The biennial award is the result of the collaboration between Nigel Williams’ family and the Icon Ceramics & Glass Group. It was created to serve both as a memorial to Nigel’s work and to encourage continuing high standards at all levels within the profession.
The Nigel Williams Prize seeks to recognise an outstanding professional or academic project focusing on the interventive conservation of ceramic or a directly related material. Submissions are welcome from individuals or teams from the private, the public or the educational sector.
We welcome applications from both residents of the UK and the rest of the World. To qualify for the prize, applicants should hold a professional membership. To be eligible, the project must have been completed within the three years prior to the submission deadline.
Each submission is assessed by a panel of three judges. The panel for the 2023 edition is composed of Loretta Hogan (Senior Ceramics and Glass Conservator, British Museum), Chair of the panel, Beky Davies (ACR, Ceramics Conservation & Restoration) and Peter David (ACR, PJD Ceramics).
Nigel Williams was the British Museum’s foremost expert on the conservation of ceramic and glass objects. His premature death from a heart attack in 1992, while working on a British Museum excavation in Jordan, left the conservation profession with a huge gap.
In 1961, in the days before conservation was a profession, the 16-year-old Nigel was recruited by the British Museum as a museum assistant in the Department of British and Medieval antiquities. He worked on all types of antiquities – metals, glass, stone, ivory and wood – but ceramics became his abiding passion.
His first success was the Sutton Hoo ship excavation. Originally discovered in 1939, this site was backfilled because of the war and only re-excavated in the late 1960s. Nigel was chosen to head the small team charged with conservation – or, in some cases, re-conservation – of the finds. They worked both on site (the mammoth task of making an entire fiber-glass and resin cast of the excavated ship in situ was exactly the sort of challenge that delighted the resourceful Nigel) and in the museum, on the magnificent burial goods found with it. Nigel’s enthusiasm and attention to detail set an example to those now entering the museum world as conservators. The highlight of this stage of his career was the dismantling of the 1940s restoration of the Sutton Hoo helmet, and its re-restoration to a new and altogether more credible shape based on the painstaking study of the profile, colour and morphology of more than 500 fragments.
In the late 1970s, the excavation of the wreck of the Colossus, which had gone down in 1798 off Scilly Isles, produced fragments of Greek vases from the collections of Sir William Hamilton. As many of these vases were known from contemporary illustrations, restoration was possible with relatively new fragments. This made good TV and the BBC’s Chronicle program showed Nigel Williams to be a ‘natural’ in front of the camera. Many people still remember the magic moment when he uttered a four-letter word when a partially completed restoration started to crack as it was being moved during filming.
Above all, Nigel Williams will be remembered for his re-restoration of the Portland Vase. Probably the most important surviving piece of Roman glass, this had been smashed by a vandal in 1845, then restored, and re-restored in 1948. By the mid-1980s the experimental post-war adhesive had failed and it had become imperative to dismantle the vase into its 200 or so fragments and start again. The job took an entire year, again filmed by Chronicle. New adhesives were tested and new ways of colouring the resin in-fills were tried, until a conservation process was evolved which could be recommended for such a world-famous item.
During the last years of his life, Nigel was much in demand as a lecturer, both in Britain and abroad. He delighted in sharing his knowledge with others. For many years he had been teaching evening classes in ceramics and glass restoration, and he encouraged his British Museum staff to do the same. He was as much at home with one student and a pile of sherds as he was with a projector and an audience of 200 – or with a television crew and an audience of millions.
The Nigel Williams Prize Judges recognise that for most conservators today the opportunities to conserve high-profile objects such as the Portland Vase are rare. Thus, in acknowledgment of another important aspect of Nigel’s work, the Prize is awarded as much in a spirit of encouragement as in that of healthy competition, recognising the value of consistent and day-to-day professional practice. Nigel himself was a great encourager, sharing his knowledge over the years by teaching evening classes, giving lectures and through his book on Porcelain Repair and Restoration.
