In her farewell post, Sarah blogs about her final project at Kew, during which she gets a backstage pass to the conservation studio for a day!
As one of my last projects as a Graduate Trainee in the Archives, I was given the opportunity to spend a day with the conservation team here at Kew, to find out more about the work they carry out on the Library, Art and Archives collections.
The day kicked off with an introduction to the projects that Ellie, the archives conservator, and Emma, the illustrations conservator, are working on (both were part of the team that recently completed the Marianne North Paintings conservation project). They explained to me the types of media that they are currently working with and the variety of methods they use to preserve them.
Correspondence from Darwin to Henslow, in need of cleaning.
Ellie is currently working on restoring letters from our Darwin Collection. They are of huge historical value but are in urgent need of preservation. In order to ensure that they are available for use by future researchers, the letters need to be cleaned and re-housed into conservation sound packaging. Before the process of cleaning can begin, Ellie needs to make sure that all of the ink and pencil used on the paper is not soluble – she let me try this out by using a microscope to place a tiny drop of water onto the ink. I was surprised by the attention to detail and the patience that is needed to do this – to test one letter before it can even be cleaned takes hours!
During my time in the conservation studio, I also had the chance to browse the curious assortment of tools used by the conservation team – from brushes and corrosive acids, to surgical razors and dentistry equipment; it is really a surgery for collections in need of care!!
A conservator's tool kit!
It was really fascinating and inspiring to see how much work conservators put into preserving and restoring items of historical and cultural significance. The dedication required to carry out the work, and the attention to detail that is needed, is quite remarkable! For me, it has also been incredibly useful to see how conservation and archive teams work together to preserve collections. I really gained an insight into the mysterious world of conservation - a world that is normally hidden behind closed doors.
I hope to be able to take this experience, along with everything else that I have learned during my year at Kew, with me into my future career. So this is goodbye from me - remember to look out for posts from the next Graduate Trainee to see what they get up to!
- Sarah -
- Read about the Archive and Library Graduate Trainee scheme at Kew
- Discover the work of our conservators
- Read about Charles Darwin's connection with Kew
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