Sussex Area sponsored student Cécilia Duminuco reports on her first year at West Dean College

My first year at West Dean as a Graduate Student has helped me greatly to improve my skills in the Conservation domain. Thanks to NADFAS, who allowed me to follow my studies, I have developed a broad range of competence in the Conservation of Books and Library Materials Department.

From the outset I had the chance to work on historical books, which has helped me to become more familiar with the objects and their structures. West Dean didn’t only help me to expand my knowledge on conservation treatments and practice, but also enabled me to learn the craft of bookbinding. For me, this was a completely new world to explore! Being at West Dean, I have been able to experiment and create my first binding models, starting with sewing models and progressing to completed bindings. At West Dean, I have not only improved my crafts skills and learnt bookbinding, but also paper making and tool making. 

Learning how to make your own tools is an invaluable asset: it gives the conservator the possibility to understand and use his tools in a better and more efficient way when treating historical objects.

Patience, precision, research methods and rigour, professional interactions with other disciplines and understanding of materials in a scientific way, West Dean definitely enabled me to increase and strengthen my expertise.

During my Graduate Diploma, I had to take care of different items of great value. I would like to present some of them and the work that was necessary to conserve the books.

The first item is The Navigation Spiritualized or A New Compass for Seamen, a 19th century book written by John Flavel. This tiny book was a brown full-leather binding, sewn on three cords. When I started to work on it, I quickly realised that the front and the back boards were nearly detached and their attachment was fragile. All board corners were damaged and the leather was worn, fragile and discoloured. Part of the spine leather cover was also missing at the tail, and the upper and the lower parts of the hollow spine liner were also split in two at the tail and partly at the head. The book needed board reinforcement, some consolidations of the leather, cleaning and very careful handling. Using different types of undyed and dyed Japanese paper, adhered with natural and acrylic based adhesives (depending on the areas treated), I consolidated the fragile areas and reinforced the board attachments. A conservation box was also created to ensure the preservation of the book after treatment.

The second item I would like to present is a book written by David Levi, The form of prayers according to the custom of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews: as read in their synagogues, and used in their families. I received this book during a workshop focusing on the conservation of leather: the purpose was to learn more about the material in order to treat it in a better way. The book was a hollow back binding sewn on sunk cords, covered with full black leather on millboards. The book needed board reattachments, both boards were detached. A leather reback was made; the treatment included the preparation of the new leather that will be used: selection of the skin, paring and dying. After treatment, the book can be handled safely by its owner.

During the summer of 2014, I worked as a volunteer at The Tenth Islamic Manuscript Conference: Manuscripts and Conflict in Cambridge for one week (August - September 2014). I assisted the TIMA (The Islamic Manuscripts Association) team with the setup of the conference and I attended all of the lectures at the conference in order to circulate the microphone during the question/answer sessions at the end of each lecture. This volunteering experience also included other tasks such as preparing the stage between conference panels. This work was highly rewarding and allowed me to make professional contacts in the conservation world. During this event, I also realised that West Dean College was a highly known institution and was recognised as a conservation school in the professional world.

The future

The NADFAS funding I have received helped me to secure my Postgraduate year at West Dean College, for which I am deeply grateful. Thanks to NADFAS, I will complete my MA programme at West Dean College, which, I hope, will lead me to find a rewarding work place in the UK or abroad in the conservation of books field.