Thank you for considering submitting your project for the Nigel Williams Prize. This year's prize has already been awarded.
Eligible projects must demonstrate:
Excellence in professional practice
Ingenuity or innovation
Benefits to the profession
Excellence in execution
Please direct queries to the Prize coordinator Miriam Orsini at [email protected] and/or refer to the Information Pack below.
To submit a project for the prize, applicants must send a digital copy of each of the following:
We are looking forward to receiving your applications!
Tiago Oliveira and Inês Feliciano
The Conservation and Restoration of an Early 17th-century Tin-Glazed Tiled Stove
This report describes the decision-making process behind the conservation of a 17th century tin-glazed tiled stove, which took place between 2019 and 2022, from Schloss Hellbrunn in Salzburg, Austria.The stove showed severe damage. The most evident was the ongoing blistering and loss of glaze, as well as fractures along the grout lines and on some ceramic parts. Whilst most fractures were old and repaired in a distant past, others were considerably more recent.The primary goal was to reinstate the object’s stability but also consider its aesthetic values, allowing the public to fully enjoy its artistry. We had to act on the numerous, badly conceived previous repairs, severely aged but with historic value which needed to be preserved.
Previously retouched areas were extensive, often covering glazed surfaces in perfect condition. All these characteristics made the stove appear a lot more degraded than it was. Given the stove’s history of poorly documented repairs, the choice of materials for this intervention had to be carefully pondered. Out priority was to ensure the compatibility with old materials, great ageing properties, stability in an uncontrolled exhibition environment, and that they be easily identifiable in the future.
The British Museum and the Archaeological Museum at the American University of Beirut
Shattered Glass of Beirut
The 4 August 2020 explosion in Beirut severely affected thousands of human lives as well as the city itself, causing irreparable damage to historical buildings. The Archaeological Museum at the American University of Beirut (AUB) is located 2 miles away from the port and after the explosion, damage was recorded in several parts of the museum building. The collection in general survived the blast, except for an archaeological glass display containing 74 significant objects that fell onto the gallery floor,
breaking 72 vessels into thousands of pieces. Two small vessels, located on lower shelves, survived. With no conservation resources at hand, the Museum Director Dr Nadine Panayot took the decision to leave the fallen case in-situ until the arrival of specialist support. The British Museum (BM) and the Institut National du Patrimoine (INP) immediately connected with the AUB Museum to offer conservation aid.
The first conservation campaign led by INP in 2020, aimed at the methodical retrieval of the broken glass vessels from the gallery floor, with additional campaigns in 2021/22, to work on the advanced puzzle work, stabilisation of the glass surfaces and the reconstruction of 12 vessels. The BM further offered full conservation and research of eight glass vessels in London, which were selected by specialist conservator Claire Cuyaubère (supported by INP) as the most repairable and sound to travel.
This unique collaborative project between the two museums also created many opportunities for study and outreach around the conservation of these historically significant glass objects.
The Retreatment of an Abandoned Archaeological Islamic Glas
This paper details the retreatment of an archaeological Islamic glass vessel abandoned at University College London’s Institute of Archaeology more than forty years ago. In a fragile state and sensitive to light due to previous conservation campaigns, the vessel was deconstructed and reconstructed based on the most up-to-date research. Analysis of the composition and weathering crust was conducted using Scanning Electron Microscopy, which allowed for the identification of glass type, colourant, and approximate date of manufacture.
John Fidler, John Fidler Preservation Technology Inc., California, USA.
Cleaning, Repair and Restoration of the 1915 Brick and Terra Cotta Masonry at the First Congregational Church of Long Beach (California, USA) with Special Emphasis on the Tracery of the East Rose Window
John's submission was an excellent and impressive account of the execution of a major building project on an Italian Romanesque revival church involving the mammoth task of assessing, dismantling and repairing the terracotta façade tracery, surrounding a rose stained-glass window and its corroding metal armature, damaged from earthquake activity and weathering. Great care was taken to engage with the contractors on ethical choices of repair materials, their application and after-care in order to obtain satisfactory result. A large multi-disciplinary team of skilled specialists demonstrated excellent project management and planning. Progress on the project was discussed with the church building committee and communicated with the church congregation who took a great interest in the work.
