Interdisciplinary projects are important not only for research, but also for the valuable training opportunity afforded to students. Megan Mary Creamer, one of our textile conservation students at Glasgow, reports below on her experience with the Barkcloth project.
The Pacific barkcloth research project was integrated into the curriculum of the Centre for Textile Conservation (CTC) in many forms during my two-year post-graduate degree. Formal coursework such as lectures and collaborative examination sessions involved all students, or we could opt to attend informal talks on progress and findings, or volunteer in the lab. Chats over tea, meeting visiting researchers, and working with staff from the Hunterian, Kew Gardens, or the Smithsonian Natural History Museum were also regular occurrences. Each level of integration between the post-graduate CTC students and the barkcloth project yielded experiences that enriched our understanding of conservation practice and research. Volunteering for weekly conservation work in the barkcloth lab was for me, the entry point for feeling invested in the project’s daily challenges and successes.
The opportunity to volunteer weekly in the lab, or for week-long projects outside of term allowed me time to expand on technical skills for interventive treatments and preventative conservation techniques. In a programme focused on textiles, working on the many textures, design features, and surface decorations of barkcloth broadened my experiences. Without the proximity of the barkcloth project to the student work labs, I would not have been able to accumulate hundreds of hours of practical work with organic materials that are sometimes considered outside of the realm of textiles. The context of conserving world cultures objects and scientific research collections within a contract research project similarly expanded my conservation knowledge. Although these topics were all touched on in our course, the time spent in the barkcloth lab put my skills into action. Combined with the discussions of context and overarching goals of the project my understanding and development of treatment decision-making were developed in action, building on the theory and practice in the programme.
Misa Tamura, the project conservator, was a valuable source of structured but informal teaching. Trained as an objects conservator, she engaged in regular discussion about the differences in curriculum, context, and treatment practices between our specialties. Dr. Margaret Smith, the project’s scientific research associate, also had continuing involvement in our volunteering sessions. We discussed the positive and negative potential impact of conservation treatment on scientific research and discussed ethical sampling for objects. Through this, we benefitted from facilitating and participating in materials science research based directly on objects we treated – a connection that is irreplaceable. The mentorship, thoughtful dialogue, and hours of practical work in the barkcloth lab have been incredibly valuable in my conservation education.
In other ways, the close association of the barkcloth project with CTC students evolved into further opportunities. Several students assisted and attended the 2017 Museum Ethnography Group’s annual conference held at the University, hosted by the project’s historical research associate Dr. Andy Mills. Many students have written CTC blog posts about our barkcloth work, as well as published reviews for Icon, the UK professional body, on related events. Still other publications regarding our research are in progress. Obvious interest from students working in the lab during a meeting with Hunterian conservation staff led to an intensive, off-site, two-day conservation project for the entire class of second year students. It cannot be overstated that for several generations of CTC students, the barkcloth project provided a constant point of accessibility and active participation in professional work. Through the project, over two years, I, like many students, made the most of this access to practical conservation, research, materials science, project management, networking, professional development, and so many more issues I will continue to encounter as a conservator.