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Conservation

The Conservation Department works with all departments at the Gallery to ensure the long-term care of the collection. The department recognizes the importance of preventive conservation and recommends, develops, and institutes measures to ensure appropriate conditions for the storage, transport, and display of art.

About Conservation

About Conservation

Irma Passeri, Conservator of Paintings, and Annika Finne, former conservation fellow, examine Piero di Cosimo's Virgin and Child with Saints Vincent Ferrer and Jerome, ca. 1510–15

Working in collaboration with curatorial staff, the department undertakes appropriate conservation procedures on individual objects to the highest-possible standards in accordance with the Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works. Conservators examine and analyze objects in the collection to inform treatment methods and further teaching, scholarship, and research. Conservation treatments avoid compromising future research potential of objects. Conservators investigate materials and techniques using microscopy, X-radiography, X-ray fluorescence, and infrared reflectography. More advanced methods of analysis are coordinated with the Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage at Yale University’s West Campus Collections Center and other laboratories. Examination and treatment documentation is thorough and stored in formats that ensure long-term preservation. The department partakes fully in the Gallery’s mission to teach and disseminate knowledge. Courses in conservation, connoisseurship, and technical art history are taught using the Gallery’s collection and facilities.

Recent Conservation Project

Gallery conservators conducted a technical examination of a Power Figure (Nkisi N’kondi), a masterpiece of the Yale University Art Gallery collection. Made in the 19th to the early 20th century and attributed to the Yombe group of the Kongo peoples of West Central Africa, the work was carved by a professional sculptor as a container for bilongo, medicines composed of a secret combination of animal, plant, and mineral substances.

The study, undertaken in collaboration with James Green, the Frances and Benjamin Benenson Foundation Assistant Curator of African Art, and Pablo Londero, former Conservation Scientist for the Yale Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage (IPCH), focused on 63 individual strips of cloth that came from 34 different textiles and were primarily knotted to the metalwork. Mary Wilcop, Postgraduate Associate in Objects Conservation, and Olav Bjornerud, Conservation Pre-Program Intern, studied the figure using various techniques, including microscopy, UV-visible fluorescence imaging, X-radiography, and computerized tomography (CT) scanning. Every textile fragment attached to the figure was characterized using close-looking and optical microscopy; knotted chains, made up of multiple textiles, were examined to find recurring patterns in their structure and use of color. Londero also used Raman spectroscopy to analyze the figure’s porcelain eyes and to determine the dyes that were used to color fiber samples taken from three red textiles. The results of the research can be found in the 2019 Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin, for which James Green contributed an article titled “Investigating the Cloth on a Kongo Power Figure.”

Unidentified Yombe artists, Power Figure (Nkisi N’kondi), Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo, or Cabinda, Angola, 19th–early 20th century. Wood, iron, cloth, mirror, leopard tooth, fiber, and porcelain. Yale University Art Gallery, Charles B. Benenson, B.A. 1933, Collection

Olav Bjornerud, Conservation Pre-Program Intern (left), and James Green, the Frances and Benjamin Benenson Foundation Assistant Curator of African Art, examine the knotted textile chains from the Power Figure (Nkisi N’kondi) under a microscope.

Meet the Conservators

Ian McClure

Ian McClure is the Susan Morse Hilles Chief Conservator at the Gallery. From 2018 to February 2020, he also served as Senior Director of the Shared Conservation Laboratory of Yale’s Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage (IPCH). A graduate of Bristol and Edinburgh Universities, McClure trained as a paintings conservator at Glasgow Art Gallery and Museums and was previously Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum’s Hamilton Kerr Institute, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom; Deputy Director (Conservation) of the Fitzwilliam Museum; and Conservation Advisor for the Yale Center for British Art. His research interests include the history of conservation and the structural treatment of paintings. At the Gallery, he cocurated the exhibition Time Will Tell: Ethics and Choices in Conservation (2010), with Laurence Kanter and Lisa R. Brody. Since 2010 he has taught the undergraduate Yale seminar “The Technical Examination of Art” and co-organizes the Summer Teachers Institute in Technical Art History, funded by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation. In 2017, with Paul Messier, McClure established the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Students and Mentors Institute in Technical Art History.

ian.mcclure@yale.edu

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Ian McClure

Irma Passeri

Irma Passeri, Conservator of Paintings, studied painting conservation at the Scuola di Alta Formazione at the Opificio delle Pietre Dure, in Florence, where she received her degree in the Conservation of Easel Paintings in 1998. She has worked in the conservation departments of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure and the Philadelphia Museum of Art and joined the conservation staff at the Gallery in 2000, where her work focuses on the early Italian panel paintings in the museum’s collection. She has published articles on the materials and techniques of Italian paintings and on different approaches to the restoration treatment of loss compensation. She co-teaches the Technical Examination of Art course in the Department of the History of Art and, since 2019, co-organizes the Kress Summer Teachers Institute in Technical Art History, both at Yale.

