Ahhhh. That’s the sound of happy contentment as we all wrap up another block. So while I have a bit of downtime before the next block (Organic Materials) kicks in full gear, I thought I would do a quick pictorial history of some of the places we’ve been already in our three months here. There are so many great things about this program, and one of them is Winterthur’s central location on the east coast. We are about 3 hours from Washington, D.C., 3 hours from NYC, 30 minutes from Philadelphia, and about 1 1/2 hours from Baltimore. This allows for some great field trips during which we tour conservation labs, talk to conservators about treatments going on in their lab, and learn about the practical applications of what we’ve learned during our classes.
Our first field trip was to the Smithsonian Institution’s Freer and Sackler Galleries in Washington, D.C. This was a part of our Preventive Conservation block and was led by textile conservator Joelle Wickens. We were fortunate to be able to meet with Jenifer Bosworth that day, who is the exhibits conservator for the Freer.
The second field trip was to the Conservation Center for Art & Historical Artifacts (CCAHA) in Philadelphia. This was incorporated into the curriculum for Paper block, led by paper conservator Joan Irving. At CCAHA we saw a variety of treatments in action – from historic documents to contemporary artworks. The size of this center is amazing…I think the website lists over 30 people on staff – and they have such a beautiful facility. I don’t have a picture for this one, but I encourage you to check out their website.
For Textile block, textile conservator Joy Gardiner took us to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York! “Huge” doesn’t even begin to describe the collection and amount of storage at the Met! It was a wonderful experience…our first stop at the Met was the Costume Institute, where we saw a variety of storage solutions designed for the unique pieces of this collection.
I think the highlight of the day (for me) was a tour of the galleries comprising the arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas. The last time I visited the Met was 4 or 5 years ago, at which time these galleries were closed and under construction. This was unfortunate for me as they were the main reason I went to the museum that day. [Background note: about 5 years ago I was working on my master's thesis on the stylistic and formal qualities of pre-Columbian West Mexican ceramic figures...which the Met has some very nice examples of. If you're really bored or having trouble falling asleep some night, feel free to check out my ramblings on the subject here.]
Needless to say, it was well worth the wait. We saw textiles from many different cultures, including this fantastic contemporary weaving of aluminum and copper wire by African artist El Anatsui, titled “Between Heaven and Earth.“
The new gallery also included this pretty impressive display of sago palm spathe paintings from a Mariwai Village (Papua New Guinea) ceremonial house ceiling. These are attributed to Kwoma culture and date to 1973. There are approximately 300 of these panels on display, hung similarly to how they would have been originally - from the ceiling. You can get a great sense for just how massive this installation is in this video from the Met’s website:
For Textile block, we also went to North Hills Cleaners in Wilmington. This is a professional dry cleaning company that has been in business for 60 years. Owners Amy and Mark Peters gave us a tour of the facilities and showed us how they use dry cleaning solvents and methods to remove stains and clean textiles of all kinds. The behind-the-scenes tour was really eye-opening as far as how much really goes into properly caring for clothing. I sort of always secretly thought that when I dropped off my laundry at a dry cleaners…they just took it into the back and steamed my clothes a little bit and spritzed Fabreeze or something on them. I couldn’t have been more wrong. All I have to say is – Mark Peters is a magician. I’m not kidding. In less than 10 minutes we saw him take out 5 different stains raging from blood to some kind of crusty food stain. He uses a variety of solvents (depending on what’s needed) and…well, magic. His skills are amazing and it gave me new hope for that skirt I spilled ketchup on last summer. Thank goodness it wasn’t mustard…which is apparently the one food we should all avoid eating. At least without a bib.
THIS Friday we are going back to NYC! We’re headed to American Museum of Natural History. I have never been to AMNH and it is high on my list on places I want to visit. You can be sure I’ll be writing about that experience soon!!