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In the Great Hall of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Stephanie Oman surface cleans a painted and gilded frieze that was completed by William Hole in the late 19th century. The frieze features famous figures in Scottish history.

A summer to treasure

Art conservation interns help preserve valuable artifacts


9:54 a.m., Aug. 18, 2011--From the Anglo-Saxon gold of the recently discovered Staffordshire Hoard in England, to a dress worn by Norma Shearer in the 1938 MGM film Marie Antoinette, fascinating pieces of the past are being preserved this summer by graduate students in the Winterthur-University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation (WUDPAC).

The 20 WUDPAC Fellows are interning with professional conservators at 18 different sites in the U.S. and Europe, including major museums, regional and academic institutions, and private conservation practices. Their projects range from outdoor sculptures in the Netherlands, to a massive anchor excavated from Blackbeard's pirate ship off the North Carolina coast.

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“I have loved this internship,” wrote Sara Levin from Greece. She is working in the conservation lab of the Agora excavations run by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. The lab is located in the Agora Museum, adjacent to the excavations. The Agora, first laid out as a public space in the 6th century B.C., was rebuilt throughout the 5th and 4th centuries after the total destruction of Athens at the hands of the Persians in 480 B.C. 

“We have worked with a variety of treatments and materials, and I have been practicing valuable hand skills, working with coins, ceramic vessels, bone and painted plaster,” Levin said. “I think these skills will help me invaluably.” 

Stephanie Oman, who is working on a mural conservation project at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh, is equally enthusiastic about her internship. She has spent much of her summer on a scaffold, cleaning the unvarnished painted and gilded surfaces of late 19th-century murals by William Hole in the Great Hall of the National Portrait Gallery. 

The murals depict scenes from Scottish history, a processional frieze of famous Scots and a painted ceiling with gilded stars and astrological symbols. In addition to requiring paint consolidation, loss filling and inpainting, the murals have offered Oman the chance to collect and examine cross-section samples from a variety of decorative surfaces to better understand William Hole’s materials and techniques.

“I always wanted to work on a very large mural project with a diverse group of conservators,” said Oman, who blogged about her experience at this website. “I couldn’t have imagined a more fitting internship experience.”

Greta Glaser has spent part of her internship at the Perry-Castañeda Library at the University of Texas learning the art of digitizing audio and video materials. She is taking part in a multi-institutional collaboration that is making rare 16th-century books available online

Glaser is working with a 16th-century Mexican collection of church music from the Benson Latin American collection at the university. She has been scanning the large volume in a specially designed cradle and then processing the resulting images of each page to make them viewable online.

“I hope that I can take what I’ve learned here and use it to answer questions or trouble-shoot for other institutions that are trying to set up a digitization process for their collections,” Glaser said. “I think I now have a better understanding of how large libraries function and how important preservation is for research institutions.”

In addition to Levin and Glaser, both members of the Class of 2013, and Oman, a member of the Class of 2012, these WUDPAC Fellows have been interning at the following sites this summer: 

Class of 2012

Erin Anderson — The British Museum, London

Tatiana Cole — Paul Messier, LLC, Conservation of Photographs and Works on Paper, Boston

Anne Getts — Los Angeles County Museum of Art Conservation Center, Los Angeles

Sarah Gowen — Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn.

Allison Holcomb — Simmons College and North Bennet School, Boston

Ellen Moody — Kroller-Muller Museum, Otterloo, the Netherlands, and Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands, Amsterdam

Steven O’Banion — The Tate Museum, London

Carlos Moya — Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Ellen Promise — Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham, England

Class of 2013

Bartosz Dajnowski — Queen Anne’s Revenge Conservation Lab (QAR), Greenville, N.C. 

Laura Hartman — Western Center for the Conservation of Fine Arts, Denver, Colo.

Morgan Hayes — Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis, Ind.

Sara Lapham — Fallon & Wilkinson LLC, Baltic, Conn.

Carrie McNeal — Simmons College and the North Bennet School in Boston

Crista Pack — Alaska State Museum, Juneau, Alaska

Emily Schuetz — Peebles Island Resource Center of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Bureau of Historic Sites, Waterford, N.Y.

Elena Torok — American Museum of Natural History, New York City

Article by Cece Torok

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