Keith Barley, Helen Whittaker and Alison Gilchrist from Barley Studio, York.
Conserving ‘Charity’: a masterpiece of Georgian glass-painting restored to its former glory
In 2009 the remains of a severely damaged stained-glass window were discovered in the cellar of the ‘Katharinenhof’, a villa in Hamburg. Following a plea for anyone to identify the subject of the window, Keith Barley, Founder and Managing Director of Barley Studio, York, recognised the imagery as depicting a figure of ‘Charity’ after the cartoon by Sir Joshua Reynolds for New College Oxford. Initial conservation of the stained-glass window was undertaken at Erfurt University in Germany before being collected and brought to Barley Studio. Here, the Studio’s team of conservators, artists and craftsmen embarked on the conservation, restoration and repair of both the window framework and the exquisite Georgian glass painting. Drawing on art historical and technical research in collaboration with the owner and architect, the window was completed and returned to Hamburg in September 2019. In the words of the judges the Barley Studio project demonstrates a high level of conservation skills combined with impressive craft skills of the team.
Lauren Burleson, Durham University
Treatment of Glass Deterioration on Blue Beads in a Rus rGyan Human Bone Ornament Ensemble
Lauren's project details the treatment of severe glass deterioration on the beads of a two-piece set of Tibetan Buddhist human bone ornaments or Rus rGyan from the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (MAA) in the University of Cambridge. The treatment was undertaken during Lauren's MA student placement. In the words of the judges, Lauren gave an excellent and well-organized account, including informative photographs, drawings, scientific analytical graphs and charts of investigation and treatment of deteriorated blue glass beads. Lauren presented a very thorough and clear evaluation of the condition of the beads, demonstrating a very good understanding of glass deterioration and the challenges presented in its treatment.
Main Prize: Duygu Carmucuoglu, Lucia Pereira Prado, Miriam Orsini and Thomas Kiely
The British Museum (BM) holds a vast collection of painted terracotta and limestone figurines from
Cyprus, which are covered by dark and ingrained speckles of biological growth. Their appearance is significantly disfigured, making their study difficult. Traditional conservation methods proved inefficient in removing the dark speckles from the terracotta, leading to the consideration of the use of an erbium:YAG laser (2490 nm). This project showed that excellent results can be achieved with Er:YAG laser to remove stubborn biological growth from terracotta, including when polychromy is present. The successful outcome of this study provided potential scope for the BM to treat other ceramic objects, particularly when other methods are unsuitable or inefficient.
In the judges’ opinion, the team “submitted a very professional project with a high standard of execution. The applicants have developed an innovative solution to a persistent problem that may inspire other ceramic conservators. Good discussion and clarity are shown throughout, explained in a very engaging and easily understood manner.”
Student Prize: Holly Daws (West Dean College)
The application described the conservation treatment of a pair of plaster frizzes. The aim of the treatment was to stabilise the panels and improve the overall appearance to allow for redisplay. The extensive range of tests drove decision-making to determine how to meet the treatment aims
without further damage. The judges praised the project as “an excellent piece of work that thoroughly investigates the options for treatment, whilst backing up decisions with tests and careful evaluation.”
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Royal College of Art, London
A short video of Reino Leifkes describing the project may be seen here.
See also: vam.ac.uk.
Pete David (private conservator) and Judy Pinkham (National Museum of Wales) were awarded for their intriguing project on the conservation of a contemporary artwork that was to be shown in the 2012 Artes Mundi (Arts of the World) exhibition in Cardiff. Described by the judges as a “thoroughly professional approach to what must have initially seemed a rather daunting and dispiriting project”. Against considerable time pressure, the artwork - a series of floor tiles on which a friend of the artist had been murdered - required the treatment of severely damaged areas and remounting of the whole, all the while sensitive to the artist’s desire to retain the existing surface blood and dirt.
