Sunday, May 25, 2014

Conserving Stories: A Mixture of Science, Art, & Love

Getting the personal tour by my conservation guru, Lara Kaplan, of the twenty-six conservation studios, laboratories, examination rooms and workshops in the Research Building at Winterthur Museum & Garden was an amazing experience.  She is faculty on the Winterthur/University of Delaware Art Conservation program as well as a graduate of it, so was able to arrange for my mukluks to be treated in their freezer. Here she is examining an everyday item from the early twentieth century.  I remember my mother wearing rain boots like that!  As a conservator, she is part anthropologist, part art historian, and very much part scientist. 

Above is the textile lab. The freezer is against the wall to the left of the yellow box marked "flammable".  The items in front of it which looks like they are sitting on dish drainers, are in their 24 hour thawing period after being in the freezer for 72 hours.  My mukluks will have two cycles like that before I pick them up.

Here is another shot of the textile lab.  It has the largest bath I have ever seen.

This is the graduate student classroom.  It is a three year program, with pre-requisites in chemistry, as well as anthropology, studio arts, and more.  Ten people to a class, with two years here, and a third year interning anywhere in the world makes for a very special club. 

This is the painting restoration lab, where people know how to identify forgeries, and would know how to make forgeries.  Like black hat and white hat hackers, these are the white hat painting restorers!

Is it a chemistry lab?  Is sure looks like one, but it's a conservation lab!

   Books and paper conservation each had their own labs.

This lab repaired broken ceramic and china objects, and I'm not sure what else.  There was so much that my head was swimming.

The students present posters at various conferences.  Some of them lined the hallways, like this one.

The furniture conservation lab was extensive.  An interne from a local college was working in it.


It was special to finally meet Lara after all our email correspondence, and it was a treat to get the tour of the conservation labs.  It was serendipity to also meet Bruno Pouliot, Winterthur's Senior Conservator of Objects.  It was the first time in forty-five plus years I had the opportunity to speak with someone who had also lived in the Arctic! He had been a conservator in Canada for six years, and it turned out that in my journey through three referrals to finally find Lara on the fourth try, he was the connecting link!  A man who knows mukluks and Inuit culture from experience, he understood that it is not the object alone we are conserving, but the stories that go with it...  The bond between us in just a few minutes of conversation is beyond words.