Friends of the Falconer Museum claim collection at risk of deteriorating mothballed building Moray Council won’t allow them access

Committee members and Friends of the Falconer Museum, including chairman Dr John Barrett (left), holed up outside the closed museum. Pictured: Becky Saunderson.

A GROUP dedicated to a former five-star tourist attraction in Forres says the collection mothballed inside is deteriorating.

Friends of the Falconer Museum (FFM) chairman John Barrett has confirmed Moray Council guardians who said a sculpture by Aberdeenshire artist Dom Buxton depicting the time of Victorian natural historian Hugh Falconer in India is damaged – Dr Barrett fears more than the historic collection of 50,000 pieces could be at risk in the building which was closed by local authorities in October 2019 due to budget cuts.

Dr Barrett said: ‘Professional advisers on the council report that they believe Tortiphant is suffering from rodent and/or insect attack. We hope the sculptor will be granted access to assess the condition of the sculpture and make repairs. We are still assessing the situation, which is not easy without access to the museum. We are somewhat dismayed that Friends are not not allowed to see temperature and humidity records which must be permanently recorded indoors. We learned from a source that cannot be named that the museum is freezing cold.

The unveiling of the Tortiphant at the Falconer Museum in 2018.
The unveiling of the Tortiphant at the Falconer Museum in 2018.

High Life Highland Conservation Service condition reports for the collection report “signs of further major damage” to the Tortiphant.

In a letter to the local authority’s economic growth and development department, Dr Barrett highlighted his concerns that rodents appeared to be chewing through electrical cables and water fittings putting the building at risk of fire and of flooding.

He told the Gazette: “We have also learned that some exhibits may show signs of deterioration. One of the highlights – a locally found bronze sword from the time of the Biblical Exodus and the Trojan Wars – may be showing the first signs of corrosion. After surviving three and a half millennia, it would be a shame if this priceless artifact ended up disappearing due to neglect. The sword was ritually broken in antiquity and therefore appears to the untrained eye perhaps to be just three pieces of broken bronze. But it is a priceless cultural artifact.

Economic Growth and Development chief Jim Grant assured Dr Barrett that the Tortiphant’s damage had been investigated.

He said: ‘As soon as the damage was reported by the professional conservator hired to monitor and care for the collection in the absence of professional staff, environmental health officers attended. They searched for excrement, etc. and set vermin and insect traps, but found no evidence during their visits. However, it was noted that the damage was symmetrical on either side of the Tortiphant’s head on the raised scale details. Additionally, the debris consisted of small sections of material, suggesting that a different type of glue or method of paper preparation was used to apply the scale to the head and legs, and this is the reason why the sculpture only deteriorated in these areas.

“The curator continues to monitor for any further signs of damage and will report any changes in condition.”

In 2004 the Moray Council, with the help of Heritage Lottery Funding, spent over £353,000 to upgrade the museum building and store, so that items from the collection could be stored under controlled environmental conditions and displayed in quality showcases.

Local councilors say the local authority will reopen the Falconer Museum once an alternative delivery model with a sustainable revenue stream has been agreed.


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