the paper conservator’s tale

Stumbles and Cannot Rise. 2001. Collection of the National Museum of Wales Cardiff.

Yesterday at the National Library I spoke about my work to a large group of delegates attending a conference on conservation. By a staggering coincidence, two women present were paper conservators from the National Museum of Wales and had actually worked on the Mari Lwyd drawing from the NMW collection that has been loaned to the exhibition. (It’s practice at the larger institutions to carry out any conservation work on a painting or drawing before dispatching it for loan, to ensure the work is safe to travel and exhibit.) The news of their presence came as a surprise…  though a very pleasant one… just as I was about to start my talk. People took photographs of the three of us shaking hands in front of the drawing, which was funny, but also felt rather surreal, perhaps akin to unexpectedly meeting one’s surgeon at a dinner party. The planned ‘talk’ turned into a dialogue between the artist and the two conservators (much more entertaining and informative), the latter describing at my prompting the options that had been open to them, the work they carried out and their discovery of little bits of evidence indicating how Stumbles and Cannot Rise had been made and what its history might be. (It had mistakenly been described in the NMW inventory as a work made in ‘oil’.) They explained that this had been the largest drawing they’d worked on to date at the NMW (a record since broken) and both had considered trying to find and contact me in order to ask questions about it, though in the end time had been too short to do so.

One described how she’d found newsprint offset onto the reverse of the drawing, and also a footprint, presumably mine! I’d made all the Mari Lwyd works on my hands and knees, as at that time I’d had no clear studio wall space to tape the sheets of Arches paper against in order to work vertically. Instead I’d cleared back the furniture in our dining-room and spread newspapers on the floor to cushion the sheets of Arches and prevent frottage impressions of the floorboards appearing in the finished works. It comes as no surprise that I’d left a footprint on the reverse of the drawing.

The work carried out by the NMW conservation department was carefully considered and beautifully accomplished. It’s reassuring to know that there are such skills at hand when intervention is necessary, and I’m very much obliged to Emily O’Reilly and to Elspeth Jordan for what they’ve jointly done to ensure the safe keeping and optimum presentation of this drawing.

7 thoughts on “the paper conservator’s tale

  1. Pingback: opening up the mari lwyd | Clive Hicks-Jenkins' Artlog:

  2. Very interesting. And how clever of you to turn the event into a kind of unexpected dialogue. And now good night! Or morning. I woke up at 2:30 with a poem in my head and now three hours later am going to go grab some sleep. Birdie racket everywhere. Twittering machines at work.

    • I think ‘clever’ is pushing it. It was more that I was receptive to the moment and genuinely interested in finding out how they had gone about their work. A conversation between the three of us seemed a much more entertaining option for all concerned. Moreover they were both funny as well as knowledgeable, which helped move things along briskly. It was a serendipitous moment.

      I hope that you excavated the poem from your head before attending to blog business. (?) Poetry first, every time.

        • Marly I enjoyed reading your post on waking with a poem already part-formed, and rising to get it written down fast while it was still clear in your head. I’ve got out of the habit of noting down my dreams, a bit of a failing as the most interesting narratives can be the unmediated ones that spring from the subconscious world of dreams. However it takes rigourous discipline to strike while the iron is hot, especially when one wakes in the small hours. I fear that all to often I roll over to sleep again, only to discover that the wonderful dream full of exciting visual ideas has completely evaporated by morning!

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