I’m Katy, the new Textile Conservator at the Museum. I am here for 3 years, funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. I originally trained as a ‘general’ conservator, meaning that I worked on ceramics, glass, painted surfaces, archaeological objects, paper, metal, you name it. I later specialised in textiles conservation, training at the Victoria & Albert Museum, where I worked for several years.
I’m excited to be up North, and at The Bowes Museum, where we’ve got a fantastic collection of textiles and costume that I can’t wait to get my hands on. It’s been a little while since the Museum had a textile conservator on the team. I’ll be here to work on several projects:
- A complete redisplay of the Fashion & Textile Gallery: Working alongside the curator and assistant curator of textiles, we’ll go through the collection, picking out items for display. I’ll assess each piece of textile or costume for its conservation needs, carry out the necessary work, and then mount it ready for installation in the gallery. We’ve already got a few great finds from the museum stores, and I’ll be sharing them with you as we go along, and showing you in more detail what textiles conservation involves.
- Loans: The Bowes Museum loans textile objects to other museums and institutions, both nationally and internationally. This is a great chance for us to show off what we’ve got, allowing people to see our objects who can’t necessarily make it all the way to Barnard Castle. When loan requests are made to the museum, I’ll be checking if the objects are fit to travel and display, carrying out conservation work, packing them for transit, and helping to install them at the loan venue.
- Displays: Aside from the permanent display in the Fashion & Textile Gallery, we have a space for changing exhibits. We’re currently showing a couple of items of costume from a collection that tie in with the centenary of the start of the First World War – including a Northern Cyclists Battalion tunic and a leather handbag bought in Newcastle the day the war broke out.
- Collections Care: We have several galleries of furniture on open display. I’ll be responsible for the care and conservation of all of the textile components, this includes carpets, upholstered furniture, tapestries, and the iconic bed, owned by Joséphine Bowes.
Luckily I won’t be doing all of this single-handed. Thanks to the Heritage Lottery Fund, I’ll be taking on 2 textile conservation interns to help. The applications are currently open, and we should be welcoming them in early October.
By Katy Smith, Textile Conservator