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Gemma Thorns: intern case study

A report from Gemma Thorns, written during her 12 month internship in the ship and historic models conservation studio in 2011-2012.

gemma working in conservation studio

For my internship at National Museums Liverpool, I am learning the specialist conservation of models under the supervision of Chris Moseley. Working from a general object conservation background, my internship is an invaluable opportunity for me to expand my knowledge and practical skills, working on a broad range of materials found in historic model collections. I have not only had exciting projects to work on, but also learnt traditional craft skills and model making techniques.

Craft skills

An important part of my internship has been learning the craft skills needed to conserve models, which often require structural repair or replacement parts. This has also enhanced my understanding regarding the manufacture of models.

The cultural context of the models has also been a significant part of my internship, I have learnt much about maritime history, the history of models and the technology used.

'Duchess of Edinburgh' half-block model

My first project was the conservation of a wooden half-block model of the clipper ship the 'Duchess of Edinburgh'. Click on the thumbnails below to see images of the model during conservation.

Half-block model of the clipper ship the 'Duchess of Edinburgh' before conservation. The bowsprit and figurehead were missing from the model. Replica parts made for the model. Repaired deck and replica companionway. Half-block model of the clipper ship the 'Duchess of Edinburgh' after conservation.

Click on each thumbnail to see a larger image

Issues addressed during treatment were cleaning, wood repair, fills, making replica parts for missing areas, and retouching. It was fascinating to research the actual ship in order to uncover the parts which were missing. The varied treatments required provided me with excellent experience.

By making the replica parts I learned many woodworking skills.

Other projects

I have recently completed conserving a model of the Rye fishing trawler 'Water Lily'. The treatment included cleaning of the hull and deck, corrosion removal of metal fittings, and cleaning of the sails.

As well as practical treatments, I have also been involved with installing models into the Museum of Liverpool, such as a huge model of the Empire State Building.

I have also contributed regular posts to the National Museums Liverpool blog.


My internship so far has provided me with a huge range of valuable skills and knowledge to enable me to conserve ship and historic models. I have encountered a wide range of materials which has greatly improved my abilities as a conservator. The internship has widened my perspectives, improved my decision-making skills, and provided the opportunity to work with conservators from other disciplines. I would like to thank ICON, HLF and National Museums Liverpool for making this possible.

gemma working in conservation studio
Veneer repair