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News Student Blog: Brooklyn Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art

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​Left: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Image c/o Riccardo Bianchini) Right: The Brooklyn Museum. (Image c/o Jonathan Dorado)

Content Warning: the entry below includes discussion and imagery of materials associated with funerary and burial contexts. 

In September of 2020, I moved from Delaware to Brooklyn to start my third-year internship. New York was still reeling in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. While my original plan was to spend the year working in the Department of Objects Conservation at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the museum had safety restrictions in place that limited access for staff. I began the year working remotely for The Met and part-time at the Brooklyn Museum, where the smaller conservation lab offered more flexibility for onsite work. In January I started in-person at The Met and have continued to work with both museums ever since. Splitting time between these two distinctive institutions has been an unexpected silver lining – the opportunity to compare institutional workflows, access a wide range of objects for treatment, and broaden my network of mentors in the New York conservation world has been better professional training than I could have hoped for. 

​WUDPAC Class of 2021 Fellow Katerina Acuna testing solvents for cleaning bronze at the Brooklyn Museum. (Image c/o Isaac Messina)

Working remotely as a Met intern gave me time to delve into research for future conservation treatment. I supplemented this research with hands-on work at Brooklyn, where I treated ceramics, glassware, bronze, stone, and contemporary mixed-media pieces for upcoming exhibitions including rotations of the Asian and Contemporary Art Galleries and Modern Gothic: The Inventive Furniture of Kimbel and Cabus, a showcase of the Victorian-era furniture and decorative arts firm. I also participated in other museum activities, such as preparing objects for traveling loans, installing and deinstalling exhibitions, environmental monitoring, and collections care. Throughout the year I have gained valuable experience working with diverse materials, meeting the pace of exhibition schedules, and collaborating across departments.

In early 2021, I began working onsite at The Met two days per week. I have been examining, documenting and cleaning the Coffin of Wedjarenes (664-525 B.C.) as part of a larger study on Late Period Egyptian coffins at The Met. I am recording physical characteristics of the coffin that may provide information on its materials and construction. The direction of stray drips of paint, for example, can be examined to determine whether the coffin was painted while lying down or while standing. Areas of loss to the surface decoration can reveal preparatory layers of gesso-like paste and linen. The specific types of wood used in construction might indicate how local resources were leveraged and, in some cases, supplemented with materials sourced through international trade. These details contribute to a larger picture of the artistic, cultural, and economic context of funerary traditions in the Ancient Egyptian world.  

​Left: Katerina surface cleaning the Coffin of Wedjarenes. (Image c/o Anna Serotta) Right: Deposits of black substance on interior of coffin. (Image c/o Met Museum)

The coffin has a notable feature: there are several deposits of an opaque blackish substance on the interior and exterior. Similar black deposits have been observed on many other coffins and other Egyptian objects from burial contexts. Analysis at other institutions has revealed that some examples contain a mixture of plant oils and bitumen. Chemical analysis will be carried out on the black "goo" from the Coffin of Wedjarenes to determine whether its components are consistent with other examples. The underlying meaning and function of this black substance is still being explored by scholars. Analyzing this material and tracking where and how it was applied may shed more light on Egyptian funerary practice. 

Although my third year of graduate school unfolded differently than I had imagined, my internships have given me the opportunity to connect with a wider community of conservators while building a broad range of experience that will serve me as a professional. I have researched and treated ancient and modern objects, organics and inorganics, and have had the opportunity to learn the institutional practices of two very different museums. As an emerging objects conservator, I have sought generalized training to lay the groundwork for a career that is by nature unpredictable. This year has certainly prepared me for life's unpredictability. 

— Katerina Acuna, WUDPAC Class of 2021

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WUDPAC Class of 2021 Fellow Katerina Acuna shares her experience with hybrid internships and treatments at two major New York City institutions.

​WUDPAC Class of 2021 Fellow Katerina Acuna shares her experience with hybrid internships and treatments at two major New York City institutions.

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