A conservator’s job is to care for cultural heritage so that it is accessible now and in the future. The conservator must be respectful and humble when treating and caring for objects and yet have the confidence to be able to make informed decisions and judgements. I am a newly qualified paper conservator and am currently doing contract work for the National Conservation Service. I am sent for short periods of time to assist with projects at institutions that do not have conservators. The Stationers’ Archive are currently moving their collection from a safe store at Stationers’ Hall to an offsite storage space at Upper Heyford. My job was to assist the archivist, Ruth Frendo, in ensuring all objects were safely packed for the move.
However, before I could begin packing there had been sightings of moths in the old store room. It was important to assess whether the moths had flown into the space or if the collection was infested. I surveyed a sample of the books in the room, checking them thoroughly for signs of moths at all life stages. I found little evidence to suggest the collection was infested which was very good news!
I then moved on to packing the collection. There are conflicting demands when creating packaging that is economical, archival and mechanically strong. For long term storage it is essential that materials are acid free and do not ‘off-gas’ harmful substances onto the objects. However, in this instance the priority was making sure the objects would be mechanically supported in transit. Archival storage could be arranged at Upper Heyford. I wrapped books in acid free tissue and placed them in boxes which I padded with bubble wrap. The Stationers’ Archive has a significant number of parchment documents which did not fit in the boxes we had available. I had to come up with a solution out of the materials around. I wrapped the parchment in acid free tissue and placed large sheets of cardboard on the top and on the bottom. The package was held together with polythene. Long term it is not good to have the parchment in piles so close together with suspect looking cardboard in close proximity. However, I was using acid free tissue as a barrier and I wanted to limit movement in transit which could result in the edges of sheets getting abraded.
My favourite aspect of conservation is that it often involved teamwork. Ruth kept track of all the reference numbers and labelled boxes as I was packing. We were joined by Eduardo a volunteer who helped pack and move boxes. A lot of the parchment packages can only be safely moved with two people and with the steep staircases at the Stationers Hall it was essential to work together!
I received the 2015 Stationers’ Award which helped fund my studies at Camberwell College of Art and put me in contact with my mentor Chris Woods; director of the National Conservation Service. Without the support of the Stationers’ Company I would not have been able to carry out internships and placements including those at the Ashmolean Museum and the British Museum. I am truly thankful to the Stationers’ Company for its support. The experiences I have gained will hopefully enable me to achieve my dream of being an art on paper conservator.