Reflections

As the recipient of the 2014 International Museums and Collections Award, I was lucky enough to spend a month over January/February of 2015 working with the museums and cultural collections at the University of Birmingham in the UK. I am currently studying for an MA in Cultural Materials Conservation at the University of Melbourne. When I first heard about the Award, which constitutes a unique cultural exchange between the two universities, I knew it would be a wonderful opportunity to broaden my knowledge, gain practical experience and extend my skill set. I also saw it as an invaluable chance to build meaningful connections within the international museum profession and strengthen the relationship between the Universities of Melbourne and Birmingham. It’s been just over a month since my return from the UK so I’ve had a chance to reflect upon my experience at the University of Birmingham and on the many things I learned during my busy placement. In this report I will highlight the projects I worked on and how the Award has helped me develop, both professionally and personally.

I was made to feel welcome as soon as I arrived at beautiful Redmarley, the home of the University of Birmingham’s Research and Cultural Collections department and my base for the duration of my placement. In the first few days I learnt about how the team manage many of the campus collections and engage both the student population and the wider community, explored their numerous object storage areas and sat in on some object handling and collection interpretation teaching sessions.

With RCC as a supportive home, I was able to explore and work with the university’s numerous and varied cultural collections. An element of the Award that I particularly appreciate is the fact that the host university (in this case, the RCC team) endeavours to incorporate the recipient’s interests into the placement program but also encourages them to extend beyond their comfort zone and learn new skills. I feel that my own program of projects perfectly reflected this aim, with all my tasks either building on prior experience and knowledge or introducing me to a new element of collection management or interpretation.

I am studying conservation so I was naturally very keen to gain some experience in the Wilson Conservation Studio. Housed in the Cadbury Research Library, the Studio provides paper conservation services for the extensive collection. As a student of object conservation, paper is not a material I have had much experience with, so while my learning curve was steep it was an immensely enjoyable one. For example, on my first session conservator Marie Sviergula immediately had me washing delicate illustrations in water baths, which is a very scary job for the uninitiated! My main task was to assist Marie with preparations for an upcoming exhibition about Sir Oliver Lodge, the University’s first Principal. One particular task I oversaw from start to finish was the treatment of a letter written by renowned scientist Marie Curie. The steps included: carefully cutting the letter from its folio, cleaning the surface of the paper with a smoke sponge to remove dirt, applying a gel poultice to the tape to soften the adhesive and aid its removal, humidifying and pressing the letter to remove creases and fabricating a mount for display. Seeing the letter in the exhibition at the end of my placement made me feel very proud and my time at the Wilson Studio really reinforced my passion for the conservation of heritage material. Gaining knowledge and experiencing the practical treatment of paper will be an invaluable skill for my career.

Another project that was particularly rewarding was a collection survey I carried out for the Research and Cultural Collections’ Heritage store, which holds objects relating to the history of the University of Birmingham. I’d had little prior experience with collection management and was keen to learn more. My task was to check if the items were in their correct place, to record any objects that had been moved or loaned and to identify those that required accessioning. I created a spreadsheet to record each object and, by the end of the project, documented over 400 individual items; needless to say, keen concentration and an investigative spirit were invaluable. RCC always has objects from this store on display around the campus and regularly uses a number of them for teaching, so my task really made me appreciate the importance of maintaining meticulous documentation and carrying out regular surveys of collections. It was an added bonus to be able to handle significant items from the University of Birmingham’s fascinating 115-year history.

I was lucky enough to spend some time at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, the campus’ beautiful art gallery. I spent some time with the Learning and Access team, observing all the work that they do to create engaging and diverse public programs. They asked me to produce a fact sheet on a recently conserved panel painting by Mannerist artist Jan de Beer to facilitate the delivery of future gallery talks on the piece. I am not very familiar with religious subjects so it was fascinating to explore the iconography of the painting. I also worked alongside coin curator Jonathan Jarrett, assisting with updating the documentation of the Barber’s ancient Greek coins. While their coin collection is exceptional, the Greek coinage was in desperate need of some further research and for its documentation to be made more accessible. While I studied ancient Greek history at university, learning the ancient alphabet and numismatic terminology, as well as navigating the database’s many fields, was a difficult but rewarding experience.

