Nina Olsson is a private art conservator in Portland that I met through a museum studies class last semester. When we visited her studio, Nina encouraged us all to look into the field because, unlike basically all other art jobs, conservators are in short supply - particularly here in Portland. So, I expressed my interest in learning about the field and she graciously agreed to take me on as her intern.
Today was my first day on the job and I am already in love!
Nina has a lot of clients and lots of different projects rotating in and out of the studio, but she thought it would be best for me to learn by following a piece through its whole conservation cycle, so she's saved two small pieces for me to work on. Her focus is mainly paintings, so I may speak about conservation as a whole, some details may be specific to painting. Today I focused on filling out a condition report for an oil painting on canvas by Ruth Payne Borgess.
Condition reports document the structure and condition of each major component that makes up the piece and its frame (if it has one). The conservator makes a careful examination to determine what damages there are and what can be fixed so that the owner can be made aware of what kind treatment needs to be carried out.
In this example, we observed that the piece is a slightly impasto oil painting on a factory made, dense linen canvas supported by a wooden stretcher. Among the damages, we found lots of dust, age cracks, and some varnish that appears to have consolidated into drops. There was stretching due to a piece of wood that fell out of the stretcher and lodged itself under the canvas.
Condition reports should also mention any evidence of prior treatment has been performed. The practice of conservation is constantly evolving. What we thought was ethical or effective in the past may now be considered damaging. Sometimes non-professionals try to fix things on their own and end up not doing a very good job or damaging the piece even further.
The next step will be to get in touch with the owner of the painting and explain what damages there are and what needs to be done to fix it so that they can approve the work.