops to remove dust from the wings and hull of Catalina Flying Bird, Cirrus Moth, Beechcraft, Bleriot XI and Scout Mark I, which hung from the roof of the boiler tail.

Keyboards, part of the Electric Keys exhibit, were covered and protected from dust and sunlight in the Powerhouse Museum during the lockdown.

Keyboards, part of the Electric Keys exhibit, were covered and protected from dust and sunlight in the Powerhouse Museum during the lockdown.
Credit:Steven Siewert

Staff gained access to the top of the aircraft’s bodies and wings using a knee lift with an articulated boom arm that maneuvered horizontally and vertically and rotated 360 degrees. The museum also conducted an annual inspection of cables.

In Powerhouse’s transport showroom, steam locomotive No. 1243, NSW Governor’s railway carriage, Signalman’s cabin, a horse-drawn omnibus, electric C-Class Sydney tram and Sydney’s main train station indicator sparkle.

CEO Lisa Havilah was alone at her desk for many days when Powerhouse hibernated.

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“A museum without publicity gave the museum’s space a new context, almost like a seat waiting for someone to fill it,” she said.

The Powerhouse conservators, registrars, curators and workshop and production teams have created exhibitions – which will see new objects enter the collection through commissions, gifts and acquisitions along with Powerhouse collectibles never seen before – tell new stories for a Powerhouse -museum it is in the middle of being re-perceived. We look forward to welcoming everyone back. ”

A horse-drawn omnibus will soon be on display again at the Powerhouse Museum.

A horse-drawn omnibus will soon be on display again at the Powerhouse Museum.Credit:Steven Siewert

The Boulton and Watt steam engine, built during the Industrial Revolution, will be put through its paces to ensure that it runs smoothly. The Strasburg clock, which was turned off during the lockdown, is restarted by Powerhouse’s top conservator so visitors can see the correct time.

Lockdown has also been useful for curators and curators in Sydney’s historic homes. Rose Seidler House has been re-wired and painted, the furniture moved back Thursday. Inventories of furniture and other items have taken place in Vaucluse House and Elizabeth Bay House.

Keyboards, part of the Electric Keys exhibition, at the Powerhouse Museum.

Keyboards, part of the Electric Keys exhibition, at the Powerhouse Museum. Credit:Steven Siewert

If the 2020 lockdown is anything to go by, curators believe they will be inundated with bookings for a busy and social summer. They will have to be if the major cultural institutions are to repay revenue lost to the pandemic-led shutdown.

Proceeds from renting premises for the Sydney Living Museum’s historic homes and gardens suffered a 26 per cent drop after Sydney went into lockdown. As plans for the reopening of NSW in October have been announced, inquiries about new locations have more than quadrupled, suggesting that confidence in the population is high.

In the last two weeks alone, local rental revenue increased by six percent, many bookings for weddings or milestone anniversaries made with short delivery times.

Covered furniture in the living room of Vaucluse House.

Covered furniture in the living room of Vaucluse House. Credit:Steven Siewert

Meanwhile, Sydney Living Museum’s assistant curator Mel Flyte has visited Elizabeth Bay and Vaucluse House once a week, polishing, dusting and checking for signs of mold and insect infestation.

The soft furnishings in Vaucluse House’s living room with their cotton silk leggings were covered to prevent stains and dust from accumulating in the fabric. She was especially careful to monitor the insect specimens on loan from the Chau Chak Wing Museum.

Locomotive 1243, at the Powerhouse Museum, is the oldest surviving locally built locomotive.

Locomotive 1243, at the Powerhouse Museum, is the oldest surviving locally built locomotive.Credit:Steven Siewert

Fortunately, Flyte says it has been a cold and relatively dry winter. Had the lockdown taken place in the hot and humid February, caring for household collections in the early 1800s could have been a greater challenge.

At the Australian Museum, the covers are pulled off Untensioned, a new perspective on the nation’s history of foundation disrupted by lockdown. More than 21,000 visitors saw the exhibition during the opening months. Its public race will be extended until after Australia Day.

Rehan Scharenguivel shows birds back at the Australian Museum ahead of the reopening on Monday.

Rehan Scharenguivel shows birds back at the Australian Museum ahead of the reopening on Monday.Credit:Steven Siewert

“Museums are good for the soul and for our city,” says CEO Kim McKay.

While in lockdown, some of the museum’s taxidermy birds underwent low-oxygen, low-temperature pest control as a preventative measure against carpet beetle infestation.

Samples of a bar-tailed godwit, sooty dice, Australian bust and wandering albatross were returned to their perches at the Bird Gallery on Thursday.

Sophie Phillips shows birds back with a little dust at the Australian Museum.

Sophie Phillips shows birds back with a little dust at the Australian Museum. Credit:Steven Siewert

The museum rebuilt the cultural heritage windows, giving visitors a close-up behind the scenes of the interior work of the laboratory, where conservators help care for some of the 21.9 million objects and specimens from the collection.

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