The Department of Conservation was established in 1973, although it grew from the course that was founded by William Wheeler in 1946 as a part of the Restoration and Carving courses developed to train specialists for the restoration of London’s architecture, monuments and treasures damaged during the war; and thus the Conservation Department is one of the oldest conservation training programmes in the UK. The School’s academic profile (including fine art and historic carving) means that we are uniquely placed to provide students with the skills essential to developing the aesthetic awareness necessary for the practice of conservation. This is closely integrated with the appropriate technical and theoretical knowledge demanded by the profession.
The courses and training opportunities offered centre on the conservation of 3-D objects made from wood, stone and other sculptural materials, together with gilded and painted decoration and other forms of polychromy. Students work on a wide variety of objects from leading public and private institutions such as English Heritage, the Foundling Museum, , St Paul’s Cathedral, Rochester Cathedral, the Royal Institute of British Architects, Westminster Abbey, the Palace of Westminster, the Wallace Collection, the William Morris Gallery and many more. Students, working under the close supervision of tutors, who are all professional conservators, carry out all phases of conservation, including examination, documentation, treatment and compiling recommendations for future care.
The Conservation Department is currently involved in collaborative projects with the Victoria and Albert Museum, Tate Gallery, Rochester Cathedral, St Paul's Cathedral, the Watt's Gallery, English Heritage, Westminster Abbey the Foundling Museum and others. These projects give students the opportunity to work with conservation professionals on live projects, providing an invaluable insight into how treatment decisions are made and how conservation ethics are applied in real situations. All research projects make use of analytical techniques that are taught in collaboration with the Materials Department at Imperial College.
In 2012 the Department was completely refurbished to provide a high quality working environment equipped with appropriate health and safety facilities. Thanks to a generous donation from a private benefactor the City and Guilds Conservation Department owns a laser (Nd:YAG Q-switch) and is the only place in the UK where the laser cleaning technique is a part of the course syllabi. Recently the Department has acquired an FTIR spectrometer, thanks to the Foyle Foundation; this is an essential instrument for the technical examination of art materials.
The Conservation Department has a very generous ratio of staff to students, generally a maximum of one to nine. All tutors are highly experienced professionals with many years of experience in conservation who combine their professional activities with teaching at City and Guilds Art School on a part-time basis. This practice creates a vibrant environment where students have the opportunity to interact with the world of professional conservation.
The conservation students represent a diverse international community across a wide range of age groups, cultural and professional backgrounds. The Department is both nationally and internationally renowned for its preparation of conservators for the world of skilled practical conservation and for the care of historic property. Our graduates enjoy one of the highest rates (up to 90%) of employment in the professional field. The department alumni list includes conservators in many major museums in the UK, some of whom occupy senior positions. Many of our graduates are employed throughout the private sector.
BA (Hons) Conservation Studies
The course is three-years, full-time, leading to a BA (Hons) degree validated by the Birmingham City University, Birmingham, U.K. Concentrating on the conservation and restoration of 3-D objects made of stone, wood and related materials such as plaster, terracotta, lacquer and japanning with particular attention paid to gilded and painted surfaces. Set within the context of the City & Guilds of London Art School, the course is uniquely placed to provide students with traditional skills, such as life drawing, stone and wood carving and gilding, all of which are essential in developing the aesthetic awareness necessary for the informed practice of conservation. The course integrates these skills and sensibilities with the technical skills and theoretical knowledge required for the preservation and reinstatement of works of art.
First year studies consist of seven modules. The Foundation Skills Modules integrate parts of the Historical Stone Carving and Ornamental Wood Carving programmes. These modules include the study of stone and wooden decoration, ornament forms, gilding, lacquer and japanning techniques, lime plaster modelling and plaster casting. Students participate in Drawing Studio classes, making studies both from life and from inanimate objects. These modules help the students develop the manual and observational skills essential to conservation practice as well as enabling them to understand the techniques and materials used in the fabrication of objects.
Starting from the spring term students concentrate on the study of such subjects as conservation ethics, the history and philosophy of conservation, legislation and health and safety. Stone conservation, chemistry and materials science are covered by the Conservation Science Module. In conjunction with conservation training students study the history of art and decorative styles with an emphasis on the history of sculpture and architecture. By the end of the first year students have developed manual and observational skills, knowledge of basic chemistry and materials and an understanding of the development of historical techniques.
Second year students are introduced to modern conservation techniques and in depth coverage of conservation theory in relation to stone, wood and frame conservation , including laser cleaning, materials science, the theory of colour and polychromy, microscopy of cross-sections and such analytical techniques as IR spectroscopy and mass-spectrometry. The study of the chemistry of cleaning and study of the behaviour and mechanisms of deterioration of materials is complimented by the extensive practical experience provided by the School's association with various museums and organisations. During the second year students are taught task skills and management, including contingency planning, the significance of conservation and restoration work, and their responsibilities as practitioners.
All second year students are required to undertake a summer placement in museums or private conservation practices. Recent host institutions include the Victoria and Albert Museum, the British Museum, Tate Gallery, the Conservation Centre of the National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside (Liverpool), the National Gallery of Art Washington DC, the National Gallery of Australia, the National Museum in Iceland, the Science Museum, , the Museum of London, the Royal Collection, Historic Royal Palaces, the Natural History Museum, the Watt's Gallery and the Wallace Collection. This period of practical experience helps to embed conservation theory and to further develop practical skills.
Third year students write a substantial independent research project under the supervision of tutor s and in collaboration with the Materials Department at Imperial College London. The projects are based on the students' practical work and their personal research interests. All students undertake practical work on up to three 3-D objects that are provided by institutions such as English Heritage, St Paul's Cathedral, the Wallace Collection, the Tate Gallery, the Foundling Museum, the Natural History Museum, the William Morris Gallery or by private collectors. As part of the practical work, students are also required to study the appropriate historical and social backgrounds of objects in their care, in order to provide an informed context for their practical skills.