Spotlight: “I am a conservator, not a taxidermist”
Lucie Mascord has what some would call “an unusual job”. Icon’s newest trustee is a natural history conservator and her role at Lancashire Conservation Studios was recently the highlight of Wired UK - the popular science and technology magazine.
Lucie has worked closely with Icon since her early days in the field. Having started her career as an anatomist, she moved into conservation through intensive work-based training, undertaking an Icon Internship for the care and conservation of natural history collections based between the Natural History Museum and Lancashire Conservation Studios.
From there, she would go on to work extensively across the heritage sector, with clients such as the National Trust, as well as national and independent museums. These days, Lucie is involved with Icon not just as a trustee but as a PACR assessor - a critical role in assessing conservators on their journey to become accredited.
This wasn’t Lucie’s first feature on the popular science magazine. “I was approached by Vicki Turk, senior editor at Wired UK after she had interviewed me earlier in the year as part of a project I was working on at the Grant Museum of Zoology. Wired UK were looking to start a series of short films about people with interesting jobs, and my job seemed to fit the bill,” she said.
Lucie’s profile attracted more than 3,000 visits to the video on Youtube alone. Her “interesting job”, however, almost exclusively presented her as a Taxidermist and not a Conservator. When asked about her feelings on this, Lucie said: “I am very pleased with the video. I love to see conservation in the public eye so I couldn’t pass up my own opportunity to do this. It’s very hard to show what you do when you have a job like we have in a short video. I do something different nearly every day. I wanted to make it clear when I agreed to do the film that I wasn’t a taxidermist even though I am often referred to as one. It’s a mistake I am always correcting but I think “taxidermist” is just more familiar for most than “conservator” is. Surely that’s a challenge for our whole sector to make the conservator recognisable.”
Lucie’s stand is clear - she is a conservator, not a taxidermist. Despite that, she acknowledges that a bit portion of her training revolved around taxidermy alongside her mentor James Dickinson - a founder member of the Guild of Taxidermists - where it was imperative to understand craft, the processes of preparing a skin, the artistry and the history behind the job.
She added: “I work on many types of biological material, but few people specialise in working with taxidermy so it became the main demand of my work. It is also the aspect people fixate on most, which I believe is because for some people, taxidermy is an oddity. It divides opinion. It creates intense feelings. For some it’s funny, for others its macabre. For me its science, art and nature.”
Fascinating as the job might be, it’s not without challenges - especially with regards to training future generations. In particular, Lucie worries that we are at risk of losing specialist knowledge and skill: “Conservation is changing, few institutions employ specialists on staff, as such the sector demands people with general skills instead. But we do need to retain specialist skills to support the wider sector. Natural history collections are historically under-valued, and in my experience, I find this is reflected in their conservation treatment. Conservation costs, but people don’t value these objects enough to spend and so they receive poor treatment. Specialist skills like those in natural history conservation need to be preserved and respected.”
They’re not just words: Lucie practices what she speaks. As a PACR assessor for Icon, Lucie is doing her part in ensuring the new generation of accredited conservators meet these exact standards of conservation. Not just that, but she is also a volunteer for the Conduct Register and the conservation representative for the Natural Sciences Collection Association (NatSCA), recently establishing a sub-group of natural history conservators to develop and support the specialism.
Her dedication shines in every aspect of the work she’s involved in. And yet, her advice to starting conservators is nothing but honest: “It’s not easy to be a conservator anymore, never mind a specialist. There isn’t a “route” to take. I think any emerging conservator has to be resilient, and willing to take every chance and opportunity. For those wanting to come into natural history conservation – network. Come to the conferences, or join the mailing lists or social media and just join in.”