Real World Insight

Michelle Derrick cleaning a Chinese temple carving

Michelle Derrick cleaning a Chinese temple carving from the Gold Museum collection

Deakin University student Michelle Derrick writes about her recent internship at the Gold Museum.

As part of the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI) internship program, I was fortunate to take part in a paid collections and curatorial internship at the Gold Museum. For two days per week over eight weeks, I worked within two main project areas: collections management and exhibitions.

With guidance from the Museum’s Collections Manager, Liz Marsden, I audited and re-housed objects from the Arnott-Rogers collection. George Arnott and Robina Rogers were missionaries in Sichuan, China during the late 1900s. The couple collected Chinese artwork, textiles and household objects. It is a large collection comprising ceramics, paper, photographs, metals and textiles.

Wooden letter opener, Arnott-Rogers collection (Gold Museum collection, 84.1933)

I must admit, when I first saw the number of cabinets with boxes full of objects I was a little daunted! This soon gave way to pure enjoyment as I began opening boxes and carefully unwrapping the beautiful objects within, never knowing what I would find next. Many a photograph was taken for the Museum’s social media so we could share collection highlights!

For each object I assessed its condition, updated and enriched the database record, threw away old tissue paper and attached a new label. As an alternative to layering objects on top of one another in boxes, we made partitioned trays from corrugated blue/grey board to allow for easier identification and retrieval of objects in the future.

The Arnott-Rogers project highlighted the challenges of balancing the best methods of preventive conservation and storage, with limited resources and space. As a mentor, Liz taught me the importance of resourcefulness and how a little imagination goes a long way towards overcoming these challenges.

I was also involved in preparations for the Museum’s exhibition Re-Awakening the Dragon, which showcases the Museum’s 19th century Chinese processional and temple collections.

I assisted with the conservation cleaning of wooden carvings and ceremonial items, including Loong, one of Australia’s oldest Chinese processional dragon heads.

Ballarat’s Chinese dragon (Loong), circa 1897, (Ballarat Historical Society collection, 78.2620)

Other tasks included meticulously untangling tassels on processional textiles, dressing mannequins and assisting with the display of items in the gallery. This project taught me valuable conservation cleaning techniques and preventive conservation for objects and textiles on display.

In addition to hands-on learning, we had the opportunity to observe one of the Museum’s monthly acquisitions meetings. This gave real world insight into the processes and considerations involved in assessing objects for acquisition.

Throughout the internship, we had the opportunity to ask questions and engage with Museum staff, and for that I thank Senior Curator Michelle Smith, Curator Snjez Cosic and Collections Manager Liz Marsden, for sharing their experiences and offering us valuable advice.

Overall, this internship has been an invaluable experience. Through hands-on participation, observation and opportunities for discussion, I have gained valuable insight and experience in collections management, exhibitions and preventive conservation.

A big thank you to VCCI and Deakin University for supporting this internship. Opportunities for paid internships in the museum industry are few and far between, which makes this initiative all the more important.

Written by Michelle Derrick, Graduate Certificate of Museum Studies student at Deakin University.

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