Kate Perks is on a 12-month internship in the Royal Armouries’ Conservation department. She talks about getting to grips with firearms, handling holsters and why there’s never a dull day in conservation.
I have always had an interest in history and my path into conservation started after studying History of Decorative Arts and Crafts at Brighton University. I knew I wanted to work closely with historical objects, I am a hands-on person and I like to physically work with objects, so conservation ticked all the boxes. The element of the job I enjoy the most is getting something that is broken and fixing it or getting something that is looking a bit sad and making it happy again! There are also challenges of the job, as we must make sure everything we do is reversible, the methods used do not harm the object and will last. Therefore if another conservator comes across the object 50 years later, when technology has moved on and processes have changed, they can undo my work. It’s not just simply fixing things. It is also about making sure the methods used can be reversed, using materials that have been tested and proven not to react with the object, such as making sure it won’t cause it to corrode, and that the materials are stable enough that they will carry on doing their job for decades to come.
I recently had my first experience of firearms with the Matchlock guns that are going on loan at the Small Arms Centre for Excellence, Nizwar, Oman, in October. This was a challenge because you have to make sure they’re not loaded and I had to learn about the firing mechanism. It was interesting getting to understand how they work.
I have also been getting a handle on holsters, I was presented with a box of around 18, all jumbled up, so I have been going through them and looking at the best ways to store them. At the moment I am trying to work out how they can keep their shape, even just things like lining them with tissue can work. I’ve also been doing some research to find out what type of leather they are made from. This depends on the hair follicles, and how they are positioned, from that you can work out whether it’s leather from a cow or a sheep. This is found with a little microscope, with a light on it, you place it over the object, with LED lights, the image appears on the computer, and you can then take a photograph to study more closely.
After my internship, I would love to get a full time position here or at another museum but at the moment I am making the most of every opportunity.
To find out more about the Conservation Department visit our website here.
Find out why Kate is searching for the missing link in a coat of mail in her next blog instalment…
Blogger: Kate Perks, Conservation Intern