Conservation II the role of the Textile Conservation Centre in preserving our textile heritage

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  • 8.

    Professional Notes 245

    ward Gallery, London, 26 January to 16 April 1989 (see catalog, softback ISBN 1-85332- 026-9 pp. 218-241). See also, The Inventions of Leonardo da Vinci (Macmillan, New York, 1965); Los Angeles County Museum, Leonar- do da Vinci: An Exhibition of His Scientific Achievements (1949), original in Codex Atlanticus 82 rc.

    9. There are very few examples of postwar scientific instruments that have gained any acceptance as artifacts parallel to the great collecting interest in early scientific instru- ments. One wonders what science museums in the 2Ist century will do to illustrate the development of instrumentation in the 20th century.

    H. J. Plenderleith and S. Cursiter, The 10. Industry generally fully depreciates capital Problem of Lining Adhesives for Paintings - scientific equipment over 5 years, though Wax Adhesives, Technical Studies in the Field individual instruments may continue in ser- of the Fine Arts, 3 (1934-1935), pp. 90-l 13. vice for a substantially longer period.


    Conservation II The Role of the Textile Conservation Centre in Preserving Our Textile Heritage

    The glare of unfavourable publicity has focused attention in the United Kingdom on the management and care of museum collec- tions. The national debate has arisen because of questions raised by the House of Com- mons Committee of Public Accounts and the publication of their report on the Manage- ment of the Collections of the English National Museums and Galleries (HMSO, 23.11.88) and the preceding Minutes of Evidence (HMSO, 20.4.1988). The Commit- tee identified many important management problems. The shortage of trained textile conservators was highlighted - it was noted that one textile conservation post remained unfilled for six years. A review of the work of the Textile Conservation Centre seems timely.

    On 12 April 1989 the Textile Conservation Centre (TCC) will have celebrated the fourteenth anniversary of its establishment. Mrs Karen Finch OBE, Founder of the TCC and its Principal from 1975 to 1986, de- scribed the work of the TCC in the June 1983 issue of this Journal (1983, 2, pp. 191- 194). The author, as the Centres present director, has taken this opportunity to prepare a brief account of the Centres recent

    work. The TCC was established in 1975 as a charitable company limited by guarantee, and it has the honour of being housed in Grace and Favour accommodation at Hamp- ton Court Palace, close to London. The Centres role has developed to fulfil two main aims: the training of textile conserva- tors, and the provision of a textile conserva- tion service for public and private textile collections.


    The Centre provides a range of training opportunities, and the Head of Studies and Research is responsible for a staff of six, which includes experienced conservators, a photographer and a librarian. A special feature of the training is that students, apprentices and interns can benefit from the skills of the conservators working in the Centres Conservation Service departments, as well as from their tutors.

    Currently the training of textile conserva- tors is achieved in three ways:




    A Three-Year Postgraduate Diploma Course is run by the Textile Conservation Centre in conjunction with the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London. (This Course was preceded by two pilot Certificate Courses of two years dura- tion.) Three-year apprenticeship trainings are given in tapestry and upholstery conser- vation. Internship opportunities are provided whereby visiting conservators can study

  • 246 Professional Notes

    A member of the Textile Conservation Centres team of trained conservators treats the flaking paint of a painted banner. The Centre is partly funded by income earned from conservation work entrusted to it.

    and work at the TCC on individually designed programmes.

    The Diploma Course consists of a struc- tured training with lectures, seminars and practical work. Up to eight students are accepted each year; eight students can be accommodated in each of the first, second and third years, making a total of twenty- four students at any one time.

    The Centre is justly proud of its training record. Forty-one textile conservators have graduated from the courses run in conjunc- tion with the Courtauld Institute of Art. With the apprenticeship scheme, twelve specialists in tapestry conservation and two specialists in upholstery conservation have been trained. Former students and appren- tices work as textile conservators in key posts all over the world.

