2012 Students of the year

The Association of Australian Decorative and Fine Arts Societies (ADFAS) generously sponsors awards for Conservation Student of the Year for both university programs, Canberra and Melbourne. The prize is awarded to a student who achieves a high academic standard in their studies, and who has also been actively involved in the profession in a meaningful way.

Read what Lisa Yeats and Sara Freeman have to say about themselves, the profession and their aims and ambitions.

Lisa Yeats

Photo of Lisa Yeats stitching a mask to a pink fabric boardI am a recent graduate of the Masters of Materials Conservation course at the Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation, The University of Melbourne, Australia, where I specialised in objects conservation. I have a passion for textiles and Southeast Asian art and artefacts, and am specifically interested in the conservation of homewares and domestic objects. I am also interested in the relationship between the conservation of cultural materials and development and as have recently returned from a research trip to Timor-Leste.

I completed an internship in the textile conservation laboratory at Artlab Australia in Adelaide. I have also held volunteer positions at Heritage Victoria, The Australian Institute of Archaeology, The Melbourne Jewish Museum, and RSL ANZAC Village War Museum. I have an undergraduate degree in History and after graduating hope to secure an internship at a museum or gallery in the USA.

When did you first find out about conservation?

When I was an undergraduate volunteering at the Australian Institute of Archaeology wondering what an earth I was going to do with an Arts degree in History and Archaeology. The Director there suggested the course, initially I was put off by the chemistry component but I found out about the Chemistry Bridging Course and the rest is history!

What made you decide you wanted to be a conservator?

I have always loved museums, artefacts and learning about different cultures. Growing up I wanted to be an archaeologist but after my undergraduate degree I was a bit disillusioned with what that actually involved. When I found out about conservation it seemed to combine many different areas I really love and the prospect of being able to make a career doing something I am passionate about was extremely appealing.

Why is conservation important?

I think conservation is important as a way of establishing, celebrating and maintaining connections with our histories and cultures.

What was your favourite student experience?

It’s too hard to choose just one! Being involved with the RSL ANZAC Village War Museum Narrabeen conservation and cataloguing project throughout the last year has been a really unique and rewarding experience. It was such a privilege to be allowed access to the Village museum collection, residents and staff to complete my thesis research.

I was also fortunate enough to travel to Timor-Leste in January of this year as part of the Building Legacy in Contemporary Art Programs in Timor-Leste research project. The whole trip was incredible but the highlight for me was catching a 6-seater plane up into the hills to help with an exhibition Timor Aid had organised in Maliana.

Both very different but very amazing experiences that gave me a great insight into the wide applicability of conservation training.

What do you see as the big issues facing the conservation field?

As a recent graduate job availability and job security seem to be issues of valid concern, I guess this reflects the undervaluing and underfunding of the arts in general. Finding new and improved ways to raise the profile of the profession is important also.

What are your future plans?

I am heading off to America in May to present a poster on my thesis research at the AIC Conference in Indianapolis. I am currently applying to do a few internships at different institutions while I am over there and I will just see where the year takes me.

Where would you like to be in 10 years?

I’m not entirely sure, hopefully still enjoying my work! I hope to have spent some time working in the American South, at the Historic Royal Palaces in the UK and in Southeast Asia.

What would you tell a young person thinking of entering a conservation course?

Don’t let the chemistry deter you, if you’re passionate about it then go for it.

Sara Freeman

Sara Freeman, 2012 Student of the YearI was born in London, and grew up in Melbourne in a family of writers and painters. Studied music until halfway thru a BA I realised I wanted to paint more than anything. So I set off to see the world, travelling and painting throughout my 20’s living in Europe, India, Japan before returned to live on the far south coast of NSW, painting, exhibiting and working part time. In 2002 I came to Canberra School of Art to study print media and drawing. In 2009 I enrolled in the first intake of the new UC Conservation course. Within a year of commencing the course I was lucky to work as a preventive conservation assistant with Lisa Addison at the NGA for a year, then as an assistant conservator at Art and Archival with Kim Morris, and on various other projects in wallpaper conservation with Rosemary McDonald and Sarah Bunn in Sydney. I still have a few more units of the UC course to complete this year, and now work full time as a paper conservator at the National Library of Australia. I still find time to paint and have one or two exhibitions a year as well.

When did you first find out about conservation?

After art school, while concentrating on my career as a painter, I had a stint of working at the National Gallery of Australia in visitor services. This is when I learned about this wonderful out of bounds place called the conservation laboratory, where works were examined microscopically and restored for exhibition or preserved to save them from disintegration. I was determined to get into that lab!

What made you decide you wanted to be a conservator?

Conservation was the first job that I ever heard of that could use the 20 years of knowledge gained from an art practice, plus had the qualities of focused, patient, quiet work including investigation and problem solving. I love the ongoing quest for mastery of materials and refinement of treatments that enables us to do our job of preserving endangered objects to forever finer levels. It complements my endeavours as a painter.

Why is conservation important?

Objects hold memories and significance that can make them important to preserve for as long as possible. I think cultural memories are important to all of us, giving shape and richness to our personal lives in countless ways. Whether we are talking about an exquisite painting or a letter or a map, these things might be very important to someone in the future, trying to unravel something lost. It is amazing how much can be learned from a forensic examination of a physical object.

What was your favourite student experience?

There were so many! I loved the chance the UC course gave us to do a semester of practical training in so many different institutions, giving us experience of the different approaches to conservation work in archives, museums, galleries, libraries and private practice.

What do you see as the big issues facing the conservation field?

There seems to be a lot of conservation institutions and training facilities closing down around the world as part of the GFC insecurities, but at the same time I think we are moving into an era where climate change and extreme events are causing more threat to cultural materials. I believe the skills of conservators will be needed more and more to preserve what remains important to us through changing times. 

The threat to conservation education is growing as universities become primarily driven by economic motives. As the universities are demanding unlimited class sizes, maybe we have to accept that we supplement broader conservation training with apprenticeships and ongoing master classes to keep the skills being handed on. I think having a wider base to ones initial conservation training has definite advantages over diving straight into a narrow specialized field.

What are your future plans?

I am hoping to find somewhere in India to do an internship on Indian miniature painting conservation with the help of my ADFAS prize money. I hope to open up conservation connections into asia, where I would love to have the chance to work on occasional projects.

Where would you like to be in 10 years?

I would like to have enough good training and experience under my belt to be working as a private conservator on periodical projects in exotic locations and closer to home, with good chunks of time in between to focus on painting in my south coast studio, or pottering in the garden!

What would you tell a young person thinking of entering a conservation course?

Go for it! If you like fine, focused, detailed hands on work, I think we conservators have one of the best jobs in the world. Take advantage of being a student to offer yourself as a volunteer everywhere you can think of. The more experience you can get the more appealing you’ll be as a prospective employee.