The Emerging Conservation Professionals Network (ECPN) is conducting a diverse series of Specialty Group Interviews to promote awareness and a clearer understanding of different pathways into specializations that require particular training. The first installment of this series began with East Asian Art in 2016. Installments continued with AIC's Electronic Media Group (EMG) in 2017, Wooden Artifact Group (WAG) in 2018, Libraries and Archives in 2019, Photographic Materials Group (PMG) and Architecture Specialty Group (ASG) in 2020.
We are currently interviewing conservation professionals from AIC's Textile Specialty Group (TSG). We’ve asked our interviewees to share some thoughts about their career paths. We hope this information will inspire emerging conservation professionals and provide valuable insight into these areas of our professional field.
For our first interview from the Textile Specialty Group series, we introduce Annabelle Camp, a third-year graduate fellow from the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am a third-year National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow in the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation (WUDPAC) where I major in textile conservation (obviously!) and minor in organic objects conservation. I graduated from the University of Delaware (UD) in 2019 with degrees in Art Conservation and Anthropology. I did pre-program internships at the Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library, the Arizona State Museum, and the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard. Currently, I am completing the first half of my third-year internship at the Abegg-Stiftung in Switzerland and will then go to the Victoria and Albert (V&A) for the remainder of the year.
In addition to my graduate internship, I serve on the AIC Sustainability Committee and two committees for the Held in Trust Initiative. Right now my free time is dedicated to exploring Switzerland. When I am at home in the U.S., my husband and I love to cook and cuddle with our adorable French bulldog, Imogene.
How were you first introduced to conservation, and why did you decide to pursue conservation?
I honestly just stumbled upon conservation, and I am so glad that I did! I started my undergraduate career at the Rhode Island School of Design, where I intended to study apparel design. However, I soon realized I wanted to pursue a more interdisciplinary education. I transferred into UD’s fashion merchandising program and was just perusing the university website when I saw that art conservation was a major. I had never heard of art conservation but was immediately fascinated; it seemed like the mix of art, humanities, and creative problem solving that I was looking for. Vicki Cassman, who was the main advisor in the department at the time, met with me and introduced me to the major. She was so incredibly welcoming and helped me switch my major before the semester even started! I guess you can say the rest is history!
Of all specializations, what contributed to your decision to pursue textile conservation?
That was a very tricky decision for me. From the start of my conservation journey, I was very interested in working with anthropology collections. Because those collections are primarily under the stewardship of objects conservators, I initially thought I would specialize in objects. However, I soon realized that anthropology collections are filled with textiles and garments, many of which are overlooked or do not receive specialized care. I was fortunate to have two objects conservators with extensive experience working with textiles as mentors: T. Rose Holdcraft and Nancy Odegaard. Additionally, working with Vicki Cassman as an undergraduate student and Laura Mina and Kate Sahmel as a preprogram intern at Winterthur allowed me to see the amazing range of textile conservation.
When I started graduate school, I was still undecided. Laura Mina kindly introduced me to other textile conservators to gain a better sense of the specialty and its community, and I encourage anyone who is torn between specialties to do the same! Eventually I decided there was more room for professional growth within the field of textile conservation. I love that everyone has a textile they treasure- a childhood stuffed animal, a family quilt, a favorite t-shirt- and I am excited by the opportunities for human connection and community engagement that textiles’ universality brings.
What has been your training pathway? Please list any universities, apprenticeships, technical experience, and any related jobs or hobbies.
I received my undergraduate degrees in Art Conservation and Anthropology with a minor in Art History from the University of Delaware. As an undergraduate student, I completed pre-program internships at the Arizona State Museum, the Peabody Museum at Harvard, and the Paintings Studio and Textile Conservation Lab at Winterthur. I also completed a significant amount of independent work with Debra Hess Norris in photograph conservation and served as a teaching assistant for three different photograph conservation courses. Because I was pursuing fashion design prior to starting at UD, I also completed internships with three different designers, which helped me gain a better understanding of fashion history, as well as textile manufacturing and garment construction.
In addition to those “typical” training experiences, I also sought opportunities to do public outreach and community engagement as much as possible. I led a number of workshops on photograph identification and care, and as a senior I completed a year-long collaborative project with the Lenape Tribe of Delaware studying net-making. While these weren’t treatment experiences, I think they shaped my approach to conservation in equally significant ways.
During my graduate studies, I have interned at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I’ve also sought engagement and outreach opportunities as much as possible to further share my work and the work of conservators with a broader audience.
Are there any particular skills that you feel are important or unique to your discipline?
