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News A tale of two summers

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​Two pre-program interns spent their summer as part of the Conservation Internship for Broadening Access (CIBA) program, a collaboration between UD and the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM).

Matthew Fields spent his 2017 summer at ARTC as part of the inaugural Two-Week Introduction into Practical Conservation (TIPC) program before spending his 2018 summer at SAAM, and is currently a senior at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. Tamara Dissi started at SAAM as a pre-program intern in January 2018 and holds a BA in art history from the University of California, Berkeley. Both students worked in the museum's Lunder Conservation Center, and their blog posts on the SAAM website talk about their background, summer experiences, and plans for the future.

​Left: Matthew Fields (left) assessing a diorama at the University of Delaware in 2017. Right: Matthew Fields and TIPC students treating and conserving the diorama.

From Matthew Fields's blog, entitled "Conservation: A Tale of Two Summers":

In the summer of 2017, I had the privilege of working on the dioramas from the 1940 Chicago "American Negro Exhibition." Being a part of the inaugural Two-Week Introduction into Practical Conservation (TIPC) program was an invaluable experience. I spent those weeks on the grounds of the Winterthur Museum and the University of Delaware, and was immersed in the field of museum studies for the first time. My colleagues and I were tasked with beginning the treatment of a diorama depicting the arrival of slaves on Dutch ships in the 1400s. After a bit of research, we were able to learn that this diorama was one of 33 that were created for the 1940 exhibition. At this point, there were still many questions to be answered: how many dioramas still exist? What was their purpose? Who created the dioramas and why? . . . Finding out these different pieces of information helped us to recognize the importance of our project. Beyond our extensive individual and collaborative research, we got a crash course in conservation and started treating the diorama by examining, consolidating, and minor surface cleaning. These two weeks were life changing for me. I learned about the ever-expanding world of conservation, the professional potential that this field holds for someone like me, and most importantly, the existence of these dioramas. Fast forward to 2018. This past summer, there were three more dioramas from the series being conserved. As a Smithsonian Conservation Intern for Broadening Access (CIBA), I had the luxury of being able to spend my internship with another one of the dioramas, Reconstruction after the War, carrying out its treatment with a fellow CIBA intern, Tamara Dissi. This opportunity was a step forward for me educationally as Tamara and I helped mentor three incoming TIPC interns. During my internship, I spent ten weeks in the heart of Washington, D.C., working at the Lunder Conservation Center at the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM)-- the largest collection of American art in the country. The diorama is inspired by Eastman Johnson's 1859 painting Negro Life at the South. Since this painting is in the collection of the New York Historical Society.

To read more of this blog post, via the SAAM website here.

​Left: Tamara Dissi consolidating a figure from the diorama. Right: Injecting Lascaux 360 with medical-grade syringe.

From Tamara Dissi's blog, entitled "Through the Eye of the Needle: Treating a 1940 Diorama":

Injecting artwork with medical-grade syringes was not included as part of my job description, yet this is precisely what I found myself doing three weeks into my Conservation Internship for Broadening Access (CIBA) this summer. Conservators are often described as art doctors, and I now understand the almost literal association as I load my medical-grade syringe with diluted consolidant. Objects come into the lab for routine check-ups, examinations, and treatments as necessary. My patient this summer was (and still is) a fantastic multimedia diorama which was part of the 1940 “American Negro Exposition” in Chicago. My fellow CIBA intern, Matthew Fields, and I spent these few months treating this artwork, entitled Reconstruction after the War. This diorama was one of 33 included in the original exhibition, but only 20 remain today, all of which are in the Tuskegee University Legacy Museum collection. Over 70 African American artists created these intricate works which aimed to depict important moments in African American history. The specific one in our lab this summer is modeled after Eastman Johnson’s 1859 painting, Negro Life at the South, which is in the New York Historical Society collection. With the passing of 80 years between the painting and diorama, the diorama underwent artistic liberties yet the reference to Johnson’s painting is made clear with exceptional attention to detail. After the exhibition, the artwork was placed in a dark basement where it remained for the next 70 years. It came into the Lunder Conservation Center in June needing some extra TLC. As a pre-program conservation intern looking into master’s programs, I am interested in pursuing paintings or objects as my specialty. I was particularly interested in working with this diorama because of its composition of a variety of materials. . . . Before starting the treatment, we essentially had to conduct an archaeological excavation, carefully sorting and cataloguing salvageable fragments among the debris. Next, the diorama needed some serious consolidation (re-binding the surface material to its support). Since every object is unique, cleaning and consolidating agents needs to be tested first to assess its reaction to the object’s materials. At this point, we removed four of the figures from the diorama and treated them as individual objects. Their painted surfaces were very friable, meaning that even a light dusting removed integral paint layers.

To read more of this blog post, via the SAAM website here.

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Two pre-program interns spent their summers in the Conservation Internship for Broadening Access program, a collaboration between UD and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

​Two pre-program interns spent their summers in the Conservation Internship for Broadening Access program, a collaboration between UD and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

10/13/2018
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  • The Department of Art Conservation
  • 303 Old College
  • University of Delaware
  • Newark, DE 19716, USA
  • Phone: 302-831-3489
  • art-conservation@udel.edu