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​Left: Undergraduate senior, AnnaLivia McCarthy, examines the edge of a pile rug in the collections of Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library. Right: Undergraduate senior, AnnaLivia McCarthy examines a pile rug in the collections of Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library. (Images courtesy of Kate Sahmel.)

In this blog post, UD undergraduate student AnnaLivia McCarthy discusses her thesis research on the complex history of rug conservation. (AnnaLivia is an undergraduate senior in Art Conservation and Art History at the University of Delaware, with minors in Museum Studies and Global Studies. AnnaLivia is also president of the Art Conservation Club.)


When you walk on a pile rug and feel the soft cushion of thousands of tiny knots, it is easy to forget their structural complexity and importance as a textile. Rugs, as objects of conservation, have had a unique history tied to their values as utilitarian objects, works of art, and collectables. As part of the research for my undergraduate thesis, I am compiling information of the conservation and restoration of pile rugs.

Unlike many other textiles, the conservation and restoration of rugs is often parallel in treatment and similar in method. This blurred history is at the focus of my research, which is divided into two components. This first is a review of the existing literature on pile rugs. Much has been written about the technical construction and social history of rugs. Unfortunately conservation literature has been sparse. In 1990, The Textile Museum at George Washington University held a first-of-it-kind symposium dedicated to the conservation of rugs. It invited conservators, restorers, and rug researchers to share their experiences and spark dialogue on rug conservation. This is the impetus for my research, and I am interested in discovering how it has impacted contemporary practice.

​Left: Undergraduate senior, AnnaLivia McCarthy examines a pile rug in the collections of Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library. Right: Undergraduate senior, AnnaLivia McCarthy examines a pile rug under magnification in the collections of Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library. (Images courtesy of Kate Sahmel.)

The second part of my research is interviews with conservators and restorers who are experienced in treating rugs. The conservation of rugs spans many aspects of preservation including cleaning, storage and exhibition, however the focus of my interviews will be on treatments concerning structural stabilization and/or compensation for visual loss. I am particularly interested in the techniques of reknotting and reweaving. Interventive treatments such as these have been common in both conservation and restoration. The goal of this research is not draw a definitive line between conservation and restoration of pile rugs, but to examine how these fields have borrowed from one another.

My hope it that the information gleaned from these interview can be compared to the information found in published literature. Additional consideration will be paid to how the disciplines of conservation and restoration are similar and different in contemporary practice. The main goal of my research is to uncover the ways in which the conservation and restoration of pile rugs has changed over time, and to assist conservators in their future campaigns.

This semester I was fortunate enough to begin my study of pile rugs in the collection of Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library. My research is under the direction of Laura Mina, Associate Textile Conservator at Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library with additional guidance from Kate Sahmel, Associate Textile Conservator at Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library.

AnnaLivia McCarthy, UD Class of 2019


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In this blog post, ARTC undergraduate student AnnaLivia McCarthy discusses her thesis research (undertaken at the Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library) on the complex history of rug conservation.

In this blog post, ARTC undergraduate student AnnaLivia McCarthy discusses her thesis research (undertaken at the Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library) on the complex history of rug conservation.

12/15/2018
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  • The Department of Art Conservation
  • 303 Old College
  • University of Delaware
  • Newark, DE 19716, USA
  • Phone: 302-831-3489
  • art-conservation@udel.edu