Sewing is the most obvious skill textile conservators need. However, it is important to remember that textiles are as diverse as objects. In the past year alone, I have encountered leather, glass, metal, paint, and plastic in my treatments, and I have worked with adhesives and painted fills as much as with a needle and thread. Textile conservators, like all conservators, need to be good researchers in order to appropriately treat the range of materials you might encounter. Mount making is also a huge part of textile conservation that many people might not consider. Textiles usually cannot stand on their own, and mounts are often integral to their support and interpretation.
I also think networking and communication skills are not emphasized enough. The field of textile conservation is small, and there are many textile conservators who are not from ANAGPIC programs. I think as textile conservators we need to be willing to look beyond our individual training programs and beyond our specialty to grow and do what is best for the collections we steward and their stakeholders.
What are some of your current projects, research, or interests?
This question could be its own blog post! Let’s start with current projects: I am currently treating a number of Ancient Andean textiles as part of my internship. They are beautiful examples from the Chimu period but were previously restored. My work has involved reversing the restoration, determining the appropriate configuration of the fragments, and mounting for exhibit. It is a privilege to work on such technically impressive textiles, but it is also a heavy responsibility. The majority of Ancient Andean textiles in museum collections are from human burial, so I am continually thinking about the most ethical ways to approach these objects and be respectful of the humans that made and wore them.
Human-centered conservation is a key interest of mine. Whenever possible, I try to engage source communities and stakeholders. I am excited that my collaborative work with the Lenape Tribe of Delaware on Mid-Atlantic fishing nets will be included in the upcoming issue of the Journal of Textile Design Research and Practice. That is one of the things that draws me to textile conservation: we all have textiles around us constantly, and that means our work can and should be made approachable to a wider audience.
That passion has led me into other research areas, such as advocacy and entrepreneurship. I strongly believe that conservators deserve a bigger seat at the table, but many of us, myself included, still need to learn the relevant table manners. This means becoming vocal advocates for our skills and our field as a whole. Conservators can learn immensely from members of the creative economy and cultural and social entrepreneurs in order to make our work more visible. Both of these fields have demonstrated successful community engagement, calculated risk-taking, and self advocacy, and they are ripe for collaboration. Similarly, to better affect change within institutions, I believe it is important to gain a better understanding of institutional structures. To strengthen my own knowledge in this area, while in London at the V&A, I will also complete an independent study on grant-writing and project development with SAM Fundraising Solutions, which specializes in nonprofit fundraising and planning for art conservation and preservation projects. I am excited to explore the intersections of what I am doing at the bench with the skills I develop at SAM.
In your opinion, what is an important research area or need in your specialization?
Surfactants are a big area for further research. As part of my graduate studies, I conducted research on the rinsability of Orvus, the most common textile surfactant in the US, and the effects of its residues. My research suggested that Orvus residues are harmless, which could have positive impacts on the water consumption/environmental sustainability of textile bathing. However, more research is necessary on the many factors that affect rinsability, as well as other surfactants that we should be considering in our treatments.
I would also love to see more research on the conservation of nonwovens. Woven textiles get all of the attention, but nonwoven structures (netting, knitting, crocheting) deserve our love too!
Do you have any advice for prospective emerging conservators who would like to pursue this specialization?
In terms of hand skills, my suggestion is to learn how to sew. You do not need to know how to make perfect reconstructions of 18th-century garments, but learning how to use a needle and thread (and whether or not you actually enjoy it) will be useful!
Also, network! Pre-program internships in textile conservation are rare, so many students may not get exposed to the specialty. However, if you are interested, do not hesitate to reach out to a conservator to learn about their experience, their lab, etc. I think zoom has made people much more open to sharing their work in new ways, and we should all take advantage of that. I would hate to think someone did not specialize in textiles simply because they weren’t within driving distance of a textile conservator.
If you are looking for textile conservators to chat with, please reach out to me and/or the TSG-ECPN liaison (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Also, remember that textiles are everywhere--associated with objects, in libraries and archives, as the support in paintings. Even if you are not able to gain experience with a textile conservator, there are likely opportunities to explore an interest in textiles within other specialties.
What is your favorite textile that you’ve worked on/treated?
This is an unfair question! It’s impossible to pick one. However, I think one of my most visually satisfying treatments was of a stuffed animal dog named “Leonardo.” Leonardo was incredibly well-loved by his owner and had suffered some pretty serious injuries to one of his legs and his tail, as well as extensive losses to the floral prints that covered him in a patchwork. To visually compensate the losses in the prints, I worked with Miriam-Helene Rudd, who is a member of the WUDPAC Class of 2024, to paint mimetic patches for each loss using acrylic paints. It was one of those insanely tedious tasks that people joke about in conservation, but Leonardo looks so much happier now, and I had a blast painting the colorful floral prints. His owner was also thrilled!
The project allowed me to push the boundaries of painted fills for textiles, and it will be presented as part of a talk my classmate Kris Cnossen and I are giving on aesthetic compensation of textiles at ReCH6.