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News Careers in conservation

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​Susan L. Buck (photo by Monica Donovan)

​The National Trust for Historic Preservation's Preservation Magazine features UD doctoral alumna Susan Buck in their recent list of eight women making a difference through the maintenance and restoration of historic places. Buck, who received her Ph.D. in Art Conservation Research (the UD doctoral program that preceded the Preservation Studies Program) in 2003, was interviewed for the article by NTHP staff member Meghan P. White. Excerpted from the article—entitled "The Journeys and Experiences of Eight Women in Hands-On Preservation Careers"—in the Preservation Magazine Summer 2019 issue:


Here at Preservation magazine, we love researching and writing about places related to women’s history. But we’re equally interested in the major roles women currently play in maintaining and restoring historic places. That’s why we’re highlighting a group of outstanding women in hands-on preservation careers.

The eight professionals we’ve chosen (from a long list of worthy candidates) specialize in different areas of restoration—painting, window repair, timber framing, and stained glass, to name a few. They’re at varied points in their careers, and they hail from both urban and rural areas around the country. But they all blend art, science, and preservation know-how with a deep love for what they do—and they all have interesting and inspiring stories to tell.

. . . .

Susan Buck (Williamsburg, Virginia)

If you’ve walked the halls of some of the nation’s foremost buildings—George Washington’s Mount Vernon, Monticello, Drayton Hall (a National Trust Historic Site)—chances are you’ve also ambled past a hidden, miniscule chip in a wall. Conservator and paint analyst Susan Buck has left her mark—literally—almost everywhere she goes, and she goes to a lot of places.

"I’m trained as an art conservator. I started off as a furniture conservator specializing in finishes and painted objects. At the nonprofit Historic New England, I began working with architectural materials, answering questions about clear finishes, stains, and paint. Today, about 70 percent of my work is architectural conservation, and 30 percent is furniture and objects.

I’m currently working with the World Monuments Fund on the Qianlong Garden at the Forbidden City in China. I’ve also been working on and off at the Nathaniel Russell House, Monticello, and Mount Vernon since the 1990s, and you keep thinking, “How much more is there to discover?” But we’re still discovering new information.

With my epifluorescence microscope, I can identify clear coatings, define paint generations through layers of dirt, determine periods of the building based on paint stratigraphies, and more—all from a paint chip that measures no more than a quarter of an inch. I’m trying to be as careful as possible. You can get a tremendous amount of info from a tiny sample.

It’s like a giant puzzle: How do all these pieces fit together? It’s so satisfying, especially where the physical evidence is the only thing that remains, to figure out the answers.

Projects can last anywhere from a month, like a job I just finished that involved a Georgian period room, or up to two years or more, like at the University of Virginia, an enormous project where I’ve been working on all 10 Pavilions and the Rotunda. Even though I’m a sole practitioner, I’m always working with professionals—architects, preservationists, conservators, curators, and architectural historians. The best projects have a team approach."


To read the full article and see more stories of women working in conservation, visit the Preservation Magazine website here.

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Preservation Magazine features UD doctoral alumna Susan Buck in their recent list of eight women making a difference through the maintenance and restoration of historic places.

Preservation Magazine features UD doctoral alumna Susan Buck in their recent list of eight women making a difference through the maintenance and restoration of historic places.

8/5/2019
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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