The Michael C. Carlos Museum, in collaboration with members of Emory’s science department, received a $500,000 grant by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to create a program that fuses art conservation with the sciences.
The five-year program, developed by Carlos Museum Conservator Renée Stein with the help of Chemistry Lecturers Matthew Weinschenk and Daphne Norton, was inspired by the resources available at Emory, according to Stein.
“It’s something I’ve been pushing for for a while,” Stein said.
She said that because there are so many resources available in the science department with research opportunities and labs and in the museum, it makes sense to come together.
“There aren’t a lot of schools that have a museum right on campus and for those that do, there is not a whole lot of interaction for undergraduate students to get both a chemistry as well as an art perspective,” Weinschenk said.
Scientific research is necessary in art conservation, Stein said, and added that further testing needs to be done on some of the Egyptian coffins in the museum. While types of glues and woods were identified to better understand what products the Egyptians used, Stein said that the green pigment on the works requires more research, which is an opportunity for science students.
Other examples of fusing science and art conservation include the testing of adhesives used on art objects, Stein said.
“In conservation, we do things to make art last longer,” she said. “We have to know how the materials react to the adhesives.”
For example, Stein said that a type of adhesive wax used sublimates from a solid form to gaseous form, bypassing a liquid state, making it difficult to test and understand.
Emory is one of few institutions that have the technology to freeze the sample so the wax does not go into its gaseous state, and that a collaboration between the museum and the science department will make this kind of experimentation possible, she said.
“[The science department] is very interested in creative collaborations,” Stein said. “The program is very much about accomplishing the curriculum, but with a wider appeal.”
A new chemistry class, instrumental analysis and conservation science, will be available Spring 2011.
Hands-on experiments and case studies from the museum’s collections will be used to illustrate conservation techniques throughout the course of the class.
“Instead of running experiments on aspirin, students will run them on samples from the museum,” Stein said. “If you drop your unknown in a lab, they’ll replace it for you. If you drop your sample here, it’s just gone.”
Weinschenk and Stein have collaborated in a science and art seminar in the past.
Weinschenk said that the goal is to continue with a similar partnership.
Stein said that in addition to the instrumental analysis class, another chemistry class and a potential physics class is in the works. The seminar in the past was a place to start, but she said that the program is marking the beginning of an expansion.
“This time, it’s not just a drop, it’s a whole cup of information,” Stein said.
The new science and arts initiative consists of four components that will be accomplished in the next five years. It will offer courses that integrate the museum’s collections with the sciences, provide students with scientific research opportunities on museum pieces, create a two-year fellowship for a recently-graduated conservator to do research in the Parsons Conservation Laboratory at the Carlos Museum and hold an annual colloquium for scientists, educators and students.
“We want to bring people onto campus in a ‘think tank environment,’” Stein said of the colloquium. “We want to keep people engaged and keep the conservation going.”
This grant is not the only funding that the Carlos Museum has received from the Mellon Foundation. In 2005, the museum received an endowment to link the arts with the humanities.
“This is the second round,” Stein explained, adding that the foundation approached Emory with the grant opportunity. “They said, ‘We liked what you did in the first round, what would you do if we gave you this grant?’”
The foundation gave the museum a small grant last spring to develop the program.
Stein and Weinschenk traveled to university museums around the country to speak with conservators and graduate school professors.
“I was able to learn quite a bit from these meetings to see what kinds of instrumentation they use and what types of projects these graduate students are doing,” Weinschenk said.
The program will offer undergraduate students an opportunity to participate in hands-on research that most students do not get until graduate school, according to Weinschenk.
Stein said that the program embodies the collaborative culture within Emory.
“[The program] is really making possible the structure of the creative, collaborative approach that Emory takes,” Stein said. “This is a way for that collaborative teaching to happen, and we’re enabling that connection to grow.”
— Contact Alice Chen