RACHAEL COLLINGE and RANGI TE KANAWA—Valerie Carson, Textile Conservator, passed away on Tuesday 21 January surrounded by her family in Whanganui. Valerie was so much more to us than just a colleague, we loved her dearly and will miss her terribly. Her presence is still felt in the lab, her hand writing still visible on our scissors and in our conservation files. Valerie Carson, Textile Conservator, lover of textiles, travel and tassels. She gave so much to us she is now part of our DNA. Valerie we thank you with all our hearts. Valerie was New Zealand’s first textile conservator and worked at the Museum for more than 27 years before her retirement in 2007. Her first contact with the museum’s textile collection was as a volunteer with the Wellington Embroiders Guild. Valerie also taught embroidery at Wellington College. She believed these practical skills and those of an ex-dental nurse gave her the hand skills required for textile conservation. She liked to say she went from conserving teeth to conserving textiles. While working with the textile collection to improve the storage conditions, she recognised that further conservation training was required. In 1979 she travelled to the UK, completing the textile conservation course run by Karen Finch OBE at the Textile Conservation Centre, then based at Hampton Court Palace. Her application to study was supported by Dr John Yaldwn and she received funding from the Interim Conservation Council, Historic Places Trust, The federation of University Women and a grant from the Mobil Environmental Scheme. Valerie spent a year away from her family and three children to complete her conservation studies. On her return to New Zealand she worked at the Conservation Unit at the National Art Gallery and Museum working alongside Jack Fry until the establishment of Te Papa. She worked across the collections caring for textile items in the social history collection, Pacific collection and taonga Māori. She particularly loved the kakahu collection and recognised the importance of this collection and the challenge of preserving the black paru dyed textiles. For this, she made possible, and supported the entire career, of a Māori textile conservator. She worked with volunteers, community groups and museum staff sharing her knowledge and passion for textiles. As a consequence textiles across the county have benefited from improved storage and awareness of conservation practice. Valerie recognised the importance of growing conservation and mentored many of us. She was so generous with her skills and time. Her mentoring was not just confined to conservation and the academic study of textiles. She was always concerned with our wellbeing. She was loving, kind and compassionate and so much fun. Valerie loved to travel and combined this with her textile interests leading a number of textile tours through India and following the Silk Route. Valerie developed a personal textile collection and many of the textiles were collected on these travels. More details on Valerie’s life and career can be seen at https://blog.tepapa.govt.nz/2020/02/17/valeriecarson-1936-2020-the-pioneer-of-new-zealand-textile-conservation/.
Photo credit: Valerie Carson in the Elgar room of the Colonial Museum, 1992. Photo by A. Marchant. Te Papa