Developing archival skills through volunteering at the Design Archives
Recent MA Curating Collections and Heritage student Rachel Ng writes about her work as a volunteer at the Design Archives to support her professional development
The idea of preserving history for future generations has always fascinated me. Museums, archives, and heritage sites are a big part of my life so perusing a career in the heritage sector is an ideal fit. To compliment my MA studies in Curating Collections and Heritage at Brighton, I undertook a voluntary placement at the Design Archives to gain a practical understanding of the working life of an archivist. Through a range of tasks, I have gained invaluable experience at the archive which will aid my career progression in the future. During my time at the archive, I looked at two main collections: F H K Henrion, and Theo Crosby.
F H K Henrion (1914-1990) developed a reputation as a designer of exhibitions and established his own design consultancy working all over Europe. Henrion was a member of professional design organisations, as well as being an educator. His influence and impact on the design world has been significant. The Design Archives hold Henrion’s entire collection, including artworks, photography, and correspondence with clients.
The Design Archives also care for Henrion’s slide library, as well as the Kodak slide carousels that Henrion put together to create various slideshows to accompany presentations he gave. The carousels are a useful tool to see Henrion’s mind at work, carefully deciding which slides to use to create the perfect presentation. Unfortunately, the actual carousels are not of an ideal material to preserve the slides in, so I was tasked with carefully moving the slides into new archival-grade pockets, ensuring the order remained for any future researchers. Carefully documenting every marking on the box and the carousel, I placed each slide into its new pocket. Although the actual presentation was not available to see, I was still able to gain some sense of the flow of the presentation though the well-thought-out slide order.
The whole process of going through a slide collection has opened up a new type of material for research purposes for me. I would have never previously thought to study slides to develop my research, but I now understand how fruitful they can be and how much you can learn about the thought process behind creating a sequence of slides.
Architect, sculptor, writer and designer, Theo Crosby (1925-1994) was influential in shaping perceptions of the built environment in the late twentieth century. One of Crosby’s most celebrated later architectural projects is Shakespeare’s Globe. Like Henrion, the archive covers a majority of Crosby’s career, including architectural drawings, project files, and business correspondence.
The archive also holds several Crosby’s collages, and I was responsible for undertaking some interventive paper conservation work on them to prevent any further damage. Using a soot sponge, I carefully removed any grease and grime from the edges of the pictures which occurred through previous handling of the images. (A soot sponge can be seen in figure 5). I also used specialist paper conservator tools to lift any folded tissue paper, reducing the creases in the papers, to prevent the delicate material from cracking or ripping. If any of the images suffered damage from sticky tape residue, I used cellulose powder to get rid of any stickiness in the residue. Finally, each image was carefully placed into an archival-grade sleeve, (Fig 1).
Volunteering at the Design Archives has provided me with invaluable knowledge. From this experience I have been able to secure a paid position at the Chelsea Archive at the University’s Eastbourne site. In this role I am assessing the sports collection with a view of co-authoring a report on the future of the collection. Skills I have learnt from the Design Archives have allowed me to look critically at the collection in Eastbourne to decipher what is of value and what is better placed elsewhere. The report will also contain recommendations for the care of the collection and with my previous experiences, I feel confident in providing comprehensive suggestions to best look after the collection.
Volunteering not only provides you with the opportunity to develop your skills in an area you are interested in, but also presents a perfect opportunity to network with people in the industry, as well as become part of a community of likeminded people. I also found that it was a perfect time to put things I had learnt in seminars into practice. If you are able to take up a volunteering role (even if it is just one afternoon a week for a short period of time) I would highly recommend it.
See also Rachael’s post about her Change Studentship Award on the University of Brighton Alumni Association blog.