Winter break is an odd time for a conservation student. After a frenetic first term, it was odd to actually have time off! While some of my classmates traveled or worked in conservation studios, I must admit that I spent a restful winter in the DC area, catching up with family, friends, and mentors.
However, being an over-achiever like my classmates, I couldn’t let it go at just that. So this winter I volunteered as an interviewer for the Oral History Project with the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation (FAIC). Under the leadership of Joyce Hill Stoner ’73, professor of material culture and paintings conservator at the University of Delaware/Winterthur Art Conservation program, this project has been archiving transcripts of interviews with conservators, conservation scientists, and other professionals in the field since 1975.
As a conservator, our work deals with history on a material level. The FAIC Oral History Project allows us to record our own history, and the history of our field. I was lucky enough to be able to conduct three interviews, and each was fascinating.
I learned of early discrimination against women in the tale of one conservator who earned her Master’s Degree from Oberlin College, where the art conservation program accepted one woman and two men a year. