A part of history dies with every lost manuscript. The knowledge of the past keeps us grounded in our traditions and guides us into our future. Therefore, we find the prospect of conserving these valuable assets incredibly exciting.
With a strong yearning for learning paper conservation but no direction, we set out to find a way. During our search we came across many conservators and learning opportunities, but none to the caliber of the work done at Heritage Preservation Atelier (HPA). To our surprise, the incredible breadth of knowledge and experience that is HPA, is situated in our home state of Punjab. With the preface of an online course HPA organized, we began our internship here. In this internship, we learned lots of invaluable lessons that we will be taking away with us.
First, we learned about the importance and intricacies of condition assessments. We learned what is worth documenting and how it is to be documented when it comes to the medium, media, and support. We learnt about the tools useful in assessing these characteristics such as digital microscopes, rulers, pH pen, etc. We also learnt about helpful techniques such as using various lighting sources and angles, assessing paper grain, etc.
Next, we learned about dry cleaning of manuscripts and documents. This was perhaps our favorite step in conservation. Partly because its effects were immediately apparent and partly because of its simplicity in equipment and techniques. Here too, we learned about the various methods and tools. More importantly though, we learned what technique to use when and which to leave out.
Following dry cleaning, we learnt about flattening, consolidation, aqueous treatments, and tear mending. We learnt about how each step is not necessary in conservation and the ability to pinpoint what is necessary and what is not is key. We learnt about the situations in which these steps in treatment would be helpful and situations where it would be unwise.
Figure 3 Humidifying print prior to flattening Figure 4 Mending with Japanese tissue paper
Despite all these valuable lessons, the most important skill we learnt during this internship is the skill of apt decision making. Though this is an ever-developing skill, we would like to think that even our rudimentary grasp of this skill has suited us with a great asset that will be very helpful going forward.
Moreover, in this internship we did not just learn about procedures and techniques, but also about the principles and ethics of conservation and how they play into everyday practical conservation practices. The foremost principle of conservation that kept coming to our minds again and again was the principle of minimum intervention. We often used this principle to guide our decision-making processes behind paper conservation. A big lesson we learnt in terms of the ethics of conservation is treating each object/manuscript with the utmost respect. This may seem like an obvious notion but initially we found it difficult to treat objects we thought of as less valuable with the same care and precision as those that we thought to be valuable or historically important to us. Ethically, this bias is to be avoided – and with time we learned to do so.
On a closing note, we would like to extend special regards to Conservator Ms. Namita Jaspal and Assistant Conservator Ms. Sarika Rawat for their mentorship.
-Simranpreet Singh and Rasaval Singh