Student Blog: Pre-program Experience

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  • Maggie Bearden lacquering a silver pitcher in a fume hood. (Photo: Jim Schneck)
  • Kaitlin Andrews polishing a candlestick with an aqueous slurry of precipitated calcium carbonate.  (Photo: Jim Schneck)

How do students prepare themselves to apply to a graduate training program? In this blog post, University of Delaware art conservation undergraduate alumnae Kaitlin Andrews and Maggie Bearden talk about their “pre-program” preparations since graduation in 2011.

After our graduation we were chosen to work in the Objects Laboratory at Winterthur Museum on a part-time, two-year Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS)-funded grant project to relacquer the silver collection. For the past thirty years, Winterthur has maintained a campaign of coating the collection’s silver with Agateen #27, a nitrocellulose lacquer.  The coating prevents corrosion from forming on the silver surface and extends the period of time in between required treatments up to approximately 25 years. Our grant involves the removal and analysis of aged and deteriorated coatings, the removal of any tarnish that has formed, and the recoating of objects with a fresh nitrocellulose lacquer coating. The hope of the analytical portion of the grant is to better understand how the silver tarnishes as the lacquer coating ages and to identify any possible chemical interactions between aged coatings and the silver surface. Dr. Jennifer Mass from Winterthur’s Scientific Research and Analysis Laboratory (SRAL) will examine samples of aged lacquer coating and tarnish that has formed using a combination of X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy and Raman spectroscopy. The analyses will be presented at the AIC 41st Annual Meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana and will be used to determine if there are any necessary alterations to the current lacquering protocol.

The two weekdays that we are not working at Winterthur, we both hold pre-program positions at institutions in nearby Philadelphia to gain as much experience as possible.

Maggie: I work at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA), where I began interning as an undergraduate. I have worked in the objects conservation laboratory on the restoration of the Rodin Museum and its contents. It was an amazing and unusual opportunity to be involved in the preservation of an entire museum. Since the completion of this project, I have begun to work in the PMA's paper conservation laboratory to gain a new set of skills and experience before my upcoming application to conservation graduate programs.

Kaitlin: I intern at the American Philosophical Society (APS), which is a small institution founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1743 with the intention to promote knowledge in the sciences and humanities. The Society remains active and elected members contribute to the mission through publications, lectures, and research. The aim of the APS conservation department is to preserve the numerous volumes of books, periodicals, manuscripts, and images in the library collection, which range from the 18th century to modern times. My internship focuses on the conservation of paper materials, including surface cleaning, mending tears, humidifying, flattening, and reducing stains with solvents. Recent projects that I have completed include an iron gall ink drawing by the botanist William Bartram and a modern, machine-made pamphlet recording an interview with the German-American biochemist Erwin Chargaff, whose investigations into the composition of DNA helped James Watson and Francis Crick develop an accurate model of the double helix structure. I have recently begun the treatment of an iron gall ink letter written by John Lawrence LeConte, a noted entomologist. The letter will undergo a calcium phytate bath, which will slow the progression of corrosion from the iron gall ink.

During the past year and a half after our graduation, we have gained valuable documentation and treatment skills in several specialties. We hope that with our experiences that we will soon be conservation graduate fellows!  Wish us luck!


Images: Maggie Bearden lacquering a silver pitcher in a fume hood. Kaitlin Andrews polishing a candlestick with an aqueous slurry of precipitated calcium carbonate. (Photos: Jim Schneck)