DC Trip – lab visits

On May 21st, I drove down to DC with my parents for the purpose of visiting my mom’s cousin who lives in Springfield, VA. Of course I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit a couple of the MANY conservation labs in our nation’s capitol.

I scheduled a morning visit with the paper conservators at the National Gallery of Art. Michelle Facini and Marian Dirda were very kind to take the time to show me around behind the scenes and describe a few in-progress treatments. The work space is only temporary as construction of brand new labs is currently under way, but I felt their temporary work area was still fairly spacious and had something most conservators only dream of–a window. They showed me some double-sided Italian drawings that are being mounted as inlays to display both sides during exhibition. Also, we looked at a Louise Nevelson graphite drawing awaiting washing; the cool thing about that is the research that was done using their in-house materials collection. Michelle was able to find a new sheet of the type of paper used by Nevelson, which can be compared to the artwork during washing to achieve a similar color. From the Nevelson drawing, I also learned about the effect that washing can have on the plates of graphite, disturbing their placement and sheen.

Michelle and Marian brought me through the other conservation labs, and the storage area and matting/framing shop in the east building before taking me to lunch. The framers enjoy a beautiful view of the Capitol outside their window–not too shabby! Even the employee lunch area was lovely, with an outside patio. Finally, Michelle took me through the German drawings exhibition and noted some of the more major treatments they completed. I was sorry not to have met the head of the lab, Kim Schenck, but I am thankful to my gracious hosts for their undivided attention!

My wonderful day continued with a walk down to the Holocaust Museum to meet with my AIC mentor Jane Klinger, who heads the conservation lab there. This was the first time Jane and I were able to meet in person, and I really enjoyed being able to talk to her face to face. Let me just say what an amazing help Jane has been in guiding me through graduate school applications and interviews, and even life-changing decisions! I am so thankful that ECPN began this program just as I was beginning my career.

Back to my visit. Besides some chatting, Jane showed me around their lab and introduced me to all of the wonderful people who work there. It’s fun to ask about peoples’ backgrounds and why they got into conservation; I am so inspired by how hard conservators work to become successful at what they do. I am also inspired, specifically, by the conservators at the Holocaust Museum, because the nature of the artifacts they work with can be heart-wrenching. I was able to look at some diaries written by Jews during the Holocaust, some greatly censored by the Nazis. Something very interesting to Jane, and I have to say me, too, is the varied types of inks used by the authors; prisoners obtained writing ink in various ways, but also used other materials when none was available. Some diaries were even written using several types of “ink” on each page, making the job of the conservator almost impossible if the artifact were to need cleaning!

Besides the networking aspect of my two visits, I ultimately learned about two very different work environments for a paper conservator: prints and drawings versus books and documents. The National Gallery has a wonderful collection of fine art, a large conservation staff, and many resources available for research and analysis. The Holocaust Museum has a historical collection of artifacts and documents, a small group of conservators, but also many resources within the Federal museum system. I would say that both institutions have an important mission in teaching the public about the world’s cultural heritage, and I would be honored to work at either museum!

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