Indian Conservation Fellowship at SRAL, Maastricht, The Netherlands

Omkar Kadu, Assistant Curator, Conservation

Background:
Around 2011-12, senior conservators from Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (MMA) and Stichting Restauratie Atelier Limburg, Maastricht, the Netherlands SRAL) visited various conservation institutes in India to understand issues related to the conservation field here. They put in lot of effort to design and institute ‘The Indian Conservation Fellowship’ with the support of Ministry of Culture in Government of India and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. This programme selected 16 Indian fellows, who were at a relatively early stage of their professional careers, an opportunity to broaden their understanding in the conservation of sculptures, paintings and objects. The programme is planned over a period of two years, from October 2013 to September 2015.
 
   
(left to right) Ms. Karen Stamm, Conservator, MMA;               Presenting my fellowship experience at SRAL 
Dr. A.Sudhakar Reddy, Counselor (Legal), Embassy of India, 
Mr. Vinod Daniel; CEO IndHeritage and CEO India Vision
Institute; Mr. Lawrence Becker, Sherman Fairchild
Conservator in Charge, MMA; Ms. Kate Seymour,
Head of Education and Training, SRAL; Dr. Rene 
Hoppenbrouwers, Director, SRAL; Dr. Venu V, I.A.S.,
Joint Secretary, Ministry of Culture, Government of India
 
The fellowship programme:
As mentioned in the fellowship brochure, selected conservation fellows, currently working in art and cultural heritage museums and institutions in India,were segregated into two host countries, based on their area of specialization. Fellows involved with sculpture, objects and furniture conservation were given residence at the Sherman Fairchild Centre of Object Conservation at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, while, fellows involved with conservation of Paintings and Historic Interior are hosted at SRAL in Maastricht, the Netherlands.
 
SRAL, a host institution for the Andrew Mellon Fellowship:
SRAL is a leading institute specialized in the conservation and restoration of paintings, sculptures, modern and contemporary art works and historic interiors. Their interdisciplinary collaboration between various restoration specialists and researchers provides an integrated approach to conservation issues. Research, consultancy and educational courses are an important part of SRAL’s domain.
 
My Fellowship/Training period at SRAL:
I was very fortunate to have been selected as a fellow at SRAL for a period of three months, from 13th April 2014 to 11th July 2014. Being involved with the conservation and restoration of the paintings in the European Painting gallery of the CSMVS, the painting conservation fellowship offered at SRAL gave me an opportunity to expand my knowledge and gain more experience in painting conservation.
 
Before my departure for the fellowship programme, extensive data pertaining to the CSMVS collection was gathered with the help of the senior curators from the European painting section namely Mr. Dilip Ranade, Mr. Prasanna Mangrulkar and the Chief Conservator of the Museum Conservation Centre, Mr. Anupam Sah. All major issues concerning the collection were addressed and discussed with Ms. Kate Seymour, Head of Education and Training at SRAL. The study programme developed by SRAL was in a flexible manner in accordance with my requirements. My study programme at SRAL largerly consisted of attending lectures, workshops, conferences, presentations, visits to other conservation institutes and practical conservation work. A brief summary of lecture and training activities attended by me at SRAL are given below: 
 
1. Lectures: I attended more than 30 lectures and presentations including those by Dr. Rene Hoppenbrouwers (director, SRAL), Ms. Kate Seymour (Head of Education and Training, SRAL), Dr. Paul Van Kan (Scientist, Amsterdam), Dr. Lidia Beerkens (Conservator, SRAL) and Mr. Paul Ackroyd (Sr. Conservator, National Museum, London) on various aspects such as examination, documentation, traditional testing methods, SEM-EDX, historic pigments, structural conservation of panel paintings, solvents, cleaning, varnishes, fillers, lining techniques, etc. 
  
Dr. Rene demonstrating how to prepare a sample pallet               Dr. Paul explaining how to read and interpret the data
after delivering a lecture on ‘Traditional Testing Methods’.            collected from SEM-EDX. 
 
 
 
   
                        Dr. Lidia delivering a lecture on ‘Plastics’ followed by ODDY test of various types of plastic materials.
 

