The Department for Random Requests….
Hi, I’m Jane Pudsey, Senior Conservator at the Herbert. Our team is responsible for the wellbeing of the collections, so between us we look after the environment, prepare and maintain objects on display, check incoming objects, and yes, we do some active conservation work as well. As we never know what may crop up, we keep a large selection of tools, materials and equipment, and are skilled at improvising – so much so that I’m thinking of rebranding us as ‘The Department for Random Requests’ (beeswax, table-cloths and ironing facilities this week).
As Senior Conservator, I don’t get to do as much practical work, but spend more time on environmental and storage issues, and liaising with other teams. Our work is not often headlined, but supports anything involving collections – such as maintaining objects in the handling collection, discussing with the Exhibitions Officer how to handle limited spray-painting for the up-coming Street Art exhibition – and of course installation of exhibitions. My training is in Archives Conservation, so I lead on the conservation aspects of paper-based exhibitions, and take my turn with some mixed and textile based exhibitions. None of us covers textiles to more than the level of collections care, but skills such as spotting flaws or damage and working out where an object needs support are transferable to a large degree. It makes a welcome change to get hands-on with objects as I’m mostly desk-based – apart from brief forays into more obscure parts of the building to check on bits of air-conditioning and the contents of insect traps.
We’ve recently been working with one of the Learning Officers to develop a Meet the Scientist session for school groups, and I’m very keen to extend this. The Herbert is unusual for a museum this size in having a Conservation Team, so I’m always happy to spread the word of what we’re about – and it’s a wonderful cross-curricula resource. We’re hoping to introduce more about conservation into the text panels for future exhibitions, as well trying for a higher profile by taking active part in events like Night at the Museum.
So what’s on my to-do list at the moment? Discussing how much object cleaning we can pass to Front of House team; working with the Technician to improve light protection for the watercolour collections; re-calibrating our environmental monitoring units (the supplier is using us to test a DIY method for doing this in a picnic cooler rather than sending them all off to the lab). Oh, and there seems to be a couple of tours taking in our room, and an Art Fund Prize judge visit in the diary as well, so a small amount of tidying up might be in order….>