Kickstarting the Summer with Conservation

Courtney explains the preservation of outdoor sculpture to fellow DelPHI participant Isabelle Havet, at the Delaware Art Museum.

It’s only three weeks into the summer, and I already feel like I have absorbed so much! I (along with my classmates Courtney and Lizzie) just completed the Delaware Public Humanities Institute (DelPHI), a crash course in public scholarship sponsored by the University of Delaware and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). The institute was co-directed by Arwen Mohun and Erik Rau, and brought together thirteen students from various disciplines in the humanities to teach us how to reach out to and actively engage the public in our research.

As a photograph conservator, my goal is to help people and institutions care for their photographic collections. It seems like an easy enough task, but more than once I have seen a person’s face go blank when I start talking about what I do. And, it’s not their fault; it’s MY responsibility to find a way to make conservation sound exciting and important enough to spark an interest.

Through DelPHI, I have learned how to speak about my topic both in public and in a radio or TV interview (I have video footage to show for it), how to interpret my topic in both web and film formats (a stapler documentary provided an intro into iMovie), and how to write an effective mission statement to captivate audiences through a press release or marketing plan. Becoming familiar with new technologies and social media platforms was great, but whittling my project topic down to its most basic and relevant form was certainly the greatest challenge.

My attempt to explain to the group how photographs are damaged, in the student lab at Winterthur.

Examples of appropriate housing and handling techniques.








Luckily, the first of my upcoming summer projects lends itself well to public outreach. I will be drafting the text for an informational leaflet on photograph preservation in the Middle East, as part of the Middle East Photograph Preservation Initiative (MEPPI).

There is a wealth of photographic heritage in the Middle East, but currently no formally-trained photograph conservators to care for it. For this reason, MEPPI was created through a partnership between the University of Delaware, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Getty Conservation Institute, and the Arab Image Foundation to give collection caretakers the knowledge and confidence to care for their photographic materials. Throughout the next three years, MEPPI will conduct a survey of all photograph collections in the Middle East, teach annual workshops, and organize a symposium in 2014. The most recent addition to MEPPI is my leaflet, which will provide basic tips for the care and handling of photographs, and will be translated into Arabic and French.

The MEPPI leaflet is a perfect example of a preventive conservation project, helping to prevent the damage to photographs before it starts. At the end of the month, I will shift my focus to another aspect of conservation—restoration. To hear more about my summer work project at the Museum of Modern Art, you can follow my personal blog, Repair the Tear, or check the WUDPAC and Winterthur websites for the dates of my upcoming public lectures this fall.



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