10 Conservation Students, 3 years, 1 Blog

"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science." - Albert Einstein

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Field Trips

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.

Photo by Bartosz Dajnowski

WUDPAC Class of 2013 in front of the Smithsonian Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

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.

El Anatsui, "Between Heaven and Earth," 2006. On exhibit at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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.

 

Photo by Bartosz Dajnowski

North Hills Cleaners - A warm welcome for the WUDPAC visitors

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!!

Best,

Crista

A Stitch in Time

The art conservation program at Winterthur divides conservation coursework into blocks. These are about 3 weeks in length  and give us an intensive look into a particular area of the field. Right now, we are halfway into our 3rd block of the semester – Textiles. One thing that has kept popping into my mind during this block is “A Stitch in Time Saves Nine.”  Why? I don’t know…but we have been doing a lot of stitching exercises, so that probably has something to do with it. But even more problematic is the fact that I have no idea what this phrase means. I’ve been pretty impressed over the past week as we’ve learned the strength and stabilization that a stitch can impart to a textile. But, saves nine? Furthermore, nine what? I certainly don’t know, but thankfully…Google does.

The first hit I got took me to The Phrase Finder, which gave the meaning as

“A timely effort will prevent more work later.”

This would make a great fortune cookie (and one I probably need to pay attention to), but it still didn’t explain the what or why I was looking for.  Meanwhile, if this proverb had been about patience…then I might have taken the time to scroll down further and read about the origin of the phrase. Instead, I got hungry for Chinese food and went and got some delicious take-out at Hong Kong Chinese Food – which I highly recommend if you’re looking for some tasty, greasy, cheap Chinese take-out in the Trolley Square area of Wilmington.

But I digress. After satisfying my comfort food craving, I came back to the “stitch in time” dilemma and continued to read about the origins of the saying.  Apparently the first known recorded saying of this was in 1732 in Thomas Fuller’s Gnomologia, Adagies and Proverbs, Wise Sentences and Witty Sayings, Ancient and Modern, Foreign and British. According to Phrase Finder,

“The stitch in time is simply the sewing up of a small hole in a piece of material and so saving the need for more stitching at a later date, when the hole has become larger. Clearly, the first users of this expression were referring to saving nine stitches.”

Clearly.

It sounds like the perfect motto for preventive conservation, eh? As stated in the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC) Code of Ethics,

“The conservation professional shall recognize a responsibility for preventive conservation by endeavoring to limit damage or deterioration to cultural property….”

A stitch in time saves nine, indeed.

Interestingly, another hit on Google was from the Office of English Language Services at BYU and not only gives a similar meaning, but additionally likens the phrase to a famous quote of Benjamin Franklin’s: “An Ounce of Prevention is worth a Pound of Cure.”  Sigh…so many great blog titles, so little time.

But, returning to my stitching exercises, I found that the “stitch in time” phrase had taken on new meaning for me. One of the first projects we’ve completed in textiles  is a sampler that shows our understanding of 5 types of stitches: running, staggered running, herringbone, laid thread couching, and long and short stitching. As you can see below, they more or less came out okay…but the first three laid thread couching attempts (seen halfway down on the left, in the bright orange cotton thread) are a wee bit on the tiny side. The goal was to create 6 lines of this stitch in three different threads (18 couching lines total). As you can see, I created 9 in the orange cotton because after taking a look at those first three…well I could tell they just wouldn’t do. So in my case, perhaps the correct stitch…in time…would have saved nine. Or three. Or six? I need to work on this analogy, but you get the point.

Stitching Sampler

Oh, and just in case you’re curious – the fortune cookie that came with my Chinese food…

“Cut through organizational impediments and get some real work done. Lucky numbers 41, 25, 27, 52, 11, 24.”

Message heard, loud and clear – time to sign off and get back to stitching. Well, maybe after I go buy a lottery ticket.

Welcome to our blog!!

WUDPAC Class of 2013

Hello! On behalf of the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation (WUDPAC) Class of 2013, I’d like to welcome you to our blog. We have come from all over the world to Wilmington, DE – “A Place to Be Somebody” – to do just that…be the somebodies we’ve all dreamed of for so long. We’ve all worked countless hours and completed years of coursework in fine arts, chemistry, and art history with the goal of becoming art conservators. The first hurdle of getting into the program has been crossed. Now we invite you to follow our class over the next three years and see where our studies take us.

To start things off,  I believe some introductions are in order.  Above is our class photo, taken during our first day of orientation on August 16, 2010. Thankfully, I think we all managed to look cool, calm and collected (due in large part to the talents of Winterthur conservation photographer Jim Schneck). Not easy, considering it was our first day at Winterthur (speaking for myself -I had major butterflies that day) AND it was about 160° F and a billion % humidity. I’m sure Weather Underground will back me up on this.

But, without further ado – clockwise  from left, center: Emily Schuetz, Carrie McNeal, Bartosz Dajnowski, Sara Lapham, Sara Levin, Greta Glaser, Elena Torok, Laura Hartman, Morgan Hayes, and myself – Crista Pack.

You’ll likely see most of us blogging on here over the next 3 years as we share our experiences with you. Through this process, we hope to give our family and friends, colleagues, and people interested in the field of conservation an idea of what the program is like… and you’ll get to watch us evolve from newbies to full-fledged conservators.

So sit back, grab a snack – it’s going to be a long, intense, but ultimately thrilling ride! We’d love for you to not only read about our journey, but comment and ask questions as we go along. There are no promises that we’ll answer right away (we are in school, after all)…but we’ll do the best we can! Enjoy!!

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