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Meaghan Hall of Fisk University works on a diorama of an Arctic
expedition by African American explorer Matthew Henson.
The 13 students from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) who came to the University of Delaware for a special program in art conservation this summer had remarkably varied backgrounds.
The group included a business administration student who fell in love with art after taking her first elective, a psychology and political science major now participating in a leadership development program, a graphic designer and painter, a 15-year resident of Japan and a decorated military combat photographer.
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In the Winterthur conservation lab are (from left) Amanda Kasman,
Kiera Hammond, Chanise Epps, Meaghan Hall, Kei Takahashi, UD Prof. Joyce
Hill Stoner and Telvin Wallace, with conservation projects. In the
foreground is a water-damaged oil painting depicting an event from the Korean War.
This is an impeccable group of kids, said Kristin DeGhetaldi, a UD
masters and doctoral alumna who co-taught the students introductory
class. Theyre all very accomplished.
The program, supported by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation and offered in collaboration with the HBCU Alliance of Museums and Art Galleries, is designed to expose talented students to art conservation as an academic discipline and a potential career.
Specifically, the initiative seeks to encourage members of
underrepresented groups to consider the profession, which is severely
lacking in diversity. According to research by the Andrew W. Mellon
Foundation, only 1.5 percent of cultural-heritage professionals
nationwide are African American.
The field of art conservation needs us, said program participant
Chanise Epps, an Air Force veteran who is majoring in art at Texas
Southern University. I feel like this is a monumental moment for the
field, because people are recognizing the need for diversity.
With more diversity in the
profession, Epps said, conservators will benefit from sharing a wide
range of perspectives, and collections at HBCUs and similar institutions
will be less likely to be overlooked.
This years Introduction to Practical Conservation program began
with a one-week course taught in UDs Old College. After that, the group
was divided among three different conservation labs for two weeks of
UD Prof. Joyce Hill Stoner (top) guides students working on a
conservation treatment for a diorama of an Arctic expedition by African
American explorer Matthew Henson and fellow explorer Robert Peary.
Five of the students remained in Delaware for the hands-on sessions,
working in the labs at Winterthur Museum under the guidance of Joyce
Hill Stoner, who is the Rosenberg Professor in Material Culture at UD.
Other members of the original group finished the program at the
Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., and Fisk University
in Nashville, Tennessee.
During the first week, DeGhetaldi and Brian Baade, assistant
professor of art conservation, introduced students to such topics as the
examination and analysis of paintings and materials, the use of
technology in conservation and the preservation of cultural artifacts
from textiles to photographs.
A hands-on workshop one day gave students the opportunity to use
14th-century materials and methods to duplicate a detail from an Italian
Renaissance painting. They used egg tempera paint water-based
pigments mixed with egg yolk, a common material before oil paints became
popular and practiced the time-consuming techniques needed when
applying multiple layers of paint and letting each dry before
"I do this activity with my [UD]
undergraduate classes, too, Baade said. It helps them develop an
appreciation for an old medium.
Chanise Epps, a decorated Air Force combat photographer who is majoring in art at Texas Southern University, repairs damage to a painting.
At Winterthur for the final two weeks of the program, students worked
on a painting and two dioramas, all damaged and in need of conservation
treatment. The dioramas, owned by Tuskegee University, were among more
than 30 that were made in 1940 to showcase events from African and
African American history.
Meaghan Hall, an art and business major from Fisk University, was
working one day on a diorama depicting an expedition to the North Pole
by African American explorer Matthew Henson and fellow explorer Robert
Peary. After cleaning the background, which she said initially had a
kind of yellowish film covering the surface, Hall was examining other
On the figure of Henson, the hood of his parka once had rabbit fur
trim, but only a few small tufts now remained. And the American flag the
explorers had been shown planting in the snow toppled over during
shipment and crumbled into a pile of small fragments of red, white and
Were deciding the best way to repair it, Hall said. Ive learned
so much in such a short time doing this, and Ive learned how important
this kind of work is.
"Now I think about my own art: Whats going to happen to it in 50 years?
In addition to the dioramas, the students had the opportunity to work
on an oil painting by Jimmie Mosely of a wounded U.S. Marine during the
Korean War. The 41-by-59-inch canvas had apparently been stored upright
at one time when it was damaged by water, causing the paint to crack
For Chanise Epps, who was awarded medals for her work under fire as
an Air Force photographer in Afghanistan in 2010, the painting was
especially compelling. Mosely painted it from a photograph by Life
magazine photojournalist David Douglas Duncan.
Amanda Kasman and Kiera Hammond confer about damage to a diorama of the Boston Massacre and the death of Crispus Attucks.
I definitely feel a connection with this painting, Epps said. When
youre in combat, capturing those moments is so important. I think I
was meant to work on this.
The Tuskegee dioramas
The dioramas on which the students worked at Winterthur were made for
the 1940 American Negro Exposition in Chicago, which celebrated the
75th anniversary of the end of slavery in the U.S.
In all, 33 dioramas were created by 70 African American artists,
depicting various scenes from throughout history of African people and
those of African descent, spanning ancient Egypt through World War I.
After the exposition closed, some dioramas were lost, while 20 are now
owned by Tuskegee University.
Over the years, and especially when the 5-foot dioramas were being
transported, they sustained varying degrees of damage, Stoner said.
The dioramas that were the focus of the students in Delaware this
year depicted the 1770 Boston Massacre, where African American Crispus
Attucks became the first American killed in the Revolutionary War, and
an expedition to the North Pole by explorers Matthew Henson, who was
African American, and Robert Peary.
Stoner and two interns are carrying out more work on the dioramas
this summer, and a group of undergraduates will continue to work on one
in the fall. After conservation work is completed, the dioramas will be
returned to Tuskegee.
Article by Ann Manser; photos by Evan Krape