Tools of the trade

Tools of the Trade
A selection of tools used in paper conservation

Today I was thinking about the tools that a paper conservator needs to do their job. At the very top of that list should be patience. All of the physical tools required – and there are plenty – are to me the trade-off for the patience as you get to work with fairly random things at times. Conservators need to stay inventive; dentists tools become irreplaceable and making small saw-blades into scraping tools or suddenly possessing a vast collection of small jam jars that fill up your toolbox is not unheard of.

And it isn’t all hands on deck! Not only does everything generally take a long time, the paperwork and other forms of documentation – sketches, diagrams and photography – are absolutely essential to the conservation process. Sometimes you need to research what it is you are working on to gain an understanding to any issues related to it. This is more dominant in the museum sector however, where knowing the history of ‘the stuff’ enables you to treat it with sensitivity to the traditions of another culture or religion, for example. Of course the variety of areas in which to specialise in within the conservation umbrella are also numerous – in this diary I will only be concentrating on issues surrounding paper conservation.

There are considerable differences in conservation issues between archives and museums. To put it very crudely, archive materials are generally handled, and the ability to do so becomes a part of the research process. Museum objects are there to be looked at and admired, most of the time behind a glass and out of reach. These kinds of issues bring to the surface the need to be able to adjust your skills depending on what it is you are working with.

A conservator doesn’t only need to know what to do with the vast selection of tools of the trade, but I think also needs to be part artist, part photographer, part chemist and part researcher – and have the patience of a saint.

One comment

  1. Sirpa Kutilainen

    Due to a migration of this blog to a new layout, all comments made to posts have been lost in the process. Below are the comments, with name, date and time, made for this post.

    Caroline Milne 16 Jan 2012 7.17am
    I am a student of conservation and it was great to have an insight into some of the tools of the trade

    Sirpa Kutilainen 16 Jan 2012 9.22am
    Hi Caroline, thank you for reading my blog! Where are you studying?

    Caroline Milne 03 Sep 2012 12.46pm
    I am studying Cultural Heritage Conservation at the University of Canberra in Australia. I am in my second year, it has been fantastic so far.

    Sirpa Kutilainen 03 Sep 2012 12.51pn
    That sounds brilliant! The best of luck with the rest of your studies – do let me know how you’re getting on! Would be really interesting to hear about the goings on in heritage conservation ‘down under’.

    Euis Shariasih 04 Jun 2014 8.06am
    It’s an interesting work…

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