irma.passeri@yale.edu

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Irma Passeri

Theresa Fairbanks Harris

Theresa Fairbanks Harris, Senior Conservator of Works on Paper, has worked for museums at Yale University since 1982. She earned a B.A. in Art History and Studio Art from Yale and, as an undergraduate, worked in the conservation laboratory for the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. She earned an M.S. in Art Conservation with a major in Paper Conservation and minor in Photograph Conservation from the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation, with an Advanced Certificate in Conservation from the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, in Paper Conservation. She has worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Smithsonian Conservation Analytical Laboratory. As Paper Conservator at the National Museum of American History, she designed the museum’s Paper Conservation Laboratory. She lectures frequently and has taught courses at, among others, the Yale School of Art, the Department of the History of Art and Department of Music at Yale, and the Rare Book School. Her areas of interest include art on paper and photographs, pastels, portrait miniatures, watercolors, and paper identification.

theresa.fairbanks-harris@yale.edu

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Theresa Fairbanks Harris

Anne Turner Gunnison

Anne Turner Gunnison, Senior Associate Conservator of Objects, graduated with a B.A. in art history from Stanford University and received a M.A. in Principles of Conservation and a M.S. in Conservation for Archaeology and Museums from the Institute of Archaeology, University College, London. She worked as a postgraduate fellow at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian before joining the staff at the Gallery in 2010.

anne.gunnison@yale.edu

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Anne Turner Gunnison

Cynthia Schwarz

Cynthia Schwarz, Senior Associate Conservator of Paintings, studied painting at the Rhode Island School of Design and painting conservation at the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation. Before joining the staff at the Gallery in 2008, she held internships at the Balboa Art Conservation Center, in San Diego, and the Château de Parentignat, in Auvergne, France. She focuses her efforts on the conservation of the Gallery’s modern and contemporary paintings collection and has published research on works in the collection by Amedeo Modigliani, Francis Picabia, and Hedda Sterne. She also has extensive experience in the conservation of American mural paintings and the structural treatment of canvas paintings. She lectures for the Technical Examination of Art course in the Department of the History of Art and co-organizes the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Students and Mentors Institute in Technical Art History, both at Yale.

cynthia.schwarz@yale.edu

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Cynthia Schwarz

Catherine (Cathy) Silverman

Catherine (Cathy) Silverman is Assistant Conservator of Objects and Furniture. She earned a B.A. in Art History and French from Bristol University, in the United Kingdom, and an M.A. in Conservation Studies, specializing in furniture and related objects, at West Dean College, in England. She has held internships at the Wallace Collection, in London, and several private conservation studios, and prior to joining the Gallery she was the Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in Objects Conservation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York. From fall 2018 to summer 2019, she was the project conservator for the relocation of the Gallery’s American Decorative Arts Furniture Study collection to the Leslie P. and George H. Hume American Furniture Study Center at Yale West Campus. Cathy has published articles on the materials and techniques of japanned furniture finishes and the history and conservation of decorative ray skin in furniture.

catherine.silverman@yale.edu

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Catherine Silverman

Meet the Fellow and Intern

Kelsey Wingel

Kelsey Wingel is a Postgraduate Associate in Paintings Conservation. She earned a B.A. in Art Conservation and Art History from the University of Delaware, in Newark, and a M.S. in Paintings Conservation from the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation. She has held conservation internships at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, in Virginia, the Shelburne Museum, in Vermont, and the Gianfranco Pocobene Studio, in Massachusetts. Kelsey is particularly interested in 18th- and 19th-century American paintings, and her focus at the Gallery is on the technical research and treatment of preparatory paintings by Edwin Austin Abbey. Her research aims to better understand Abbey’s painting process and techniques; she is also studying zinc carboxylate efflorescence and exploring different approaches to the cleaning of sensitive oil-paint surfaces.

kelsey.wingel@yale.edu

Kelsey Wingel

Olav Bjornerud

Olav Bjornerud, Conservation Pre-Program Intern, received a B.A. in History and Studio Art from Lawrence University, in Appleton, Wisconsin. He went on to study art at the LungA School in eastern Iceland. Before beginning his internship in the Gallery’s Conservation Department, he was an assistant in the studio of a sculptor, working on the production of several large-scale pieces of public art. As an intern at the Gallery, he has been involved in a wide variety of projects and is currently analyzing and cataloguing a collection of historical pigments.

olav.bjornerud@yale.edu

Olav Bjornerud

Online Resources

AATA Online

Abstracts of international conservation literature
aata.getty.edu

AIC

American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works
conservation-us.org

BCIN

Bibliographic Database of the Conservation Information Network
bcin.ca

CAMEO

Conservation and Art Materials Encyclopedia Online
cameo.mfa.org

e-conservation Journal

e-conservation.org

IIC

The International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works
iiconservation.org