From surfboards to a Second World War bomber, new show charts the rise of the humble material
It’s not every day that a drop tank from a 1942 De Havilland Mosquito aeroplane is brought into an art museum’s conservation studio, but that is precisely what conservators at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) were confronted with in the run-up to the institution’s major exhibition on plywood—a material that is as versatile as it is ubiquitous. The show, due to open tomorrow (15 July), charts the rise of this humble material from the 1850s to today and features an eclectic group of objects including surfboards, a Charles and Ray Eames chair, a build-it-yourself WikiHouse and a Mirror dinghy.
The drop tank was among the 40 pieces conservators treated ahead of the exhibition. The paper-thin external, reserve fuel tank can be jettisoned when empty or if the pilot needs to make the aircraft lighter, so they rarely survive intact. The one in the exhibition came from the De Havilland Museum, 25 miles north of London, where it languished for years. Nigel Bamforth, a senior conservator at the V&A, says: “It came to us in a fractured state. We had to completely reassemble it.” For the exhibition, the tank will be suspended from the ceiling to show off what the show’s co-organiser Elizabeth Bisley describes as its “amazingly beautiful sculptural form”.
Bamforth’s team also cleaned and patched holes in a plywood fuselage of a Mosquito. It is made of balsa wood sandwiched between a skin made of three layers of beech wood that are no thicker than “a Weetabix box”, Bamforth says. “It’s amazing it held together and carried the weight that it did.” read more