Treasure trove of culture and history

The Heritage Conservation Centre stores and conserves S'pore's collection of artefacts

Tucked away somewhere in the industrial area in Jurong Port Road, and unknown to many, sits a modern building which is a treasure trove of cultural relics and historical artefacts.

Established in 2000, the Heritage Conservation Centre (HCC), which is an institution of the National Heritage Board (NHB), is a purpose-built facility for the storage and conservation of Singapore's collection of artefacts and artwork under the care of NHB.

As the custodian of Singapore's heritage, NHB is responsible for telling the Singapore story, sharing the Singapore experience and imparting the Singapore spirit.

Through the collection, the NHB curates heritage programmes and presents exhibitions to connect the past, present and future generations of Singaporeans through a shared experience.


Surrounded by paintings, Assistant Paintings Conservator Diana Tay works concurrently on the conservation treatment of three paintings, preparing materials for strip-lining – a method developed as a way to preserve the structural integrity of the original canvas. The treatments pertaining to the conservation of paintings can range from aesthetic treatments, such as varnish removal, to structural treatments.

The HCC spans six floors with a gross area of 20,940 sq m. It is home to more than 150,000 pieces of cultural treasure.

The centre is the first of its kind in the region. It combines a centralised collection repository with conservation laboratories and also houses the NHB's museum collections. Most of them were stored previously in the National Museum building in Stamford Road.

 

Mr Chuance Chen, Assistant Conservator (Textiles), working on an embroidered silk valance with auspicious motifs for a Peranakan wedding chamber, as well as a piece of blue damask textile with intricate raised embroidery.


Assistant Manager (Collections Management) Polly Tan conducting checks on old street signs. Artefacts brought back from exhibitions are given visual inspections to ensure that they have not been damaged during the journey.

There are four specialised conservation laboratories for the treatment of object, painting, paper and textile artefacts and a laboratory designed for scientific analysis, materials testing and research.


Adhesive carefully applied to a piece of flaking lacquer on a 19th-century cast bronze piece from Ayuthaya, Thailand. It will take Assistant Conservator (Objects) Ishak Ahamad more than two weeks to compete the task.


Manager (Collections Management) Prithivi Raj (at right) inspecting and receiving a new artefact along with curator Daniel Tham.

Stepping into its cavernous storage area, filled with the 150,000-plus items, is like entering Aladdin's Cave.

Among the items is the funeral hearse used for wealthy merchant and philanthropist Tan Jiak Kim's funeral in 1917.


The artefacts that can be found in the centre include sampans, religious carvings, rickshaws and even a Chinese funeral hearse.

The facility's state-of-the-art custom-built central repository, with about 8,000 sq m of storage space, has a total of 25 dedicated collection rooms, each fitted with climate control facilities.

The storage equipment used is designed for various types of artefacts, such as documents, paintings, furniture, textiles and metals.


Photographer Dave Lee working in the purpose-built photo studio, where every artefact is painstakingly photographed from various angles to help provide vital information for future references.

Artefact collections are the heart of every museum as they are valued for their social, historical and cultural importance.

The centre is not open to the public although guided tours of the centre are possible by making appointments through the NHB website (www.nhb.gov.sg).

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 07, 2016, with the headline 'Treasure trove of culture and history'. Print Edition | Subscribe