Graduate Diploma Conservation Studies, Specialising in Books and Library Materials 2018 - 2020

Sarah Portelli

Conservator

What do you consider your biggest achievement to date?

I consider working as a book and paper conservator to be a big achievement as it was always my dream to become a conservator, and I worked hard through several struggles to get to this point. Working alongside professionals, and networking with conservators abroad, has enhanced my perspective with new ideas and research, and I believe that more exciting things await.

Talk us through your career path since graduating.

Leaving West Dean College in the midst of a pandemic was not an easy decision, and finding a job immediately as an assistant conservator at the National Archives of Malta was such a unique opportunity.

Working for a national archival institution has been a learning experience as I did not know what the collection and the variety of the work entailed. I was able to put to practice what I learnt during my studies, while learning new information, developing my manual dexterity, and gaining more confidence in my work.

This year I also embarked on a new journey where I have been teaching heritage skills to diploma students, and preservation studies to University students.

What projects are you currently working on?

I am currently working on several preservation and conservation projects at the National Archives, including conservation treatments (paper infills) on graphite drawings, making mounts and custom archival boxes, and working on an emergency preparedness plan.

The National Archives has recently supported me in attending a workshop about nano-gels at The NOVA School of Science and Technology in Caparica. Following this, I intend to do further research, test on samples, and later on implement the use of nano-materials in my conservation treatments.

Do you have any tips for recent graduates?

I encourage recent graduates to be resilient, to keep working hard for their dream, to keep updating their portfolio and CV, to network with other professionals in the field, and to be an active participant in international conferences and lectures so as to always continue learning.

How do you think studying at West Dean College prepared you for what you do now?

While teaching students both theoretical and practical skills, and life skills such as time and budget management, West Dean College introduced me to a real working environment. This included having clients with private book collections, response action during an emergency situation in a library, and a multidisciplinary environment which is important in the field of conservation.

What's your favourite memory from your time at the College?

It is difficult to select just one. My fondest memories are definitely the good times I shared with the people I met during my studies, walking around the West Dean Gardens, visits from conservation professionals teaching us how to make historical bindings, and collaborating with students from other disciplines.

Did you receive any form of funding to study at West Dean?

For my first year, I was late in applying for funds, and for my second year I was awarded the The Edward James Foundation Bursary Fund, which was the only source of funding I received, and it helped me immensely.

Did you have a different career before coming to West Dean? If so, why did you change career paths?

After reading for BA (Honours) in History of Art at the University of Malta I worked to save money to further my studies abroad. I worked as a library assistant at the Archives and Rare Books section at the University of Malta library, which allowed me to gain an insight into working at an archives.

Before treatment - Graphite drawing dating to 1930 by G.F Vassallo.
Before treatment - Graphite drawing dating to 1930 by G.F Vassallo. The drawing was stored rolled, and was damaged with several large tears, creases, and areas of loss.
After treatment - Graphite drawing dating to 1930 by G.F Vassallo.
After treatment - Graphite drawing dating to 1930 by G.F Vassallo. Conservation treatment included cleaning, humidification, flattening, and paper repairs.
Sarah working on the graphite drawing.
Sarah working on the graphite drawing.