Paper conservation in action

A close up of a paper conservator working on a book
Published : 01 Aug 2017 Last update : 12 Sep 2017

The floods which affected Blickling so badly in 2002 brought many book conservators together from across the country, to help salvage the collection. Fifteen years later, this work still continues. During September, we’ll be holding a pop-up studio in the Long Gallery with local paper conservator Deborah Willis, to demonstrate the work we're doing on each damaged book.

11 - 29 September

Watching a paper conservator in action, it may look like a straight forward task, removing water stains and hardened dirt from books, however, the work is far more complex.  Every book is different, from its age and state, to the weight and texture of paper used and the severity of stains.

Before any work can be started, a thorough examination of the book has to be carried out, as well as a test area to see how the paper behaves, so the most suitable method can be used to effectively remove the stain.

The process

The surface dirt is removed with a brush and special eraser before the wet treatment can begin.  The textblock is protected on either side of the page being treated, to ensure that it does not get wet.  Deborah then has to work delicately but quickly to wet the selected page and draw out as much of the stain as possible, using blotting paper.

On average around four pages of a book can have the rinsing treatment per hour, but that can vary.  The pages are then air dried before the pages are examined to see if further work needs to be done.

A career in conservation

Deborah’s career started in the 1980s, when after studying paper conservation at Camberwell, she secured an internship as an assistant to an independent conservator.

After gaining several years’ experience, she set up her own workshop in London, with clients including art dealers, museums and galleries, specialising in art on paper.

Having moved to Norfolk around 14 years ago, Deborah now works with private clients, galleries and a variety of National Trust properties including Felbrigg, Oxburgh and Blickling.

We’re looking forward to having Debbie and team on board for these sessions for the second year running.  Debbie will be working in the Long Gallery Monday - Wednesday each week, however, the paper conservation pop-up studio will run from 11 - 29 September, Monday - Friday (12 - 5pm).  There will be someone on hand to answer your questions each day and you're very welcome to ask about the work the team are doing.