Author: Eline De Lepeleire (Het Firmament)

    Summary

    Circus Ronaldo has a 100 or so backcloths (c. 1910-1960), painted by Willem, Jan, Richard and Florent Van den Berghe, the ancestors of the Ronaldo family. Together with some volunteers from Erfgoedcel Mechelen, an inventory project was started to obtain a better overview of the collection. Hopefully, the beginning of a great many new initiatives on this wonderful heritage!

    Status

    1. Defining a strategy: September – October 2013
    2. Setting the volunteers to work: November – December 2013
    3. Making an inventory together with volunteers: January – June 2014
    4. Continuation: June 2014- ? 

    Problem definition

    Introduction

    In 2001 Danny and David Ronaldo (Circus Ronaldo) traced a number of backcloths via a distant family member, painted by Willem, Jan, Richard and Florent Van den Berghe, ancestors of the Ronaldos.

    Despite the respectable age (c. 1910-1960) of these backcloths, they are in remarkably good condition. This is due to a certain paint that Willem and Jan Van den Berghe developed so that the cloths could be rolled up when in storage, and more importantly, transported without the paint flaking off.

    Because the cloths were rolled up in storage, neither the Ronaldos nor anyone else knew what was in the collection. By making an inventory of all the cloths and photographing them, this problem was solved. That was the first step in preserving this valuable heritage. 

    Desired results

    • Inventory of theatre backcloths
    • To establish support for this heritage to make various things possible:
      • Display of theatre backcloths
      • Suitable storage place for theatre backcloths
      • Restoration of a selection of the theatre backcloths
      • Re-use of the theatre backcloths

    Method

    1. Getting the volunteers started

    Making an inventory is a useful but time-consuming job that can be carried out perfectly efficiently by volunteers. That’s why Het Firmament together with Erfgoedcel Mechelen started up a volunteering project around the registration of performance art heritage in the Mechelen region.

    Making an inventory of the backcloths of Circus Ronaldo was selected as their first job. After several discussions and a training session on how to make an inventory, the group of volunteers was ready to start. During the first weeks of the project, Het Firmament and/or Erfgoedcel Mechelen were there to supervise, thereafter the volunteers worked independently.

    2. Making an inventory of the backcloths

    2.1 Description

    In the first instance every backcloth was described at an item level. Het Firmament developed a metadata scheme for backcloths based on the MOVE basic registration. Most fields could be filled in by the volunteers themselves because all the backcloths had been given a title and also often contained an inscription with a date and the creator of the cloth. Fields that the volunteers were unable to fill in will be put to the Ronaldo family at a later stage. 

    2.2. Taking photographs

    While one volunteer made a detailed description, the other volunteer took a photograph of the object. The volunteers took a crash course in photography and were helped by a professional photographer.

    2.3. Labelling

    Every backcloth that was described was given a unique number. This inventory number was then noted on the backcloths. This makes it easier to link together the inventory, the photos and the physical objects.

    2.4 Sustainable storage

    Every two weeks one of the volunteers transfers the photos from the camera to a computer and the description is typed up into Excel. Both the photo files and the digital inventory are currently stored by Het Firmament. Once the inventory is complete, it will be transferred to Circus Ronaldo. Het Firmament will keep a copy and ensure that it is sustainably preserved.

    3. A good inventory: the start of many new projects?

    Making an inventory of the backcloths is the first step in preserving this valuable collection. Only when we have a clear overview of the collection can we precede with the following steps.

    3.1 Making the backcloths accessible via Beeldbank Mechelen

    In order to generate more visibility for this collection, the photos of the backcloths will be made available via Beeldbank Mechelen.

    3.2 A good storage place

    Research is currently being undertaken into which professional storage space is interested in this collection in order to guarantee the sustainable preservation of this heritage.

    3.3. Restoration of a selection of the theatre backcloths

    During the description process of the backcloths a clear picture of the overall damage was obtained and a few cloths were selected for restoration.

    It is not yet known who will take on responsibility for the restoration. What is certain is that this restorer will not have to begin from zero. There is already a restoration file for a similar collection of theatre backcloths from Dubosq, which the restorer can use as a basis.

    3.4 Re-use of the backcloths

    On 29 June 2012, Amortale had its première at the Festival van de Verwondering. It was a show in which a selection from this incredibly beautiful heritage was re-used. Since then the circus company has been travelling for almost two years throughout Belgium and Europe, amazing audiences with the art of this longstanding craft, the painting of backcloths. Danny Ronaldo: “These days you can print out fantastic things, but these backcloths are hand-painted, there are wonderful transparent painted bits of forest, which give amazing effects when you shine light through them. And people want something genuine, not something that came off a computer. That is the magic of this craft.” 1 

    The inventory project will hopefully encourage the Ronaldo family to make even more productions using these backcloths.

    Were the desired results obtained?

    The inventory project is still on-going, but has already facilitated a great many things. Discussions with the heritage sector (about accessibility and warehouse space), restorers and academics were made much easier by the presence of the as yet incomplete inventory and photos.

    Conclusions and points for attention

    • An inventory in combination with images helps create a support system for a specific collection.
    • Creating a well-functioning volunteer system requires the necessary investment in time.
    • You can, or rather should, occasionally reward your volunteers with a friendly word, a small reception, free tickets etc.
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