A Day in the Life of a Collections Assistant

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Posted 18th March 2022

Meet our Collections Assistant, Rebecca Smith. In this blog, Rebecca talks us through the typical day to day activities that make up her role here at the Watts Gallery – Artists’ Village.

As the Collections Assistant, I find that no two days are the same. I work within the Curatorial Team and as well as my standard tasks, I often find that I can get roped into lots of exciting jobs on a daily basis.

There is always a lot more going on behind the scenes at a gallery that the visitor probably isn’t aware of, and this is very true at the Watts. My tasks range from being a dab hand at creating spreadsheets to more practical work on the gallery floor. A job that comprises both these skills is doing an audit check. Audits help establish what state a collection is, they consider where objects are and allow us to check their condition. But before you can go into the gallery spaces and object stores, you need to know what your collection should look like, which is where the spreadsheet wizardry comes in! Working on audits has really helped me learn about the scope of the collection at the Watts, which is as broad as it is interesting.

Another favourite task of mine is being sent on object quests. When the curators are planning an exhibition, or need some archival material for research, I am frequently called on to have a rummage in the stores to see what I can find. At the Watts we have three main stores that hold archival material, works on paper, paintings and three-dimensional objects like sculpture and pottery. It can sometimes take a while to find what I’m looking for, but often the things I come across accidentally are as equally fascinating. Plus, the sense of accomplishment when I do find what I’m looking for is always very positive!

While my job involves keeping an eye out for objects, it also involves keeping an eye out for things that pose a risk to those objects. Internal Pest Management (IPM) is an important aspect of my job, ensuring that the collection is not under threat from pests. There are standard steps to make sure the gallery and object stores are safe places to keep art works, and bug traps, the small black or white boxes found in the corner of gallery rooms are vital. At the Watts we use reusable and bat proof bug traps, which helps keep certain endangered species safe and reduces our waste. Inside these boxes are sticky labels that smell like aniseed which attracts bugs. We check the traps regularly to monitor the kinds of pests that are present in the gallery. Any changes in the number of pests or the type of pest we find may indicate a wider environmental problem in the gallery that we can then address.

These are just a few examples of what I get up to here at the Watts. I’ve also helped clean painting surfaces and frames to make sure they look their best for visitors, put up wall text and updated the gallery’s digital database where we store all our object records.

The role of the Collections Assistant is incredibly varied. I never know quite what is coming my way when I arrive at work, which is one of the reasons why I enjoy my job here so much.