Conservation in Action

At the end of each academic year, Conservation students at West Dean College have the opportunity to spend two weeks working on live 'Preventative Conservation' projects. Facing similar challenges to other Historic Houses, West Dean College is uniquely positioned to offer students a rare opportunity to develop their professional portfolios and work with the Collections team to prevent the deterioration of our own Collection. Projects include environmental monitoring, pest control, implementing appropriate storage, conducting inventories, and preparing items for display. This opportunity to implement direct changes that safeguard our cultural heritage is invaluable both to the student and the College.

One of this year's projects saw two students, James Davis and Natalia Maliga, working alongside Collections staff to assess and improve storage of a selection of items from the College collection dating from the 18th-21st century. Highlights of the selected works include a set of theatre designs by Eugène Berman, photographs by Cecil Beaton, portfolios of work by Bernard Sanders and John Floyd Morris and a telegram from King Edward VII congratulating Evelyn and William James on the birth of their son, Edward, and agreeing to be his Godfather.

James and Natalia checked the works against the College inventory and made some exciting new discoveries. The works were cleaned, and any out-dated storage folders were replaced with conservation-grade boxes. The students made recommendations for conservation work - much of which will be carried out by next year's cohort.

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We caught up with the students to find out more out about the project:

"Sitting at our work benches we focus on one object. This project let us be part of the entire spectrum of conservation; looking at the environment the objects were kept in; cleaning, cataloguing and rehousing. This is what it feels like to work in a live house and is more dynamic."

"We learned that you need to be flexible when you begin working on a project. Every object requires an open mind and conscious thought as things change all the time. We were given free rein to make recommendations, but had the support of the Collections Team."

- James Davis and Natalia Maliga

James Davis working on material from the West Dean Collection
Natalia Maliga and Sarah Hughes working on material from the West Dean Collection