What first attracted you to conservation as a profession and how did you get started in the field?
I was actually studying Maritime Archaeology at Flinders University when I first realised Conservation was a profession. Vicki Richards and Jon Carpenter (conservators from the WA Museum), taught one of the intensive subjects, and it was like a lightbulb went off. I switched my degree to the Master of Cultural Material Conservation at the University of Melbourne, graduated in 2013, and am now working at the Western Australian Museum for the New Museum Project.
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?
My internship was at the Shipwrecks Gallery at WAM, and my first paid contract also started there. Working on large amounts of maritime archaeological objects taught me that not everything we conserve is ‘pretty’, but it is just as important. As wonderful as it is to work on the ‘showpieces’—condition reporting for the British Museum’s History of the World in 100 Objects, for example—starting out desalinating over 100 nails in individual specimen tubes taught me that the less glamorous objects are just as important to the historical record and our understanding of the past.
Do you have a favourite object or material you’ve worked on?
So far my favourite objects have been the pearlshell objects as part of our Lustre exhibition currently touring at the Immigration Museum in Melbourne. They are amazingly robust yet delicate at the same time, and so beautiful!
What’s the one thing you wish more people knew about conservation and conservators?
I wish more young people knew of such a great career that combines art and science—I think a lot of people find the science part of it intimidating but once you’ve gone through the basics, it’s quite simple really!
Do you have any hot tips for people at home who are wanting to care for the materials around them?
People underestimate the damage that dust can do to objects, especially metal ones—dusting might seem really simple, but it really helps extend the life of your valuables!
After studying archaeology, public heritage, and then maritime archaeology, Gwynneth finally realised what she wanted for her career—to be a conservator. While finishing her Master of Materials Conservation at the University of Melbourne, she interned with the Western Australian Museum, writing her thesis on the famous De Vlamingh dish housed there. In 2014 she was offered a short-term contract, and has remained there since, currently on a contract for the New Museum that will open in 2020. Her current project is the conservation of the Blue Whale skeleton, an icon in the WA Museum.