One of the gazillion things that I love about my course is the huge variety of topics we cover. I tend to refer to it as “art restoration” when people ask me what I do, but really it’s a far broader spectrum that “repairing paintings” which is what tends to spring to mind.
For me, this topic is the ideal Renaissance Man subject. I am interested in so many things and every single hour we cover something different. Sometimes it’s chemistry — the composition of the myriad of plastics, understanding the components in paint, or identifying the best solvent for cleaning an object. Sometimes it’s IT — 3D scanning of objects for archives, using computer technology to analyse works, or understanding the conservation of digital media. Other days we wax theoretical about the social importance of cultural materials, or delve into art history (my first love…). All of this science and philosophy is fascinating, but just as enjoyable is getting our hands dirty to understand skills and materials by handling them ourselves.
We started the class with a smudge of botany, learning about the best species to work with for basket-weaving, how to store them, and how to prepare them for use.
Ginger! lots of ginger! Here is a strand of dried ginger, accompanied by a damp one, ready for use.
A lab full of Australian women, examining bits of dead grass. Real science.
This is the inside of a tall spike rush (Eleocharis). It was highly therapeutic to make it snap by pinching one end of the stem and running your thumb and finger all the way down, “popping” the little casings. Then you split it open and display gorgeous yellows.
My first attempt at making 2-ply cord. It’s actually quite simple and really fun — like crocheting or knitting, something very soothing to do. Mine looks kind of manky but once I got the hang of it, it evened out. The sap gets squeezed out as you go and stains your fingers, creating a sort of resin that helps keep the twisted grass in place. It smells heavenly too.
Second round, this time trying to make a much finer cord with a different fibres from the Cabbage Tree. The uninitiated such as myself generally have quite intense hand cramps from pinching and twisting the strands into place, not to mention how gummed up you get from the sap. I would still love to do it again!
Then we quickly made a few little fish out of fresher leaves (I really suck at taking proper notes. These were… green?).
Then I combined my cords and my fish in a twee Etsy-type composition. Done! Time for the next class!