When lockdown looked set to put a pause on external placements for MA conservation studies students at West Dean College of Arts and Conservation, the College benefitted from several creative solutions, enabling students to continue to gain valuable work experience.
Students specialising in ceramics and related materials undertook an online work placement for five weeks with The Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York, USA - the online placement was the first of its kind for both the Museum and the Programme.
Students communicated regularly with conservation colleagues and those from departments across the Museum. They shared presentations, assignments, group discussions, tasks and advice over Microsoft Teams, offering insights into professional practice, skills development and the roles within the Museum as well as incredibly supportive one-to-one tutorials.
One task involved Roman archaeological glass objects donated for the task to be assessed during the placement. Conservation treatments were considered and discussed among the team of students and Museum staff. As Lorna Calcutt, subject tutor, ceramics and related materials at West Dean College, explained:
“It was a great privilege that our students at West Dean College were chosen as a pilot for the Museum's online placement scheme instigated by the pandemic. We are extremely grateful to the staff and colleagues at The Corning Museum of Glass for their time, commitment and enthusiasm to support our students so effectively on this placement.”
Another creative opportunity for students specialising in books, ceramics and metals was to undertake their placement at the College itself and benefit from unparalleled access to the West Dean Collection. Students worked closely with the Collections team and were tasked with condition reporting, surveying, documenting and cataloguing items; with unique access to various significant objects in the collection. Books students conducted a detailed survey of the College’s William Beckford Book Collection, discussing everything from bindings to the ethics of collecting. They then went on to conduct a sample survey of the House Collection, which includes some rare 16th-century editions.
Rose Zhou, MA conservation studies (ceramics and related materials) commented:
“While the pandemic situation impeded our original plan to do external work placements, it offers us a chance to have a peek into the fantastic collection at the College, which has such great educational value, and is yet to be further explored. For me as a ceramics conservation student, it’s the first opportunity for me to carry out a condition survey and to work on objects within an historic house context. While archival materials and various mounting systems from original display settings linked the objects with the history of the house and the family, the objects themselves also tell their own stories through body type, design, labels and old repairs. Although the work placement started tentatively, it really benefited me with experiences that I would otherwise not acquire. I really appreciated our Collections team, who spared no effort to make this experience worthwhile for us.”
West Dean College of Arts and Conservation has an international reputation for excellence and is a full partner of the University of Sussex. Students regularly work with material from the College’s amazing Collection and Archive within pathway workshops. For conservation and fine art study opportunities, see www.westdean.ac.uk. For conservation studies specialisms including ceramics, clocks, furniture and metalwork applications are open now for September 2021 study.
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(Read the article in the August-September 2021 "News in Conservation" Issue 85, p. 28-29)