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Debra Hess Norris is Chair of the Art Conservation Department at the University of Delaware, and Professor of Photograph Conservation. She graduated magna cum laude with an interdisciplinary BA degree in chemistry, art history, and studio art (1977) and MS in conservation (1980) from the University of Delaware.
Since 1985, Norris has authored more than 45 articles and book chapters on care and treatment of photographic materials, emergency response, ethics, and conservation education; and taught more than 125 workshops and seminars for conservators and allied professionals. Norris has lectured and consulted on the preservation of photographic collections worldwide, including in Russia, India, Lebanon, Morocco, Turkey, UAE, Jordan, Denmark, France, Finland, the Netherlands, Ireland, Israel, Mexico, Peru, Colombia, Cuba, Benin, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan.
She greatly enjoys fundraising and has secured more than $20 million in external grants for the Art Conservation Department at the University of Delaware. Norris was the chair of Heritage Preservation (2003- 2008) and president of the American Institute for the Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (1993-97). From 1990-93 she chaired the AIC Ethics and Standards Committee that developed a revised Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice. She has served as president of the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts Board (CCAHA), US commissioner to UNESCO, and project director of The Andrew W. Mellon Collaborative Workshops in Photograph Conservation. In October 2009, Norris and Vinod Daniel co-chaired the Salzburg Global Seminar that was funded by the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and convened 60 invited delegates from around the world in Salzburg, Austria to address pressing challenges associated with the preservation of our global cultural heritage. Recently, she has spoken at many of the IMLS Connecting to Collections national conferences on topics ranging from the preservation of photographic materials to fundraising for collections care.
Norris has co-led the Middle East Photograph Preservation Initiative (MEPPI) with the Arab Image Foundation, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Getty Conservation Institute. With Nora Kennedy, Bertrand Lavedrine, and other colleagues she has launched a similar photograph preservation training initiative in Sub-Saharan Africa with a workshop in April 2014 in Benin. Norris helped to develop and implement the Iraqi Institute for the Conservation of Antiquities and Heritage (IICAH) in Erbil, Iraq where more than 200 Iraqi heritage professionals have been trained in basic preservation techniques and she has worked with APOYOnline to develop a workshop in Colombia for participants across Latin America. This work continued in Cuba and in 2019 a workshop in photograph conservation will be offered in collaboration with APOYOnline in Brazil.
Norris is treasurer of the Friends of the National Gallery of Denmark, a member of the visiting committee for the Department of Photographs, Metropolitan Museum of Art and serves on the CCAHA Board of Directors. She also serves on the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Library Alliance Board, the Foundation for the American Institute for Conservation Board, and the University of Delaware Board of Trustees.
In 2002, Norris was inducted into the University of Delaware's Alumni Wall of Fame. In January 2004, she was appointed as the Henry Francis du Pont Chair in Fine Arts. She has received the Rutherford John Gettens Merit Award for outstanding service to the AIC (1998), the Sheldon and Caroline Keck Award for excellence in the education and training of conservation professionals (2004), the AIC University Products Award for distinguished achievement in the conservation of cultural property (2008), and the College Art Association/ AIC Award for Distinction in Scholarship and Conservation (2016). In May 2018, Norris was named a Francis Alison Scholar, the top faculty honor at the University of Delaware.
She co-edited a compilation of fundamental writings in the field of photograph conservation with Jennifer Jae Gutierrez – Issues in the Conservation of Photographs – published by the Getty Conservation Institute in 2010.
Norris has served the College of Arts and Sciences as the interim associate dean for the arts and humanities (2006-07), associate dean for the social sciences (2007-08), interim associate dean for the arts (2011-12), the associate dean for graduate education (2010-12) and interim associate dean for the humanities (2016-17). Norris co-chaired the University of Delaware Path to Prominence strategic planning process (2007-2009), served on the planning committee for Delaware will Shine (2015-17) and served as vice provost for graduate and professional education (2008-10).
A recent interview with Norris is available on the Institute of Conservation Photographic Materials Group blog here, and her life-long work to
train new generations of conservators is celebrated in the Spring 2019
issue of The Magazine of the National Endowment for the Humanities here. In January 2020, Norris led an intensive three-day conference and workshop on the preservation of photographic materials in San Juan, organized in collaboration with the FEMA Joint Recovery Office of Puerto Rico, the National Archives in San Juan, the Institute for Puerto Rican Culture (ICP), and other partners. Nearly 80 professionals from across the island – curators, historians, photographers, professors, scientists, government officials, archivists, conservators, and students – participated in lectures and workshops centered on advocacy and the identification, characterization, deterioration, and preventive care of photographic collections. Coverage that training was included in the Heritage Emergency National Task Force (HENTF) Puerto Rico's newsletter here.