Renee Wolcott: Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery
On her summer internship at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, UD graduate student Renee Wolcott cleans an engraving of James Monroe, fifth U.S. president.


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11:48 a.m., July 28, 2010----President James Monroe needs a bath-and I'm the one filling the tub. This summer, I'm treating prints and drawings from the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in the paper lab of the Lunder Conservation Center.

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Delicious Print

My supervisor, Rosemary Fallon, has been a paper conservator here for 22 years. During my first week, she presented me with a major treatment challenge: a grimy, foxed, ink-stained engraving of James Monroe, our fifth president. The 19th-century print also had moisture stains, and its top had been folded back and torn -- probably the result of squeezing it into a too-tight frame. Before it could be displayed in the “New Arrivals” exhibition this November, the engraving needed help.

Cleaning up the president has allowed me to use many of the treatment techniques I learned as a graduate student in the Winterthur-University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation. I removed surface grime with grated eraser crumbs, reduced a blue ink stain with water on a suction disk, and bathed the print in several changes of water at a slightly alkaline pH. When the engraving was still foxed and discolored after washing, I bathed the darkened areas locally on the suction table and then turned to light bleaching. The paper is now significantly brighter and more uniform, with only a few small dark areas that will be chemically bleached to reduce their visual impact.

Working at the National Portrait Gallery under an experienced paper conservator is giving me the skills and confidence I need for a career in book and paper conservation. In addition to gaining experience with conservation techniques, I get to examine and document prints and drawings by artists such as Al Hirschfeld, Barry Moser and Nathaniel Currier. Interacting with the public in the Lunder Conservation Center is another added bonus. Come by, and I'll give you a tour.