Conservator (Furniture, Frames and Decorative Objects), Knole
At Judy Wetherall’s all-girls school securing a place at Oxford or Cambridge University was the ultimate goal, but Judy had different plans - to be a wood carver. Her grandfather was a cabinet maker and as a child she spent hours in his workshop.
Judy studied conservation at the City and Guilds of London Art School and, following periods in Italy and Germany as a Churchill Fellow, she set up her own conservation studio in 1977.
She has since worked for some of the UK’s most prestigious institutions including National Museums and Galleries, the Globe Theatre, English Heritage, Guildhall Art Gallery and Royal Collection Trust as well as for a number of churches, cathedrals and for private clients.
She joined Knole last year and also lectures part-time at West Dean College in Sussex and works as a freelance conservator for the National Trust at Chartwell, the home of Sir Winston Churchill. There she has been responsible for framing the former prime minister’s extensive collection of his own artwork.
Judy’s specialty is gilded, painted and japanned surfaces – an area of conservation she maintains chose her – as just before she graduated in the mid 1970s a petrol bomb was thrown through a ground floor window of the ornate Brighton Pavilion resulting in extensive fire damage. The Pavilion needed a gilder and Judy began her career in conservation there.
Working on gilded and painted furniture and frames forms a substantial part of Judy’s job at Knole, but she also works on other objects. Her first task was to oversee the conservation of the seventeenth and eighteenth century furniture and frames taken from the Ballroom while it was being renovated.
She treated the gilded wooden pieces to reflect the display period of the house, the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, consolidating flaking gilding and cleaning surfaces.
Judy is also working on a set of six seventeenth century carved and gilded stools possibly from a royal French maker. Her research shows they would have originally been black and gold with a fine form of burnished gilding giving a beautiful sparkly finish.
Over the years the decoration of the stools has been changed including some questionable work in the 1960s which Judy hopes to remove, although she stresses it is vital for a conservator to be objective and appreciate all treatments as part of the object’s history.