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Tim Stevenson – Small Objects Conservation Care
What I do
I am part of the Small Objects Conservation team, working alongside 3 other volunteers and our esteemed leaders Katie and Peter. We look after a wide range of objects – anything in a display case and more besides! Uniforms, aircraft models, an enigma machine, pilots’ log books and combat reports, pictures (by both well-known artists and airmen on stand-by), statues (including busts by Jacob Epstein), aircraft cannon, ration tins, medals, meat cleavers, hydrogen sampling devices, secret radios, wind tunnel models… The variety, and thus the interest, is huge!
Conservation of objects involves the stabilisation of an item so it does not deteriorate further, and usually careful cleaning to present the object as well as possible, and aid in its conservation. There is a fine distinction between conservation and restoration. We deliberately leave traces of an object’s history and use (eg the soiling on a flag accumulated during its days flying ‘in anger’), while removing dirt and discolouration that have accumulated over subsequent years. We do not touch up faded paintwork or replace worn fabrics!
What I love
The act of close concentration on an object while cleaning is almost meditative and Zen-like, and very satisfying when one sees the final result.
One of my most exciting moments was coming across a piece of paper in the pocket of a greatcoat on a mannequin. It appeared to be Neville Chamberlain’s famous ‘piece of paper’ signed by him and Adolf Hitler on 30 September 1938. Sadly, and obviously, on examination, a reproduction!
What I get
I used to have a pilot’s license and get enjoyment being around such wonderful and interesting aircraft – they bring the historic events they were involved in into reality. I get a sense of satisfaction and fulfilment from giving my time to a worthwhile cause and learning new skills in the process. Plus as a retired person it’s important to keep active, mentally and physically. Finally, I get a sense of camaraderie working with my fellow volunteers, the ’regulars’ and the museum team as a whole.