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The Diorama Projects at WUDPAC

In the summers of 2017-2019, the Winterthur/University of Delaware Art Conservation Program (WUDPAC) collaborated with the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Art Alliance to promote careers in practical art conservation among emerging African American college graduates. The successful recruitment of approximately half the HBCU students who participated in summer workshops in 2017 and 2018 into additional internships related to art conservation has prompted UD to attempt to continue this promising program in the coming years. Peer-support networks have been created between the students and professional conservators and the network of Emerging Conservation Professionals [ECPN] to further foster the students’ interest in the care of collections of African American cultural heritage at their own institutions and to help them prepare for graduate programs.

​Left: TIPC-C students in June 2017 with their sponsors. STANDING: Matthew Fields (University of Arkansas), Taryn Nurse (Fisk University), Devin Davis (North Carolina Central University), Michael Ewing (Fisk University). SEATED: Dr. Caryl McFarlane (HBCU Art Alliance Diversity and Inclusion Fellow) and Dr. Jontyle Robinson (Legacy Museum Curator) Image courtesy of Jim Schneck.

Right: TIPC-C students in June 2018. From the left: Amanda Kasman (UD teaching assistant), Meaghan Hall (Fisk University), Telvin Wallace (North Carolina Central University), Chanise Epps (Texas Southern University), Kiera Hammond (Howard University), Kei Takahashi (Texas Southern University), and Joyce Hill Stoner (treatment coordinator). Image courtesy of Jim Schneck.

The University of Delaware’s involvement in this diversity initiative began after a meeting in December 2016. In the following summer Yale University worked closely with Dr. Caryl McFarlane of the HBCU Art Alliance to competitively select and host fifteen students for a week-long intensive course in technical art history on the Yale campus. Four of those students were then chosen to participate in a subsequent summer program to enrich their understanding of museum-related careers. This program, hosted by the University of Delaware and Winterthur Museum, is called the Two-Week Introduction to Practical Conservation (TIP-C). The students who participated in TIP-C 2017 were Taryn Nurse (Fisk University), Matthew Fields (University of Arkansas), Devin Davis (North Carolina Central University), and Michael Ewing (Fisk University). Art conservation professor Joyce Hill Stoner and UD graduate student Julianna Ly instructed the students in conservation techniques and led them on a variety of activities during the workshop including a demonstration in paper marbling, a tram tour of the museum gardens, and a field trip to the Delaware Art Museum.

​TIP-C 2017 group making paint with Brian Baade (left), learning about book conservation with Jeff Peachey (center). TIP-C 2018 group practicing paper marbling with Melissa Tedone. Images: Joyce Hill Stoner.

​In 2018, a Kress grant made it possible for UD to host thirteen students for a week-long workshop in technical art history modeled after the program hosted by Yale the previous year. The UD technical art history workshop was led by Professor Brian Baade and painting conservator Dr. Kristin deGhetaldi assisted by UD graduate student Amanda Kasman. The workshop involved research about works of modern art by African American artists in the University of Delaware’s Paul R. Jones Collection, examination of fifteenth-century panel paintings in Howard University’s collection, and the creation of historical reconstructions using traditional tempera painting techniques. At the conclusion of this workshop all of the students indicated that they had benefited from the program either by being inspired to pursue conservation of African American cultural heritage as a career or by informing their work as practicing artists.

Five of the students who attended the 2018 technical art history workshop were selected to participate in the second iteration of TIP-C. These students were Chanise Epps (Texas Southern University), Kei Takahashi (Texas Southern University), Kiera Hammond (Howard University), Meaghan Hall (Fisk University), and Telvin Wallace (North Caroline Central University). 

​Left and center: TIP-C 2017 group learning about the care and handling of collection items. Images: Julianna Ly. Right: TIP-C group discussing fiber analysis with Kate Sahmel. image: Joyce Hill Stoner.

The TIP-C summer workshops to date gave the students hands-on experience through the focused conservation treatment of a series of wooden and plaster dioramas made for a 1940 Emancipation Exposition. Concurrent with the trend of World Fair Mania which swept the globe in the mid-twentieth century, African Americans planned and orchestrated large-scale fairs called Emancipation Expositions to illustrate the social, economic, and artistic progress made by formerly enslaved people and their descendants since the passage of the Emancipation Proclamation. The American Negro Exposition held in Chicago in 1940 was meant to call attention to the racial inequality experienced by black Americans. This theme was supported by a series of twenty dioramas depicting pivotal moments and achievements by Africans and African Americans in world history from the invention of iron smelting to the discovery of the North Pole. The dioramas were designed by Black Chicago Renaissance artist Charles C. Dawson and constructed by over 70 African American artists and volunteers recruited by New Deal programs. Tragically, the artworks were later damaged during shipment to Tuskegee University where the series was gifted after the conclusion of the exposition. A hurried restoration campaign and decades in storage had rendered the twenty dioramas unexhibitable. The current conservation initiative for these dioramas is being organized in conjunction with the diversity initiatives of UD, Yale, and the HBCU Art Alliance. The goal is to conserve all of twenty dioramas so that they may be exhibited together again while involving professional and aspiring African American art conservators as much as possible. To date, six of the dioramas have been treated: three by UD, and one each by Fisk University, Buffalo State, and the Lunder Center of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

The first diorama to be extracted from storage at the Tuskegee Legacy Museum for conservation treatment arrived at Winterthur Museum in April of 2017 where it was examined and treated by University of Delaware undergraduate Amanda Kasman ('18) as a senior thesis project. This diorama depicted the arrival of the first African slaves to an English colony in the New World. The participants in the first TIP-C program held in the summer of 2017 assisted Kasman with conducting research while they gained experience in handling of historic objects, x-ray fluorescence instrumentation, examination of cross sections, and wet- and dry-cleaning techniques. The second TIP-C program held in the summer of 2018 focused on the treatment of two other dioramas from the same series, depicting Crispus Attucks, the first martyr of the Boston Massacre, 1770, and Matthew Henson, discoverer and explorer of the North Pole, 1909. The program's participants were again given the opportunity to research the objects and carry out instrumental analysis as well as participate in hands-on conservation treatment surface cleaning, consolidation, and inpainting.

​Left: TIP-C 2018 group performing XRF analysis on the Boston Massacre diorama with Catherine Matsen. Center: TIPC-C 2017 group photographing the 1619 diorama. Images: Joyce Hill Stoner. Right: TIP-C 2018 group with the diorama of Admiral Peary and Matthew Henson at the North Pole. Image: Jim Schneck.

The conservation treatment of the three dioramas at the University of Delaware was completed with the assistance of UD students and summer interns. The diorama depicting the landing of slaves has been returned to the Legacy Museum at Tuskegee University, and the Crispus Attucks diorama will be displayed at an exhibition in Chicago before being reunited with its companion pieces in Alabama. Plans are underway to design an exhibition of all of the dioramas once the treatments of the remaining fourteen have been completed.

The workshop organizers are pleased with the success of the TIP-C diversity initiative. Of the nine students who participated during the summers of 2017 and 2018, five have demonstrated interest in pursuing art conservation or a closely related field. All of these students have been connected with professionals within the field in their area of interest with the aim of assisting the students in acquiring internships and applying to graduate schools. Efforts to arrange a third TIP-C program for the summer of 2020 are currently underway. 

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