I’m the conservation and Crown Collection specialist for the Official Residences Branch at the NCC. In this role, I’m responsible for the preservation and safekeeping of the Crown Collection.
The Crown Collection
The Crown Collection is made up of about 4,000 artifacts, ranging from textiles, to furniture and decorative art. The artifacts were acquired over the decades through
- Government of Canada purchases
- donations from occupants
- donations through the Canadiana Fund.
My goal is to ensure that we preserve these artifacts for future generations to enjoy.
Working in the official residences
The official residences
The official residences are six important historic properties in Canada’s Capital Region.
Working in the official residences is a real treat. Unlike those in a museum, these artifacts share the lives of the official residences’ households and their visitors. The official residences are home to Canada’s leaders, and are places where many functions and events take place. These artifacts are living history pieces.
Part of the mandate of the Official Residences Branch is to accept and acquire artifacts that can be used within the residences. We try to process these artifacts as quickly as we can into the collection, but often conservation work is needed before the artifacts can be placed in the residences.
Conservation: What does it mean?
One of my favourite aspects of the job is performing conservation treatments on the artifacts. Conservation is done to prevent damage to artifacts of cultural or heritage significance. There are three types of intervention that are considered when examining possibilities for treatment on Crown Collection items.
Preventive conservation: Indirect measures are taken to safeguard the artifact without changing its appearance. These measures are carried out on the surroundings of an artifact. A great example would be installing UV filtering film on the windows to reduce the amount of ultraviolet damage to delicate materials such as watercolours or textiles.
Remedial conservation: Measures are taken which directly affect the artifact. The aim is to reduce the risk of deterioration or damage in the short term. These measures can impact the appearance of the artifact. Some examples include consolidating paint flakes on a painting or stopping corrosion on a metal artifact.
Restoration: This is the most intensive form of conservation, and often changes the appearance of an artifact. An example would be the repair of a broken sculpture.
Although I do hands-on treatments, I don’t have the time to do as many as I would like. We do have to outsource some of the conservation work to specialists. My role is to come to the table with the knowledge to discuss techniques and restoration requirements with the specialist who will do the work.
My favourite artifact is a carved, eight-foot-tall gilded mirror that came to us in a somewhat deteriorated state. Chunks of the frame were missing, and it was covered with bronzine paint that made it look very dark and tarnished. It was recently restored by a talented gilder, and its transformation is inspiring. Now the NCC’s interior designer will find a location for it in one of the official residences to accent this beautiful piece and add life to its surroundings.
A jack of all trades
My days go by so quickly due to the variety of my role. One day I can be doing some hands on treatment and the next I’m determining what needs to be sent out for restauration. I also go into the Official Residences to look at the condition of the artifacts, assess needs and prepare items for transport. Often I’m pulled into projects that the interior designer is working on. I assess what artifacts can be used and how long a piece can be displayed.
The Crown Collection belongs to all Canadians. I am proud of my work at the NCC because it means that future generations will get to enjoy the Crown Collection as much as we do today.