What first attracted you to conservation as a profession and how did you get started in the field?
I became addicted to museums in childhood with my first visit to the Cleveland Museum of Art. When I was a student at Parsons School of Design, NY, I worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and learned the layout of the building so I could spend every free moment looking at everything. So it was through my love of art museums that I was drawn to museum work. I worked for several framers before getting an Art Foundation of Victoria position in the Prints and Drawings department at the National Gallery of Victoria where my role was to mount the Dürer prints and German engravings. I now work as a conservation framer and work closely with conservators who treat the paintings and work on paper contained in the frames that I handle.
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?
I learned so much about prints and drawings and museum practices for the storage, handling and transport of work on paper through my work in the Prints and Drawings department at NGV. It was a wonderful department headed by the brilliant curator Irena Zdanowicz. Dr Ursula Hoff, venerable scholar, academic and curator, was a regular visitor to the department and lit up the room with her presence. Conservators Tom Dixon, Lindsay Knowles, John Payne and Cobus Van Breda were also very generous while I was at NGV. It was a phenomenal experience to assist with the preparation of the Dürer exhibition – every day there was magical.
Do you have a favourite object or material you’ve worked on?
Quite a few favourite pieces spring to mind including an early hand knitted Collingwood footy jumper, a salesman’s miniature top hat sample and a double-sided painting by Ida Kerkovius with the artist’s fingerprints in blue and red paint on the surface of the artist’s original frame. My favourite material is paper though and if forced to choose one piece it would be Albrecht Dürer’s engraving Young woman attacked by Death, or The ravisher, c1495, in the NGV collection. It is so tiny but packed with emotion, detail and dynamic movement. It is thrilling to hold a 15th or 16th century work on paper in your hand, (a gloved hand), to see the texture of the paper, inspect the chain and laid lines, a watermark if you are fortunate to have one, and the impression of the felt or maybe a drying rope in the paper surface. I often feel the artist’s presence while handling a print or drawing and that is very moving.
What’s the one thing you wish more people knew about conservation and conservators?
Conservators are very knowledgeable and generous so collectors should not be afraid to contact them especially when they have questions about the preservation of art. Artists too should build relationships with conservators because they know so much about the materials and techniques of all methods of art making.
Do you have any hot tips for people at home who want to care for the materials around them?
From hundreds may I list three? First I would advise people who want to change a frame to consider preserving the original frame. Frames are so easily separated from an artwork leading to loss of frame and gallery labels and information on the provenance of the artwork. Australian artist handmade and modernist frames are especially in danger because they can look modest or even shabby when they are really very rare and precious. I would also advise framers and owners of art and books not to use pressure sensitive tapes, including “archival” tapes, linen, tyvek and double-sided tapes on artwork and books. And finally some objects will be better preserved if carefully stored than framed and permanently displayed. Contact a conservator if in doubt!
Louise Bradley is a conservation framer in private practice specialising in the mounting and framing of work on paper and framing of modern and contemporary art. In addition to her work at NGV she worked on the Baillieu Library Special Collections mounting project at CCMC, the University of Melbourne. Louise has an interest in documenting and researching artist frames and decorated mounts and her publications include Reproducing Period Mounts, in Art On Paper: Mounting and Housing, and A Fragile Connection: the Artist’s Frame for a Work on Paper, in On Paper? 8th AICCM Book, Paper and Photographic Material Symposium. She is the convenor of the AICCM Conservation Framers Special Interest Group.