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Conservation in Puerto Rico

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​In her senior year, UD Class of 2022 alumna Yulimar Luna Colón used her Vicki Cassman Award to connect with Puerto Rican heritage institutions and museum professionals. Her one-month plan became a year-long project that expanded her understanding of art conservation within the island.​


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A student pictured on a presentation flyer, and standing in front of a museum sign.

​Flyer for Yulimar's 2021 Zoom Event, "Fellowships and Internships from the Latinx Perspective​" (left), and Yulimar outside the Museo de Las Américas​. (Photo: Yuliana Luna​)

Introduction

I received the Vicki Cassman Award last year for an outreach and networking project that would allow me to return to Puerto Rico and connect more with institutions as well as museum professionals. During the winter of 2021, I was able to visit all the museums and historical sites in the capital of Puerto Rico as well as meet emerging conservation professionals. What began as a one-month plan to explore Puerto Rican heritage became a year-long project that expanded my understanding of art conservation within the island. This exciting project transformed into a key piece that helped with my senior thesis research. My senior thesis focused on art conservation in Puerto Rico and being able to physically attend the available sites was vital for my understanding of how many institutions are active within the island.

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Inside of a room in a historic house. A window opens out onto a balcony overlooking the water.

​The Casa Blanca Museum​ (left) and tickets to the museum. (Photo: Y. Colón​)​

Networking

With my project in mind, I had a couple of ideas on how to connect with Puerto Rican museum professionals—one of which was networking. At the same time, ECPN Puerto Rico was having a series of lectures on the Latinx Perspective of Conservation which I had the opportunity to attend and give a lecture on my then upcoming thesis and my experiences in conservation.

This info session allowed me to meet and chat with ECPN Puerto Rico liaisons as well as attendees of the event who are involved in conservation topics. From this event, I was able to collect contact information from many professionals who make up the cultural heritage community in Puerto Rico.​​​​

In-person visits​

Among the institutions I visited, the one that stood out to me the most was the Museo Casa Blanca or the Casa Blanca Museum. This small historical museum is often overlooked by the big historical landmarks of Old San Juan. This museum is the preserved house of Juan Ponce de León and was built in 1521. As the tour guide explained, this house was one of the first architectural projects of the Old San Juan. Even though Ponce de León passed away before ever occupying it, his family took over the residence and maintained it as is until it received protection under the institute of Puerto Rican Culture. This museum was especially interesting for me not only because its beautiful gardens and ocean view but also because of the notable Spanish influence in a Caribbean home. The use of wood and paper materials were prevalent within the open space museum, which made me think about the challenges of preserving said materials in humid environments. Exploring this kind of museum really sparked my interest in finding out how institutions in Puerto Rico preserved objects in their collections, which is what my senior thesis sought to achieve.

​Casa Blanca was just one of my favorites for the purpose of this project. I visited other institutions that are imperative to Puerto Rican culture:​

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Large, wheeled machinery in a historic factory, and wooden, household machinery in a historic house.

​Images taken during visits to the Cuarto de Maquinas in Bahomamey (left), and the ​Casa Blanca in Viejo San Juan​. (Photos: Y. Colón​)​​

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A flower and fashion display in a historic house, and a display of paper mache heads in a museum.

​Images taken during visits to the Casa Museo Felisa Rincn de Gautier ​(left) and the Museo las Américas​ (right). (Photos: Y. Colón)​​​

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A billiard table in a museum room with brightly colored walls and a checkered floor.
The ​Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico.​ (Photo: Y. Colón​)

​My Senior Thesis

Knowledge and understanding that I gathered from these experiences helped shape the research for my senior thesis: Art Conservation in Cultural Institutions in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. My thesis researched the conservation practices of overall cultural institutions of the island of Puerto Rico as well as institutions in the Virgin Islands. These two regions were included with the goal of covering a good portion of the Caribbean and how these approach the preservation of cultural heritage. I also wanted to consider the way that natural disasters affect certain protocols that may have been in place. In order to do this, I sent out an online survey at the same time that I was visiting institutions. As a result of my research, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands currently has a more response-approach to conservation due to the constant climate events.

This research is really the first of its kind and will hopefully be the beginning on more advocacy cultural heritage in Puerto Rico. The Caribbean is so rich in its history, and it deserves to see future generations. I really want to aim this directly at emerging conservation professionals from Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands and anyone that is interested in the preservation of their culture.

—Yulimar Luna Colón (UD Class of 2022, Degree with Distinction in Art Conservation and Art History​)

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The student's thesis flyer includes images of historic structures and the Puerto Rican flag.

​Yulimar's 2022 senior thesis flyer​.

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UD Class of 2022 alumna Yulimar Luna Colón used her Vicki Cassman Award to connect with Puerto Rican institutions and museum professionals. Her one-month plan became a year-long project that expanded her understanding of art conservation on the island.
9/5/2022
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