It is possible to see many likenesses between the cultural collections of Melbourne and Birmingham, both in content and use, but I was also interested to work in collections that are not at all or not as comprehensively represented at Melbourne. I spent some time at Winterbourne House and Garden, an Edwardian house with period Arts and Crafts features, and the Lapworth Museum of Geology, the most extensive geological collection in the Midlands; collections that both differ from those present in Melbourne. At Winterbourne I prepared a children’s pamphlet for an upcoming World War I exhibition. Being so used to writing in an academic style it was initially difficult to write for a young audience but I thoroughly enjoyed the task. As my own interest in museums and galleries was sparked in primary school, I greatly appreciate the importance of encouraging children and teenagers to engage with cultural institutions. During my time in Birmingham, the Lapworth Museum of Geology was undergoing a full redevelopment. I was able to learn about and observe the fascinating process of relocating the collection and redesigning the museum space, something I may not ever have the chance to experience again.

The Award helped me gain hands-on experience but it also allowed me to fully immerse myself in the visual and historical culture of two foreign countries. I was able to spend some time in Paris and London prior to my placement, during which I visited some of the cities’ iconic museums, galleries and historical sites. While I was based in Birmingham I explored the city’s vibrant cultural scene and took trips to nearby Stratford-Upon-Avon, Manchester and Stoke-on-Trent. Visiting other cultural institutions complemented my learning at the University of Birmingham and helped me to develop greater understanding of museum practices outside of Australia.

While I learnt beneficial practical skills and gained invaluable insight into the museum profession, the Award placement has also benefited me in many personal ways. For example, travelling away from my family and home to learn new things in a foreign place has allowed me to become more independent. More importantly, testing my prior knowledge, drawing on new skills and working alongside industry professionals has helped me to feel more confident in my own abilities and opinions. I believe I contributed in a professional capacity to the museums and collections at the University of Birmingham and I am very proud of this achievement.

I would like to extend my sincerest thanks to everyone involved in the International Museums and Collections Award exchange; the University of Melbourne’s Cultural Collections team for making my trip possible and supporting me while I was away, the University of Birmingham’s Research and Cultural Collections team for caring for me during my time in the UK, my patient and generous placement supervisors at UoB’s museums and collections and the friends I have made along the way. The Award has truly enriched my life, both professionally and personally, and I know it will continue to benefit me for years to come. It has inspired an even greater passion for conservation and collection management and has strengthened my desire to work within the museum sector. I’m looking forward to applying my new knowledge and skills here in Australia and I wish the best of luck to all the future recipients of this wonderful Award!

More to come…

Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to do as much work as I’d hoped on my John Walker online exhibition project but I am very keen to do so. Walker had such close connections to both Birmingham and Melbourne, so I feel compelled to research his work and complete this task. I’ll let you know when the gallery is available on the RCC Flickr page.

I will also be posting my reflective essay, which I will be finalising over the next week or two.

So, in short, keep an eye on my blog, as there is certainly more to come!

Week Four – My last week

I’m very sorry for the delay in my posts… I was ill during my last week in Birmingham and, sadly, a family member passed away at the end of my visit. The long trip back home to Australia, the funeral and commencing the second year of my Masters have all made these past few weeks very turbulent and busy.

The first three weeks of my placement absolutely flew by, as they were filled with so many things to do and learn, but it still seemed like a shock when my final week arrived! I think my busy schedule took its toll as, unfortunately, from Sunday to Tuesday of my fourth week I felt very “poorly”, as the English say, and had to take some time off from my placement. Sadly this meant I missed out on installing the Oliver Lodge exhibition with Marie from the Wilson Conservation Studio and a session working on my WWI pamphlet at Winterbourne House but, thankfully, I was able to catch up with everyone on the Friday.

Jan de Beer, 'Joseph and the Suitors', c.1515-1520, oil on oak. The Barber Institute of Fine Arts.
Jan de Beer, ‘Joseph and the Suitors’, c.1515-1520, oil on oak. The Barber Institute of Fine Arts.
Jan de Beer, 'The Nativity', c.1515 - 1520, oil on oak. The Barber Institute of Fine Arts.
Jan de Beer, ‘The Nativity’, c.1515-1520, oil on oak. The Barber Institute of Fine Arts.

