November 2015 | Fiona Karn-Smith

Kimberly Reczek is an arts conservator from DBR Conservation, who specialises in historic decorative surfaces. Her projects at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich range from the conservation and gilding of the 19th century lanterns, to the cleaning and consolidation of the carved stone architectural ornament and sculptures.

Arts Conservator Kimberly reczek conserving one of our historic lanterns. 

How did you become a conservator?

“It was a pretty circuitous route. I actually came to art conservation after years of working in the Balkans, which at that time was a war-torn region. My work there started with basic humanitarian assistance for refugees, and then evolved to more diplomatic work with government bodies, implementing peace accords. I wore many professional 'hats', and I was perhaps a bit exhausted after 12 years. I think I turned to conservation because I felt the need for one focus, and I wanted it to be craft based. Also I had witnessed the destruction of so many wonderful monuments and buildings, so it was a natural path for me.”

What are the key abilities you need to carry out this work?

“The key is to be curious, about everything. You need to read about the arts, history and ethics, with the same interest as you read about chemistry and material science. The more you learn, the more tools you have to help the object you are working on. And for the type of conservation I do, you also need to be physically robust, climbing scaffolds with loaded buckets for example, as well as capable of great delicacy, such as when you are cleaning fragile polychromy.”

Some of the key abilities you need as a conservator, to be physically robust

What tools do you use?

“Just about everything, chemicals, microscopes, rabbit skin, gold, hoovers, pigments, brushes, pulverised fuel ash, dental tools, drills, lasers. We’ve been using a laser while cleaning the Nelson Pediment and the difference in time and appearance is amazing.”

An example of some of the tools Kimberly uses when gilding.

What was your most exciting project?

“Building a museum in a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Gjirokastra in Albania. It was a privilege, especially as the team was small, and the task was huge. It meant we needed to muck in and be part of everything... from fundraising, to curating objects, to researching oral histories, to commissioning artwork, to constructing display cases, to writing text, designing interpretive panels, and of course, to conserving the ethnic costumes, Ottoman firearms and archaeological objects.”

Gjirokastra in Albania, where Kimberly worked.

What is the most interesting building you’ve worked on?

“Working with DBR I recently had the chance to be a part of an amazing project conserving the carvings of Westminster Hall. Not only was it a treat to spend so much time so high up in such an important vaulted space, the close-up access allowed me to study the carvings. I found it fascinating how they, both the Victorian replacements, and the original medieval pieces, reflected the politics of the times. The great roof was still being completed at the time of Richard II’s deposition, and at this time you see a real shift in the depiction of his carved regal emblems; the white hart, for example, the reoccurring motif within the Hall and an unquestioned stamp of his authority, suddenly appears being attacked by falcons, dogs, or carted away on small wagons.”

Westminster Hall, where Kimberly had the chance to conserve the carvings.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years time? 

“I so enjoy working in London... It is simply one of the great cities of the world, and my job here offers incomparable access to some of the most important buildings and fantastic networks of people. But in ten years’ time, I do want to use what I have learned here to return to international work, especially in areas affected by conflict.”

Many thanks to Kimberly and DBR London Limited. 

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