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Sandra Smith
Head of Conservation

Sandra Smith

Sandra Smith, Head of Conservation

A New Year and new challenges ahead!

The end of 2004 saw a rush to complete galleries: Architecture, Domestic Metalware, The Gilbert Bayes Sculpture Gallery, the closure of Dresser and Encounters, the couriering of Westwood to Canberra, the opening of Art Deco in Boston and a major loan of exquisite Diaghilev ballet costumes conserved and mounted for display in Groningen, Netherlands. Barely had we all drawn breath, taken part in the in-house and traditional pantomime (with Conservation taking starring roles), imbibed at the Museum Christmas party than we were hurtling along into the new year. Preparation is now underway for the Jameel Gallery of Islamic Art with the Ardabil carpet in the process of being redisplayed horizontally for the first time in over 110 years (Hillyer & Pretzel); the Sacred Silver and Stained Glass gallery will contain many beautiful objects and will challenge traditional methods of  stained glass display within the Museum; preliminary work has already begun for the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries.

This Journal picks up on some of the interesting challenges and discoveries presented to the Department at the close of last year. Elizabeth-Anne Haldane discusses how one painted dress brought together skills of both textiles and paper conservators. Research into an object for the Architecture Gallery (Burgio), highlights the invaluable role that conservation scientists make in verifying, or challenging, perceived opinions of parts of the collection, whilst the article by Townsend highlights that science alone will not give definitive answers of authenticity.

Every new year offers new challenges, but with no appreciable increase (in real terms) of the Grant in Aid that the Museum receives, this year will certainly be more challenging than the last. Finding ways to deliver work from exhibitions loans and gallery displays whilst also allocating time to preserving the reserve collections, is causing us to look increasingly for external funding to support conservation projects. This is bringing new skills to the Department but making an application involves a considerable amount of preparation, preliminary work, and negotiation to meet funding criteria and the timescales and deadlines within one's own institution, without any assurance of ultimate success. Happily, the Department has been successful in securing funds for the conservation of the Mazarin Chest (Rivers) and Houghton Hall collections (Smith). Both are long term projects, which bring with them opportunities of partnership and  new relationships with other conservation professionals. They have also resulted in stronger relationships within the V&A as different departments have come together to support the application.

The progress of  these projects, together with that of the Messel collection (Theatre Museum) and the Daily Mail Archive which are two other projects which have attracted external funding, will be tracked through the V&A website over the next few years.  In all instances the projects will result in a collection becoming more accessible and more fully understood and some will move professional conservation practice forward and build skills for the future.