A conversation with a conservator

When I “grow up,” I hope I have as much passion for my job as one of my supervisors, Janene van Wyk. Janene works as an assistant conservator at Iziko’s Social History Centre — but she didn’t always know she wanted this career in conservation. It was by chance that Janene was introduced to this line of work. She first got a job at an Iziko museum as an attendant, spending much of her time cleaning galleries. But as she went about her daily tasks, she found herself intrigued by the work of the conservator who would often stop by. She began to ask questions about this conservator’s work, and soon, she had found her calling.

Q: How did you get into the museum field and start working at Iziko Museums?

A: “I started being a, as you would say, a contract worker at the South African Museum. I was introduced to the museum by a friend. I was unemployed actually — I was unemployed, and then I was introduced to a contract worker at the museum. Later on, I moved to the William Fehr Collection, which is at the Castle (of Good Hope), and it’s there where I had the interest of the collections. And then there was a job opening at the Social History Collection, and then I applied, and that’s my journey to Social History.”

Q: What initially interested you about conservation, and what is your education background in this area?

A: “I did (study) information science, but I dropped then due to personal reasons. I think history is a strong point — I love history. And when I started at the William Fehr Collections — because at the South African Museum you don’t have open collections on open display, everything is behind glass — so then, (when) I started at the William Fehr Collections, there I could see the collections. We did housekeeping every day, and then the conservator would pop in, and I would ask her questions about the collections and why shouldn’t you touch and all these questions, and then she would always take time in teaching me some conservation issues, and then my interest in conservation started.”

Q: What are some of the successes and some of the challenges of your work?

A: “I think every exhibition it’s for me important. That’s what I like the most about my job — being a part of the whole exhibition, working with the collections, until the end of seeing that the exhibition is completed. (The challenge is) too much work!”

Q: What is your hope for the future of your career in conservation?

A: “I would want more training in conservation. I think I will stay here (at Iziko’s Social History Centre).”

Q: What is your advice for students who want a career working in museums?

A: “I would feel that you must know what your interests are first of all — know what your interest are in the museum, and then take it from there. And currently you are on the right path starting your internship with Iziko!”

To me, Janene’s story is a prime example of how passion can lead to a fulfilling career. Janene said she leaves the office feeling rewarded by her work in some way each and every day. It is also encouraging to know that Janene didn’t have her career path figured out right away — she didn’t study museums or conservation at a university after high school. Although I’m sure a degree in museums studies would be beneficial in landing a job and prove useful when working in a museum, it is not necessary for a successful career in this field. Janene is an excellent conservator and because of her love for conservation and hunger for knowledge, was able to learn about the field while on the job. Passion will bring success, no matter what degree you have.

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One thought on “A conversation with a conservator

  1. It’s true and I like that you’ve mentioned “how passion can lead to a fulfilling career”! Great conversation : )

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