Student Placement at Edinburgh University

Joey Shuker, conservation placement student from Camberwell College of Art describes her experience of working at the Centre for Research Collections (CRC) at Edinburgh University in this week’s blog post…

I have been very fortunate to have spent the last four weeks in the CRC as part of my summer placement for my masters degree in Conservation of Paper. I have just finished the first year of a two-year masters at Camberwell College of Art, part of the University of Arts London.

I have been working mostly in the studio with Emily Hick, but my placement here has also taken me to the National Library of Scotland conservation studios, The Scottish Conservation Studio (private studio) and I have spent days working at the Annexe (the CRC’s of site facility) with Project Conservator, Katharine Richardson.

One of the projects I spent most time working on was conserving a collection of photographs of Leith in the 1920s.The condition in which the photographs arrived in meant they where not able to be digitised. The prints were mounted on thick card that had distorted due to past environmental and storage conditions. The distortion of the card mount was pulling and creasing the photograph. Being so distorted meant that any pressure to put them under glass during the digitisation process would have caused more damage to the print. The decision was made (before I arrived) to remove the mount backing which would allow the prints to relax and flatten.

Days were spent removing the backing down to the layer just above the back of the print. A scalpel with a no.22 blade was used to remove the backing layer by layer and a pencil grid was drawn on each layer to ensure even removal which would support the print during this process.

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Curved photograph and mount

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Grid on back of mount

After the majority of the backing mount had been removed and the prints began to relax and could be pressed under glass overnight. Backing removal was something I had learnt on my course but I had only ever done it on large prints rather than a collection of small ones.

Doing aqueous treatments on photographs was something I had not yet covered on my course. Emily showed me a humidification method that allowed enough moisture to soften the paste holding the last backing layer on, but didn’t affect the print. We used fords gold medal blotter, which was recommended for use with photographs as it is thinner and holds less water. We used a blotter sandwich for humidification, the prints were humidified for 30 minutes. After this time, the last layer of backing could be easily peeled away and the paste could be removed with a spatula.

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Blotter sandwich

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Removing the paste

After this treatment and being put into a press for a couple of days, the box of photographs that arrived at CRC curved and stiff are now relaxed and flattened and ready to be sent to the photography lab for digitisation. This was a great project to work on as I could follow the project almost from start to finish.

I have learnt many new skills and I have been introduced to new treatment methods throughout my time here. Alongside working with Emily and the conservation team in the studio, I have also had introductions to other members of staff who have taken time to show me their role in the wider CRC such as the Archives, Photography Lab, Exhibitions, Rare Books and the Musical Instruments Conservation studio.

This placement has been highly valuable to my studies and preparing for work after university.

Joey Shuker

Conservation Student Placement

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Meet the Committee – Ruth Honeybone

In this week’s blog post, we meet Ruth Honeybone, Vice Chair of the Icon Scotland Group…

What is your main area of Conservation?

I’m a paper conservator by trade, but I now manage a health archive. Because of the kind of material in the archive, and the fact that I’m based in the Centre for Research Collections at the University of Edinburgh, conservation and preservation is still a big part of my role!

What is your position within the Icon Scotland Group?

I was, until fairly recently, the Treasurer (a position I had for about five years); I’m now Vice Chair.

How did you first become interested in Conservation?

In my art history undergrad degree I took a module on conservation theory and thought it offered just the right kind of practical vs. desk-based work, and then did some volunteer work in a studio to get a portfolio together. But when I was at school I did one of those tests that are meant to help you identify your perfect career – though, as teenager, I didn’t bother to read the results! When I came to them years later and saw what the test had picked out for me, conservator was second on the list – if only I’d paid more attention at the time I might have come to conservation earlier and through a different route…

Describe your typical day at work…

I don’t have a typical day really – every day is different, and that’s what I love about it! One thing is for sure though I don’t do much practical work anymore but I live vicariously through my conservation colleagues, and I make sure I keep up to date.

What has been your favourite conservation moment?

I like giving emerging conservation professionals jobs! I’m also very proud of a paid conservation internship programme that I helped set up that is still going strong, and hearing about what those interns have gone on to do afterwards.

Conservation is often misunderstood by those outside the profession. What would you like to tell the world about Conservation?

That it’s a highly specialist field but that conservators are an approachable bunch who are always willing to share information and work together to meet shared goals around collection items. And also that it’s nothing to do with recycling newspaper or saving badgers, both misconceptions that I’ve had to explain my way out of in the past!