2. Workshops: Mr. Paul Ackroyd, Conservator, National Museum, London conducted a workshop on old and new techniques of lining. Ms. Wijnberg, Painting Conservator from Stadelijk Museum, Amsterdam conducted workshop on tear mending. Both the workshops were nicely balanced between theory and practical. After critically examining the various methods, the advantages and disadvantages of these were analyzed by workshop conductors and the participants, making the sessions very interesting and constructive. Participants were encouraged to explore further possibilities to the existing methods and practices. 

 
 
Mr. Paul Ackroyd conducting a practical session on different lining methods. This was followed by final session of observation and analysis of lining methods with the participants.
 
 
Ms. Wijnberg conducting workshop on tear                  Different shaped needles made by me during the workshop.
mending.
 
3. Conferences and presentations: I also got the opportunity to attend a four day conference on paper,‘Men and Book: Micro Organism to Mega Organism’ held at St. Polten in Austria. Delegates and participants from all over Europe, UK and few from Asia (India & Sri Lanka) presented almost 40 research papers. The issues discussed in this conference were fungicides and their effects on object; traditional preventive methods; y-radiation and mercuric chloride as a biocides for insects; conservation work case studies; creating and sharing databases of methods and terminology; traditional methods of book binding; damage assessment; photo physical and photochemical processes to identify text on the manuscripts; digitization; etc. This was a very enriching experience for me. Besides gaining conservation knowledge, I also learnt the importance of focused background study, structuring an effective research paper and presenting it to an audience and keeping my mind open to healthy criticism.
 
   
 
Paper Conference ‘Men and Book: Micro organism to mega                      A student from University of Amsterdam giving       
organism’ held at St. Poltan, Austria.                                                               presentation on varnishes and its properties. 
 
4. Practical conservation work: Almost every day I had practical work sessions and I was exposed to various methods practiced by SRAL such as processes of varnish removal with solvent gels, mist lining technique and many others under guidance of Mr. Jos van Och, Head of Conservation studio and Ms. Gwendoline Fife BscHons, Conservator. I also got a chance to work on a panel painting from Hindeloopen through which I learnt basic structural conservation work under guidance of Ms. Kate Seymour.  
 
 
Removal of varnish using gel technique under guidance        Preparatory stages for Mist Lining Technique with Mr. Jos  
of Ms. Gwendoline.                                                                         van Och.This lining technique is developed by SRAL. 
 
 
 
Ongoing structural conservation work on a panel painting          A brief conversation with Dr. Sudhakar Reddy, Counselor 
from Hindeloopen, Friesland, The Netherlands.                            (legal), Embassy of India and other committee members on 
                                                                                                               the conservation issues that I dealt with when working with a 
                                                                                                               Hindeloopen panel painting. 
 
5. Field visits: This fellowship has a good budgetory provision to visit other important conservation institutes and research centers. I visited Dutch Cultural Heritage (RCE) - specializes in preventive conservation, Amsterdam; Conservation Studio of Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam; ISCR, Rome; School of Conservation and Conservation Studios, Florence (OPD); ICCROM, Rome; Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp (KMSKA); Royal Institute of Cultural Heritage, Brussels (KIK-IRPA); Rathgen Research Laboratory, Berlin and many museums and open monuments in Europe. It was very interesting to see different approaches, systems, protocols and various methodologies followed by Dutch, Belgian, Italian, French and German conservation institutes. This fellowship also gave me the opportunity to experience European life, landscape and culture. 
 
Conclusion:
After participating in this fellowship programme I have gained a wider understanding of international conservation and restoration practices and approaches. Most importantly this fellowship period gave me the much required space and time to focus and study comparative aspects of conservation and at the same time to think about my own self. This fellowship has definitely broadened my vision and I hope that it enables me to contribute to the further development of CSMVS Conservation centre and in future to the conservation field in India. Before I left for the fellowship my senior colleagues Mr. Dilip Ranade, Mrs. Manisha Nene and Mrs. Vandana Prapanna helped me to prepare myself. I appreciate the guidance provided by Mr. Anupam Sah to frame my work plan. I am grateful to Dr. Rene Hoppenbrouwers, Ms. Kate Seymour and the SRAL fraternity for their full cooperation, support, guidance, encouragement and for sharing their experiences with me. I am very much thankful to Mr. Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Director General, CSMVS for his recommendation, constant support and advice. 
 
I am proud that I was able to represent my institute as well as my country in good light.