This week we bring you another edition of our ‘Meet the Committee’ series. Today we talk to Emily Hick, the Digital Content Officer….
What is your main area of conservation?
Anything to do with paper! I trained in the conservation of fine art at Northumbria University, where I specialised in works of art on paper. I now work at the Centre for Research Collections (CRC), University of Edinburgh mainly with rare books and archives.
What is your position within the Icon Scotland Group?
I am the Digital Content Officer. I organise contributions to the Icon Scotland Group blog, Facebook and Twitter page and the main Icon website. I am passionate about conservation, and welcome any opportunity to promote it! Scotland has a vibrant conservation community, so there is always lots to share and talk about. If you have an event, project or conservation opportunity in Scotland that you would like to me shout about – email me at email@example.com!
How did you first become interested in conservation?
I first became aware of conservation during my undergraduate degree at the University of Glasgow. I was studying History of Art, and we had a lecture about pigments on a painting changing colour over time, affecting our interpretation of it. I thought this was really fascinating but I didn’t really think much of it until later on when I was trying to a suitable career path. After researching jobs that linked to my degree, I came across conservation again and decided I wanted to get more experience in the field before plunging into a masters degree. I volunteered at a paintings conservation project in a Buddhist monastery in India. I lived on site with the monks and cleaned wall paintings with a tiny cotton bud. I was instantly hooked and I knew this was the right job for me! I wrote a post blog entitled ‘Karma, Castles and Condoms: My Career in Conservation’ about how I started in conservation, if you would like to find out more!
Describe your typical work day…
My typical day consists of a mixture of computer and practical work. I often have emails to respond to, reports or documentation to write up, so I may spend an hour or two on the computer each day. When this is done I carry out practical work. I mainly carry out treatment on the archives and rare books collections. These include damaged items that have been flagged up in the reading room, priority collections that have been highlighted by the curators or treating items in preparation for exhibition or loan. The CRC has a varied collection, so I get to work with a great range of objects. For example, over the past year, as well as working on flat paper and bound volumes, I have also treated a parchment scroll, a papyrus fragment, a suffragette’s belt, Indian paintings and a collection of photographs! Working at the university, there is also a strong emphasis on student engagement. So part of my day often involves supervising volunteers and interns or organising outreach events such as conservation taster days, crowdsourcing events or contributing to seminars. It’s a varied role and there is always something new to be involved in.
What has been your favourite conservation moment?
There have been many, from seeing the local people’s reaction to the conserved wall paintings in their temple, to flying to Singapore for a student placement, and feeling like Hermione Grainger as I walked through the courtyard of Alnwick Castle on my first ever paid conservation job. But I would have to say my favourite conservation moment has to be hosting a symposium on the conservation of modern materials at the CRC as a part of my first project working there. Everything about the experience was new; applying for funding to hold the event, organising and advertising an event and even presenting my own paper. It was terrifying, exhilarating and rewarding. It made me realise I could achieve anything with lots of planning, confidence and support from my colleagues.
Conservation is often misunderstood by those outside the profession. What would you like to tell the world about conservation?
That conservation doesn’t just involve working with ancient artifacts. Conservation aims to extend the useable life of all objects, and this includes modern materials too! People often assume that modern objects are more stable than older ones. However, this is not the case, in fact in some cases modern items are more vulnerable! The manufacturing method and the additives found in modern objects such as plastics can alter how the item will degrade, making the degradation of plastics hard to predict. I find it a fascinating subject and will become more important as the number of modern materials in our collections grow.