Royal B.C. Museum objects conservator Lisa Bengston shows off a fish fossil she had been working on recently.

Royal B.C. Museum objects conservator Lisa Bengston shows off a fish fossil she had been working on recently.

A day in the life of a museum objects conservator

Surrounded by people watching her every move, Lisa Bengston meticulously works on one of the oldest Chinese lanterns in Canada.

Sitting in a dimly-lit gallery space, surrounded by people watching her every move, Lisa Bengston meticulously works on one of the oldest Chinese lanterns in Canada.

She is working on a Chinese Freemason revolving horse lantern as part of a conservation project with the Royal B.C. Museum’s Tradition in Felicities: Celebrating 155 years of Victoria’s Chinatown exhibit in 2013.

The roughly four-foot-tall lantern was created in Victoria in the 1930s by a Chinese master from Hong Kong and is the oldest known surviving lantern of its kind in Canada’s Chinatowns.

The traditional arts and crafts lantern operates by the rising heat from two light bulbs in the base where the movement of warm air causes the fan and wheel at the top to rotate.

The horsemen appear to be gliding.

Crabs’ pinchers move back and forth and deers’ heads tilt up and down.

When it came to the museum in 2012, the lantern was dirty, dusty and extremely fragile. Its bamboo frame was broken, papers were torn and missing and the plastic film was disintegrating.

Bengston’s job as an objects conservator with the museum was to stabilize the object and stop the materials from deteriorating further.

Over the next nine months, alongside a team of five conservators and volunteers, Bengston went to work cleaning the surface with a vaccuum and dry erasers to remove dirt, mending the broken bamboo frame and tears in paper, and removing some of the panels and flattening them — all in front of the public.

“I was privileged to have been able to work on a project like that because that only comes once in your career,” Bengston said. “It meant so much to people. People had ties to it and I felt humbled to be able to hear their stories and also be able to stabilize it so that it lasts a long time from now.”

This was the longest conservation treatment of a single artifact in which Bengston has participated. It also earned her the Keck Award from the International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works in 2014 for promoting public understanding and appreciation of conservation.

When she’s not working on months-long projects, Bengston is one of two objects conservators at the Royal B.C. Museum, working with objects made of metal, feathers, fur, bone and plastics.

Bengston first came to the museum as a textile conservation intern in 1989. and acquired a permanent position at the museum in 1991. She also completed her masters degree at Queens University in Kingston, specializing in objects.

On a daily basis, Bengston is responsible mainly for preventive conservation — work to prevent future damage to artifacts. She makes sure objects are displayed, stored, packed and transported in optimal environments to prevent damage to the artifacts, by monitoring the relative humidity, temperature and light levels.

Bengston is also responsible for inspecting almost any object that comes into the museum to ensure there are no insects such as carpet beetles and clothes moths that could damage artifacts.

Most artifacts on display in the museum don’t require specialized micro environments. But there are artifacts on loan from other museums that require environmental monitoring, such as mummies and animals in a sarcophagus during the Egypt exhibit in 2004 where they had to keep the environment dry.

Bengston has worked on a number of high-profile objects such as an Oscar, an Emmy, Grammys, Olympic medals, a Nobel prize medal and gold coins and nuggets as part of the museum’s Gold Rush! Exhibit. As part of her job, she has travelled to Turkey, Greece, and Jordan as a conservator on archaeological digs as well.

“I always liked working on things and fixing things as a kid,” she said. “I like working with objects, I like doing hands-on treatments where something needs to be stabilized. I like testing objects, sometimes it’s like detective work to figure out what will be appropriate. You can use this shell but you can’t use this shell.”

 

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Victoria’s economy is expected to bounce back fairly easily, according to a new report from BMO Capital Markets released April 15. (Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria in good position to bounce back post-pandemic, says BMO

City’s smaller size, lower COVID-19 caseload and diverse industry base bode well

New figures show Canadian housing prices outpacing those in other developed countries. (Black Press Media file photo)
Canadian housing prices fastest rising in the world

Relative to 2000, housing prices have risen by a factor of more than 2.5

A case of COVID-19 has been confirmed at David Cameron Elementary School. People may have been exposed on April 14 to 16. (Black Press Media file photo)
COVID-19 exposure confirmed at Colwood elementary school

Exposure at Esquimalt’s Ecole Victor-Brodeur also confirmed

According to Statistics Canada, the unemployment rate in Greater Victoria rose to 5.7 per cent in March 2021, an increase of 0.8 per cent compared to February 2021. But the local unemployment rate remains the among the lowest in Canada. (Black Press Media File)
Greater Victoria’s unemployment rate rises to 5.7 per cent

The increase marks a reversal from recent months, but local economy among the strongest in Canada

Three new flight exposures have been reported departing from or arriving at the Victoria International Airport between April 7 and 11. (File photo/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Three flight exposures reported at Victoria International Airport

One flight on April 7 and two on April 11 had confirmed cases of COVID-19 onboard

Vancouver resident Beryl Pye was witness to a “concerning,” spontaneous dance party that spread throughout social groups at Kitsilano Beach on April 16. (Screen grab/Beryl Pye)
VIDEO: Dance party erupts at Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach to the dismay of onlookers

‘It was a complete disregard for current COVID-19 public health orders,’ says Vancouver resident Beryl Pye

British Columbia’s provincial flag flies in Ottawa, Friday July 3, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Wildfire fanned by winds near Merritt prompts evacuation alert

BC Wildfire Service says the suspected human-caused blaze was fanned by winds

The Rogers logo is photographed in Toronto on Monday, September 30, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tijana Martin
Rogers investigating after wireless customers complain of widespread outage

According to Down Detector, problems are being reported in most major Canadian cities

Flow Academy is located at 1511 Sutherland Avenue in Kelowna. (Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)
National fitness group condemns unlicensed Kelowna gym’s anti-vaccine policy

The Fitness Industry Council of Canada says Flow Academy is shining a negative light on the industry

People are shown at a COVID-19 vaccination site in Montreal, Sunday, April 18, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Nothing stopping provinces from offering AstraZeneca vaccine to all adults: Hajdu

Health Canada has licensed the AstraZeneca shot for use in people over the age of 18

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday December 8, 2020 in Ottawa. The stage is set for arguably the most important federal budget in recent memory, as the Liberal government prepares to unveil its plan for Canada’s post-pandemic recovery even as a third wave of COVID-19 rages across the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Election reticence expected to temper political battle over federal budget

Opposition parties have laid out their own demands in the weeks leading up to the budget

A syringe is loaded with COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to open up COVID vaccine registration to all B.C. residents 18+ in April

Registration does not equate to being able to book an appointment

Pat Kauwell, a semi-retired construction manager, lives in his fifth-wheel trailer on Maxey Road because that’s what he can afford on his pension, but a Regional District of Nanaimo bylaw prohibits using RVs as permanent dwellings, leaving Kauwell and others like him with few affordable housing options. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Rules against RV living hard on Island residents caught in housing crunch

Regional District of Nanaimo bylaw forcing pensioner to move RV he calls home off private farm land

Most Read