Monday, February 7, 2011

Art Conservation at Shelburne Museum: the exhibition

Three years ago, we opened a small exhibition on art conservation as practiced here at Shelburne Musem at one end of the Circus Building. It was curated by director of Preservation and Conservation Rick Kerschner, Conservation Fellow Rachel Penniman, and me and funded by the Institute for Museum and Library Services as part of a grant to undertake conservation treatment on the decorative panels and organ from the museum’s 1902 Dentzel carousel.

In addition to showing a number of pieces from the carousel in the process of being cleaned and restored, we focused on some of the things that we do in exhibition buildings to prevent the works of art and artifacts from deteriorating, using Circus Building’s environmental control and monitoring systems as an example. Panels in the show explained what kind of training you need to become an art conservator and where you can go on the internet for more information. If you missed it, here are pictures of the installation taken by Daniel Cull, a colleague who visited during the summer of 2009:

We noticed that visitors were quite drawn to one corner of the show where we had a video from WCAX on how Rachel and her fellow Fellow Laura Brill removed a discolored coating from the painted surfaces of the Dentzel carousel's swan chariots.

While the video and exhibition were a good introduction to what we do, there are other aspects of our work that we want to share. We also noticed that some parts of the exhibition worked better than others. Building on that experience, a new version of the exhibition will be on view this season. You’ll be able to examine a painting with condition problems using various lighting techniques, just like we do in the lab, and experience how we characterize various kinds of materials using ultraviolet light.
What questions do you have about art conservation? What would you like to see in an exhibition about the Conservation Department’s work at Shelburne Museum?


  1. This is absolutely great! I wrote part of my undergraduate thesis on how engaging exhibits on conservation can be for the general public. I would love to see ANY type of conservation project highlighted in another exhibition!

  2. I agree - I did see that piece on WCAX and enjoyed it, maybe I should email them asking for more:)