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News A conservation legacy

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​Juliana Ly, graduate student in the Winterthur-University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation (WUDPAC), and Joyce Hill Stoner, Professor of Art Conservation at the University of Delaware, discuss the restoration of a damaged 19th-century portrait for display in the Winterthur museum. (photo by Jim Graham)

​Delaware Today examines the du Pont family's commitment to education and preservation, and the global reach of the Winterthur-University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation. Excerpted from the June 2019 feature article by Samantha Drake:

Inside a series of meticulously clean, brightly lit labs on the grounds of Winterthur, staff conservat[ors] and students are busy ensuring the objects of the past will be around for future generations to appreciate. One is restoring delicate fragments of wallpaper from the farmhouse on the oldest continually operating African-American-owned farm in Pennsylvania. Another is repairing tears in a vandalized 19th-century portrait brought in by a local resident.

In a lab down the hall, two students are embarking on a grant-funded project cleaning and polishing for the first time in 30 years 500 silver objects in the museum’s possession. Elsewhere, a team builds special dress forms to showcase the elaborate costumes for the “Costuming the Crown” exhibition.

The work perpetuates that of Henry Francis du Pont, who died 50 years ago and spent much of the 20th century developing his family’s 1,000-acre Winterthur estate just outside of Wilmington, including the museum that houses his unparalleled collection of early American decorative and fine arts. Through the intertwined conservation and education initiatives he spearheaded during his lifetime, Winterthur grew into a place to train the next generation of conservat[ors].

Du Pont’s successors have carried on his vision, launching Winterthur onto the world stage through a conservation training program with China that has resulted in a vibrant cultural exchange and new opportunities for preservationists and conservators on both sides of the Pacific. . . .

​Left: Becca Duffy, curatorial fellow at Winterthur, and Leslie Grigsby, Winterthur’s senior curator of glass and ceramics, examine a piece from Winterthur’s ceramics collection. Right: Yang Xu, a WUDPAC graduate student, and Mark Anderson, Winterthur’s senior furniture conservator, restore an item from Winterthur’s historic collections. (photos by Jim Graham)

The prescient H.F. du Pont wasn’t just a collector; he became an early champion of preserving and restoring historic objects. Understanding that education was the key to ensuring his conservation efforts lived on, he led Winterthur to partner with the University of Delaware on two graduate-level programs to educate conservators who bring new techniques and fresh perspectives into the field each year.

Du Pont supported the creation of the Winterthur Program in American Material Culture with the University of Delaware in 1952. The two-year program looks at American history through the social context of decorative arts and household furnishings, with students earning a Master of Arts degree in American Material Culture from the university.

In 1974, Winterthur and UD established the Winterthur-University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation (WUDPAC), a three-year masters level program in art conservation in which students spend a significant amount of time at Winterthur studying various types of materials and treatments and working on special projects.

“Winterthur’s labs are the University of Delaware’s classrooms,” says Margaret “Peggy” Holben Ellis, president of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works in Washington, D.C. “These are the young people who are going to revitalize the field.”

One of just five graduate-level art conservation programs in North America that “produce the conservators of tomorrow,” WUDPAC is a major contributor to the pipeline of conservationists at the national and international level, Ellis says. (The other four programs are at New York University, State University College at Buffalo, University of California at Los Angeles and Queens University in Ontario.)

Juliana Ly will graduate from WUDPAC next year. Her eyes light up as she talks about her love of paintings and her work on the ripped 19th-century portrait. The program curriculum is essentially “a three-legged stool,” blending art history, chemistry and the high-end hand skills necessary to carry out conservation work such as removing varnish or stitching fabric, Ly says. . . .

​Left: Catherine Matsen, conservation scientist at Winterthur, works in the Louise du Pont Crowninshield Research building. Right: Catherine Matsen, conservation scientist at Winterthur, and Rosie Grayburn, associate scientist, work in The Louise du Pont Crowninshield Research building. (photos by Jim Graham)

A final du Pont project helped ensure Winterthur’s place in the conservation world. The Louise du Pont Crowninshield Research Building, named for du Pont’s sister—a renowned historic preservationist in her own right—opened in 1969. But the highly anticipated opening day turned out to be bittersweet—H.F. du Pont had died a month before.

Intended from the start to be the hub of conservation activity and learning, the Crowninshield Building houses Winterthur’s various workrooms and offices, as well as its library. Labs are dedicated to specific materials, including metals, objects, paper, photographs, furniture, upholstered furniture, textiles and paintings. Other rooms are allotted for scientific research and analysis. . . .

As Winterthur's reputation for conservation expertise has grown, international relationships have followed. A unique opportunity to work with conservationists in the Forbidden City in Beijing catapulted Winterthur into the global historic preservation community.

When the World Monuments Fund teamed up with China’s Palace Museum to restore the 18th century Qianlong Garden in Beijing’s Forbidden City, it reached out to Winterthur to provide missing necessary skills, says Greg Landrey, director of Library, Collections Management & Academic Programs. However, Winterthur did much more than contribute skills to a one-time project; in 2010 it began working with Beijing colleagues to develop a conservation training program at Tsinghua University, so the Chinese could create their own pipeline of restoration experts.

The partnership is also fostering cultural exchanges and new opportunities for students and professors in both countries. “China is a wealth of opportunity for our students,” says Landrey. “We’re planting seeds for future opportunities for our students to engage with Asian culture and China specifically.”

It’s also an opportunity for Chinese conservation students. Yang Xu, who graduated from Tsinghua University with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in architecture, is now pursuing a WUDPAC degree. Xu, whose current project is the restoration of a grandfather clock in the furniture lab, says he intends to bring new techniques back to China.

To read more about the Winterthur museum's conservation efforts and its ties to the WUDPAC program, read the full Delaware Today article here.

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Delaware Today examines the du Pont family's commitment to preservation and the global reach of the Winterthur-University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation.

​Delaware Today examines the du Pont family's commitment to preservation and the global reach of the Winterthur-University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation.

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  • The Department of Art Conservation
  • 303 Old College
  • University of Delaware
  • Newark, DE 19716, USA
  • Phone: 302-831-3489