Restoring precious and hidden material treasures takes more than it seams

Restoring precious and hidden material treasures takes more than it seams

Restoring precious and hidden material treasures takes more than it seams

Updated 21 July 2017, 7:50 AEST

Could you measure up if given the responsibility of restoring priceless items like a 1750s silk gown, Donald Bradman's jacket or Andy Thomas's spacesuit?

Textiles conservator Mary-Anne Gooden primps and smooths a billowing silk dress.

Although it looks like it is fresh off a movie set, the dress is an original 1750s Spitalfields silk closed-body gown gifted to the Art Gallery of South Australia by Mrs R Beckwith in 1962.

The dress is currently at ArtLab Adelaide undergoing restoration prior to going on display later this year.

A closer look at the gown shows intricate hand-sewn embroideries and the perspiration stains from years of use.

A matching set of ornate shoes rest on a table at the other end of the room.

Ms Gooden said the outfit would have been worn by a wealthy lady in London.

She is able to point out the places where it had been altered and adjusted over the years.

Ms Gooden has helped to conserve or restore many treasures over the seven years in her role.

"The Eureka Blockade flag, Donald Bradman's jacket, Don Dunstan's pink shorts, Dame Edna's costumes and Andy Thomas's space suit," she said.

"It's a fascinating job to do and no two days or objects are the same."

Preserving, not changing history

Although she deals with delicate and priceless objects almost every day, Ms Gooden said the thought process before the actual treatment was often the most difficult part.

"Our general approach to conservation is 'less is more'," she said.

"There are a lot of ethical decisions that we have to make on a daily basis."

Along with private restorations, the textiles team is busy working on key pieces for an Art Gallery of South Australia exhibition planned for later in the year.

A 19th-century miniature Mandarin garment rests on one desk.

A 1925 Chinese decorative hanging spanning almost two metres drapes along a bench.

Fine black mesh is being used to help contain the almost century-old threads that are starting to show the toll of time.

Unravelling the mystery of materials

Ms Gooden said as she worked on a periodic piece, she almost became transported back to the time of its creation.

"I sometimes start reading novels, watching period dramas of that time," she said.

"I start to get quite interested in what might have been happening when the [item] was created.

"The mystery and the archaeology of what we do [lets us] strip back those layers and uncover the story of what the item is trying to tell us.

"You do get very attached to things as you spend so much time with them."