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​Cleaning water-damaged photographs rescued from a house fire

​The Department of Art Conservation has a long history of public outreach. Most recently, our ten, first-year Fellows and some second-year Fellows, preprogram interns and faculty members worked with Professor Norris to examine, stabilize, clean, flatten, and rehouse 300 fire-damaged photographic prints miraculously recovered from a tragic Christmas Day fire in Ohio. This project was transformative, exemplifying our genuine commitment to the preservation of cultural heritage and to using our skills and knowledge to help others. The project engendered strong community support for UD and Winterthur and pride in the field of art conservation worldwide; one leader in our profession coined this “conservation’s finest hour “; the local fire chief wrote a note of heartfelt thanks  on behalf of those who responded and their devastated community.   Our work was featured across many social media platforms from Columbia to the Congo, on local television and radio stations, and in Associated Press outlets nationwide. We have since received numerous requests for photograph preservation advice that we share readily.  

In collaboration with the graduate students and faculty, a once-a-month free-of-charge public consultation clinic has been held from September to May since 1976. For 38 years, collectors and staff from small historical societies have come from a radius stretching from Charlottesville, VA to Princeton, NJ to bring in works of art or culture of all materials, from furniture to quilts to family portraits, for advice on care, storage, and how to find professional conservators. Faculty members give regular interviews for journalists nationally and locally and have appeared on public radio and television, from WHYY in Philadelphia to BBC, to promote awareness about conservation. They have advised on the development of the Lunder Conservation Center at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, have been featured in UD’s alumni, global, and research magazines, and are invited speakers to public audiences across the State of Delaware and beyond. They have assisted with community conservation projects in Newark, Smyrna, and Wilmington Delaware, developed educational summer camps at Winterthur and with the Salvation Army that connect art and science, and offered hands-on activities for at-risk youth across Wilmington. We have treated WPA murals for the Claymont Community Center (2012-14), and a large Battle of the Brandywine painting owned by the Chadds Ford Elementary School this past summer. We are working on a section of a John Biggers mural from the Eliza Johnston Home for Aged Negroes in Houston (2011-15). 

There have been numerous opportunities for members of the public to watch conservators and scientists at work and see the laboratory spaces at Winterthur. Since 2001, a subset of Winterthur’s guiding staff has been trained to bring public tours through the conservation facility on the first Wednesday of each month. Regular tours are conducted for University of Delaware classes, Deerfield Fellows, Washington College Archeology students, and other educational program groups. Docents and trustees from various other museums, Elderhostel groups, and numerous other members of the public have been escorted through the conservation spaces during recent years. Local chemistry and geology classes from Muhlenberg and Franklin and Marshall College have visited the Winterthur SRAL. Our students are therefore regularly asked to summarize their background and training and to describe their work in progress. 

Our faculty members are involved in national and international professional conservation activities. In doing so, they foster and promote considerable educational and professional opportunities for our graduate students. They have advised in the creation and implementation of numerous strategic plans and projects for FAIC, AIC, and Heritage Preservation, the development and implementation of the Heritage Health Index  (2004 and 2014), IMLS’s five-year national strategy – Connecting to Collections,  and global preservation initiatives via the Salzburg Global Seminar. They have led and advised major fundraising and marketing campaigns for the AIC, College Art Association, Arab Image Foundation, National Gallery of Denmark, and Heritage Preservation, and guided collaborative preservation initiatives with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Association of Architects, Institute of Museum and Library Services, and regional conservation centers. Our faculty members have served as elected/appointed officials on national and international boards, advisory councils, and committees, including, most recently, the American Institute for Conservation (multiple specialty groups and committees), Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts, Art and Archaeology Technical Abstracts, Strawbery Banke Museum, Infrared and Raman Users Group (IRUG), Gordon Research Conference, National Archives Preservation Advisory Council, North American Textile Conservation Conference, International Council of Museums Committee on Conservation, US Senate,  National Endowment for the Humanities, Getty and Mellon Foundations, Institute of Museum and Library Sciences, the U. S/ Senate Art Advisory Council, the Biggs Museum of American Art, and the Wyeth Foundation. 

We will continue our efforts in increasing community, regional, and national support and awareness about the field of conservation, the training of future conservation professionals and conservation scientists, and the need to invest in their education. 

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Regional and National Public Service
  • The Department of Art Conservation
  • 303 Old College
  • University of Delaware
  • Newark, DE 19716, USA
  • Phone: 302-831-3489
  • art-conservation@udel.edu