Or rather, who is Kyle’s Daddy? We don’t know.
There is the perception that conservation is reserved for ancient museum artefacts, but the truth is, conservation is done on a wide range of objects, including modern ones. For my high-fired ceramic project, I worked on a modern, rather mundane-looking coffee mug. It was probably made in a factory somewhere with millions of other coffee mugs just like it. This coffee mug ended up being decorated specifically to commemorate someone’s first Father’s Day.
At some point the mug was damaged and made its way to the UCL IoA conservation lab. As a student interested in taking on more complex projects later in the year, I chose this mug to start on. Another thing about conservation: you cannot necessarily tell how long a project will take until you start. Some objects that look complicated, end up being a breeze, and then there are objects that are deceptively simple-looking. This mug ended up being the latter.
There are times when an object does not have an owner or caretaker—a person that makes decisions on its care. Much of what is done by a conservator is based on the what the owner of the object wants done to it. So what happens when an object doesn’t have anybody? Well, you do the best you can. I had many discussions with Dean, the course coordinator for the MSc programme, about what would be best for the object and me, as a conservation student. As most of the pieces were available, it was decided that cleaning and reconstruction would be the best route. While I endeavoured to maintain some of the ‘evidence of use’, it didn’t always turn out the way we had anticipated.
The mug was very, very dirty; with soiling embedded deep into the ceramic substrate. Cleaning the mug took months of soaking and many runs under the steam cleaner to pull all of the soiling through the ceramic. It turned into a particularly arduous task. By the time I put it back together, I actually had not realized how successful I was in the cleaning. Before, all the fragments were different shades of brown, and now that are a continuous shade of light beige or off-white.
On a personal note, one of the reasons I chose this mug is because a few years ago I made a Father’s Day mug for my dad. Obviously, I was much older than Kyle when I made my mug, but the decoration is similar. I applied hand prints that look like they are cradling the mug in my hands and I put a similar “I ❤ DAD” motif.
If you recognise this mug and have any information as to who it may belong to please contact Dean Sully at firstname.lastname@example.org.