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The RCA/V&A Conservation Course Study Trip

Vicky Doran
RCA/V&A Conservation Course, MPhil student

Helen Jones
RCA/V&A Conservation Course, Course Tutor

Lucky you! That's the usual response when we announce the annual Course study trip to foreign parts for first year students and Course staff. Not everything is paid for, of course, but the trip is heavily subsidised from Course budgets. Each year, when the time comes to pay the bills, we have to ask ourselves - is it worth it? It's hard to answer in strictly accountable terms as, while the costs are clearly evident, the benefits are intangible. Nevertheless, our gut feeling is that the trip is 'a good thing' and should continue.

The benefits include: seeing wonderful collections, monuments and sites; observing and discussing conservation practices in new contexts; making contacts for potential placements, internships and future visits; acting as ambassadors for the Course, the V&A and UK conservation. We should not be shy about admitting that we all enjoy it, too! The most valuable benefit, though, comes from having all the first year students together with the staff for a sustained period. During the busy term-time, when students work in their own studio or laboratory and are geographically separated, they can feel very  isolated. The study trip counters this; students discover links between their study areas and form friendships which will, we hope, sustain them beyond the trip itself.

So, in May 1998, 12 students and two staff went to Barcelona. Official visits included the regional training school for Catalonia, set on a hill on the city's outskirts. Students there take three-year programmes specialising in sculpture, paintings, graphic works and archaeology. There was lot of building work going on which was inconvenient at the time, but will improve their facilities. At the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya we were shown the storage and conservation facilities by S. Benoit de Tapol. The Museum itself houses a superb collection of early wall paintings; the processes of their removal and re-display were explained and debated.
The University of Barcelona runs a paintings restoration course, but, unfortunately, we did not see their studios because we spent so long in the University's comprehensively equipped - and enviably accessible - Scientific-Technical Services Department. Silvia, researching synthetic textile fibres, had to be dragged forcibly from the  infra-red spectroscopy lab!

The Miro Foundation and Picasso Museum were visited by most, while the amazing, singular architecture of Gaudi and his contemporaries was hard to miss. The highlight of the first  was a hastily-arranged tour of the stores, conservation studio and archive. The sheer quantity of Miro's work was impressive, if nothing else. The two students researching metal patination sadly missed this visit, having ventured deep into the Spanish hinterland to find the foundry where many of Miro's works were cast.

Trips were planned to the Dali Museum and his recently-opened house, or to the mountain monastery of Montserrat. We chose to brave the cable car journey to the latter and queued to see the famous 'Black Madonna'. We're ashamed to say that we couldn't decide whether it had been painted black or been 'patinated' by years of worship and candle soot. We did discover, however, that platform shoes are not ideal for mountain-climbing. A valuable lesson, indeed!