A day in the life of a National Trust Conservator

Emma Schmuecker, a senior objects conservator at the National Trust, who also manages the conservation studio at Knole in Kent, talks us through her day

Emma Schmuecker, a senior objects conservator at the National Trust

‘My day starts with my two children pestering me to get out of bed. After breakfast, I leave our home in Crystal Palace and catch a train to Sevenoaks in Kent. The journey is about an hour – I switch off and look out of the window as city gives way to countryside. It takes half an hour to walk from the station at Sevenoaks to Knole. I love walking into the park, through the trees, admiring the dewdrops on the long grasses, and the deer, as I come up to the house.’

‘I arrive at the conservation studio at 9am. It’s in an enormous medieval barn. The doors are huge – two storeys high. Every time I pull these doors open, I think, ‘Wow, this whole barn is our responsibility’. It’s a wonderful feeling to enter the building and look at what we’re working on. The pieces are incredibly significant, whether in monetary value or the memories, history and people they represent.The barn itself is an amazingly designed architectural space.’

I arrive at the conservation studio at 9am. It’s a wonderful feeling to enter the building and look at what we’re working on.

‘By 9.30am the other conservators have arrived (there are five of us) and we chat about the day ahead. I then resume my work on an Imari vase from Knole. I specialise in metals conservation and, at the moment, I’m working on ormolu mounts (fire gilded brass or bronze) on several decorative objects from Hinton Ampner in Hampshire and this Imari vase from Knole house. The team from Hinton Ampner requested their pieces to be cleaned to quite a high level, while the Knole team don’t want the Imari vase to be too shiny, as it would clash with the faded grandeur of the property.’

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‘The mounts on the 18th-century Japanese export Imari vase are quite grubby with ingrained dirt and copper corrosion sitting over the gold. Under a microscope I can see there is quite a lot of gold left beneath the dirt, so I start to remove the grime. I’m careful not to remove too much. Over my shoulder in the studio there’s a Chinese screen from nearby Ightham Mote, a huge picture frame from Petworth, some tiny cockerel ornaments from Nuffield Place in Oxfordshire and a set of furniture from Monk’s House in Sussex, Virginia Woolf’s country retreat.’

Witley Court

‘Shortly before 11am the volunteers come in to open the studio for the public. At lunch I take a walk through the deer park. I pause to look at the giant oaks; a deer trots out and gives me a fright. I return to the studio and sit down to write some progress reports and arrange trips to other properties to advise on what needs conserving. It’s not all about conservation, it’s also about how best to tell the story of an object.’

‘I finish my day standing with colleagues around a tiny alabaster tea set from the doll’s house at Nostell Priory, West Yorkshire, discussing treatment options before donning a head torch, locking up and tramping to the train station as the light falls.’

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