100 years of conservation - Historic Royal Palaces celebrates anniversary

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LONDON - On the night of the 25th February 2013, News in Conservation had the honour of being invited to a marvellous event held in the historic setting of Banqueting House in Whitehall, London. The night was in celebration of Historic Royal Palaces’ 100th anniversary of conservation, and specifically to mark the establishment of the textile conservation studios at Hampton Court Palace, who were born out of a concern that Henry VIII’s tapestries were falling into a state of disrepair.
Highlight of the night was contemporary artist Grayson Perry who, in a very interesting speech, challenged an audience from across the world of cultural heritage to consider what makes a work of art important enough to preserve for future generations.
In his talk Grayson Perry said that he admires the patience, skill and knowledge of conservators who maintain art for posterity although the future preservation of his work doesn’t concern him. On preserving art for future generations, he said: “When it comes to posterity – I don’t worry about it at all. If it all goes into a skip after I die, I won’t worry about it because I’ll be dead. If people want to conserve my work, it’s down to them. However, the amazing care, knowledge and skills that go into making objects “not change” are incredibly impressive. As someone who makes new things, I think it’s amazing the care conservators take, the patience they have, and the level of complexity they have to deal with to make their work unnoticeable. It’s clear their work is necessary. The tapestries at Hampton Court Palace have come down to us through the centuries – they’ve been through the filter which says they are important and beautiful objects, so we know we need to preserve them for the future."
As an artist, Grayson Perry has worked on and created tapestries, making his appearance at the event particularly fitting. In his speech he made references to the contemporary art world comparing the work that is produced today to that of the craftsmen who created Henry VIII’s tapestries over 500 years ago. He noticed the skills and the physical strength required to create such elaborate and complex tapestries that sadly seems to be now lost.
The conservation team that operates in the five palaces in the care of Historic Royal Palaces (HRP), Hampton Court Palace, Banqueting House, Kensington Palace, Kew Palace and Tower of London, combines cutting edge scientific knowledge with unique technical skill, working tirelessly behind the scenes and at times ‘in front’ of the scenes.
Throughout 2013, Historic Royal Palaces will shine a spotlight on the vital work they do to the buildings and their contents including paintings, tapestries, furniture and other amazing objects making up the collections housed in the palaces.
During her address, Kate Frame, Head of Conservation and Collections Care at Historic Royal Palaces, said: "Conservators often find themselves mirroring the lives of past artists and craftspeople – wondering why they used a particular thread in a tapestry, or carved something at a particular angle. So it was a real thrill to welcome an artist like Grayson Perry to help us celebrate our work. I’m sure the Flemish weavers who created our tapestries would
have been equally as reticent about the preservation of their own work for future generations.
"We were delighted to hear him recognise the importance of conservation and the immense technical skills it requires. Although we work with historic objects, ours is a discipline which relies on scientific work with historic objects, ours is a discipline which relies on scientific and technological advances to progress, and the digital age will present us with new challenges. Perhaps the conservators of the future will be specialists in the preservation of Grayson Perry’s own digital tapestries!"
Historic Royal Palaces is the independent charity that also looks after the Tower of London, Hampton Court, Kensington Palace, the Banqueting House and Kew Palace. HRP receives no funding from the UK Government or the Crown, and depend on the support of visitors, members, donors, volunteers and sponsors. The palaces are owned by HM the Queen on behalf of the nation, and HRP manages them for the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.
For further information on the work of HRP or to plan a visit please go to:
http://www.hrp.org.uk