'Everything I do focuses on preserving the collection items' - conservator Kirsty Munro on her work

Exclusive look behind locked doors at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts. In the conservation room

In the conservation room with the Sainsbury Centre's conservator Kirsty Munro - this week's Open Call. - Credit: Kate Wolstenholme

Each week I speak to a Norwich local making an impact on the arts in our city. This week, conservator at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Kirsty Munro.

1. How would you best describe your role within the arts community?

I am the Conservator at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, based in the UEA campus. It’s my job to care for the objects in the collection, whether they are on display in the galleries, packed away in the storerooms, out in the sculpture park, or away on loan to other institutions.

Additionally, I also take care of the objects loaned to us from museums and private collectors for the temporary exhibitions held within the centre.

Everything I do focuses on preserving the collection items, so that they, and the cultural history they represent, can be shared to wider audiences.

Exclusive look behind locked doors at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts. Picture: Kate Wolstenhol

Exclusive look behind locked doors at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts. - Credit: Kate Wolstenholme

2. What do you love so much about being a conservator? 

I get involved in everything from monitoring environmental conditions to condition assessing, documenting and treating objects, packing and couriering objects, research, and exhibition planning and installations. However, what I love most is being able to handle, examine and really get to know the objects.

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At the Sainsbury Centre the objects span thousands of years, representing early civilisations all the way through to contemporary artists, and it is an absolute privilege to able to work with these objects.

Exclusive look behind locked doors at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts. In the conservation room

Exclusive look behind locked doors at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts. In the conservation room. - Credit: Kate Wolstenholme

3. How did you get where you are in your career? 

After studying for a degree in Art History, I began volunteering for my local National Trust property. There were no curatorial volunteering openings, so I accepted the conservation volunteer post and instantly loved it!

I gained hands-on preventive conservation knowledge and experience, which led to a job with the National Trust as a Conservation Assistant.

I studied for the post-graduate qualifications that would allow me to work as a Conservator. During my studies I undertook placements with conservation companies and tried to work on as many different materials as possible.

After graduation I then took on short term projects to build up my portfolio of work before gaining my role with the Sainsbury Centre.

4. What advice would you give to aspiring conservators? 

Test it out first through volunteering or work placements. As great as conservation is, it doesn’t suit everyone, and the training courses required are a long and expensive way to find out if it’s for you! You have to be very patient, observant and have a strong interest in how things work.

I would also advise picking up creative hobbies such as painting, embroidery, papercutting or pottery. This helps your manual dexterity and increase your knowledge on how objects are made.

Exclusive look behind locked doors at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts. In the conservation room

Exclusive look behind locked doors at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts. In the conservation room. - Credit: Kate Wolstenholme

5. What does an average weekday look like for you?

There are some jobs which are carried out routinely, such as weekly analysis of data on light exposure, temperature and relative humidity, quarterly checks of pest traps and annual
maintenance jobs, but generally my day-to-day work depends upon the needs of the collection and the exhibition schedule.

If there is an object that requires treatment, then time will be spent on photography, documentation, research and materials testing before then carrying out the treatment and completing post-treatment photography and documentation.

For upcoming exhibitions I will be attending planning meetings, giving conservation feedback on
proposed object lists, advising on environmental conditions, condition assessing objects and helping with exhibition installations.

If we are loaning objects out, I will again be condition assessing objects, writing up packing and display instructions and then I may possibly courier the object to the borrowing institution if needed.

I also help to provide access to the collection for visiting researchers and specialists.

Exclusive look behind locked doors at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts.

Exclusive look behind locked doors at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts. - Credit: Kate Wolstenholme

6. Can you name one East Anglian creative whose work you admire?

The very talented Mair Cook. Mair is from Suffolk, but now lives in Norwich, and she creates beautiful, unique jewellery, and also stunning handwoven textiles.

7. What’s the most interesting project you have worked on recently and why?

I’m currently carrying out remedial treatment to a Henry Moore sculpture, Half-Figure no.2.

The sculpture is fairly small in size and is one of the few sculptures Moore created from experimentations in concrete. The sculpture has developed a mobile crack around the waist, which has made it vulnerable to further damage and unsuitable for travel.

I am now working on consolidating and filling the crack to make it stable once again. It has allowed me to research Moore’s work with concrete and learn more about how the sculpture was
produced. I am also experimenting with colour matching the fill material by mixing in different
types of ground stones and sands to the adhesive, which is something that I haven’t had the opportunity to do before.

Colour matching is usually carried out by adding pigment powders to the fill material or by retouching it with paints once set, but using ground stones and sands will hopefully provide a closer colour and texture match.