    Textile Conservation Service

    The Centre provides a textile conservation service to a wide range of clients, including local and national museums, The National Trust, London livery companies and private individuals. The Centres Head of Conserva- tion Services is responsible for a team of fifteen trained textile conservators, who work in the Tapestry and General Conserva- tion Departments. A wide range of textile conservation services are provided, encom- passing advice, consultative visits and on-site work, as well as preventative and remedial conservation work. Conservation work is charged at an hourly rate set to recover the labour and other costs, but without any profit element.

    The Tapestry Conservation Department specializes in the treatment of large tapestry- woven wall-hangings. In the last fourteen years over 150 tapestries have been treated at the TCC, including a magnificent set of four tapestries woven at the Mortlake Manufac- tury between 1623 and 1636 which illustrate scenes from the story of Hero and Leander. Three of the tapestries are displayed at Lyme Park, Cheshire, whilst the fourth is part of the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. On the other hand the General Conservation Department under- takes the treatment of a wide variety of historic textiles, including flags and banners, costume, upholstery, embroidered hangings, samplers and archaeological textiles. Recent projects of particular interest include cos- tumes worn by Jeremy Bentham and Flor- ence Nightingale, and one of the earliest well-authenticated trade union banners, which is dated 1821.

    Research and Development

    The Centre has contributed useful research into the methods of wet cleaning historic textiles, despite funding limitations, and new teaching and assessment methods have also been developed. The Centres conservation staff is one of the largest groups of trained textile conservators working together any- where in the world. This expertise and teamwork has allowed the Centre to develop specialist skills; it is well known for the development of conservation techniques for

  • Professional Notes 247

    A second-year student at the Textile Conservation Centre, Hampton Court Palace, is examined on her treatment proposals for a 19th century coat. A maximum of 24 students can be accommodated on the Diploma Course at any one time.

    tapestries and painted banners. As each object presents unique conservation prob- lems, treatment methods are being adapted and refined continually. The Centre hosts an Annual Seminar where former students and staff visit the Centre to exchange ideas about current methods and approaches.

    Ethics and Professional Practice

    Karen Finch, a pioneer of conservation training, attached great importance to main- taining ethical principles in conservation. This standard has been maintained and staff and students are expected to work to the highest ethical and professional standards. In treating a historic textile the conservator aims to conserve all that remains of the object in order to preserve its interest as an historic object. Great emphasis is placed on conserva- tion as opposed to restoration. The aim is to preserve objects, not to restore them to their original appearance. Each object is assumed to be unique and is carefully examined and

    assessed before treatment proposals are formulated. Written and photographic re- cords are made of conservation treatments. Karen Finch stressed the importance of preventive conservation in her 1983 article, and this continues to be a high priority in our training and conservation services.


    The Centre charges fees for courses and for conservation commissions entrusted to it, but by the nature of the work it is difficult to cover the whole cost involved in running this type of organization. The Centre has reached a stage where it is almost self-funding, in that earned income from commission and tuition fees covers the Centres basic running costs. Grants are still necessary for purchases of capital equipment, improving our facilities, staff development, publishing and research costs.

    In addition to the benefits of being housed in Grace and Favour apartments at Hampton

  • 248 Professional Notes

    A third-year student at the Textile Conservation Centre prepares an enzyme treatment for starch removal. Former students and apprentices work as textile conservators in key posts all over the world.

    Court Palace, the Centre continues to benefit from the help of its many supporters. Recent grants from charitable trusts and a commer- cial company have allowed improvements to be made to the Centres Reference Collection of historic textiles, its tapestry store-room, and its wet-cleaning facilities. In 1982 the Friends of the Textile Conservation Centre was established as a separate trust with the aim of supporting the work of the Centre. The Friends and their trustees offer help and advice as well as fund-raising on the Centres behalf. Last year the Friends launched a special appeal to establish a bursary fund and named bursaries to help students studying at the Centre. In this way the Friends aim to


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