Way back in the early 1990s when I was an architecture student I went on a site visit to the shell of a building that had been the Midland Goods Depot in a past life. I was fascinated to hear how it was being converted into an innovative Conservation Centre for the museums, with every studio inside specially set up for the particular needs of conservators specialising in different materials.
A couple of years later – having abandoned a career in architecture in favour of art history – I started work at the Walker Art Gallery. The paintings conservators were based there at the time (in rooms which later became part of the exhibition galleries) and I got to know them over many cups of coffee in the staff room. I did miss them when they moved into the new building but was excited to see their impressive new studio.
Not long afterwards the National Conservation Centre opened to the public to great acclaim. It was ground breaking in focusing on the essential behind-the-scenes work of conservators that people would never normally see. This included everything from the cutting edge use of lasers by Conservation Technologies to traditional skills used to conserve objects such as the Lutyens cathedral model.
The Centre also built up a great reputation as a venue for photography exhibitions. I’ve particularly enjoyed the glimpses of the city’s past in exhibitions from Stephen Shakeshaft, Philip Jones Griffiths, Bernard Fallon and the fantastic Stewart Bale collection.
With all these great memories I can’t help feeling sad that the National Conservation Centre will close to visitors today, it really is the end of an era.
Behind the scenes the work of the conservators is, of course, continuing – they’re rather busy at the moment preparing displays for the Museum of Liverpool. You can read about the work they do on the website and see special in-depth features about the research they carry out, such the surprising discovery about the past of a painting of St Michael from the Lady Lever.
There will also be special conservation-themed events at our other venues, starting with a look at Crystal magic at World Museum next week, with more to follow, so do keep an eye out for them.