In my last sessions at the Barber Institute of Fine Art, I completed a reference fact sheet on a work completed by Mannerist artist Jan de Beer between 1515 and 1520. The work is a double-sided panel painting, with one side depicting a nocturnal nativity scene and the other highlighting the moment when Joseph is chosen to be the Virgin’s husband. The panel recently returned from five years of conservation work so the Learning and Access team asked me to put together the document to facilitate future gallery talks on the work. It was fascinating to learn that the panel once likely formed part of a door on an altarpiece, which would have meant that an image was visible at all times, whether the doors were open or closed. The Nativity scene was almost certainly the interior side, as it depicts a ‘holier’ scene than that of Joseph and the suitors, therefore affording it a place closer to the altar.

Silver stater minted by the Persian satrap (governor) Mazaios. The obverse depicts Baaltars, the deity of the town of Tarsus, which is where the coin was minted. c.361-334 BCE.
Silver stater minted by the Persian satrap (governor) Mazaios. Obverse: Baaltars, the deity of the town of Tarsus, which is where the coin was minted. Reverse: a lion attacking a bull. c.361-334 BCE. The Barber Institute of Fine Arts.
Silver tetradrachm minted by Antigonus III Doson, king of Macedon. Obverse: wreathed head of Poseidon, facing right. Reverse: Apollo seated on the prow of a ship, facing left. Inscription reads ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΑΝΤΙΓΟΝΟΥ (of the king Antigonus). c.229-221 BCE.
Silver tetradrachm minted by Antigonus III Doson, king of Macedon. Obverse: wreathed head of Poseidon, facing right. Reverse: Apollo seated on the prow of a ship, facing left. Inscription reads ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΑΝΤΙΓΟΝΟΥ (‘of the king Antigonus’). c.229-221 BCE. The Barber Institute of Fine Arts.

I was also lucky enough to do some more work with the Barber’s Greek coins in my final week. While I was unable to finish documenting all of the coins, it was certainly a start and I hope my work will make Jonathan’s task ever so slightly lighter. In a day of digital transactions, it’s easy to become desensitized to the imagery on coinage. However, working with the Barber’s ancient coins really made me appreciate how these tiny metal tokens could tell stories and distribute information. Whether they associated the issuing ruler with a god or mythical hero, celebrated their victory or simply depicted symbols of power (as is particularly the case with the lion and stag above), these coins acted as a highly effective form of visual communication and propaganda in what would have been a mostly illiterate society. So, the next time you have some coins in your pocket, think about their history and just how important they were in ancient times!

It was an absolute pleasure working with Jen and Alex from the Learning and Access team and coin curator Jonathan at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts during my placement. Needless to say, I got a bit teary when they gave me a beautiful card and some delicious chocolates on my last day!

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Surveying items in the Heritage collection storeroom at Redmarley. Photograph by Anna Young.
Having a look at some of the diverse objects in the University of Birmingham's Heritage collection. Photograph by Anna Young.
Having a look at some of the diverse objects in the University of Birmingham’s Heritage collection. Photograph by Anna Young.

Another project I completed in my final week was my survey of Research and Cultural Collection’s Heritage store. By the end of the project, I had checked and documented the details of close to 450 objects, seeing whether any had been moved from their recorded locations and identifying those requiring accessioning. This task certainly made me appreciate the importance of conducting such surveys, as I was able to gain greater understanding of the collection as a whole and prioritise collection management needs. In the case of the Heritage store, accessioning its remaining items is certainly at the top of the list, as this will allow them to be used in teaching and to go on display. Although I identified a vast number of unaccessioned items, my survey will give RCC’s Clare Marlow a better idea of what needs to be documented and where to find it and, hopefully, make the task a little bit easier! This was a very rewarding project to undertake and I’m glad I could complete it within the timeframe.

Front cover of the 'Building Stones Detective Trail' pamphlet. Text by Julie (Lapworth volunteer), design by Amy Walsh.
Front cover of the ‘Building Stones Detective Trail’ pamphlet. Text by Julie (Lapworth volunteer), design by Amy Walsh.

For my last few sessions at the Lapworth Museum of Geology, I was lucky enough to work with another volunteer to help her visualise a pamphlet she created. Julie, a keen amateur geologist, put together a wonderful discovery trail to lead readers on a geological tour of some the different building stones used in Birmingham’s iconic monuments, which will coincide with the Lapworth’s joint exhibition with the Library of Birmingham. It was my task to turn her information and photos into an eye-catching document but I wanted to make sure Julie was comfortable with what I was doing. We sat down for a chat and she emphasised the importance of making the information very clear and easy to read. With this in mind, I chose a clear font, minimal colours and simple graphics, ensuring that her information and photos took pride of place. I certainly enjoyed learning about the geological history of these stones so I have no doubt others will too! It was a pleasure to collaborate with Julie and the task was an excellent exercise in visual design and teamwork.

