40th anniversary of the founding of the Textile Conservation Centre

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by Frances Lennard, Senior Lecturer in Textile Conservation.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Textile Conservation Centre (TCC) by Karen Finch OBE – an excellent opportunity to reflect on four decades of textile conservation education in the UK.

Karen was a pioneering textile conservator.  After working at the V&A she established a thriving textile conservation practice at her home in London, where she trained many aspiring textile conservators from around the world.  Such was the demand for training places that, with great foresight, Karen realised a formal education programme was needed.   Thanks to her own determination and the support of very many individuals and organisations, Karen established the TCC in Grace and Favour apartments at Hampton Court Palace and was Principal until her retirement in 1986. The TCC’s teaching team offered the Postgraduate Diploma in Textile Conservation, which was validated by the Courtauld Institute of Art, and its team of conservators provided a textile conservation service to a huge range of private and institutional clients.

After Karen’s retirement the TCC teaching and research continued to develop strongly, thanks to the huge dedication of its staff, and its international reputation grew significantly as a result.  The TCC moved to the University of Southampton in 1999 where these developments continued: the TCC made great strides in developing research (a highlight being the AHRC Research Centres grant secured by Dinah Eastop for the Centre), developed a revised MA programme in textile conservation and a new MA in museum studies. Many hundreds of textile conservators now working in over 30 countries received their training at the TCC, and many significant and important textiles were treated by the Centre’s specialist conservation staff. For more information see the Textile Conservation Centre website.

The TCC was closed by the University in 2009; although there was huge international concern at the time, in fact this turned out to be surprisingly fortuitous.  With foresight rivalling Karen’s own, the University of Glasgow established the Centre for Textile Conservation (CTC) as the successor to the TCC.  The TCC’s supporting charity, the Textile Conservation Foundation, gave all of the TCC’s intellectual property, equipment and library to the University of Glasgow to make this exciting new development possible.  The move to Scotland and to Glasgow has proved to be a resounding success. The CTC has had fantastic support from the heritage sector in Scotland and works very closely with the University’s own Hunterian and with Glasgow Museums, in particular. All graduates of the Glasgow programme are employed and Frances Lennard, the Centre’s Senior Lecturer, recently secured nearly £1.2m in research grants.

To mark the 40th anniversary the Textile Conservation Foundation has established a new Karen Finch Prize awarded annually to an outstanding student and has also augmented the Karen Finch Bursary, that has been awarded in honour of Karen for some years.  These will benefit textile conservation students for generations to come and reflect Karen’s great concern for her own students.

Clare Meredith, Chairman of the Textile Conservation Foundation, Nell Hoare of the TCF and Frances Lennard from the CTC recently visited Karen to celebrate the anniversary.  They presented Karen with a commemorative album to mark the occasion, which included images and reminiscences from Karen’s former students and colleagues. We also gave her a card signed by current staff, students and trustees of the CTC, and by former students and colleagues attending the Icon Textile Group meeting in April 2015. Fiona Wain, first ever winner of the Karen Finch Prize, was presented with her certificate by Karen and Geraldine Sim, the current holder of the Karen Finch Bursary, also joined the celebration.

Karen Finch was instrumental in developing the modern discipline that is textile conservation: a huge contribution to the sector that is perpetuated by many hundreds of textile conservators around the world. Textile conservation continues to be a dynamic discipline, in no small measure as a result of the foundations laid by Karen Finch forty years ago.



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