Under Raking Light: Kristine Rose-Beers

Ireland might have one of the lowest levels of sunshine hours in Europe, but you’ll be positively flooded with golden rays from our latest profile, direct from Dublin.

Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Kristine Rose-Beers, and I’m the Head of Conservation at the Chester Beatty, Dublin. I trained at Camberwell College of Arts and have worked in the UK and Ireland since I graduated from the BA Conservation programme. I specialise in the conservation of Islamic manuscript material, and work with the Chester Beatty conservation team to ensure that the collections are safely preserved for research, display, and posterity! I am lucky to be surrounded by an incredibly diverse collection at the Chester Beatty, so I can indulge my love for early bindings and Islamic manuscripts.

If not conservation/preservation, what?
Forensics. It was the only other career I really considered, and I feel fortunate that elements of it come into conservation work.

© Kristine Rose-Beers

Describe your current project.
Inevitably, Covid-19 has rather put a dampener on things in the lab, but I’m looking forward to getting back to work on some of our earliest codices in advance of the exhibition, First Fragments: the Chester Beatty Biblical Papyri (opening in 2022), which will include CBL BP XXI. This codex is formed of papyrus quires which need some delicate repairs to stabilise them.

Bone or Teflon?
Both! In lots of different shapes and sizes.

How do you preserve/conserve yourself?
At the moment, walks in Dublin’s Phoenix Park and FaceTime chats with loved ones are keeping me sane. I am keeping a watchful eye on wildlife in and over my garden. In particular I am loving the sound of Brent Geese flying over on their daily journeys to and from their feeding grounds while they overwinter on Dublin Bay.

What piece(s) of equipment would you buy first in your new dream studio?
A sturdy, height-adjustable bench.

What do you think is an apt anthem for conservation – you can choose any piece of music?
Bo Diddley, ‘You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover.’ It’s a well-worn cliché for book conservators, and it’s very catchy.

Hands-down best course you have attended?
Without question, every class I’ve attended in Montefiascone has been wonderful, but if I had to choose only one it would be the first time I took Cheryl Porter’s Medieval palette class in Summer 2000. It was such an interesting class, and the wealth of information Cheryl shared continues to be relevant to my conservation practice, more than 20 years later! I loved how the class blended practical and theoretical elements. Participants came from around the world, which brought so many experiences and perspectives to the table. It was a formative experience for me.

Who’s coming to dinner (three, living or dead) and what would be on the menu?
Chester Beatty, the binder of the St Cuthbert Gospel, and Berthe Van Regemorter. We’re having an Italian feast of fiori di zucca and bruschetta al pomodoro, then spaghetti alle vongole, followed by panna cotta. I hope they’ll like it.

If you could give just one piece of advice to a new conservator, what would it be?
Ask questions. Conservation is an increasingly competitive field, but if you love it, you will work hard, make the contacts, and gain the experience you need to succeed. You’ll probably also make some amazing friends. By asking questions and learning more, you’ll put yourself in a stronger place to move forward. It’s tough, and I know that it can be morally and financially exhausting to get into conservation, but our profession needs you!

What is your favourite museum, library or archive and why?
It’s usually whichever one I visited most recently. At the moment, that’s the Irish Museum of Modern Art. They had an amazing exhibition of work by Paula Rego last year. When we’re able to travel again, I’d love to go the Casa das Histórias Paula Rego, just outside of Lisbon.

If you could go back in time, what year would you travel to?
This is so difficult! If I can time-travel, please can I also have invisibility and the ability to teleport? If so, I think I’d like to go back to c.700 so that I can call in on parchment makers, scriptoria, and binderies in Northumbria, Fustat, Palermo, Damascus, Kairouan and Sana’a.

What are your hopes and fears for the future of conservation?
I am very hopeful that conservation is gaining the recognition it deserves from our peers in cultural heritage and academia. The increasing popularity of inter-disciplinary material studies speaks to this, and conservators have much to contribute. However, I am fearful that getting into conservation is becoming increasingly expensive—and therefore inaccessible—to would-be conservators. I don’t think I would have been able to become a conservator if there had not been reasonably affordable undergraduate training available to me.

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