Meyvaert secures ‘Innovator of the Year’ at Museums + Heritage Awards

Meyvaert explains how its oxygen-free museum showcases helped to unveil rare 17th-century shipwreck textile discoveries at Museum Kaap Skil

In a momentous recognition of innovation, Meyvaert has been acclaimed as the ‘Innovator of the Year’ at the esteemed ‘Museums + Heritage Awards’. Their groundbreaking achievement lies in the conception and realisation of 5 oxygen-free museum showcases, ingeniously designed to exhibit an exceptional collection of artefacts retrieved from a 17th-century shipwreck known as the Palmwood wreck.

The remarkable items, notably including a well-preserved 400-year-old satin silk damask dress, were discovered by Dutch divers off the coast of Texel in 2009. These extraordinary relics are now splendidly showcased within the walls of the Kaap Skil Museum in the Netherlands, graciously accommodated in Meyvaert’s pioneering showcases.

‘The Dress’ displayed in the unique Meyvaert oxygen-free Showcase.’ © Museum Kaap Skil

Distinguished by their unparalleled creativity, Meyvaert’s showcases address a pivotal challenge outlined by research conducted by the University of Amsterdam and the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands. This research revealed that the survival of these delicate textiles hinges on a distinctive climate, a condition that conventional display cases could not fulfil. Responding to this pressing demand, Meyvaert engineered a revolutionary solution.

The solution entailed the creation of an oxygen-free and meticulously air-conditioned showcase to safeguard the fragility of the materials. “It has been a long, complicated road, but we have always remained confident that we would overcome all the problems,” said Corina Hordijk, artistic director of the Texels Museum Foundation, which Kaap Skil is part of. “I know how much effort it took to get it done. On behalf of Museum Kaap Skil, I congratulate Meyvaert on this deserved prize.”

‘Meyvaert receiving their ‘Innovator of the Year’ award at the M+H Awards 2023.’

Having its roots in Belgium since 1826, Meyvaert has been a pioneering force in the domain of museum showcase design and production since 1946. Their influence has expanded globally, collaborating with museums and galleries worldwide, continuously embracing fresh technical challenges inherent in presentation and conservation pursuits.

The venerated dresses from the shipwreck demanded an environment of precisely controlled humidity within oxygen-free showcases. The engineering task to fulfil this mandate was formidable. The core challenge entailed creating a stable, vibration-free platform to accommodate these treasured garments. Essential to the integrity of the presentation was maintaining a relative humidity of 50%, with a strict tolerance of merely ±2%.

Achieving this involved meticulous preconditioning of the nitrogen before its introduction into the encasement. Notably, the encasement was consistently maintained under positive pressure to ensure the perpetual absence of oxygen. Illumination, restricted to levels below 50 lux, remained exclusively external to the case to circumvent maintenance needs. Every component utilised, including the nitrogen supply elements, underwent rigorous Oddy testing to guarantee material inertness. The showcases’ robust sealing mechanisms act as a barrier, preventing access by pests, which, in the absence of oxygen, would not be viable.

This remarkable journey undertaken by Meyvaert stands as a testament to their unwavering commitment to pushing the boundaries of innovation in the service of cultural heritage preservation and exhibition. It entailed a powerful collaboration to ensure that all the conservation aspects would be covered, whilst developing this system that created such a tightly controlled display environment.