Art conservation plays a key role
of U.Va. Art Museum
conservator cleans and restores Giovanni Battista Lombardi's
"Deborah," on permanent display in the U.Va. Art
By Jane Ford
art must be seen to be appreciated.
the pieces displayed by a museum at any given time represent only
a fraction of its collection. The rest are at the mercy of whatever
storage space and conditions are available.
said Jill Hartz, director of the University
of Virginia Art Museum, many museums are paying more attention
to the storage, maintenance and restoration of works of art.
and conservation experts emphasized their importance during a
May workshop co-sponsored by the museum and the Virginia Association
of Museums. The workshop was the brainchild of Jean Collier, the
museums collections manager. Curators from around the state
gathered at the new storage facility near Grounds to learn how
best to care for works of art.
example was the Astor Collection of Native American Art, part
of which will be included in the museums January 2003 exhibit,
Honoring the Legacy of Lewis and Clark: Native American
Art and the 19th-Century American West.
to the University in 1937, the collection spent more than 30 years
in the rafters of Old Cabell Hall. There was little alternative
the museum was closed during World War II and used for
classrooms immediately afterward.
forgotten, the collection remained stashed away until the museum
reopened its doors in 1979, said Mary Jo Ayers, adjunct curator
of Native American art.
with an eye toward stabilizing and restoring the artworks, the
collection is housed along with the bulk of the museums
treasures in a new climate-controlled facility.
at the workshop stressed common themes in caring for artwork:
maintaining air quality, light levels, appropriate temperatures
and humidity, and controlling pests and dust.
museum has different conservation needs based on its collection
and the available funds, said Hartz. Some museums have conservation
endowments, and large museums have conservation labs on site.
museum has embraced a comprehensive plan to protect its collection.
Collier recalled that when she started working there in 1988,
the bulk of the ethnographic collection was stored in a warehouse
with broken windows and no heating or air-conditioning.
was provided by bare bulbs hanging from the ceiling, she
said. There was no climate control and critters had easy
access to the quarters. These conditions hasten deterioration
of art works.
2000, after years of storage in an interim facility, space was
located near Grounds with the support of Executive Vice President
and Chief Operating Officer Leonard Sandridge, former Provost
Peter Low and Associate Provost Shirley Menaker. The new, climate-controlled
facility has good lighting and is easily accessible. It also has
sufficient workspace for display preparation and for inspections
to evaluate on-going conservation and preservation needs.
in safeguarding U.Va.s collection of nearly 11,000 works
were made possible through a 1994 grant from the Institute of
Museum and Library Services.
Selected works had previously received some treatment,
said Collier. The grant allowed us to look at the whole
collection and consult conservators specializing in all kinds
of media. Surprisingly, even works of modern art dating back to
the 1960s sometimes need conservation.
said, Over the past two years we have raised public and
private funds to prepare the museums collection of Japanese
prints for an exhibition scheduled to open in fall 2003. Without
significant conservation work, this exhibit would not be possible.
officials also consider conservation needs when they purchase
or accept a donated work of art, and often the donor will include
funds for conservation of the piece.
have considered conservation as a way to support the museum. The
museums Young Friends group supported the 1999 restoration
of Giovanni Battista Lombardis Deborah. The
marble statue had absorbed dust and grime, which the conservator
was able to remove by applying a poultice to draw the dirt away.
The process was carried out right in the museum gallery.
was nice to bring conservation out from behind the scenes,
said Collier. It generated a lot of interest and questions
from visitors of all ages and University students.
year, the museums Volunteer Board provided substantial funding
for a long-range conservation plan to prepare the Astor Collection
for a major exhibit in 2007. The display will highlight the artistry
of the works and their place in turn-of-the-century New York and
American culture. It will also focus on the Astor family, who
collected the art to exhibit in their New York hotel. When the
exclusive hotel was demolished, Albemarle County native Nancy
(Langhorne), Lady Astor, donated the collection to the University.
preserving the delicate elements of the collection, such as beadwork
and basketry, and conserving the unique nature of other pieces
have a high priority and a new commitment.
would like to keep conservation as an on-going process, to continue
to preserve and present many wonderful works that we have not
been able to share, said Collier.