Old Curatorial Archive

Curator’s Advent. Day 22. Conservation supplies

In need of conservation supplies. Serious condensation inside a showcase
In need of conservation supplies. Serious condensation inside a showcase

Purchasing conservation supplies is retail therapy for the curator.

Solander boxes. Unbleached cotton tape. Melanex sleeves. Acid free tissue. Goat hair brush. Distilled water. Tyvek. Humidity control cassettes. Nitrile gloves (S, M, L, XL). Solid brass paperclips. Book sofa. Light meter. Thermohygrometer. Plastazote.

Museum gel.

Old Curatorial Archive

Curator’s Advent. Day 3. Moths

Butterflies on display at the Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro. Not moths but you get the idea.
Butterflies on display at the Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro. Not moths but you get the idea.

Moths and other creepy pests are The Enemy of the curator (unless they are already dead and desirable specimens, pinned and catalogued). If you see a furrowed brow and haunted look, a struggle with sticky pheromone-fueled patches, spare a thought. We are saving museums from the very real peril of textiles and taxidermy annihilation. No one wants to see a naval rating’s uniform with holes in its unmentionables.

Old Curatorial Archive

Textile Conservation Centre finds a new home in Glasgow

Clearly much continued to happen behind the scenes by the TCC Foundation before and since its closure in Winchester. A press release was made last week announcing a new home in Glasgow for many of its activities, particularly in research and education. I have taken the liberty of reproducing the press release in full below:

Press release issued by the University of Glasgow on 24th March 2010

New conservation centre preserves the fabric of the nation

Preserving the fabric of the nation’s treasures for future generations, a new textile conservation centre is to be established at the University of Glasgow.

The Textile Conservation Centre Foundation (TCCF) and the University of Glasgow have agreed to found the new teaching and research facility – the only resource of its kind in the UK – in the University’s Robertson Building.

Professor Nick Pearce, Director of the Institute for Art History and Head of the Department of History of Art, University of Glasgow, said: “This is a tremendous opportunity both for the University and also for the conservation profession in Scotland, the UK and internationally. Expertise, facilities and the wealth of the collections make Glasgow the ideal place for the kind of interdisciplinary research and study which the centre will promote.”

Peter Longman, Deputy Chairman of the Textile Conservation Centre Foundation said: “There was such concern over the closure of the Textile Conservation Centre in Winchester that over the last 18 months we have been approached by several institutions anxious to work with us to continue aspects of its work. We have considered a number of options, but the combination of Glasgow with its world class University and History of Art Department and the unrivalled collections in and around the City proved an irresistible location.

“This is a unique opportunity to build on the UK’s reputation in textile conservation training and related research; we look forward to contributing to its future success in Glasgow.”

The new centre for Textile Conservation, History and Technical Art History will focus on multidisciplinary object-based teaching and research that encompasses conservation and the physical sciences as well as art history, dress and textile history. It will be the first time that conservation training has been undertaken in Scotland and, combined with the University’s recent developments in technical art history, the new centre will have national and international impact.

The new Centre will inherit existing library intellectual property and analytical equipment from the TCCF, so that staff and future students will be able to draw on the key physical and intellectual assets built up over more than 30 years. Students will also have the opportunity to work with some of the best textile collections in the world held by Glasgow Museums, the National Museums of Scotland and the University’s own Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery. New academic posts will be created and the Centre will work closely with the Foundation to establish a global research network in textile conservation, textile and dress history and technical art history.

The first student intake is planned for September 2010 offering a 2-year Masters in Textile Conservation and a 1-year Masters in Dress and Textile History as well as opportunities for doctoral research. These new courses will join the existing Masters programme in Technical Art History, Making and Meaning, as part of the Centre. The Foundation is also offering a limited number of bursaries in the first years of the textile conservation programme and a fundraising campaign is already underway to raise further funds for the new development including additional studentships and new research projects. Potential students who would like to receive updates on the development and course details should email Ailsa Boyd at the University of Glasgow at: or

Old Curatorial Archive

Textile Conservation Centre continues online

Following the closure of the Textile Conservation Centre, until recently, part of the University of Southampton, the staff of the TCC and the TCC Foundation have set up a website to keep people in touch and retain a presence in the world of conservation, culture and heritage. Here, you can also keep in touch with recent staff and people.

It is good to see that online methods of communication will keep some essence of this excellent institution alive.

Old Heritage Archive

‘What do you want the future of Seaton Delaval to be?’ and ‘Will you help?’

These are the words of the National Trust‘s Director-General, Fiona Reynolds on a new kind of campaign by the trust to get the public to decide the future of Seaton Delaval Hall, its gardens, grounds and a large area of countryside in south Northumberland near Blyth.

The Trust intend to purchase the house and its estate to save it for the nation in perpetuity. It is willing to back the purchase with £6m of its own money but needs to raise a further £6m from public appeal, fundraising and public grants.

Romantic and partly-ruined, Seaton Delaval was built between 1718 and 1731 by Sir John Vanbrugh, architect of Blenheim Palace and Castle Howard, and is widely said be the finest work of the English Baroque and one of the most important historic houses in Britain.

In quite a firm statement, the NT’s Trustees have said that without public support, both in terms of fundraising and the public demonstrating a desire for the acquisition to take place, they will not proceed with the acquisition.

