International Conservation Services Pty Ltd was legally formed in June 1991, but really began life in September 1986 under the name Campbell Conservation Pty Ltd. Campbells was founded by Julian Bickersteth, who at the time was acting Curator of Conservation at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney. Julian had become concerned at the lack of private sector conservation resources available for the very substantial collections held outside the collecting institutions in Australia, whether public, corporate or private. The importance and condition of these collections was being highlighted by the impending bicentenary celebrations in 1988. His vision was to establish a one-stop shop for materials conservation services. The Campbell Group had been established a year earlier by Chick Campbell to provide a range of museum and exhibition design, fabrication, merchandising, publications and project management services. To this was added conservation.
Julian was joined by a number of highly qualified and established conservators and together they quickly built a reputation for undertaking complex conservation work to museum standard. By 1988 they were ready to manage the installation of two major exhibitions at Expo 88 in Brisbane for the Vatican (Treasures of the Holy See) and the UK National Maritime Museum (Captain James Cook, Navigator). In 1989 Julian and five senior staff undertook a management buy-out from the Campbell Group.
In 1991 the company merged with the smaller conservation practice of Corrigans, art freight forwarders, which had been established by Cathy Lillico Thompson, formerly curator of the Regional Galleries Association of NSW. Thus International Conservation Services, or ICS as it is more easily known, was born.
Through the 1990s ICS consolidated and prospered, undertaking a number of high profile projects. These included the conservation of:
- Childrens Chapel, St James King Street, Sydney (1993) - wall paintings
- Civic Theatre, Newcastle (1995) - decorative finishes, lighting fixtures
- Capitol Theatre, Sydney (1996) - decorative finishes, terracotta
- Hall of Memory mosaic, Australian War Memorial, Canberra (1997) - glass tile mosaic
- Swifts, Darling Point (1998) - decorative finishes
- Philadelphia Tobaggon Company's Carousel No 30, Luna Park Melbourne (1999) - painted horses
- St Andrews Cathedral, Sydney (2000) - encaustic tiled floor
From an initial base in the conservation of furniture, works on paper, textiles and paintings, ICS has built expertise in objects, photographs, outdoor cultural material, Antarctic heritage and wall paintings. For five years in the late 1990s the company expanded into Queensland, opening a Brisbane office.
At the same time consulting services were growing in the areas of preventive conservation, collection management, exhibition management, heritage interpretation and architectural conservation.
In 2003, ICS appointed its first non-conservator to a professional position and formally established its collection management division. This was followed in 2004 by the establishment of the architectural conservation division and in 2005 by the opening of the Canberra office. Around this time, staff numbers grew to a peak of 30, before contracting slightly during the GFC. In 2011 we established a presence in Melbourne.
The 2000s saw ICS working with the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust on our single largest and longest lasting project to date, the conservation of the huts of the early explorers in the Antarctic. This has involved conservation plans, implementation plans, designing an on-site conservation lab, employing conservators to work in Antarctica and, for a number of senior staff, site visits to Antarctica. It was described by Sir Neil Cossens, the Chairman of English Heritage, as "the world's most exciting conservation project".
2011 saw ICS celebrating 25 years of operations. In that time we have conserved over 40,000 items, and employed over 100 professional conservators. We have worked on objects or collections for every national collecting institution, almost every state collecting institution, a host of regional and local galleries and museums, every major university, and a host of government bodies, corporations, as well as innumerable private individuals. We value every one of them.