Collaboration is key for Conservation graduates

alison-and-priscilla-blogConservation is a collaborative effort for Conservator Alison Freake and Conservation Intern Priscilla Lo at the Provincial Archives of Alberta.

Both are graduates of Fleming College’s recently renamed Cultural Heritage Conservation and Management program, which trains students in preserving various aspects of arts and heritage for future generations. Priscilla graduated in 2016 from the Cultural Heritage Conservation and Management program and Alison finished what was then called Collections Conservation and Management in 2001.

“Fleming graduates have a solid understanding of the materials they are working with and an eagerness to learn as much as they can in order to do the best job,” said Alison, who is mentoring fellow Fleming grad Priscilla. “There is a willingness to take part in broader activities and an awareness of the importance of institutional workflow and how we, as conservators, are able to contribute in so many different areas.”

As a conservator, Alison is responsible for the physical condition of records held by the Provincial Archives of Alberta, which includes: manuscripts, bound volumes, photographic prints and negatives, maps, architectural renderings and other archival materials. She is involved with exhibit design and installation, site visits, preservation training, collection evaluations, and special events, and teaches workshops for the Archives Society of Alberta and various post-secondary institutions.

Alison said her Fleming education is relevant and helpful to her career, and its holistic approach to collections care has proven useful as her job duties have expanded. Her program internship also helped her gain real world experience that proved beneficial down the line.

“My internship project was the assessment of a parchment collection for the Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador (now The Rooms – Provincial Archives Division), which was very relevant to my position at the Archives,” she said.

Alison moved to Peterborough for her graduate certificate after completing a Bachelor of Arts in Archaeology at Memorial University of Newfoundland. Her advice to current students is to be prepared to move around, get involved in the conservation community, and remember the importance of relationships.

“The Fleming conservation community is a very strong presence in our field, since there are graduates working in many heritage/memory institutions in various capacities. As a profession, it is important to have our members participate in a collegial manner, and the common educational background plays a substantial role in our community,” said Alison, who is the current President of the Canadian Association for Conservation of Cultural Property.

Alison enjoys welcoming recent graduates into the field through mentorship. She is currently mentoring 2015 graduate Priscilla Lo, who is interning at the Provincial Archives of Alberta through the Young Canada Works Post-Graduate Internship.

“Priscilla has been a great deal of fun to work with!” said Alison. “The Young Canada Works Post-Graduate Internship is meant to give a boost in practical application of skills in a larger institution and she has been doing a great job in the conservation lab. She seems to be enjoying her time here, so my goal is to make sure she gets what she needs from us, even while her work plays such an important role in our preservation program.”

Priscilla is responsible for treatment, collections care, and outreach projects such as repairing glass plate negatives, item-level collection assessment and treatment of paper-based records, as well as taking part in site visits and facility tours. Like Alison, Priscilla said her Fleming College education is useful in her job.

“In our course on paper objects, we had the chance to carry out treatments on a paper object of our choice. The practical skills I learned while doing this treatment gave me experience to work on treating paper objects at my current job,” she said.

Priscilla added that she still uses her class notes from school and encourages current students to take lots of photos and extensive notes while doing treatments. “You may use a technique or method later on in the future for a similar object,” she said. “Also, keep all your notes– the group notes compilation will help you greatly in the future!”

Priscilla is enjoying her internship experience thus far, especially being mentored by Alison.

“It’s encouraging because Alison is so good at what she does and she’s been at the Archives for so long,” said Priscilla. “She’s a great mentor and encourages discussion whenever possible. She’s genuinely interested in helping me strengthen my skills and my portfolio.”

Priscilla hopes to pay it forward one day and be a mentor herself to pass on her knowledge and skills to an emerging conservator.