To promote awareness and a clearer understanding of
into specializations that require particular training, the Emerging
Conservation Professionals Network (ECPN) of the American Institute for
Conservation (AIC) has been conducting a series
of interviews with conservation professionals in various specialties. In
their first interview from a series focused on members of AIC's Wooden
Artifacts Group (WAG), they spoke with Caite Sofield,
a third year fellow in the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in
Art Conservation (WUDPAC).
ECPN: How were you first introduced to conservation, and why did you decide to pursue conservation?
CS: My first introduction to conservation was during
an undergraduate internship in London at the Leighton House
Museum. Organized through the Art History Department of Ithaca College,
my internship was divided between assisting the Curator of Collections
and Research and working with a Conservation Cleaner in the Linley
Sanbourne House, a historic property also managed by LHM. I found this
work dynamic and compelling, and was surprised to discover that I
learned as much (if not more) about history from working in the house
and on the objects than I did in my associated art history course. I was
so excited to connect with history in this tangible way, and I knew
that I wanted to seek similar experiences in the future.
ECPN: Of all specializations, what contributed to your decision to pursue furniture conservation?
CS: Furniture conservation appealed to me because
furniture, as a subsection of decorative arts, can include a wide
variety of materials, and there is a wonderful overlap between
architecture, textiles, and objects. I love seeing the way the intended
function of an object affects its design and how that changes over time.
I am particularly fond of the forms that are highly specific and
representative of a small window in time, like the voyeuse of the 18th
century and the telephone table of the 20th century.
ECPN: Are there any particular skills
that you feel are important or unique to your discipline? Can one solely
be a ‘wooden artifact conservator,’ or is knowledge of composites and
how to treat other materials inherent to the work?
CS: Knowledge of wood science and woodworking skills
are hugely important to furniture conservation, as wood is the
predominant material you will come across on a day-to-day basis. I
suppose one could solely be a ‘wooden artifact conservator’ if the
collection needs supported it, but I am really interested in furniture
more broadly, and for that, you need to have a working knowledge of
other materials and surface techniques (ie: gilding, metals, leather and
other organics, and stone). Because of the diverse materials a
furniture conservator can encounter, I have actively sought out
institutions with encyclopedic collections or projects that may
indirectly relate to furniture to broaden my exposure.
To read the full interview, and to access ECPN interviews from emerging conservators working in other specialities, click here.