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Susannah Pancaldo

Susannah Pancaldo, Senior Conservator, UCL Museums and Collections
Adhesives, Coatings and Consolidants Masterclass, Tate Britain

I was very excited to learn that a 5-day masterclass on conservation ‘Adhesives, Coatings and Consolidants’ was to be taught at Tate Britain by Dr. C. Velson Horie, conservation scientist and author of the seminal book Materials for Conservation. First and foremost, the course presented an opportunity to refresh and strengthen my existing knowledge of materials available for carrying out conservation treatments on museum objects. Although I have worked in the field for nearly 20 years, most of my time goes into planning and managing conservation projects carried out by others. Since developing a conservation laboratory for University College London’s Museums and Collections four years ago, however, I have resumed carrying out interventive treatment and am responsible for treating objects made from a wide variety of materials. Although confident carrying out tried and true methods for evaluating, selecting and using conservation materials for much of my work, I am acutely aware that there are new, and other, conservation materials and application methods used by conservators in related fields that I am not familiar with and tend not to explore in my own work due to lack of time. I therefore was grateful for the opportunity to expand my knowledge and experience learning about and experimenting with unfamiliar conservation materials in an immersive, week-long course, amongst fellow professional conservators from across the discipline. I am therefore also very grateful to the Anna Plowden Trust and my managers at UCL for enabling me to attend the course by providing funding and time off from work.

The ‘Adhesives, Consolidants and Coatings’ course fully met my expectations and was very gratifying. Mornings were spent in a teaching room at Tate Britain listening to lectures on conservation materials and their chemical and physical properties. Afternoons were devoted to carrying out practical experiments in the museum’s spacious paper conservation laboratory. After a review of basic polymer chemistry, we discussed various classes of liquid and solid polymers that have been developed and employed in conservation treatments, historically and/or in contemporary practice. Conservation materials were discussed in terms of their chemical properties and natures due to natural and/or man-made manufacturing processes. We discussed polymer history and the history of their introductions into the field of conservation. We discussed working properties of materials depending on additives, such as solvents, or on chosen application methods, and also changes to polymers brought about by aging and other agents of deterioration, and changes in the way aged polymers interact with object materials over time.

Afternoon practical sessions, although somewhat haphazard to start with, served their purpose by the end of the week in that we learned how to plan, carry out and document a wide variety of simple, but highly informative, tests on conservation materials. The practicals were designed to instill the idea that such tests could be readily carried out in our own labs, and that our own investigations could prove - if well designed, executed and documented - just as relevant and useful to the profession as testing carried out by conservation scientists.

All in all, the course has affirmed and/or strengthened my understanding of the materials I work with regularly and given me greater confidence to explore new conservation materials in the future. This renewed confidence will not only make me a better conservator, it will help me in my role advising students and freelancers who work under my care. Students in the UCL Institute of Archaeology training programme will be the most immediate beneficiaries of the knowledge and experience I have gained. My fellow Conservator at UCL Culture, Museums and Collections, will also benefit as we often work collaboratively.