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Blog from the Basement: How we got into museum work

This month our Collection Services colleagues reflect on how they got into their museum careers.

The routes into museum jobs can be varied—from an early love of history and heritage to stumbling upon it on TV, or from a family connection to a captivating visit to your local museum. Often museum careers involve perseverance, vocation and chance.

Perhaps this post will be your inspiration to work behind the scenes in the heritage sector…

Vanessa Torres, Conservator

Vanessa sits at her workbench in the conservation lab
Vanessa Torres

Growing up, I had a great eye for detail, I loved looking very closely at things and trying to find out how they were made. One of my favourite pastimes was mixing several cleaning products in a small bowl and cleaning my toys using this mixture with a cotton bud (I know!).

At 15 years old, I watched a documentary about the restoration of the Sistine Chapel which changed the course of my life. I was struck and knew immediately I had found what I wanted to be. From that moment I was determined to become a conservator.

As soon as I could I went to university to study conservation. I completed a degree in Conservation and Restoration followed by a master’s degree with a specialisation in Paper Conservation; both in Portugal, where I am from.

Before joining the National Science and Media Musuem in 2013—and subsequently finding my passion for the conservation of photographic material—I worked, interned and volunteered in the paper conservation and heritage sectors in Spain, Italy and Portugal. I am delighted I pursued my dream—conservation is the perfect mix of art, science, attention to detail and it certainly fulfils my love of keeping things tidy and clean!

Eleanor Durrant, Conservator

Eleanor leans over a large animation set
Eleanor Durrant

I joined the museum in December 2022, having completed my master’s degree in Conservation Practice from Cardiff University. Only a few years earlier, I hadn’t even heard of conservation, I just knew that I wanted a career in history, and I wanted to work with my hands. I was volunteering with the National Trust when I first learnt what a conservator was, and that I could study to become one—and at the same time spending my weekends as a medieval re-enactor. Researching medieval embroidery techniques and studying surviving garments sparked something in me, leading to a drive to become someone who looks after historic objects so more people like me can enjoy and learn from them. Not long after this, I applied to do my master’s and found myself watching Secrets of the Museum on television, which confirmed that conservation was definitely the path for me.

Rebecca Marrows, Conservation and Collections Care Manager

Rebecca stands on grand carpeted stairs wtih two other people, all wearing white overalls
Rebecca Marrows (far right). Photo credit: Bernard Watson Decorators

I’m Rebecca and I am the Conservation and Collection Care Manager at the National Science and Media Museum (NSMM) that’s part of the Science Museum Group (SMG).

My journey into conservation started young. Growing up, my grandad had a painting and decorating business. However, they didn’t just paint schools and houses like most. The company was established in 1878, and nearly 150 years later it has a long history working on specialist heritage and ecclesiastical buildings. Being a small family-run company, my brother and I were often roped in to help whenever not at school—whether that was hand drawing and cutting stencils out, to working on scaffolding or general office tasks.

Through being exposed to restoration, when at college I knew I wanted to do something practical and involving art. I stumbled across Conservation and Restoration degree courses, and the rest is history.

Since then, I have been fortunate to work as a Conservator across the country, from freelancing to working in museums and the heritage sector before working my way up to where I am now. I have been very fortunate to work with all types of objects, from ship plans to aircraft and medals, and working with film and television objects including props here at NSMM.

I guess I better thank my family for making me work all those long half terms and summer holidays growing up.

Hannah Brignell, Senior Collections Services Project Manager

Hannah carefully lifts an object into a glass display case
Hannah Brignell

I have always been a creative person and from being young had a love of art and history. I studied Fine Art at Northumbria University where I specialised in printmaking along with photography. As part of the course, we curated our own final exhibition, which sparked a desire to explore the museums sector. I then took up an MA in Museums Studies at Newcastle University focusing on curatorship.

During my MA I was luckily enough to get a placement at Museums Sheffield, where I found my passion for working with collections. After graduating I returned to Sheffield where I worked at Museums Sheffield as well as University of Sheffield. I worked on various projects including documentation of the works on paper and metalwork collection. I later took on the role of Curator across Visual Art, Social History and the Ruskin Collection as various maternity covers. During this time, I carried out research, curated temporary exhibitions and contributed to the re-display of the permanent galleries.

In 2017, I started working at the Science Museum Group, first as maternity cover for Registrar, before moving onto become the Collections Review Manager where I developed a programme of collections reviews. In my current role as Senior Collections Services Project Manager, I get to work on some amazing projects and work with our wonderful collection, from the small typography collections to the supersized aircraft. I feel very lucky to work in a career that follows my passions.

Ruth Clapham, Assistant Registrar

Ruth is a white woman with brown hair and a big smile
Ruth Clapham

I wanted to work in a museum as a child, but forgot about this until I was finishing my undergraduate degree in Sociology with History and didn’t want to leave formal education. I planned to do a law conversion until I saw a master’s in Art Gallery and Museum Studies at the University of Manchester which seemed like a great idea! After I finished this I still didn’t have a clue what part of a museum I wanted to work in, until I started an internship at North Lincolnshire Museum with their collections team. I looked up and down the country for more opportunities, until I came across an advert for an Assistant Registrar at the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester. Being completely honest, I had no idea what this job was, but I thought I might as well apply! Even on my first day I wasn’t sure what I would be doing, but 7.5 years later I’m still here and I love it.

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