MA Conservation Studies specialising Ceramics and Related Materials 2011 - 2012

Tiago Oliveira


Talk us through your career path since graduating

On completing my studies at West Dean College of Arts and Conservation I worked with a Sculpture conservator in London, which was only possible due to contacts I made while a student at the College.

I was then lucky to be awarded one of the last HLF/Icon internships in ceramics conservation with Sarah Peek in Brighton, where I stayed for almost another year as an employee after that. Sarah’s expertise and demanding eye were very important for my development as a competent conservator.

For the past four years I have been working on my own, in London. Many of the people I contacted for work in the early months I had met at West Dean College or were directly related to contacts there and, those I hadn’t, knew of the College’s reputation and thus trusted my level of work would be good enough for them.

What projects are you currently working on?

The pieces I regularly work are as varied as they come: from family heirlooms with sentimental value to one-off European-porcelain figurines.

Over the past two years, I have made a couple of journeys to Salzburg (Austria) with a colleague from Portugal, to look at a series of tile stoves in need of attention.

Being in the capital I am also close to museums and collectors who may need occasional ceramics and glass conservation work, whilst offering competitive services in the field. Thus I have built strong connections with the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, The Wallace Collection, the Courtauld Institute and more recently, the Conservation Studio at Knole House (National Trust).

What do you consider your biggest achievement to date?

When starting on my own, with little self-confidence, what I was most afraid was to run out of work. For the first 6-8 months I went door-to-door introducing myself and showing my slim portfolio. Soon I was being commissioned work after work, without the need to look for it, which took me by surprise. It was a sign the quality of work I was offering was appreciated. Working on my own, this continuity of business is to me my most dear achievement.

Do you have any tips for recent graduates?

My advice to recent graduates is to first contact all the lovely people they’ve met at West Dean College, then write/talk to other conservators locally to you, write to small museums/collections without a conservation department. If going privately, contact art dealers and art galleries, who will in due course introduce you to their clients and friends. Volunteer for a little while with an experienced conservator. Somewhere, someone will hear of you, just keep going. Never give up.

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

Apart from everything related to the conservation of ceramics and glass I learned in my two years at college, which was a vast amount of much needed knowledge and practice, I think that underlining all that what remains is the ease I now have when I talk to people who are not conservators about conservation. As a student we would have to present our work to colleagues, staff and members of the public and engage the audience in the wonders of conservation. This I have to do with my clients, understanding that their needs and wishes are not necessarily the same as mine, and nevertheless, we can both be content.

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

I have so many good memories of the two years I was at West Dean… being surrounded by art and history from daybreak to sunset, the vast grounds and arboretum, the comfortable couch in the Oak Hall, by the fire, listening to someone playing the piano whilst reading a book, the close friends I made from all over the world with whom I am still in contact today, the fantastic workshops open late, the pottery classes on Tuesday evening, the tutors and staff and fellow kitchen colleagues, “uncle Eddie’s” graveyard… It is a place I miss dearly and where I return again and again when I have the chance. It was my first home away from home.

Find out more about the MA Conservation Studies

Tiago Oliveira. Image: Amanda Rose