This announcement comes hot on the heels of the announcement yesterday of a new Chairman for the National Trust, Simon Jenkins, well-known as a newspaper editor, journalist, writer and heritage conservation campaigner. There have been no big pronouncements from him about his appointment and the future of the Trust which is a refreshing change.

So is this a one-off for the Trust and similar bodies? Does the public have to decide such things? Or is this a genuine attempt to change the way society deals with the conservation and preservation of the country’s past? The latest news on their website does not mention the Seaton Delaval campaign but then again the press release was only received 23 minutes ago. However, if I have managed to blog it, I should think they could do the same. I do hope their campaign will properly use such methods to communicate and raise its profile. I watch with intense interest.

Old Curatorial Archive

Conservation and communication

Recently Tom blogged about the prospect of the National Trust’s massive investment into digital technologies, including the web. Electric Acorns is a great new blog started by a an NT employee and devoted to peeling back some of the layers of the great institution in an effort to allow the public and fellow professionals a better insight into all the work the Trust does (see his comment below).

Institutions involved with promoting, undertaking or advising on the conservation of historic environments and artefacts are not great at communicating their work. I often wonder, if they were, whether the tensions between access and preservation could be better ‘managed’ (to use a phrase en vogue) but at the very least, better understood by the wider public, and whether funders and politicians would regard conservation as being a cultural activity of the highest value to society and therefore less willing to withdraw or withold support (see my post on the Textile Conservation Centre’s closure).

Interest in history, the past and the environment has never been more keen than it is now. Neither has it been more easy to have your say in front of a global audience with the internet revolution. Why aren’t more institutions involved with conservation adopting open and honest communication with the public through the web in the form of blogs, web forums, podcasts and more? Matthew of Electric Acorns is taking a step forward for his organisation (I do hope they appreciate it). What is everyone else doing? Here’s a short survey.

Old Curatorial Archive

Why close the Textile Conservation Centre?

Conservation has been high in my thoughts recently. Largely through my current work with ICOMOS-UK (International Council on Monuments and Sites UK) I have been exposed to the vicissitudes that affect the preservation and interpretation of our heritage, whether they are the result of inappropriate development, lack of funds or lack of collective and political will to stand up for cultural heritage as a fundamental part of modern society.

However, most upsetting, shocking, and all those things has been the news that the University of Southampton has decided to close down the Textile Conservation Centre at its Winchester Campus in late 2009 only a decade after it moved here from Hampton Court Palace. The reason given is financial, in short, that the University expects all its schools to fund themselves and the TCC, it was deemed, was not able to do this. I do not want to go into all the reasons given here. You can read up on it from the links below. A quick Google search will also show the coverage of the closure in the national press.

Read the University of Southampton’s statement
Read ICON’s statement
Save the Textile Conservation Centre blog

The whole business is personally distasteful to me. I am currently undertaking freelance work for the university, it is my alma mater. I therefore feel deeply embarrassed. I was a graduate of the Textile Conservation Centre in 2001 (MA Museum Studies) and maintain that my time there was intellectually the most stimulating experience of my life. Following this, my work on their research project on deliberately concealed garments produced one of the early attempts at getting collections online – and lit my passion for using the web to communicate our heritage. It has taken me a while to gather my thoughts – even now it seems daft to be writing about this. I could be writing about the government’s decision to close the British Museum or a local authority’s decision to level an ancient monument to make way for houses or offices. The feelings such things conjour are much the same. The futility of it all. Value for money, after all, is what exactly? After the anger and astonishment, the profound sadness.

As conservation (in the sense we understand it in heritage) is in every sense about ‘past thinking’ it seemed a good idea to talk about this here. Whatever the financial case made for the TCC’s closure, what is very clear is that this was certainly not a purely financial decision. The university was not itself going to go under because the TCC was using slightly more than it was contributing in monetary terms at least. Where there is a will there is a way. Sadly, Southampton had no will to continue to support one of its own ‘key distinctors’. Neither does it have the wisdom to realise the consequences of this action. The loss is not just Southampton’s or the UK’s, but the world’s. Organisations across the globe sent their people to the TCC to gain requisite skills in textile conservation and in museology, and take them back home. The combination was unique and they produced uniquely skilled graduates, the majority of whom have found very fulfilling careers in heritage, culture and conservation.

Here is a clear case of not taking responsibility, of not listening, of mis-judging and of being dishonourable. Universities ought to exist to further the bounds of human knowledge. It perplexes me to try and understand what has gone so wrong at Southampton. The one major source of funding for the TCC was the History of Art and Design degree. With its dissolution, it lost its link with Winchester School of Art which it formed part until last year. What, therefore, was the Centre able to do? Rugs (pardon the metaphor) pulled out from under them.

The world will only realise the impact of this in many years and decades to come when the skills required to preserve deteriorating garments, upholstery and other materials are no longer readily available. What is more, the extensive research and experimentation that is required to pioneer new techniques (something that the TCC excels at by a distance) will have not been undertaken. Just as we are realising this is happening in other parts of the conservation world (look out for ICOMOS-UK’s Action on Skills conference at the Prince’s Foundation on 29-30 April) why is this happening?

I look forward to reading 10 Downing Street’s response to a petition that was set up for the government to intervene. It closes on 6 May and already has over 3200 signatures. Please sign.