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National Museum of African Art Conservation Lab

The conservation professional is dedicated to the long-term preservation of art and other cultural property and is responsible for the examination, documentation, preventative care, treatment, and restoration of these materials. For more information about the profession, contact the American Institute for Conservation (AIC).

Conservation staff

Stephen P. Mellor
Associate Director for Collections and Facilities and Chief Conservator

George Washington University, BA (1976); Winterthur Museum/University of Delaware Art Conservation program, MS (1981)

Dana L. Moffett
Senior Conservator

University of Kansas, BA (1985); Institute of Archaeology, University College, University of London, BSc (Hons, 1989); Univeristy of Denver, MA (1990)

Conservation Projects

Ethiopian Icons: Faith & Science

In 2003, six icons from the museum’s collection underwent technical analysis and conservation treatment. This yearlong study is one of the first to scientifically identify and document the materials used to paint Ethiopian icons.

Ivory: Identification & Regulations of a Precious Material

The incessant international demand for ivory—a material that is prized across world cultures from ancient times to the present day—has dangerously diminished elephant populations in Africa. In an effort to educate the general public, art collectors, and specialists, this paper includes information on how to identify ivory and its substitutes, descriptions of the laws and regulations of its trade, and a selected bibliography.

Learning about an object through X-radiography

Art and artifacts from Africa are sometimes comprised of materials of unknown origin, as was the case with the nkisi mbumba—medicine skull—in the Artful Animals exhibition.

Opportunities for Internships and Fellowships

Pre-program internships
Ten-week or longer internships are offered year around for students who have a demonstrable interest in pursuing a graduate degree in conservation. Initial inquiries should be made to the Conservation Department (; official applications are filed through the Smithsonian’s SOLAA system.

Smithsonian Institution Postgraduate Fellowship in Conservation
The Smithsonian offers nine- to twelve-month fellowships to graduates of masters programs in art and archaeological conservation or the equivalent or conservation scientists, including those at the postdoctoral level, who wish to conduct research and gain further training in Smithsonian conservation laboratories for conservation of objects in museum collections.

Interested applicants should contact the NMAfA Conservation Department ( to discuss collection-based research projects, which for the 2015-2016 year could include topics such as the dating wood objects, the technical analysis of metal objects, pigment identification, or other research interests of the candidate. Final applications to the Office of Fellowships and Internships must be received by December 1, 2014. More information about opportunities at African Art can be found here.

Caring for Your Collections

Conservation clinics

1:30 – 4 p.m., third Thursday of the last month of the quarter

Registration required; call Frank Esposito at 202.633.4633

Conservators advise the public on the proper care of their collections. Limit two objects per visit; preference is extended to first-time participants. Please register well in advance of the date you wish to attend as these clinics are limited in terms of participants and they tend to fill up quickly.