Dorset Museum Mosaic reinstallation is shortlisted for Museums + Heritage Awards

By News
A worker in a hi-vis jacket sets the Neptune Head panel in position.

The Fordington mosaic, which HTN Partner members Cliveden Conservation lifted, conserved, re-backed for wall mounting and reinstalled to create an impressive display in the new atrium stairwell at Dorset Museum (open to visitors 28th May 2021), has been shortlisted for the Restoration Conservation Project of the Year in this year’s Museums + Heritage Awards.

The mosaic was first uncovered in 1903 at the Lott and Walne Foundry, Dorchester and later lifted and reinstalled at the museum with the help of Thomas Hardy in 1927. To preserve and safeguard the mosaic for future generations, this precious artefact has once again been lifted from the floor and repositioned on a wall allowing the museum to proceed with their £16.1m redevelopment programme of works. Cliveden Conservation orchestrated the delicate and intense operation of redisplaying the mosaic in its new vertical position.

Leading expert for the conservation in decorative arts, Berenice Humphreys, Senior Projects Manager, Cliveden Conservation, is thrilled that the programme of works to preserve this historic mosaic has been shortlisted for the award. She explains the complexities of the project:

“A combination of archival records, trial drilling and wealth of knowledge led to a plan for careful removal of the mosaic from the floor of the museum. This was an intense operation. 21 sections of the mosaic, each weighing a couple of hundred kilograms, were transported to our workshop and back again. The sheer mass of the mosaic tesserae and concrete backing presented an engineering conundrum:  how to present a 3.6 tonne mosaic in a vertical manner, while ensuring the entire object remained stable. “

In the workshop, conservators fine-tuned their ‘typical’ treatment by removing 40% of the concrete backing, making the object lighter without upsetting the integrity of the design. The mosaic only required minor repairs and light conservation treatment. Sections of the mosaic were adhered to lightweight aluminium honeycomb and by working with a cladding system, conservators created bespoke frames to support the mosaic.

Nick Barnfield, Senior Conservator and Site Foreman, Cliveden Conservation explains:

“Once back in the museum, a lifting frame allowed us to set each section of mosaic in position, and the cladding system enabled us to make minute adjustments.  Only when you see the mosaic in place, on the wall where it can be viewed as a complete object, do you get a sense of scale but also of the artistry of the original designers, all those hundreds of years ago.  The whole project has been challenging but satisfying, and it has been a pleasure to work with the museum.”

The mosaic design, which consists of the head of Neptune, two dolphins and red-finned fish, identical to the pavement designs of a similar date found at Bignor and Cirencester, can now be enjoyed from a different perspective within the museum. Supporters of this conservation project include the Roberts Charitable Trust and Art Fund, who donated £45,000 through their Conservation Grant scheme.

David Goulden, Head of Marketing Communications at Dorset Museum, said:

“It’s been a joy to watch not only the reinstallation of the mosaic which dominates our atrium space in the new Dorset Museum, but also to witness the wonder on visitors’ faces when they see this imposing structure on the wall. The sheer scale as you look up from the walk way is breath-taking.”

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