What first attracted you to conservation as a profession and how did you get started in the field?
I have always been interested in making things and how things are made, particularly pre-synthetics and hand-made objects, my favourite manifestation being (old) buildings. By my late teens, I became enthralled by William Morris’s vision of utopia in news from nowhere and became a carpenter. I began my conservation studies in 1988 and eventually graduated from University of Canberra in 2000. I am currently an object conservator at Artlab Australia.
Can you think of any experience in your career that has taught you a lot about conservation or that has changed how you approach your work?
Probably, the most formative experiences I have had are seeing objects, particularly buildings that have been either irreversibly changed or destroyed. I am regularly confronted with people’s well intentioned desire to fix or restore a much loved item. The concept of “do as little as possible” (not necessarily refering to my work ethic here) “and as much as necessary” seems to go against the natural human instincts. The best (or should that be the most appalling) example of this can often be seen the plethora of house restoration programs, where typically people fall in love with a lovely old building, and embark on a process of erasing the very essence of what they fall in love with, often in the presence of professionals who should know better.
The most moving object I have worked is undoubtedly Rajiv Gandhi’s trousers worn at the time of his assassination.
Do you have a favorite object or material you’ve worked on?
My favourite objects are generally Western in origin and made of natural materials, particularly objects made with little or no industrial process.
My favourite object that I have worked on was the conservation of a 1840 timber slab hut in Hahndorf. The whole building (object) is made of materials most likely from the original property, with the exception of a few panes of glass, nails and hinges. An ‘organic’ house built 150 years before the word became fashionable.
I think or hope history will eventually come to recognise the dehumanising aspect of the industrial age with mass production and highly processed materials (concrete, steel, glass, plastic etc). Ruskin and Morris were arguably more about the human condition than the Arts.
What’s the one thing you wish more people knew about conservation and conservators?
The principles of the Burra Charter, that is “do as much as necessary, as little as possible”. I have pretty much mastered the latter.
Do you have any hot tips for people at home who are wanting to care for the materials around them?
Firstly, understand what you value or love about your object (i.e. its significance to you) Because that is what you want to protect and look after.
Secondly, try very hard to resist the urge to improve an object beyond what it already is or was. You wouldn’t Botox your Grandma would you?
And lastly, learn to love tired and tired and tatty things (just like Grandma).