24 Sep 2015

Conservation Club - Civic Silver Conservation Project

My name is Ayesha Hussain, and I am one of the Conservation Club volunteers. In particular, I have been part of the Civic Silver Conservation Project for almost a year now. In a team with eight other volunteers, we come in once a week and we conserve a collection of civic silver. These objects have ranged from cutlery sets such as spoons (there have been a lot of spoons!) to slightly odd objects such as this candelabrum, which was made to commemorate 200 years of the Birmingham Assay Office.

Ayesha conserving the candelabrum
This is me hard a work about half way through conserving the candelabrum. When I began, the entire object was the black colour you can see on the top.

The process for each object is very similar; we assign it a number, photograph it, record its condition, undertake the conservation cleaning process, photograph the finished result and then repackage it for storage. We then document the object, also adding the time in hours it took to complete each object. Depending on the object and its condition before we begin, it can take anywhere from one hour to a couple of days. I think the candelabrum is the object that has taken me the longest so far and that was, from start to finish, almost 18 hours!

I really enjoy working on these objects, as you can really see the impact you have on it - it begins discoloured and tarnished and ends up completely silver. As well as this, volunteering at Birmingham Museums Trust has given me many skills such as object handling, conservation, photography and documentation, which I have been able to use to begin volunteering as an Archives Assistant at the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists gallery. At the RBSA I have been able to use my experience in photography to update their collections database.

After graduating in 2014, I was unsure about which career path to go down but I knew that I loved history and museums and I decided to try volunteering. Volunteering here has shown me the extent of the behind the scenes work that goes in to running and operating museums which I truly underestimated before I began last year. I have now decided that I would like to pursue a career working with museum collections, and perhaps explore the archives avenue a bit more.