The Conservation Department is responsible for the preservation, conservation, investigation and display of The Bowes Museum and its collections. Objects are prepared for display within the galleries, for loan to other institutions, and as a means of improving their condition while in storage. Conservation is vital for protecting the collections, ensuring that they are available to study and enjoy both today, and in the future.
The Bowes Museum’s conservators are highly-trained, with backgrounds in art history, history and archaeology, providing an understanding of materials and manufacturing processes. Each has a grounding in chemistry; this is important for understanding the nature of deterioration and when selecting materials for conservation.
The department has two conservators, in Textile and Preventive conservation. We work with a number of freelance conservators across the North East including paper, paintings and objects conservators. Objects that cannot be conserved in house are sent to specialists locally or nationally. Cecilia Oliver is Senior Conservator and can advise on where to find a conservator to meet your needs Cecilia.Oliver@thebowesmuseum.org.uk
In addition, each year we have two textile conservation interns through the ICON/HLF Skills for the Future Scheme.
As well as Senior Conservator, Cecilia is the Textile Conservator, responsible for the care of the fashion and textile collections at the Museum from Josephine’s own clothes to haut couture fashion and the Blackborne lace or quilt collection. Conservation can include both wet and dry cleaning and stitched or adhesive supports on weak elements of textiles. It can also involve mounting of the textiles for display. We work closely with the Fashion and Textile curators to ensure all textiles in the collection are stored sensitively and that display addresses the long term preservation of these items.
Cecilia Oliver: Cecilia.Oliver@thebowesmuseum.org.uk
The assistant preventive conservator, Fred is responsible for the monitoring of environmental conditions across the Museum, which can be controlled and adjusted with humidifiers and dehumidifiers. The programme of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) monitors insect activity in the stores and galleries. Objects are put on display, their condition monitored, and surface cleaned when necessary. The preventive conservator is responsible for all objects in the Museum stores, ensuring that they are housed safely, and kept free from dust, and regularly updates the Museum’s emergency plan. Items are prepared for loan, including packing for transit, and couriering to other venues and institutions nationally and internationally.
Fred Stubbs: Frederick.Stubbs@thebowesmuseum.org.uk
The painting conservator is responsible for the care of The Bowes Museum’s excellent collection of oil paintings, from Old Masters to Joséphine Bowes’ own works. Conservation processes can include surface cleaning; removing and re-applying varnish; repairing tears; lining and relining; filling and retouching. Preparation for display may include glazing and back-boarding, frame repairs and gilding. The painting conservator will also advise on handling, moving and hanging paintings.
ICON/HLF Internships in the Conservation Department
In 2014 the Museum was awarded Heritage Lottery Funding to run a 5 year ‘Skills for the Future’ project, hosting year-long paid internships in association with the Institute of Conservation. Previous interns have gone on to work at the V&A, Royal Museums Greenwich and private practice both in the UK and abroad. The current interns are Charlotte Cameron and Kezia Cosson.
Placements in the Conservation Department
The Bowes Museum’s Conservation Department offers unpaid work placements to students enrolled on recognised conservation training courses, or considering applying to a formal conservation training course. Contact HR for an application form.
Through the Conservation Advisory Network (CAN) the Conservation Department works with Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums (TWAM), to help museums with conservation and collections care advice and training across the North East.
The Bowes Museum is partnered with Beamish as part of the ‘Major Partnership Museums’ scheme, which is run by Arts Council England. A result of this partnership is the Durham Conservation Training Network (DCTN), established to help museums in the Durham area with conservation problems and provide conservation training.
The Museum undertakes some freelance work for private or museum pieces in need of conservation. We are currently undertaking a project with Tullie House in Carlisle, working on objects for their new Fashion Gallery opening Spring 2020. For more information on services we can provide contact Cecilia Oliver.
For updates on some of the work our Conservation team are currently undertaking, follow the Museum blog or twitter @bowesconserves. We welcome your participation, so leave a comment.