Suzanne Van Leer

Collections Care Advisor

What do you consider your biggest achievement to date?

I think getting my current position was one of my absolute proudest moments: I have very vivid memories of when I got that call. But I am also just proud of how I’ve grown in the past few years and taking the plunge to start freelancing. I’ve noticed that, as hard and scary as it was to do, it’s working out and I am proud of myself for that.

It might not necessarily be a single achievement, but as a whole, it’s a big one for me.

Talk us through your career path since graduating.

After graduating I moved back to the Netherlands, however, conservator positions at museums are extremely rare and most conservators are self-employed. I tried to for a while to make that happen, but it turns out this style of freelance work is just not suited for me. I love to be able to really get into the nitty gritty of an object and when you have limited time to work on an object, that’s just not possible.

Four years ago I managed to find a position working for a provincial organisation, The Federation of Museums in Friesland, that advises all museums in the province and I took on the role of Collections Care Advisor. Since last year I also take on freelance projects in Collections Care/Management, writing articles, providing advice, workshops and presentations.

What projects are you currently working on?

I am currently part of several projects with the Federation, such as one for sustainability in collections storage and my own project, providing on-site assistance to museums with their collections management in the very broadest sense of the term.

As a freelancer I’ve just finished a collections registration project and will be starting a big condition-control project soon, which I am very excited about. In between these bigger projects I get to work on some smaller jobs such as writing an article on glass foils and giving a training on object handling.

Do you have any tips for recent graduates?

Find out whatever style of work suits you. I’ve discovered that there are in fact many roads that lead to happiness. I still love working with objects and I will always be an object-girl at heart, but I’ve found that the type of work I get as a Collections Care Advisor offers me exactly the type of diversity I thrive on. Working as a freelance conservator with the pressure of delivering at a high pace just wasn’t suited for me and I had a hard time accepting that at first.

It’s okay! Go forth and do what makes you happy!

How do you think studying at West Dean College prepared you for what you do now?

I really appreciated how I learned to think practically. My BA was quite academic and sterile and I was looking for more real-world practical teaching. I’ve learned to be realistic and honest with myself about time management and expectations, which has turned out to be extremely benificial in my day-to-day working life.

Of course getting to know things about materials that are not your expertise is also very useful. Small tidbits of information that I’ve learned from fellow students in other workshops have come in handy more times than I would have thought.

What’s your favourite memory from your time at the College?

I think my favorite memories are with the “smaller” things: sunset walks around the grounds, seeing the ducklings grow up in the spring, movie nights in the common rooms, that sort of thing. But I also have very fond memories of some of the short courses I was able to take, where I could get out of my comfort zone a bit and just have fun. Take advantage of that while you can, it’s so worth it!

Also that apricot-banana crumble we had for dessert sometimes… If someone has a recipe, please let me know.

Did you receive any form of funding to study at West Dean?

I had saved up quite a fair amount before applying, but I did also apply to the Edward James Foundation, as well as some local Dutch organisations. It was a bit of a struggle, because you do have to really read into all of the conditions for the different types of funding available. There were many examples of funding I could not receive simply because my course was abroad or because I hadn’t taken my BA in the Netherlands. Luckily it worked out in the end!

Find out more about the MA in Conservation Studies specialising in Metalwork