Lively Conservation

Gergory M. Donley Assistant Director, Creative Services

The new paper lab is situated at a northeast corner.

One of the key points of the museum’s facilities master plan of ten years ago was the need to combine the conservation specialties into one central updated facility. With the opening of the east wing this past fall, this goal was realized. Laboratories that were once scattered throughout the museum—in a former library space in the old 1958 addition, and in three disparate spaces in the 1916 building—are now brought together in a beautifully designed and outfitted suite of conservation labs and auxiliary work spaces at the northeast section on the ground floor of the new building: the Eric T. and Jane Baker Nord Conservation Suite.

A mirror designed by Félix Bracquemond with a relief by Auguste Rodin undergoes examination in the objects lab.

One staff member who has been at the museum through a few iterations of the conservation department’s reconfiguration is Marcia Steele, longtime paintings conservator who was promoted to chief conservator this past September. “It’s really terrific to have us all in the same place at last,” she says. “Not only that, the architect has designed spaces for us that have the quality of light necessary for the examination, documentation, and treatment of the collections. Natural light and the ability to control it are vital for conservation work.” 

In addition to the spaces dedicated to the conservation specialties—paintings, paper, objects, textiles, and Asian paintings—there is a preparatory space dedicated to matting and framing and related installation projects, a photography studio with equipment for infrared and x-ray image capture, as well as conventional photography, an analytical lab for housing instruments and carrying out more in-depth technical analysis, and even an industrial spray booth for working with large quantities of solvents and applying varnishes and coatings to works of art. Also housed in the new conservation suite are the administrative office and a conservation reference library. Humidity and temperature are controlled with a new HVAC system now used and monitored museum-wide. In all, says Steele, “the new conservation facility combines all the aspects of a world-class facility with the necessary tools and equipment to document, analyze, and preserve the collections.”

Chuck Close relaxes in the paintings laboratory.

Having such facilities is critical to the success of the museum’s conservation efforts, but equally important is the department’s staff: skilled and experienced individuals who can make the most of those resources. Steele herself brings over 20 years of experience in paintings conservation; associate textiles conservator Robin Hanson has been here since 2001; paper conservator Moyna Stanton came to the museum in 1998 from the neighboring Intermuseum Conservation Association, where she worked with the museum on contract since 1994; the museum shares associate conservator of Asian paintings Jennifer Perry with the Sackler and Freer Galleries in Washington, D.C.; Shelley Paine of Nashville, Tennessee, brings 30 years’ experience when she joins the museum as objects conservator on January 15; and Dean Yoder, an independent conservator who has worked for the museum on special projects for 20 years (most notably, the restoration of the five monumental Meynier paintings now on view in the 1916 building), joins the staff full-time in February to assume the position of paintings conservator. The conservators are assisted by three conservation technicians—Elizabeth Wolfe, Joan Neubecker, and Jim George—who bring a combined experience of over 50 years at the museum; Joan Bewley is the senior administrative assistant for the department.  

“The care and preservation of works of art for today as well as for future generations is a fundamental goal of the museum’s long-term mission,” says Steele, “and we’re pleased to look to the coming decades with confidence that we have the best facilities and professional talent in place.”