Advances in conservation and technical analysis have allowed an increasing array of insights into prints and drawings. In 2019, the Harvard Art Museums will host early and mid-career curators from around the world for a workshop designed specifically to question and contextualize these objects on a technical level.
The three-day program, titled “The Potential of Technical Studies and Conservation for Prints and Drawings Curatorship, A Professional Workshop,” is funded by the Getty Foundation through The Paper Project: Prints and Drawings Curatorship in the 21st Century. The goal of the initiative is to strengthen international curatorial practice in drawings and prints.
Martha Tedeschi, the museums’ Elizabeth and John Moors Cabot Director, called the workshop an “exciting opportunity to expand upon our rich tradition as a leading teaching museum and engage with an international pool of active curators. This is exactly the type of program that the Harvard Art Museums team and facilities are built for.”
Before establishing The Paper Project, the Getty Foundation had consulted with Tedeschi and other leaders of art institutions with highly regarded drawings and prints collections about how best to support the field and meet the need for object-based training opportunities. With one of the premier drawings and prints collections in the United States (which continues to grow rapidly as a result of gifts and acquisitions), a long history of vital collaboration between curatorial and conservation staff, and a roster of innovative interdisciplinary programs for scholars of all levels (including the Summer Institute for Technical Studies in Art, known as SITSA), the Harvard Art Museums are uniquely positioned to contribute to the initiative.
The Getty Foundation’s grant puts the Harvard Art Museums in esteemed company: other recently funded programs include those organized by the Morgan Library & Museum in New York and the Cabinet of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden in Germany.
The Harvard Art Museums workshop will be led by the multidisciplinary team of Francesca Bewer, research curator for conservation and technical study programs and director of SITSA; Penley Knipe, the Philip and Lynn Straus Senior Conservator of Works on Paper and head of the paper lab in the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies; Edouard Kopp, the Maida and George Abrams Curator of Drawings; and Elizabeth Rudy, the Carl A. Weyerhaeuser Associate Curator of Prints.
These four experts will make a point of using the museums’ graphic arts collections, which span both Western and non-Western fields, from the medieval to contemporary periods. In addition, a carefully chosen group of experts with diverse backgrounds (such as art historians, artists, and conservators) will be invited to join the cohort of instructors.
The workshop’s 16 participants will be selected from an international and multigenerational pool of applicants representing institutions of various sizes from around the world. While the group will discuss curatorial philosophies, they will also take part in practical sessions in which they can gain hands-on experience with artists' materials, art making, and technical and analytical conservation approaches.
Workshop sessions will be held in the Art Study Center, a suite of rooms dedicated to sustained, close looking at original works of art; the Materials Lab, an experimental space for exploring the relationship between materials, makers, and tools; and the conservation laboratories of the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies. In the Straus Center’s paper lab, participants will be exposed to the analytical and technical equipment that conservators and conservation scientists use to identify the condition and composition of works of art.
Offering participants access to these essential resources gives the workshop organizers the chance to showcase the collaborative and collegial relationships that have always been critical to the Harvard Art Museums’ projects. “We chose this topic because it’s so representative of what we do here,” Rudy said. “Our curators and conservators work together on a daily basis, and participants will benefit from that approach.”
Overall, said Kopp, the workshop presents an important opportunity for both participants and the Harvard Art Museums to “think about best practices for the curating of drawings and prints, and what conservation and conservation science can add to the field. We’re expecting plenty of lively debate and discussion.”