While it is nice to be beside the seaside Durban’s sub-tropical climate is very harsh on the physical environment, which means that extra precautions have to be taken when it comes to the preservation of museum artefacts. Archival records show that as early as the 1920s efforts were being made to try to limit the adverse effects of Durban’s humid climate on museums’ collections, despite no trained conservators on museum staff. By the 1960s the science of conservation and restoration of works of art had begun to gather international momentum. In the 1970s a number of distinguished museum scientists visited South Africa, which highlighted the importance of the proper care of artefacts. It was increasingly recognised that professionally trained conservators were needed on museum staff and that close controlled air-conditioning was a necessity for storage areas and exhibition spaces.
In the early 1990s the Durban Art Gallery (DAG) and the Durban Local History Museums (DLHM) were on the hunt for a suitable space for the proper storage and conservation of their collections. A municipal beer hall during the apartheid era was identified as a suitable location as it had generous space and was close to both the museums and the gallery. Prior to this, there were plans to knock the building down, but quick action by DAG saved the historic site.
The City of Durban’s Architectural Department adapted the building for use as a conservation and storage centre and on the 18th May 1995 the centre was officially opened by Professor Brenda Gourley, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the then University of Natal. The building now houses the Local History Museum Technical Services Centre, responsible for the preservation of the museum’s textile collection. The centre, which is run by Neil Stuart Harris, also contains the large DLHM costume collection and is regarded by many museum professionals as the finest of its kind in sub-Saharan Africa.
Images courtesy of choromanski.com