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Exploring the art of preservation with MA Conservation at Camberwell

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Published date
26 March 2014

MA Conservation at Camberwell College of Arts is a two year course which prepares students for work in specific fields of the conservation world. The course offers two distinct pathways that students choose to specialise in; Art on Paper and Books and Archival Materials.

The course is led by Course Director Jocelyn Cuming, who has extensive experience as a book and preventive conservator. Prior to working at Camberwell, Jocelyn worked in New Zealand and the Pacific where she co-jointly set up the National Preservation Office, and she has worked as a private book conservator in Rome. More recently, she has worked with the Islamic Museum of Art in Qatar.

Jocelyn is passionate about the importance of conservation to our cultural landscape, and keen to promote how vital it is that these skills in preserving our heritage are fostered.

“Conservation champions the material aspects of our world. Its importance lies in preserving all those material features that help to make up our cultural identity,” explains Jocelyn.

“In the MA in Conservation at Camberwell, students learn to preserve books, documents and works of art on paper across many centuries so that these objects can continue to be accessed and enjoyed by everyone. Conservation is often performed on irreplaceable originals which are often unique and of great artistic, religious, historic, scientific, cultural, social and economic value.”

CAMB book and paper studio

MA Conservation students working in the book and paper Studio at Camberwell

The MA Conservation course at Camberwell was set up over forty years ago, and so is highly regarded for the course content and graduates it produces. Jocelyn believes that the academic aspect combined with a focus on practical work and placements at world-leading cultural institutions based in London is what makes it unique to prospective students.

“Students are able to do placements within conservation studios in places such as the Victoria and Albert Museum, the British Museum, The Wellcome Collection, London Metropolitan Archives, the National Maritime Museum, the College of Arms, Windsor Royal Palace and Kew Botanical Collection. Students have access to highly experienced teachers many of whom are in key conservation positions throughout London and the UK.

“Then in their final year students work on a project. These are sourced from institutions around London that loan material for students to work on. There is a wide range of work to choose from, which this year includes botanical drawings, a portfolio of prints collected by Freud, contemporary Japanese and Chinese prints, a nineteenth century scrap book of intricate fashion designs, nineteenth century diaries, a music manuscript of Handel scores, and a parchment racket set from Wimbledon Tennis Museum. Sometimes projects are sourced from the institutions where students are doing their placements.

“The course is also taught within the context of UAL, a university dedicated to the arts. This means conservation students are able to interact with students following a range of disciplines such as printmaking, photography, book arts, graphic design and illustration.”

CAMB Jenny Snowdon Emma Nichols

Students Jenny Snowdon  and Emma Nichols working in the studio

Graduates from the course have gone on to work in number of different careers at prestigious cultural organisations in the UK and beyond, including Edinburgh National Library, Cambridge University Library, Oxford Conservation Consortium, the British Library, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Bodleian Library and the Kew Botanical Collection, as well as one alumni working in Greece on the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The practical skills that students acquire are set within a context of the historical, scientific and cultural significance of the cultural material they are working with, as Jocelyn explains.

“Students learn the practical hand skills that provide a base for them to become conservators. They learn about the materials that make up paper and book collections, including leather, parchment, paper and textiles. They investigate the materials used in the preservation and conservation of objects such as speciality repair papers, adhesives and chemicals.  Through this they become familiar with the scientific base of how materials behave and work with speciality equipment and tools.

“They also learn about ethics and how to make judgements about how far to conserve an object. Decision making is an important element of the course. This includes attaining an understanding of the environmental conditions that collections are exposed to, their security and how collections can be handled, accessed and exhibited. Throughout the course students learn communication skills so they can be advocates within the community for the conservation of cultural property.”


Students Emma Nichols, Jenny Enos and Sarai Vardi

With a course such as Conservation, prospective students primarily have a strong undergraduate degree in a relevant discipline such as Archaeology, Fine Art or Art History, but Jocelyn is also looking for a demonstrable interest in all areas of cultural heritage.

“We’re looking for evidence of meticulous hand skills, aesthetic judgement and an understanding of the importance of conservation. We like prospective students to have experience of working or volunteering within a conservation setting if possible.”