Conservators Conserved: preserving our own past

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Graham Voce and Ellie Pridgeon surveying records in the IIC Office, London. Image by Tina Churcher, courtesy of the International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works.

By Graham Voce

At IIC, as a learned society, we depend on the participation of our members, heritage conservation professionals across many specialisms and in many parts of the world. Their mission, their passion, is to conserve our shared cultural heritage. In 2020, as IIC celebrates its 70th anniversary year, it is fitting that this philosophy should be applied to IIC’s own archives and records.

At the start of 2020, IIC applied for a grant to allow the initial survey and review of its archived material held at IIC’s office at Westminster in London. With the addition of generous guidance from the National Archives (UK), IIC Executive Director Sarah Stannage and IIC Communications Consultant Kate Smith worked to secure a grant from the Pilgrim Trust, a UK charity whose foremost aim is “to preserve and promote Britain’s historical and intellectual assets …”. This has enabled IIC to engage leading archivist, Dr Ellie Pridgeon FSA, to work alongside Graham Voce at the IIC office to survey these records and write a report on the current state of the collected correspondence, files, photographs and publications that IIC holds and to recommend a suitable archiving policy for IIC.

IIC’s holdings of letters, reports, publications and news items very much tell the story of this organisation, shedding essential light on the international development of the heritage conservation profession from the end of World War II up until the current day. The archives held at Westminster comprise correspondence stretching from 1946 to the present; photographs of many IIC events over the years; all the issues of IIC’s various newsletters and publications going back to foundation in 1950; as well as a wealth of other documents, correspondence reports and publications. IIC also has holdings of journals that predate the foundation, some of these going back to the 1920s. The opportunity is now here to create a clear and well-organized archival system with cross-referencing and accessibility in mind.

IT’S PERSONAL: STORIES IN CONSERVATION

In addition to the history of how IIC as an institute has developed, the collected stories from the people who have been part of IIC over the past 70 years are also an invaluable resource for the conservation profession as a whole, providing personal context along with the technical and historical context.

This more personal and intimate portion of the archive collection—through recorded correspondence, opinion pieces and reports collected over the past 70 years—allows us to see how people have influenced the development of the profession through their own insights, research and study, all contributing to the growth and improvement of cultural heritage preservation. These stories also show how some issues and considerations that are at the forefront of our profession today were first raised over half a century ago, including issues of funding for the profession, of public and professional awareness and of proper recognition for what the field has accomplished in protecting our shared global heritage.

THE NEXT STEP

Now that this initial survey of IIC’s archives has been carried out, IIC hopes to approach funders for the next phase of the project in due course; our aim is to digitise and properly archive these important records so that they can be easily shared with the rest of the international conservation community. Further funding will allow IIC to offer this rich resource to you, and we hope that, by providing better access to these articles, insights and correspondence, they will give context to many of the issues the current generation of professionals are engaged in. 
 
IIC knows these archives will prove to be an invaluable resource for conservation professionals in the future, so it seems quite right that this special 70th anniversary project aspires to make these records more widely available for the benefit of all in the profession.

IIC is also keen to begin sharing the treasure trove of “stories in conservation” that have been rediscovered during this deep dive into the archives, so stay tuned as the IIC team begin to reveal old photographs, equipment and anecdotes from our past. We will soon have more news on this project and on our engaging 70th-anniversary celebrations coming later this year.

IIC is very grateful to the Pilgrim Trust and National Archives Revealed Programme for their funding and support for the scoping stage of the project.

(The full article can be found in the April-May 2020 "News in Conservation Issue 77, p. 22-23)

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At IIC, as a learned society, we depend on the participation of our members, heritage conservation professionals across many specialisms and in many parts of the world. Their mission, their passion, is to conserve our shared cultural heritage. In 2020, as IIC celebrates its 70th anniversary year, it is fitting that this philosophy should be applied to IIC’s own archives and records.
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