Senior Conservator, Ethnography
Julia Fenn was born in South Africa and took her BA in Archaeology at Cape Town University before moving to England where she obtained a post-graduate Diploma in Archaeological and Ethnographic Conservation at the Institute of Archaeology in London University.
Since then she has taught and practiced conservation on three continents, working in Turkey, Egypt, Israel and South Africa before settling in England at the British Museum Research Laboratory. After marrying a Canadian she came to Toronto and joined the conservation department at the Royal Ontario Museum. Her specializations include masks, leather, adhesives and historic plastics.
Life in the ROM Conservation department has always been full of challenge. A recent example is the painted fish coffin from Ghana which arrived in a broken crate with its paint not fully cured so the foam packing had smeared into the surface. It was also found to have been made from unseasoned wood infested with tropical wood borers! During nitrogen fumigation the controls broke down, moisture from the wood promoted a fine crop of mould in which hundreds of lively little insects could be seen joyfully hopping. After they were finally asphyxiated, a special tent for the coffin had to be built under an oversize extraction unit (kindly lent to us by the Palaeontology department) to prevent the mould from spreading into our air system. Then followed a nightmarish race to remove the mould before it could permanently discolour the paint while simultaneously drying the wood slowly enough to prevent more cracking and paint loss. This was done by wrapping it in layers of cotton sheeting and uncovering small areas in succession for cleaning. The fish coffin is now resting quietly on exhibition in the AAAP gallery.
Photos and Videos
This exquisite ivory and gold figurine (museum registration number 931.21.1) has been an icon of the ROM collection since she was acquired in 1931, but she has also attracted huge controversy.