George F. and Sybil H. Fuller Conservation Laboratory

WAM conservationists at work

The Worcester Art Museum's mission is to connect people, communities, and culture through the experience of art. The Conservation Department plays a vital role in supporting this mission through studying and caring for the museum's nearly encyclopedic collection of over 38,000 paintings, sculpture, archaeological and decorative art objects, arms and armor, works on paper, textiles, and time-based media. Conservation ensures the museum's collection can be safely exhibited, understood and interpreted from material and technical perspectives, and preserved for generations to come.

The department's staff has expertise in paintings, objects, arms and armor, and paper conservation. They work collaboratively across the museum as well as with contract conservators and conservation scientists to fulfill its role. Department staff either have degrees from graduate level conservation programs or been trained through apprenticeship. They work to the highest standards in the conservation field, set by the American Institute for Conservation, the national conservation organization.

The Museum added a new member to its conservation staff in 2014 when it hired its first conservator of arms and armor. WAM's demand for expertise in arms and armor was necessitated by the acquisition of over 1,800 works of arms and armor from Worcester's Higgins Armory Museum when that museum closed permanently. Expertise in conserving arms and armor was traditionally obtained through apprenticeship where practitioners also became experts in identifying and handling these complex objects.

Activities

George F. and Sybil H. Fuller Term Chair in Conservation and Chief Conservator Rita Albertson treating a 17th c. painting

Museum conservators study artist materials and techniques. When necessary, they also examine, develop, and undertake treatments of works of art. They conduct art historical and scientific research in order to verify authenticity, determine condition and devise treatment plans. These activities are typically done in conjunction with curators. Analytical equipment and specialized light sources, such as stereomicroscopes, ultraviolet light, x-radiography and infrared reflectography are used frequently to access artworks beyond what is visible to the unaided eye to gain greater understanding of them. Conservators also advise and participate in other aspects of caring for the collection, including environmental monitoring and integrated pest management.

Training

The Conservation Department is committed to training conservators at different stages of their careers. Typically, the department employs a post-graduate fellow in paintings, objects, or paper and a pre-program intern who gains exposure to all three specialties. Interns and fellows are fully integrated into department activities and gain valuable experience in their specific areas of interest.

History

The Worcester Art Museum has a historic commitment to conservation and the technical study of art. In 1935, the museum published technical information on collection paintings in an exhibition catalogue entitled, XVIIth Century Painting in New England by Louisa Dresser and Alan Burroughs. In 1936, the museum hired its first conservator, Edmond de Beaumont, who trained at Harvard's Fogg Art Museum (now the Harvard Art Museums). During his forty-year tenure at the museum, de Beaumont documented much of the collection with X-radiographs, infrared, and black-and-white photography. The role of conservation broadened under the leadership of George Stout, a pioneer in the development of conservation in the United States, who directed the museum from 1947–1955, and left an indelible legacy that continues today.

Publications and WAM Updates

Please visit the following links for more information on Conservation Department publications and conservation-focused posts on the museum’s blog, WAM Updates.

Conservation-focused Exhibitions

Please visit the following link for more information on exhibitions curated or co-curated by WAM’s conservators that look closely at the manufacture, condition, and treatment of works of art, primarily from the museum’s collection.

Staff Members

  • Rita Albertson, George F. and Sybil H. Fuller Term Chair in Conservation and Chief Conservator
  • Paula Artal-Isbrand, Objects Conservator
  • Eliza Spaulding, Paper Conservator
  • Birgit Straehle, Associate Paintings Conservator
  • William MacMillan, Project Conservator of Arms and Armor
  • Hae Min Park, Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in Paintings Conservation
  • Elle Friedberg, Pre Program Intern in Conservation

Gallery

stout edbeaumont xray 1938

Resources

Please visit the following links for conservation related resources.