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Alumni Experience in Art Conservation

Viewpoint, View from the Field »
By Gayle Seymour, Associate Dean CFAC | Associate Professor of Art, Art History »

UCA alumni Marie Desrochers has just started her second of a three year program at the University of Delaware and the Winterthur Museum after a successful summer internship in Boston! University of Deleware is the top ranked graduate program in the country for this field of study and her letter below will outline some of the exciting things a program of this caliber affords its students. While at UCA she had a shared interest in Art History, Studio courses and Chemistry. Combining these three areas of study lead her to pursue a masters degree in Art Conservation, read her letter to Dr. Seymour below to get a glimpse of what this degree is all about!

Treating Historic Photographs

Hello Dr. Seymour,

I hope you are well! In the blink of an eye I have completed my first year of graduate school, and here is a much overdue update.

First of all, I love my program. This has been an incredible year with so many experiences I wouldn’t trade for anything. There is no where else I would rather be, and going through all the hoops to get into the program was definitely WORTH IT. The other students are so talented and experienced, and well, they’re also just good people.

This year has definitely had its challenge, but honestly what sticks out in my mind (now two weeks removed from my comprehensive exams) are all the highs from this year. Beyond just the incredible holdings of Winterthur, this program does a great job of collaborating with local institutions. With Philadelphia just 45 minutes away, we went to the Philadelphia Museum of Art many times, going behind the scenes and getting specialty tours. During my paper conservation course we were treated to up-close looking at unframed prints by Matisse and Dürer. I absolutely love Philadelphia, and I go there as often as possible. I am slowly chipping away at Museums there, including the Barnes Foundation, Penn Museum, Mutter Museum, Eastern State Penitentiary and American Philosophical Society. I need to get to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and Rodin Museum, plus many more.

Conservator at the Metropolitan Museum

We saw the special photograph collection at the Met. They pulled some of their greatest photographs out for us to see in their conservation labs. We had a conservator-led tour of the painting conservation labs and galleries at the National Gallery. It feels like everywhere our class goes, the institutions roll out a red carpet because we are from “”Winterthur”” and everyone knows each other. This is the place to be, for sure! Finally, this spring we attended the Association of North American Graduate Programs in Art Conservation conference at the Getty. I had never been to LA before, and the Getty hosted the most elegant conference. Aside from the amazing presentations and dazzling museums, just imagine charcuterie tables of “”bottomless brie”” and wine at an evening cocktail party at the Getty Villa overlooking the coast in Malibu.

Treating a ceramic object

I have learned so much about materials and their degradation, and this program is progressive in its approach to preservation with an eye toward climate change and the challenges it presents for preserving cultural heritage, especially for populations worldwide with different or more limited resources than say the Met or Winterthur. This sort of holistic, practical approach has led me to declare a Preventive Major, a relatively new specialty and degree path for conservators in the United States. Preventive Conservation education emphasizes climate monitoring, building management, stabilization of collections, and ultimately, well, implementing preventive strategies for collections rather than interventive treatments after-the-fact. More and more conservators everywhere are doing primarily preventive work even if they are not trained in this specialty. It is important, and it is where the field is headed, albeit, boxing objects and managing HVAC is less glamorous than in-painting a ceramic or oil painting. This specialization allows me more opportunities for research, leadership roles, and outreach with the public. I believe my personal interests and strengths make me well-suited to this profession. My team of advisors for next year, when I begin my major coursework, are stellar.

For now, I just came back from a brief visit with my family in Arkansas, I visited some friends in Colorado, and now I am in Boston, starting my summer internship tomorrow. I will be working in objects conservation, doing treatment as well as preventive projects at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. This is my first time in Boston, and I am very excited. The Gardner is known in conservation for their state-of-the art labs, as well as tradition of excellent mentorship. Finally, at the end of the summer I will be attending a week-long course in Amherst, Massachusetts for chemical safety in the fine arts taught by a legendary theater actor/chemical hygienist Monona Rossol. I am looking forward to learning more about the health hazards we often unknowingly face in the field and how to prevent exposure for the conservation of ourselves!

And so, this novel of an email, with just some highlights. I think of you and my UCA Art Department family often. I wouldn’t be here, having all these experiences if it weren’t for your tireless teaching and support. Thank you for inspiring me to pursue this career. Thank you for helping me get here, and for helping me learn to say “”Yes”” to new experiences and to know that I can do this!
Attached are some photos from this year!

All the best, Marie