Today’s guest blog post is by Madeline Zook, who has been completing a 90 hour practicum in the Paper lab this summer.
Hi, my name is Madeline Zook and I have spent the past six weeks interning at the E. Lingle Craig Preservation Lab at the ALF, with Doug Sanders, Paper Conservator. I sought out this internship because it is my hope to someday go on to a graduate program in conservation. As an undergraduate pursuing a future career in conservation most of my time out side of my school work is spent in internships, searching for internships, applying for internships, or writing about my internships. Thus, I have worked now at three of the Indiana University labs, under Margaret Contompasis at the IUAM, with Judith Sylvester for the Mathers Museum and now am completing my time with Doug Sanders and Arini Esarey at the E. Lingle Craig Lab at the ALF. I am so lucky to have all the resources open to me at IU, and can now say that I have experience working in conservation labs with paintings, objects, textiles, and paper.
This summer working with Doug I have aided with two ongoing projects. The first was the cleaning and mending of a collection of letters from the Wylie House collection. In total the collection had over 5,000 letters, correspondences to the President and his family dating from the mid-1800s to the 1930s. Once that project was complete I helped finish the cleaning and mending of a schoolroom chart dating from the mid 1890s. During both projects Doug and Arini were gracious enough to teach me techniques for surface cleaning, and then mending with wheat paste and Japanese paper.
Working in these very different labs though has also provided a lesson outside of proper handling techniques and managing acidic paper. Each semester I get to see a little flavor of the lab I am working in. Here at the ALF, Doug runs a methodically detail-oriented ship, he thoroughly thinks through his choices and much research is done before any steps are made. He is if nothing else meticulous, fitting for a paper conservator.
Time in Judith’s lab is the polar opposite of this environment. My time with her was spent more focused on the collections management side of conservation, as I housed and rehoused, documented, and photographed textiles during my time there. Even though it was not the most glamourous work I look back at time in her lab very fondly. The Mathers collections storage area is like a giant curio cabinet, Inuit pipes are two rows over from African masks, which are just across the way from Native American canoes, only a few steps from a beautiful collection of Wanamaker photographs, all surrounded by guns ranging from the 1700s to 1950s, with textiles hanging from floor to ceiling. Perfectly fitting for an objects conservator.
The road to conservation is stressful, but maybe that is because I am at the beginning. I see the countless hours that must be put into finishing degrees in both Chemistry and Studio Art, studying abroad, finding internships, applying for graduate schools, studying for the GRE, along with balancing all the changes that come with being a 20 something. But slowly I am realizing that maybe there is a reason that so many working lab hours are required to become a conservator. I have learned much about techniques of cleaning, storage, handling, climate control and preservation; but I also see that conservation is special in that every day and every year is different, you will never be totally prepared for any project, but learning to ask questions, put in the time and enjoy the surroundings will take you far, and make the hours seem short.
I am truly thankful to all of the conservators who have made space for me and my questions in their lab. I have been given so many opportunities and hours of training, not to mention the wells of advice and mentorship that each has offered me, without hesitation.