Marie Curie's letter to Sir Oliver Lodge. This is the letter I helped prepare for the exhibition, which included tape removal, flattening and mounting. Photograph by Amy Walsh.
Marie Curie’s letter to Sir Oliver Lodge, on display in Oliver Lodge: Civic Science and Birmingham. This is the letter I helped prepare for the exhibition, which included tape removal, flattening and mounting. Photograph by Amy Walsh.

As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t have any scheduled activities on Friday so I used my time to catch up with those I missed while I was ill earlier on in the week. I shared a lovely afternoon tea with Marie Sviergula from the Wilson Conservation Studio and then headed to Muirhead Tower (home of the Cadbury Research Library and Wilson Studio) to view the fruits of our labour. Oliver Lodge: Civic Science and Birmingham looked very smart in the atrium’s red exhibition case. It was very special to be able to look at the works and pick out those I had helped prepare. You can view an expanded digital version of the exhibition here. I also dropped into Winterbourne House and Garden to thank my supervisors Lee Hale and Claire Woolard, hand over my WWI pamphlet and take a final look at the picturesque building and its grounds.

I tried a haggis scotch egg... Surprisingly delicious! Photograph by Amy Walsh.
We tried a haggis scotch egg… Surprisingly delicious! Photograph by Amy Walsh.

To celebrate the end of my placement, the lovely RCC team took me out for dinner on the Friday night. Clare Mullett, Anna Young, Clare Marlow, Nadia Awal and I shared a delicious meal at the Fighting Cocks pub in nearby Moseley and finished off the evening at the quirky Prince of Wales beer garden a little further up the road. These lovely ladies were so incredibly supportive throughout my placement and made the whole experience very special, so I got a bit teary when it was time to go! They kindly gave me some gifts to remember my time with them: a University of Birmingham jumper and a copy of The Mermaid and the Lion, a beautiful graphic novel by RCC’s previous artist in residence Sarah Silverwood.

While I was very sad to leave, I know I have made some wonderful friends and professional connections during my time in Birmingham and I am very much looking forward to visiting again soon!

Week Three – How time flies!

It’s very hard to believe that I am now well over halfway through my placement… I only have one week to go! My third week, however, has been varied and highly enjoyable.

Master of the Griselda Legend, Alexander the Great, c. 1494, oil and tempera on wood, The Barber Institute of Fine Arts. Alexander’s pose was a favourite amongst the kids! Image available here.
Jean-Françoise Detroy, Jason Taming the Bulls of Aeëtes, 1742, oil on canvas, The Barber Institute of Fine Arts. Image available here.

One activity that I particularly appreciated was observing a children’s workshop at the Barber Institute. A group of lovely kids from the nearby Blue Coat School were guided around the galleries and told stories of some of the myths and legends that appeared in the works. As they learnt about Apollo and Daphne, Alexander the Great, Hercules and Jason and the Argonauts, the storyteller encouraged the students to analyse the works and participate in re-enactments. After the gallery tour had finished we relocated to the workshop room, where the students used pipe cleaners and clay to make models of mythical or heroic figures. They had to think critically about what they had seen in the galleries and see whether they could translate their ideas into stable clay forms. Some of the results were a bit wobbly but I guess you could say that added to their charm! My own interest in galleries/museums was sparked when I visited Melbourne’s National Gallery of Victoria on a primary school trip, so I can only hope that similar inspiration happened during the workshop I observed.

Another interesting part of this week has been furthering my work on updating documentation for the Barber’s Greek coin collection. Although I came across coins frequently during my undergraduate degree, I know nothing of numismatics or its terminology. Add the fact that I don’t know ancient Greek to this equation and you can see that I’ve had a very steep learning curve indeed! Despite slow progress initially, I am becoming more familiar with terms used to describe features on the coins as well as faster at recognising mint marks and working my way through the transliteration of inscriptions. As I double-checked the information already included on the original record, I also contributed extra or omitted details in the hope that my added info will help someone distinguish the coin in question from another very similar one. Once it had been checked by Jonathan I transferred the information into an Excel spreadsheet, which will subsequently be uploaded to the University’s museum database Mimsy XG by IT staff. It’s a surprisingly complicated and long process but certainly a rewarding one; we’ve already picked up a number of errors and inconsistencies in the original documentation!