The Student Prize was awarded (in absentia) to Sara Amerio for her conservation work on the restoration of a 19 century stained glass angel window from the depository of Milan cathedral. This project originally formed part of her MA dissertation at Turin University and, among other contemporary techniques, included some interesting experimentation with Photoshop. In their final assessment her application was described by the judges as “an accomplished piece of work with professional presentation, excellent illustrations and plenty of evidence of a wide range of research and understanding of historical context”.
Lynne Edge of Edge Conservation was awarded First Prize for her work on an Opus Sectile War Memorial in a Liverpool church. This involved, among other things, the removal, conservation and subsequent re-instating of 3000 small glass panels, culminating in an “official” unveiling of the memorial on Armistice Day 2009. In the judges words, this was “an outstanding example of detailed and complex interventive conservation which required considerable forethought and a high level of practical competence".
In Lynne's words "The impressive memorial is comprised of 3000 pieces of glass that form the 2.2 x 1.4m Opus Sectile panel, which is surrounded by a sandstone frame. The complex challenges were not only associated with how to record, dismantle, and conserve almost 3000 pieces of glass, but how to remount them in such a way that the Opus Sectile panel could be easily removed and re-sited in the future. Fascinating details of the manufacturing process were revealed during treatment. This project presented a unique opportunity to understand the methodological application of glass in the technique of Opus Sectile".
Robert Turner of Eura Conservation received the Runner-up’s prize for the innovative use of a diamond wire saw (a type of industrial cheese wire!) to remove complete panels of Edwardian tiles from the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle.
The subject of Liesa’s project was the examination and treatment of a late 19th Century glass model of a micro-organism made by the German glass artisans Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka. This highly aesthetic object had been assembled from several hundred glass elements and is part of the collection held at the Natural History Museum, London.
Major conservation issues were identified and suitable treatments were developed through characterisation of original materials and deterioration processes. The judges were particularly impressed with her innovative solutions to overcoming the complexities of reconstructing the fragile three dimensional glass model.
The winning project was a stove made up of over 200 tin-glazed earthenware polychrome tiles and had to have a light yet durable weight bearing frame created that could be dismantled and transported with ease. This involved a considerable team of various professionals ranging from ceramic conservators, structural engineers and blacksmiths to boat builders. The judges were particularly impressed with her innovative solutions, extensive research on original technology and excellent project management skills in order to overcome the structural and ethical problems that arose. The completed stove stands at over three metres tall and was exhibited at The Maastricht and Grosvenor House Antique Fairs, as well as being featured on the BBC South 6o’clock News.
The judges also awarded a Highly Commended Certificate to Monik Lefebvre, for her project on the Cleaning and Restoration of a 19th Century White Carrara Marble Bust, a material with which she was not familiar. This was a well presented project involving technical research and scientific knowledge with numerous samples and testing indicating a thorough and ethical approach to conservation practice. Monik’s research, material testing, advice on future care of the object to the owner and above all results were an example to all conservators working within the private sector.
The inaugural award was given to Kenneth Watt in 2002 in recognition for his lifelong contribution to the profession.
Originally from Glasgow where he completed his DA in Ceramic Design (Glasgow School of Art), he joined Glasgow Museums in 1975 as a Ceramics Conservator and cared for their decorative art collection for the following decade.
In 1986 Kenneth left Glasgow to lead the post-graduate ceramic conservation course at West Dean College for twenty-three years, educating a generation of ceramic conservators from all over the globe. He was chairman for the Ceramics and Glass Group of UKIC (now The Institute for Conservation in the UK, Icon) from 1989-1993.
This award recognises his leading voice and enthusiasm in sharing his practice and knowledge with others, much like Nigel Williams himself.