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News Student Blog: Philadelphia Museum of Art

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​Left: WUDPAC Class of 2018 Fellow Caitlin Sofield installing new fabric in the Hotel Lauzun gallery at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Right: One wall of the gallery before treatment. (Images: J. Wierzbicki)

My first introduction to conservation happened while studying abroad in undergrad at the Ithaca College London Center. I worked with a Conservation Cleaner in a historic house, and found the tasks intellectually stimulating and satisfying. Eager to learn more, the school connected me with a textile conservator who told me about the field, and the different specialties. My interest was immediately drawn to furniture; there can be a great diversity of materials, and the function and design interplay is fascinating. I also love the way that the specialty overlaps with textiles, objects, and architecture.

For my third year of the WUDPAC program, I was eager to move from the focus of wooden artifacts and American makers of my first two years, and look to some of the other overlapping fields. I started by spending an amazing four months in Sweden working on archaeological documentation of furniture and architectural fragments from the 17th century Swedish battleship, Vasa, at the Vasa Museum in Stockholm.  

My current placement is at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA).  With their encyclopedic collection and busy exhibition schedule, my final nine months have been full of new experiences.  In the winter we installed a show all about 1960’s design influences. Helping to prepare objects for this exhibit, I did condition surveys and minor treatments, and observed the installation process.  One of the treatments, a sofa with small holes and pulls in the upholstery fabric, required working in the textile lab. Advised by the head of costume and textile conservation at the museum; I used cotton fabric for passive fills under the holes.

The next project took me back to the 17th century; changing out degraded silk wall coverings from a french period room installation.  The gallery is casually referred to as Hotel Lauzun, taking the name from the house in Paris from which much of the panelling derived.  Made up of painted and gilded panelling from at least 2 different rooms from the original Hotel Lauzun, and a painted ceiling from a house of the same period just outside of Paris; the gallery was installed in the museum in the 1950s, and the walls were covered in a modern red silk damask.  Over the decades the silk began to degrade, to the point that it was attracting visitor attention and probably encouraged touching, as much of the damage was located by the doors at hand level. The curator received special project funding to replace the fabric and the gallery was closed for the duration of the project.  Because period rooms are the responsibility of the furniture lab, we were involved with the planning and execution of the fabric change. I created custom covers to protect the period panelling, and worked closely with the museum upholster to remove the degraded silk, attach an isolating layer of tyvek, and install the new silk and trim.  

​Caitlin Sofield working on passive fills of modern upholstery. (Image: J. Peterson)

As I near the end of my internship, I am now working on two painted panels that were removed during the work in the Hotel Lauzun gallery.  One panel needs some structural stabilization, and we are taking advantage of the treatment time to gain more information about their manufacture.  Through careful study, imaging, cross-section microscopy and consultation with the Scientific Research Lab, we hope to better understand the materials, and perhaps learn when they were first installed in the Hotel in Paris.

Going from archaeological fragments, to 20th century design, to 17th century architecture has definitely stretched my skills and knowledge about the myriad materials that can come up in “furniture” conservation.  I have gone back to look at WUDPAC first year notes from the preventive, textile, organics, paintings and furniture blocks. I am so grateful for the comprehensive approach of the program and for the exposure to so many materials and specialties.  This internship has given me the opportunity to grow professionally, and I am fortunate to be staying at the museum after graduation. I have been selected to be the new Andrew W. Mellon fellow in furniture conservation at the PMA, and thus will be able to continue research on the panels, and be available for all the other exciting projects such a busy museum will produce.  

— Caitlin Sofield, WUDPAC Class of 2018

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In this blog post, WUDPAC Class of 2018 Fellow Caitlin Sofield shares her experience working with the range of period and modern materials encountered in furniture conservation.

​In this blog post, WUDPAC Class of 2018 Fellow Caitlin Sofield shares her experience working with the range of period and modern materials encountered in furniture conservation.

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