Christmas lights? No, raking lights! Get to know private conservator Caroline Bendix.
Who are you and what do you do?
Caroline Bendix. I am a freelance library conservator, working across the UK and, occasionally, abroad on all aspects of book care in-situ, whether the environment, preventive conservation, conservation, surveys, display or salvage. I am the National Trust’s advisor on libraries conservation, the Arts Society trainer for heritage volunteers working on library projects and I work for a wide range of historic libraries, whether institutional or private. I also lecture and teach widely.
If not conservation/preservation, what?
I think I’d like to have been a river bailiff.
Describe your current project.
I have many projects on the go simultaneously but am just about to finish a five-year project to stabilize all 11,000 books at Sissinghurst Castle. The project was short-listed for Icon’s Conservation in the Community award. It has been challenging but much appreciated by visitors to Sissinghurst, and I have learned much from it.
Pinny or white lab coat?
Tell us about your most memorable project, for better or for worse.
Packing up the library at St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai. It was a great honour to be asked to do the project; but it was very challenging to work in a Greek Orthodox monastery in a desert, so planning was key. I worked with a team of incredible conservators who adapted quickly and cheerfully to the changes of plan that were necessitated by local conditions, e.g. the non-arrival of materials and equipment ordered many weeks in advance. We brought the project in on time and on budget.
Bone or Teflon?
How do you preserve/conserve yourself?
I’ve finally stopped working at weekends, and I now take the occasional afternoon off to sit and read or go for a walk if I feel I’m getting too tired.
What do you think is underestimated in conservation?
The enormous generosity of conservators with their time and knowledge.
Hands-down best course you have attended?
Difficult to say, but the Museum of London’s course on “Understanding display cases” last December was excellent and incredibly helpful.
What would you write on your conservation gravestone?
Who’s coming to dinner (three, living or dead) and what would be on the menu?
Jesus, Horace and Gertrude Bell. Assuming they are omnivores, a lightly poached salmon, prawn and cod sausage with Martini and butter sauce, fillet of beef with gratin dauphinois, fine green beans and broccoli spears, followed by a Grand Marnier sorbet.
The gloves: on or off?
If you could give just one piece of advice to a new conservator, what would it be?
Learn to interpret what the object is telling you about itself.
What are your hopes and fears for the future of conservation?
I hope conservation continues to be recognized for the essential work that it is and that politics don’t get in the way of common sense.