Kenwood House in North London is undergoing vital repairs to secure the 18th century mansion for future generations. Jemma Edwards joins us this week to give the latest update on the Caring for Kenwood programme.
I started my internship with English Heritage in November last year and like Jenny in curatorial, I am an intern attached to the ‘Caring for Kenwood’ project at Kenwood House. My role in the team however is quite different, as I am based in Collections Conservation working as the paintings conservation intern.
Not to be confused with the other Conservation Team – who look after all sorts of things including the buildings we work in – Collections Conservation is made up of the people who look after and maintain the huge variety of objects that make up the collection of English Heritage, including all sorts of things from the crown jewels to Wellington’s false teeth (in my opinion, all of the best bits!). My specialism is paintings conservation and having graduated early last year I have been very pleased to be in the middle of such a huge and exciting project.
As my first priority I have been working closely with the team to help ensure that the collection at Kenwood House is protected for the duration of this project and we have been working hard to do this. So far, this means that I have been climbing up scaffolding in order to ensure the paintings are protected from dust while the buildings works continue on around them and I have also been able to help in other practical ways, from surveying door furniture to monitoring the site while the works continue.
To protect the paintings which couldn’t be removed from the house, we’ve done this by making our own protective covers to sit on top of the paintings and keep them snug, away from dust and dirt generated on the building site. In the entrance hall this almost makes them look like they have their mop caps on ready for bed – but it does the job it needs to and the paintings will stay safe underneath this soft fabric cover.
As well as this vital on site work I am also working hard in the studio to ready some of our other paintings for re-display in the autumn when Kenwood House re-opens to the public. I am currently working on a large paper object that has come out of the stores at Kenwood and is now in need of serious structural repair, with many old damages as you can see in the images we took for documentation.
So far I have surface cleaned, removed varnish and also cleaned off later overpaint layers by combing over the surface very meticulously, amounting to at least 500 hours of work so far, a long and complex job. I will soon be treating the tears and reinforcing the structure of the painting in order to keep it safe for future generations to come. The work is painstaking but extremely satisfying and I am learning a lot along the way.