Students from West Dean College of Arts and Conservation have travelled far and wide this term to highly respected institutions and museums, to work with the top conservators and experts in the field of conservation.
As part of the second year of their studies in Conservation, students take part in 6-8 week work placements at world famous museums and collections such as the V&A, Leiden University Library, Lambeth Palace Library, the Book & Paper Studio (Dundee), Oxford Conservation Consortium, Bodleian Libraries, the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum (Bournemouth) and the Royal Museums Greenwich - giving them unrivalled experience to aid their future career progression as conservators.
As Lizzie Neville, Head of School of Conservation at West Dean College of Arts and Conservation, said: "Placements provide our students with opportunities to translate their taught experience into real-life work situations, to build up professional relationships and open doors for future employment."
Leiden University Library, the Netherlands
Among those who are now returning to West Dean after their placement is student, David Plummer, who is studying for a Postgraduate Diploma in Conservation of Books and Library Materials. He travelled to Leiden University Library in the Netherlands. While there, he worked on the conservation of the Yemeni manuscript - a 17th century Qur'an. This manuscript is one of the texts that Leiden University are digitising to preserve the Zaydi manuscript culture, a joint project, initiated by the Institute for Advanced Study in partnership with the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library (HMML) in Minnesota.
His Supervisor was Dr Karin Scheper, Book Conservator at the University, who commented: "Passing on knowledge is one of the important things a conservator can do. I feel fortunate to work in an academic environment with tantalising collections, where we can offer placements so that students in book conservation can gain experience with various objects and treatments. It is very rewarding to work with a profoundly interested student and build further on the knowledge and skills already there. It also keeps me in touch with what students currently learn, and what moves them to pursue this profession; it is after all not an average job. I thoroughly enjoy working with David Plummer right now, who expressed a specific interest in our oriental collections, a specialisation in conservation not available everywhere."
David also noted: "Each treatment allowed me to build on my prior experience in the workshop, while simultaneously presenting me with new problems. I am very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work and study under the guidance of such a distinguished leader in the field."
Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum, Bournemouth
Another student who was on a placement was Dale Sardeson, who is studying for a MA Conservation Studies (Clocks & Related Objects), he went to the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum in Bournemouth. He commented: "From early on in the year I knew that I wanted to go to the Russell-Cotes Museum. The college has a good working relationship with the Russell-Cotes, and I had seen a number of objects from the collection on fellow students' benches. It might seem like an odd choice for a student specialising in horology, since the museum doesn't necessarily have the range of clocks on display that other, larger museums might, but it does have a few very interesting pieces that I was keen to get a closer look at."
He continued: "The major project that I worked on throughout the month I was there was updating the records of the museum's collection of watches. It turned out to be a larger task than I expected, and, in total, I catalogued, photographed and assessed 89 pocket watches, as well as a range of other associated objects. Completing this project means that the museum now has full records of every watch in the collection, including a precise assessment of their condition and as much information about their makers as could be found. This has highlighted a few interesting, unusual or important pieces that might be suitable for future display in the house, as well as giving the curator an idea of those that need work, and how best to prioritise future conservation of the horological collection."
"It was a really interesting month for me, both in terms of the range of different watch styles and mechanisms that I was able to examine, but also getting a better understanding of the behind-thescenes running of a museum and being involved in a variety of other tasks like hanging pictures and auditing parts of the ceramic collection."
Royal Museums, Greenwich
Zora Sanders, who is studying for a Postgraduate Diploma in the Conservation of Metalwork, worked at the Royal Museums in Greenwich under senior Metals Conservator, Lawrence Birnie.
She worked on a wide variety of projects from replacing the frame on a sundial to dismantling and cleaning a flintlock pistol! One of the items she worked on was a 19th Century midshipman's dress dirk, which needed a variety of treatments including using hawthorn needles to remove old polish residues, while another was a badge of the Order of the Medjidie, which had been presented to Admiral Bedford, with intricate silver facets that needed to be cleaned to give the desired visual effect.
The V&A, London
Rosie Blay, who is studying for a MA Conservation Studies (Ceramics & Related Material), secured a 6-week placement at the V&A in the Ceramics and Glass Conservation Studio, working alongside a small team. She said: "I have been able to learn from specialists in the field and the opportunity has enabled me to be immersed in the day-to-day life of being a conservator at the museum, involving activities such as attending meetings and conferences, assessing objects for loans, assisting with preparing objects for exhibitions and treating objects in need of conservation."
She finished by saying: "One object that I have been able to work on is a set of three Fritware tiles with Persian inscriptions and floral ornaments from the 14th century. As the tiles will be photographed for an upcoming publication they were brought in for conservation due to one of the tiles having previous repairs that had discoloured. The treatment I performed involved: surface cleaning, recessing the previous fills, consolidating weak areas of glaze, refilling areas of loss, retouching fill areas and rewriting the museum numbers. I particularly enjoyed working on this object as I find previous repairs fascinating because they provide so much information about an object's history."
Oxford Conservation Consortium
Maria Borg, who is studying for an MA in Books and Library Materials, did her work placement at the Oxford Conservation Consortium. She said: "The focus of my placement was the cleaning, re-housing and repair techniques on parchment. Apart from the practical work and the numerous external visits to different libraries and archives in Oxford, one of the best aspects of my placement was having access to the Chantry Library."
"For a student such as myself, the library provides an inviting and comfortable space where I was able to consolidate my learning in the studio. I was able to learn more about a variety of materials and objects such parchment and seals, as well as read about interesting conservation topics, including preventive conservation and condition surveys. The variety of resources at the library were also very helpful for me to finish coursework related to my studies, including research for a science report."
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Notes to Editors:
West Dean College of Arts and Conservation was founded in 1971 by the poet and Surrealist patron, Edward James, recognised by BBC Arts as the 'the greatest patron of art of the early 20th century'.