PROFILES IN HERITAGE: Anne Bancroft, A Caribbean Conservator in London

"As a region with limited resources we are best served when we pool our resources and expertise." -- Anne Bancroft 

Anne Bancroft is a Senior Book & Paper Conservator at the V&A Museum, London and the Arts Director of the Shang Shung Institute UK. She has a MA in Buddhist Art History and Conservation from the Courtuald Institute of Art, a Masters in Conservation from Camberwell College of Arts and a Bachelors of Fine Arts from Barbados Community College.  Anne has worked as a conservator, collection care and conservation consultant for institutions in  Barbados, St. Kitts and Nevis India, Italy and London. She has an interest in collection care in tropical environments.  Anne has been a guest lecturer on The UWI Heritage Studies Course, on the Courtauld’s Buddhist Art History and Conservation MA as well lead Workshops for ICOM Barbados. Anne delivers training on collection care topics at the V&A. She has worked as a conservator at the Wellcome Collection, Lambeth Palace Library, The London Metropolitan Archives, and The Tate Britain. As well as an Art Cataloguer for the Barbados Ministry of Culture’s National Art Gallery Project. She was an assessor for ICON accreditation candidates and her main areas of research are conservation of sacred objects and Buddhist thangkas.

The CHN is pleased to bring you an interview with Anne Bancroft. She is passionate about developing a culture of conservation in the Caribbean. Anne is an advisor for the upcoming Caribbean Conversations in Conservation Conference, March 16-19, 2020 in Barbados. 

1. What is your current position and what is your academic background?

My current position is as a Senior Book & Paper Conservator at the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum as well as work as a Conservation/Preservation Consultant. I hold a Bachelors of Fine Art from the Barbados Community College (BCC), a Master’s in Art Conservation from Camberwell College of Arts and a Master’s in Buddhist Art History & Conservation from The Courtauld Institute of Art. I was awarded a scholarship for both Masters degrees.  

2. How did you become interested in Conservation?

The interest in conservation began during my undergraduate studies in Fine Art. I was considering either Art Therapy or Art Conservation when a conservator who worked on the Sistine Chapel gave a lecture at my college and I thought it could be a fulfilling and amazing career. The choice was further influenced by my awareness that in Barbados, our art heritage was at risk and as a country, had no place to house the National Art Collection. I had the opportunity to work alongside Conservators from Puerto Rico on a National Art Gallery Project that catalogued our national collection. Observing the work of the regional conservators was utterly inspiring.  

3. Is it an area of study that you would recommend to students in the Caribbean? Who do you think would be best suited to this area of study?

It is crucial for the preservation of our heritage that people in the Caribbean have professional formal training in conservation. I would stress that Collection Care is of the upmost importance. However, it needs also to be emphasised that there is limited value in training people if they are then not able to put the acquired skills into practice. There is a need to expand employment opportunities, possibly creating a regional conservation entity. I believe persons best suited for this specialist work are those with the right temperament, that is, having patience and are disciplined enough to undertake repetitive tasks with precision. It is essential to have hand or manual skills and develop or have an interest in applied chemistry.  

4. You were born and raised in Barbados, but why have you chosen to live and work in the United Kingdom?

Although committed to the Caribbean, I have lived in London for eighteen years as a result of there not being any employment opportunities in my field of collection care or conservation in Barbados that I could consider.  

5. Do you retain professional connections to the Caribbean? Is maintaining this link important to you? Why? Is maintaining this link important to you? Why?

I retain my professional connections in the Caribbean. My involvement has been mainly in Barbados and St .Kitts and Nevis. This is an important link for me because I am of the Caribbean and truly Bajan. I appreciate the fact that our material cultural and heritage are at risk as well as the extent of the risk. There is valuable evidence and artefacts of our heritage that need to be cared for and professionally preserved by the people who have the appropriate training. I received a National Development Scholarship through the Barbados Government, which, afforded me the opportunity to train professionally. I feel I have a duty of care to work for my country and my region. I think it is important to share my acquired skills and training with colleagues at home. I have also championed conservation students from the Caribbean to intern at the V&A so as many of us as possible can have the opportunity to gain real life experience working alongside experts in the profession.  

6. What projects have you worked on and which ones were your favorite (and why)?

I have had the privilege to work on a very wide variety of objects and collections including: in Barbados, collections selected for the British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme; the Richard B. Moore Collection at The UWI and the Shilstone Manuscripts at the Barbados Museum and Historical Society. In addition, I worked on collections from the London Metropolitan Archives; Medieval documents from the Muniment Collection at Westminster Abbey; a collection of Turner’s drawings held at the Tate Britain; Buddhist painted cloths from private collections and the V&A; Crick and Watson DNA documents at the Wellcome Collection and personal documents of Sigmund Freud from the Freud Museum. My favourites include the Stipendiary Magistrate’s records from St.Kitts and Nevis because of how important it is to have this evidence preserved. It was a challenging conservation assignment. I also did a Matisse print of the “Blue Nude” series is beautiful, but again presented challenges with getting the correct tone when in-painting. I also conserved some Turner watercolour sketches of Venice as they were masterful and required the delicate removal of a lining of paper. I did a survey on the Richard Allsopp Archive at the Federal Archives at UWI because the content was incredible providing a glimpse into the vast research undertaken to prepare the Dictionary of Caribbean English Usage. Another favourite is the Certificate giving a Buddhist Rinpoche the title of Dharma King from His Holiness the 16th Karmapa.  

7. In your opinion, what are the greatest challenges to conservation in the Caribbean?

Creating employment opportunities in the profession, professional training, access to resources for conservation, professional development and the impact of the tropical climate - in that order.

8. Where would you like to see strategic investments made in archival conservation in the region?

I have had extensive discussions with colleagues in the region on the need for a proper scoping survey of the condition of our collections and the conservation needs - as well as a Caribbean Consortium or a Centre of Excellence. As a region with limited resources we are best served when we pool our resources and expertise.  

9. Could you explain why the conservation of documents is not the same as digitization?

The documents are the original - they are the evidence. Digitisation just captures an image of the object. Conservation and preservation stabilises the original for this and future generations. Personally it is like having a nice poster of an original painting from Picasso, it is great in that it makes it more accessible, but it is not the same. Digitisation is important as it reduces the need to ‘handle’ the original which is precious. It is important to note that in many cases one needs to do first aid conservation treatment on an object so it can go through the digitisation process.   10. If there were one document or artefact in the world that you would wish to work on, which would it be and why? While no specific artefact comes to mind it would have to one of Buddhist origin or from Barbados as both these areas are precious to me.

10. If there were one document or artefact in the world that you would wish to work on, which would it be and why?

While no specific artefact comes to mind it would have to one of Buddhist origin or from Barbados as both these areas are precious to me.

Watch the work Anne and her colleague Nerys Rudder have completed on the St. Kitts Stipendiary Magistrates Records. Video courtesy of The Blue Road (Heritage Conservation and Collections Management Consultancy).