A new federal grant to the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation
(WUDPAC) will supply critical support to graduate students preparing
for careers in preserving the world’s cultural and artistic heritage.
The three-year grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities
(NEH) provides $150,000 in direct support for the graduate art
conservation program, with an additional challenge grant of $25,000 to
be given if the program raises that amount in matching funds.
WUDPAC, internationally known and highly competitive, is one of only
five graduate programs in art conservation in North America and one of
only two jointly sponsored between a university and a museum. Its alumni
lead conservation initiatives in museums and cultural institutions
around the world.
The program has benefited from NEH support for decades, most recently
using the funding to offer up to five student stipends and to help
bring in expert speakers, said Debra Hess Norris, Unidel Henry Francis
du Pont Chair in Fine Arts and chair of UD’s Department of Art
“NEH funding has allowed us to strengthen our curriculum in objects,
preventive, photographic and textile conservation and, in partnership
with other funders, to increase our stipend levels by more than 15
percent,” Norris said. “The support has been instrumental to our program
and our students, allowing us to ensure that there will be
professionals to protect our cultural heritage.”
WUDPAC students complete three years of classwork, laboratory
training and fieldwork in various institutions. Many spend years after
earning bachelor’s degrees — often taking chemistry, studio art and
other classes and completing 2,000-plus hours of conservation
internships or work — to prepare for entering the master’s degree
program. Once accepted, they rely on stipends to focus on their
coursework and field experience.
“Without the NEH support, it would be impossible to offer the
stipends we do, and we might even have to reduce our enrollment,” Norris
said. “The impact of this funding is significant to our entire
The new grant will help support two third-year students, who spend
the entire year working with conservation professionals in host
institutions, and three second-year students. Those three, who all have
chosen to specialize in working with objects, will each complete seven
projects in the Winterthur laboratories between now and May.
Here is a brief look at their work.
“I was always interested in art, and I always knew I wanted to do
something with my hands” rather than academic research or teaching, she
After graduating in 2010, she spent four years taking the necessary
chemistry classes and working in various museums and arts organizations,
including in Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and in her native Alaska.
She recently was working on a teapot that is the only example in
Winterthur’s collection of Measham Ware, a type of glazed pottery
associated with English canal areas in the late 1800s. When small
decorative pieces started to come loose from the teapot, the curator
asked students to repair it.
Bright’s other treatment projects include a knife with a bone handle
that was excavated from an old farm site near Odessa, Delaware.
Corona, whose main focus is on conservation science, majored in
chemistry and art history as an undergraduate at Trinity University.
After attending a lecture about art conservation, she said, she was
immediately attracted to the field.
“I’ve always loved art and chemistry, so I see this field as a
perfect fit for my interests,” Corona said. “This is something I’m
passionate about, and it’s also something that’s always challenging.”
To prepare for applying to WUDPAC, she held internships at the
National Park Service, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and the Alamo
One of her current treatment projects this semester at Winterthur is
an ostrich-feather fan dating from about the early 20th century. She’s
been removing adhesive and masking tape from the plastic handle, left
from a past display mount, and stabilizing the feathers, which have
suffered insect damage.
Owens majored in art history as an undergraduate at Emory University,
but she was always interested in science. When she took an art
conservation class as a junior, she was hooked.
She worked at several institutions, including the Museum of Modern
Art in New York and the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture
Garden in Washington, D.C., where she developed an interest in modern
Her focus now on modern and contemporary objects is especially
challenging, she said, because many are made from novel materials, and
so there is limited research available on how to treat them if and when
they deteriorate or become damaged.
“A lot of these materials that artists are using now are experimental
and untested,” Owens said. “So treating them is a real challenge, and
that’s what I like.”
One of her current treatment projects — all second-year students work
on a range of objects, not just those in their primary area of interest
— is a damaged 18th-19th century porcelain plate from Winterthur’s
collection. Owens has been repairing breaks and removing a discolored
residue that may have remained from a commercial cleaning material used
in the past to dust the plate.