The Old Crown, Birmingham's oldest pub. Photograph by Amy Walsh.
The Old Crown, Birmingham’s oldest pub. Photograph by Amy Walsh.

My fantastic week was capped off on Friday with a visit to local gallery Eastside Projects with the RCC team for the opening of the Birmingham Show exhibition. Situated in the up-and-coming cultural area of Digbeth, the exhibition is underpinned by three questions: ‘What is the art of Birmingham?’, ‘Is there an accent to Birmingham’s art making?’ and ‘How is Birmingham useful for the production of art?’. Not being from the area (or even this country!), I wasn’t able to puzzle out all of these answers, but I was certainly struck by a sense of humour that permeated many of the works. It was also great to see a piece by RCC’s artist in residence Antonio Roberts included in the exhibition. We finished up the night with dinner and drinks at the nearby Old Crown, the oldest pub in Birmingham (c. 1368!). This was the perfect introduction to Birmingham’s contemporary cultural scene and a lovely night out.

Week Two highlight – Research and Cultural Collections

My second week was a busy one too, particularly at my home base in the Research and Cultural Collections department.

I continued work on my collection survey of the University Heritage storage area and was also introduced to a new project, for which I will curate a small online exhibition of works in RCC’s collection by John Walker. Not only is Walker a prominent Birmingham artist but he was also Dean of the Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne from 1982 to 1985! It will be interesting to explore his connection with Australia, which has significantly influenced his work.

John Walker, The Blue Cloud, polyptych, panel 4 of 15, 1996, oil on canvas. The University of Birmingham.

My week has also been filled with a number of wonderful activities, all organised by the RCC. During the week I joined in on some training sessions with participants of the Cultural Internship Scheme. This program offers six-month paid placements with various cultural institutions in Birmingham to recently graduated University of Birmingham students. Securing one of these internships is highly competitive but rightly so, as they offer comprehensive training and professional development opportunities in the cultural sector. I took part in sessions exploring exhibition planning and development, exhibition interpretation and the use of museum objects as tools for learning and communication. I also joined my fellow interns on an evening trip to Stratford-upon-Avon to see the Royal Shakespeare Company’s performance of Love’s Labour’s Lost, which had been set against the beautiful backdrop of a local manor house just prior to the First World War. It was very special to see a Shakespeare play performed in the famous playwright’s hometown!

The beautiful set for the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Love's Labour's Lost. Set at Charlecote Park in nearby Warwick. Photograph by Amy Walsh.
The beautiful set for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Love’s Labour’s Lost, using Charlecote Park in nearby Warwick as a backdrop. Photograph by Amy Walsh.
The set for Love's Labour's Lost. Photograph by Amy Walsh.
The set for Love’s Labour’s Lost. Photograph by Amy Walsh.

The 21st of January marked Museum Selfie Day. In order to showcase the University’s collections to RCC’s online and social media community, Clare Marlow, Anna Young, Nadia Awal and I got to go on an adventure around campus and take selfie style photos with various sculptures. It might sound like we were just out having fun (which it was!) but social media engagement is now a vital part of community outreach for museums and galleries, something that RCC are employing with great effectiveness. Click on the following links to have a look at RCC’s website, blog site and Flickr gallery. They are also on Facebook and Instagram.

Behind the scenes! Holding the selfie stick and trying to hide behind the sculpture as Clare takes the photo. Photograph by Nadia Awal.
The finished product! Bernard Sindall, Girl in a Hat, 1972, bronze. The University of Birmingham. Photograph by Clare Marlow.

My week ended on a very special note. I was lucky enough to visit local couple Mike and Theresa Simkin and to see Mike’s beautiful collection of magic lanterns and other visual illusion paraphernalia. Mike has been collecting lanterns since 1969 and often used the slides in his drawing and painting classes. His collection tells the story of pre-cinema entertainment and the development of the moving image, with a significant focus on local Birmingham makers and lantern performances held in the city. You can see a video about Mike and his wonderful collection below.

Week Two highlight – Winterbourne Botanic Garden

Today I learnt about a cultural collection of a very different kind… I was taken on a tour of Winterbourne’s extensive plant collections, which were truly amazing. I had never really thought of a botanic garden in the same way as a museum or gallery but in hindsight, the comparison is very sensible; both kinds of collections function as tools for research and education, create varied displays throughout the year (a plant sure puts on a good show when it flowers!) and require sensitively controlled environmental factors.

