West Dean College has an international reputation as a centre of excellence for the Creative Arts and Conservation. Across both Schools, the role of research is essential in underpinning the college's academic ambitions, helping West Dean to be at the forefront of the specialisms it supports, positively impacting it as a teaching and learning environment. Research projects are key to establishing new and innovative practices, emphasising the importance of skills-based making and conservation, as well as demonstrating the value and scope of interdisciplinary collaboration. Research at West Dean College not only benefits students, staff and specialist audiences but also wider academic communities and the public.

The College is privileged to be on a site of historic significance, both in relation to the heritage of the West Dean Estate and its more recent associations with the life and work of its founder Edward James. As a small, specialist college its core concern is the practice, history and theories of creative arts and conservation practice. The two Schools of Creative Arts and Conservation characterise the academic infrastructure and support the college in both discipline-specific and interdisciplinary discourse and development. West Dean College is dedicated to supporting research in and across the subject areas of Conservation, Making, Visual Arts and Creative Writing, as well as engaging with the wider research community both nationally and internationally.

Research Goals

Our core research goals are to:

  • Create a research environment that supports staff and students in making significant impact in their chosen discipline
  • Provide students with research-led teaching that is at the forefront of specific disciplines
  • Ensure excellent teaching by supporting staff development in terms of pedagogical research practices, as well as maintaining a curriculum that reflects the research interests of academic staff
  • Enable the college's academic staff to maintain and expand their research interests and develop new skills, both individually and collaboratively
  • Support students at all levels to actively engage with the research community at West Dean College
  • Develop sustainable relationships with external partners, supporting collaborative projects that further research in various subjects
  • Support discourse and development through themed research groups, research fora, symposia, colloquia, conferences and other events
  • Support leading research by providing high standard facilities and resources, including Library services, Scientific Laboratory equipment and specialist studios and workshops
  • Foster research partnerships and collaborations through Artist-in-Residence programme, select fellowships and
  • Identify strategies to enhance research, training, income and opportunities

Conservation Research Group

The Conservation Research Group supports research into the conservation of cultural heritage by conservators, curators, academics, and full-time students related to the conservation disciplines studied at West Dean College (books and library materials; metals; clocks; ceramics, stone, and glass; furniture and decorative objects). The Group facilitates symposia, seminars and research fora into all aspects of interventive and preventive conservation, as well as conservation science. It also coordinates the Conservation Research Fellow programme.

The Group aims to encourage and develop research activities amongst the academic staff, to take full advantage of the facilities and equipment at West Dean to take active part in the development of new techniques, knowledge of materials science, and generally furthering understanding and interpretation of heritage. Such activities enrich the learning environment for students and provide future opportunities for meaningful impact in the conservation community.

Research Group contacts:

David Dorning, Chair
Head of School of Conservation
Research interests: teaching science for conservation, analytical techniques for conservation, overlap of science into visual arts.

Matthew Read, Clock and Related Objects Programme Leader
Research interests: Interpretation, use and display of Dynamic Historic Objects; Understanding Meaning and Authenticity in relation to DHO's; the value of Bench Craft Skill in Society

Abigail Bainbridge ,Associate Tutor, Books and Library Materials
Research interests: Book conservation; Bookbinding; 18th Century French Bookbinding; Paper Degradation; Nondestructive Analysis

Tristram Bainbridge, Associate Tutor, Furniture and Related Objects
Research interests: Furniture Conservation; Decorative Surfaces; Asian Lacquer

Tapestry and Textiles Research Group

The Tapestry and Textile Art Research Group facilitates exchanges between academics, professional weavers, artists and full-time students interested in questions of tapestry and textile art practice. The Group explores, through seminars, symposia and practice-based research, various aspects of the creative, material and technical processes involved in the field of tapestry and textile art from both historic and contemporary perspectives.

The aims of the Group are to enable members to develop their contextual, practical and theoretical understanding of tapestry and textile-based work. This is achieved both through examination of existing practices and through discussion with colleagues from diverse backgrounds, deepening wider historic and theoretical research interests. The core group comprises a small number of staff from the West Dean Professional Tapestry Studio and students and staff from the full-time Visual Arts programme, which supports specialisms in hand-woven tapestry and textile art practice.

Research group contacts:

Philip Sanderson, TTARG Chair
Master Weaver at West Dean Tapestry Studio and Associate Tutor in Visual Arts Department
Research interests: Tapestry Weaving, Textile Art, Contemporary Fine Art

Katharine Swailes, Master Weaver and Designer at West Dean Tapestry Studio
Research interests: Construction, Material, Tapestry, Fine Art

Alison Baxter, Head of Creative Enterprise
Research interests: Small-Scale Textiles, Jewellery

The Edward James Research Group

The Edward James Research Group is committed to supporting the research activities of academics, conservators, artists, art historians, and full-time students interested in the legacy of West Dean College's founder, Edward James. Through research fora, seminars, symposia and practice-based research the group explores various aspects of James' activity, including visual art, Surrealism, conservation, poetry and fiction writing, horticulture, architecture, patronage, musical composition and dance. The Edward James Research Group encourages engagement with James studies from both historic and contemporary perspectives.

The aims of the Group are to enable members to develop their understanding of Edward James' life and work, and further establish West Dean College as a unique and supportive environment for study across the creative arts, conservation and making. This is achieved both through close examination of existing research material and through discussion with colleagues from diverse backgrounds to deepen the wider historic, theoretical, and practice-based research interests. As such, it provides access to innovative thinking and establishes networking opportunities for West Dean staff, students and visitors alike.

The Group organises the Edward James Research Programme, an on-going series of academic and educational events open to the public, and supports study visits to the college from external researchers. The group also liaises closely with the college's Artist-in-Residence programme.

Research Group contacts:

Emma O'Driscoll, EJRG Joint Chair
West Dean House Steward
Research nterests: Collections Management; Preventative Conservation; Integrated Pest Management

Dr. David Stent, Programme Leader of Visual Arts, Chair of Research Forum
Research interests: Artists' Publications, Theory and Philosophy in Contemporary Art

Teresa Shergold, College Librarian
Research interests: Artists Books, Performance Art, Dance

Sarah Hughes, Research Assistant, Visual Arts Lecturer
Research interests: Sculpture, Composition, Avant-Garde, Post-Cagean Aesthetics

Robin Sheehan, Clerk of Works
Research interests: Historic Building Conservation, Architectural History, Building Archaeology

Edward James in Mexico’ Symposium

Edward James in Mexico: History, Context, Legacy
One-day Symposium - The Old Library, Saturday 24 October 2015, 9.30am-5pm.

This Symposium considered the impact of Mexico upon the life and work of West Dean College founder, Edward James, from his earliest visits to the country in 1944, until his death forty years later. Papers from a variety of guest speakers addressed a range of subjects, including the creation and impact of 'Las Pozas', Xilitla, to James's enduring friendships with other artists associated with Mexico, such as Leonora Carrington. The event also considered activities preceding James's presence in Mexico, proposing precursors and associations for his later work. A unique publication relating to the theme of the event was launched after the symposium.

For more details, please contact:

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West Dean is part of a registered charity and relies on the support of generous donors, friends, legacies to help us deliver world-class education in conservation and the creative arts and maintain our award-winning gardens.

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