Often as a conservator, there are not many opportunities to engage with the public. Working in studios undertaking practical conservation work can leave little time for interaction with those who enjoy and visit the collections. So when I was given the opportunity to do a demonstration of ship model conservation at the Lady Lever Art Gallery I was eager to accept.
The Gallery is part of National Museums Liverpool, and houses a collection of fine and decorative art. The Lady Lever Art Gallery was founded by William Hesketh Lever, and contains the best of his personal art collection. As part of the education programme, the gallery runs demonstrations of various art related topics, and so I did an afternoon of ship model conservation in one of the galleries.
I chose a model in great need of conservation work, which would also be an interesting example. The wooden model depicts an 18th Century ship of war with 38 guns and fully rigged. Its many areas of deterioration included broken masts, tangled rigging, and lead disease. The model was very dirty and so I set up a table so that I could do cleaning whilst on the gallery.
Whilst it was fairly quiet, the people whom I spoke to were very interested in the conservation and it was great to be able to tell them what we do in Ship and Historic Model Conservation. Many visitors who approached me had not seen the demonstration advertised, and were simply curious as to what I was doing. Equally the visitors were interested in the type of ship the model depicted, and as I had researched this well, was able to explain the historical context which then informs the conservation process. Many were fascinated as to how I would be able to repair the complicated rigging, which requires extensive knowledge of ships rigging.
I thoroughly enjoyed talking to the public about the work we do in the Conservation Centre, as well as being able to share my enthusiasm for maritime history. I found that people were very interested in conservation and many had not heard of the profession previously. And not uncommon for conservators, the popular phrase of the day was “you must have a lot of patience”.