Milwaukee Art Museum Conservator presents workshops to Museum Studies students
Conservation blends art, science, disciplinary knowledge, and hands-on skills. Students in Nicolette Meister’s Introduction to Collections Management class recently experienced this intersection through paper conservation workshops provided by Jim DeYoung, senior conservator at the Milwaukee Art Museum.
Preventive conservation is emphasized in Nicolette’s class, but knowing how to hinge works of art on paper using Japanese tissue, safely remove adhesive residue, and repair small tears are important hands-on skills. Jim presented two workshops—one focused on washing paper and one focused on adhesive removal and paper mending.
Jim refers to his approach to paper washing as a “tabletop marinade.” He demonstrated his technique by placing a work of art on paper between two sheets of spun-polyester fabric and slowly applying a controlled mist of distilled water, which was then brushed over the print to ensure even saturation. This process was repeated multiple times until the color of the excess water changed from scotch-like in appearance to nearly clear. Even good quality paper becomes yellow and discolored over time as a result of acidic enclosures and environmental conditions. Through careful table-top washing, discoloration can be removed or rendered less visible. This is a technique performed by conservators, but students were able to participate in the process and see first-hand how contaminants can be safely removed from works on paper.
The next lab brought students to the bench. Each student worked with a print pulled from an album of print clippings by Wright Museum curator, Christa Story. The prints were glued to poor quality craft paper pages. Jim demonstrated how to safely remove the prints from the pages by manually folding and removing the paper around the adhesive until only the paper over the adhesive remained. Students used a poultice of methyl cellulose to loosen the adhesive. They then carefully removed the craft paper and adhesive using bamboo skewers and metal spatulas.
“I enjoyed working one-on-one with Jim. He showed me how to distinguish machine-made versus handmade paper, as well as telling me about artist’s watermarks,” says Morgan Lippert’21.
The conservation workshops provide one-of-a-kind opportunities for students to learn directly from practicing conservation professionals. Through the generous support of Rick Dexter’70, the Museum Studies program is able to bring a conservator to campus every other year. The emphasis switches between the Logan Museum of Anthropology and Wright Museum of Art, so students can engage with conservators with different expertise. The visiting conservators also present a public lecture. Jim DeYoung presented Complex Conservation: from the Large Scale Old Master Prints to Double Sided Watercolors, which was well attended by Museum Studies students and students in Kristin Labby’s chemistry class, Instrumental Analysis of Art and Artifacts.