The climate controlled Arid House. It almost felt like going home when I stepped inside! Photograph by Amy Walsh.
The climate controlled Arid House. It almost felt like going home when I stepped inside! Photograph by Amy Walsh.

The garden was designed in 1903 by Margaret Nettlefold, who drew inspiration from the work of influential horticulturalist and garden designer Gertrude Jekyll. It is a rare remaining example of an Edwardian garden. One of the reasons the final owner John Nicholson purchased Winterbourne was because it already had an established and mature garden with a reputable horticultural collection. He too was an avid gardener and he expanded many of its collections.

The orchid hothouse. Photograph by Amy Walsh.
The orchid hothouse. Photograph by Amy Walsh.
The tiny Alpine House, containing some very sweet little flowers. Photograph by Amy Walsh.
The tiny Alpine House, containing some very sweet little flowers. Photograph by Amy Walsh.

Winterbourne now contains plants from around the world, including from Asia-Pacific, the Americas and alpine regions. The garden itself is Grade II listed and also holds the National Council for Conservation of Plants and Gardens Anthemis, Iris unguicularis and European Rose collections. Winterbourne also occasionally acquires collections from private owners, including a recent donation of a vast number of cacti. The horticultural staff conduct a year-round propagation program for many of the species, which not only ensures backup plants are available for those currently in place in the garden but also helps make the program self-sufficient when excess are sold to the public.

I've never seen so many cacti in one place! Photograph by Amy Walsh.
I’ve never seen so many cacti in one place! Photograph by Amy Walsh.

Although the neighbouring school now occupies some of Winterbourne’s original lands, it is still easy to see why its garden remains so precious to both the university and the wider community.

Week Two highlight – Wilson Conservation Studio

This week I spent a full day assisting Marie in the Wilson Conservation Studio. She is in the midst of preparing material from the Cadbury Research Library collections for display in the building’s foyer. This small exhibition will focus on Sir Oliver Lodge, a physicist and the first Principal of the University of Birmingham. However, even though the object list is relatively short, extensive work is still required to ready them for display. For those interested, this post will have a look at some of the paper conservation methods and skills I’m learning in the studio.

My workspace in the lab. What a dream! Photograph by Amy Walsh.
My workspace in the lab. What a dream! Photograph by Amy Walsh.

A number of letters are to be included in the display, many of which have previously been taped into books for storage (not by a conservator!), and it has been my task to prepare some of them. Each letter was carefully cut out of its folio and cleaned with smoke sponge. In order to remove the degraded and unsightly tape, a special gel called Laponite was applied directly to its surface. The gel, which contains water, acts as a poultice. This allows for the controlled release of moisture, which softens the tape’s adhesive without saturating the paper underneath. Once the tape and any remaining adhesive had been carefully removed, it was very important to clean the area to make sure no residual Laponite remained. Funnily enough, the most effective cleaning solution for this is saliva, due to its enzymes! So when your Nan licks her finger and tries to scrub some dirt off your face, she’s actually using an accepted conservation cleaning method! After lightly swabbing the area with saliva, I repeated the same method with water. Once all remains of the tape and its adhesive were removed, each letter was gently humidified in the ‘greenhouse’ Perspex case and then placed in the large press to flatten out any stubborn crinkles. It was wonderful to see these treatments through from start to finish, and to learn some valuable technical skills.

Before: Laponite applied to the tape's surface. Photograph by Amy Walsh.
Before: Laponite applied to the tape’s surface. Photograph by Amy Walsh.
After: Tape removed, prior to clearing the Laponite. Photograph by Amy Walsh.
After: Tape removed, prior to clearing the Laponite. Photograph by Amy Walsh.

Another beneficial experience was learning how to cut custom mounts for works on paper. I drew diagrams of the work and the mount I required and then carefully calculated the dimensions (I don’t always trust my maths abilities, hence the visual aids). After cutting the piece of card to size on a large guillotine-style machine, I then used a specialised cutter with an angled blade to cut the window out and create the bevelled edge.

Creating mounts for two photographs. Photograph by Amy Walsh.
Creating mounts for two photographs. Photograph by Amy Walsh.

Exhibition preparation is often a significant element of a conservator’s job, so being able to gain practical experience in this area is invaluable. Additionally, as I’m specialising in objects conservation in my course, I have enjoyed learning more about paper conservation and extending my skill set. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to doing more work next week!