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).
The staff of the National Museum of African Art facility, which houses a state-of- the-art conservation laboratory, has established and continues to refine conservation procedures unique to the care of African art. Conservation activities are integrated into every aspect of the museum’s operations: acquisitions, exhibitions, education, and overall collections care. These activities include documenting the condition of all collection objects, treating objects, assessing the condition and previous restoration of potential acquisitions, maintaining optimal exhibition/storage conditions for preserving artifacts, executing collections-based research, conducting educational tours of the lab, and preparing interns for formal conservation training.
The National Museum of African Art houses a state-of-the-art conservation laboratory and includes a complete x-radiography system with digital imaging. This equipment enhances the museum’s ability to thoroughly examine objects for evidence of manufacturing techniques and previous restorations.
The department often collaborates with the Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute and other SI bureaus to analyze African art materials, investigate manufacturing processes and resolve treatment problems. In turn, the department serves as a national and international authority on the conservation of African art.
Opportunities for Internships and Fellowships
Caring for your Collections
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
University of Kansas, BA (1985); Institute of Archaeology, University College, University of London, BSc (Hons, 1989); Univeristy of Denver, MA (1990)
Samuel H. Kress Fellowship and the Disney-Tishman Collection
Samuel H. Kress Fellows, Alexis North and Brittany Dolph Dineen have been working on the Disney-Tishman collection, which was never assessed in-depth by conservators prior to its accession to the Museum in 2005. Most of the objects had only old rudimentary condition notes associated with them and therefore needed to pass through the conservation lab for examination, analysis, documentation, and treatment before installation in the galleries. The Kress Fellows work involves a variety of conservation issues and curatorial queries, such as:
- the analysis and treatment of friable and matte pigment surfaces;
- the identification and reversal of old restorations;
- the consolidation and structural stabilization of insect damaged woods;
- the identification of materials (particularly wood types and encrustation materials);
- the reassessment of cultural attributions.
Read more about the Disney-Tishman collection.
With funding from a Smithsonian’s Scholarly Studies Award, Fellow Rebecca Summerour is lending her textile conservator’s eye to a research project detailing the diverse materials incorporated into Yoruba Egungun masquerade ensembles. The research will build on other studies in the field that suggest how researching fabrics can reveal contextual and geographic information (i.e., provenance) in addition to aiding in understanding the diffusion of the textiles used in these ensembles. Her technical analysis will provide a comparative look at the textiles included in a number of Egungun with the goal of furthering understanding of the aesthetics, provenance, chronology and cultural standards for the selection of textiles in this dynamic and innovative art form. Ms. Summerour’s work includes conducting fiber and weave analysis as well as documenting the ensembles with photomicrography, digital photography and x-radiography.
Read more about Egungun masquerades
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.
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
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art is the only facility in the United States dedicated exclusively to the exhibition and preservation of Africa’s traditional and contemporary arts. With the generous support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Museum is pleased to offer a post-graduate fellowship in conservation that provides the opportunity to further refine examination and treatment skills and to pursue collection-based research. The fellow will gain experience working in our small, collaborative museum environment, which has access to the resources at the Museum Conservation Institute and the larger Smithsonian research community. Beginning in fall 2017, the one-year fellowship (renewable for a second year) is part of an initiative designed to promote conservation training, diversity in the profession, and African art scholarship.
The fellow’s own interests will help dictate the selection of objects to be treated and a research direction, and the incumbent may participate in work generated by the museum’s exhibition and acquisition schedule. There is the opportunity to treat contemporary as well as traditional artworks. The fellow will pursue a research project that contributes to African art conservation and/or art history and participate in the mentoring of undergraduate ‘explorer’ interns and pre-program interns.
The fellowship is open to US and International citizens who are recent graduates from a recognized conservation training program, or have equivalent experience, and who have proficient English language skills (written and spoken).
Applicants must register and submit an online application via the Smithsonian Online Academic Appointment system (SOLAA). After registering, sign onto the SOLAA system. At the top of the screen, select “Start your Application”; Select “Fellowship” and “National Museum of African Art” from the drop-down program lists.
Stipend: $43,000/year plus a healthcare stipend of $2500/year and a travel/research stipend of $4000/year
Deadline for application: February 15, 2017
For further information contact: Dana Moffett, Senior Conservator at firstname.lastname@example.org
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 (email@example.com); 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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) to discuss collection-based research projects, which for the 2016-2017 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, 2015. More information about opportunities at African Art can be found here.
Caring for Your Collections
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.