Patricia Robertson Fund

Mrs Patricia Robertson OAM
Founder of Sydney ADFAS
Founding Chairman of Association of ADFAS
Patron of ADFAS

The aims of the Association of Australian Decorative and Fine Arts Societies (ADFAS) are the promotion and advancement of aesthetic education, the cultivation and study of the decorative and fine arts and the preservation of our cultural and artistic heritage.

The History

In 2009 the Association of ADFAS celebrated its 20th anniversary. To commemorate this milestone, it was decided to actively support the conservation of Australian cultural materials in accordance with the ADFAS mission statement and spirit of giving. Founding Chairman and current Patron, Patricia Robertson, had long recognized that conservation is a significantly under-funded area of the arts and suggested that ADFAS could make a meaningful difference to this vital work. ADFAS was therefore pleased to make a three year commitment to an annual Association of ADFAS Student Conservator Award, drawing on existing Association funds and providing financial support for outstanding conservation graduates.

After extensive consultations and exhaustive correspondence with the tax office, the appropriate mechanisms were then put in place by the Association to establish a separate permanent resource which would continue to further the cause of conservation and be derived exclusively from voluntary donations. This new fund, known as the Patricia Robertson Fund, was officially launched in 2014. The administration of the PRF is conducted by the Executive Committee of the Association of ADFAS and reviewed annually.  Operation of the fund is reported annually to ADFAS Council. The Selection Panel is currently chaired by Association President, Julian Bickersteth who is a practicing conservator. The members are ADFAS Patron, Patricia Robertson, the Association Chairman and the Hon. Treasurer.

In 2014, the PRF helped an emerging young graduate to develop conservation skills within an overseas workplace environment. In 2015 and 2016, the fund was used to further the professional training of conservators within Australia and internationally.

The Story So Far: Grants and Awards

This year the PRF award has funded three projects under the auspices of the Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Material (AICCM)

A travel grant was awarded to conservator Alex Ellem to attend the joint Canadian Association for Conservation – Association Canadienne pour la Conservation et la Restauration (CAC-ACCR) and American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC) conference in Montreal, Canada in May 2016.

The theme of this conference was ’Preparing for disasters and confronting the unexpected in conservation’ , marking 50 years since the devastating 1966 flood of the river Arno in Florence which destroyed 3-4 million rare books and manuscripts and 14,000 moveable works of art. The combined efforts of volunteers from around the world who became known as ‘Mud Angels’ saved many works, and the aftermath of the disaster opened up new research pathways for methods in conservation.

Alex Ellem
Alex is a Melbourne based conservator, and a Masters graduate of the University of Melbourne’s Cultural Materials Conservation course, on which she has lectured. She has also worked at the National Gallery of Victoria. Alex was a key player in the conservation response to the 2009 Victorian bush fires and has lectured and taught widely on the subject of disaster response.

Amanda Pagliarino
A travel grant has also been awarded to conservator Amanda Pagliarino to attend the joint International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (IIC) Congress and International Network for the Conservation of Contemporary Art (INCCA) conference Saving the Now: Crossing Boundaries to Conserve Contemporary Works in Los Angeles in September 2016. The grant will finance Amanda’s travel to the conference to present a co-authored paper on the collaborative approach adopted by Queensland Art Gallery of Modern Art QAGOMA in commissioning a contemporary work by Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang.

Funds from the PRF also contributed to a Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) Workshop held at the University of Melbourne, as part of which a lecture was provided for ADFAS members.

The workshop was led by experts from Cultural Heritage Imaging (CHI) San Francisco at the Grimwade Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation at the University of Melbourne.

RTI is a computational photographic method that captures a subject’s surface shape and colour and enables the interactive re-lighting of the subject from any direction. RTI also permits the mathematical enhancement of the subject’s surface shape and colour attributes. The enhancement functions of RTI reveal surface information that is not disclosed under direct examination of the physical object. Whether on papyrus fragments, marble stele or illuminated manuscripts the changing interplay of light and shadow in the RTI image discloses fine details of the subject’s surface form, thus providing new insights and information.

The enhancement functions of RTI reveal surface information that is not disclosed under direct examination of the physical object.


PRF funding facilitated workshops in Australia by two leading international conservators. Martin Jürgens and Yvonne Shashoua conducted workshops in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.

Martin Jürgens
Martin is a photographic conservator from The Rijksmuseum in the Netherlands, where his role is that of a typical museum conservator, responsible for both curating the collection and studying photographic materials and processes. Whilst the Rijksmuseum collects mostly 19th and 20th century photography, he has a keen interest in 21st century technologies.

Martin ran a workshop on Preservation of Digital Prints and Contemporary Colour Photographs. He also presented a lecture to ADFAS members

Yvonne Shashoua
Yvonne is a Senior Research Scientist in the Conservation and Science department of the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen. Her role is to research the degradation of plastics in museum environments and to develop and implement techniques to arrest deterioration so that museums can preserve their artworks, design collections, ethnographic materials and other plastic-based for future generations.

Yvonne ran two workshops on the Conservation of Plastics and gave two lectures to ADFAS members.


The PRF selection panel was delighted to announce Emily Harris, a 2013 graduate of the Melbourne Conservation Masters Course, as the inaugural beneficiary of the Patricia Robertson Fund. The scholarship enabled Emily to spend several months in the UK gaining an understanding of the efforts of international institutes in monitoring technology to inform preventive and interventive strategies for outdoor artworks and significant heritage buildings.

Emily completed a short course at West Dean College, West Sussex, on the conservation and repair of timber. She then undertook an internship at Lincoln University on ‘England’s Hidden Treasures.’ Placements at Doddington Hall, Lincolnshire, The Deanery at Windsor Castle, and Dulwich College Great Hall, London, added great depth to her professional expertise.  A visit to the University College London Centre for Sustainable Heritage completed her series of work experiences.

Dulwich College Great Hall, London
Emily removed five layers of decaying  brown paint to reveal the underlying beauty of the original ceramic columns.

The Future

The PRF has been made possible by generous individual philanthropy and a single initial investment by the Association of ADFAS. The aim of the fund is to provide an annual programme of awards and grants to deepen the knowledge and thus extend the reach and scope of conservators working in Australia. Sufficient capital currently exists for the immediate success of this initiative, but ongoing supplementary funds will be required to secure its long term future viability.

Many ADFAS societies have expressed an interest in contributing voluntarily to the fund in the amount of approximately $1 per member per annum. Such contributions would be greatly appreciated and would go a long way to ensuring that the Patricia Robertson Fund is able to make a difference to the Australian cultural landscape for many decades to come.

“Even small contributions to the fund will allow ADFAS to achieve an enormous amount” -Pat Robertson

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