Conservation plays an essential and collaborative role in achieving the Museum's fundamental purpose, which is to collect, care for and preserve, exhibit and interpret works of art. Conservators conduct research through the study of art materials and techniques, the examination of works of art, and the development of conservation treatments. These activities advance professional scholarship, ultimately contributing to public education and greater appreciation of works of art. As they strive for excellence in their work, conservators undergo extensive training and follow the ethics and standards set forth by the American Institute for Conservation.
The Worcester Art Museum has a vigorous conservation program that has historically maintained a strong commitment to innovation and training. Early on, the Museum published technical information in an exhibition catalogue entitled, XVIIth Century Painting in New England (1935), by Louisa Dresser and Alan Burroughs. In 1936, the Museum formally recognized the importance of conservation by hiring its first conservator, Edmond de Beaumont, who trained at Harvard's Fogg Art Museum. 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 to 1955.
In 1972, the Museum initiated its active involvement in the training of professional conservators after it received a National Endowment for the Arts grant for the purpose of establishing a training program in museum conservation. A year later, the NEA also provided funds for what would be the first of numerous post-graduate internships. In 2001, the award of a challenge grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation equally matched by the George F. and Sybil H. Fuller Foundation, has insured continuation of the Museum's Fellowship Program and strengthened the institution's commitment to conservation education. Since 1995, the Museum has hosted over thirty emerging conservators who are now working at institutions here and abroad.
From 2002 to 2008, a significant transformation took place when the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded the Museum three grants to establish and sustain a scientific capability. This support enabled a conservator on staff to obtain a PhD in conservation science and helped to establish an analytical lab with state-of-the-art equipment. The Museum's scientific lab is equipped with FTIR spectrometry, XRF spectrometry, and polarized light microscopy with UV capacity. Technical imaging capabilities include X-radiography, a state-of-the-art IRR camera set-up and a reflectance transformation imaging dome. The Mellon Foundation has provided the Museum funding for advancing its conservation practice towards a more scientifically-based approach, thereby strengthening its role as an innovator.
Most recently, Worcester has been at the forefront of developing reflectance transformation imaging (RTI) for conservation applications within art museums. This digital imaging technique represents a significant advancement in the Museum's ability to examine and document surface topographies of works of art and has generated considerable interest within the conservation community. Since the Museum's pioneering work was presented at the 2009 American Institute for Conservation annual meeting, RTI has rapidly grown throughout the conservation community, and many other institutions have followed Worcester's lead by embracing RTI technology as an essential tool for documenting works of art.
Rita Albertson, Chief Conservator
Paula Artal-Isbrand, Objects Conservator
Eliza Spaulding, Paper Conservator
William MacMillan, Project Conservator of Arms and Armor
Birgit Strähle, Associate Paintings Conservator