Wednesday, August 05, 2009

As art ages, so do the skills to preserve it

Wall Street Journal (Robert Lee Hotz)

This article mentions Egypt in passing, but it is actually a fascinating look at on of the problems facing conservation - an aging work force.

Through mentoring efforts and knowledge-transfer programs, though, many national laboratories and technical organizations are trying to stave off amnesia by passing on the knowledge of their aging experts before it is too late. To that end, the Getty Foundation, in conjunction with the Getty Conservation Institute and the Getty Museum, has launched a global program to train a new generation of panel conservators.

In recent decades, the Getty has helped protect some of the world's most fragile cultural monuments. Its field projects include the tomb of Queen Nefertari in Egypt, the wall paintings of the Mogao Grottoes in China, the Roman city of Herculaneum, and a 3.6 million-year-old trackway of hominid footprints in Tanzania.

By seeking to preserve the expertise of panel conservators, Getty experts hope to protect the cultural memory embodied in paintings on wood, such as the Mona Lisa.

In this way, Ms. Chui -- part master carpenter, part art scholar, part chemist and a dash of applied physicist -- is in the vanguard of this next generation of conservators. The portrait of the Madonna that she has been restoring for the past 14 months offers an object lesson in the problems that conservators confront.

See the above page for the full story.

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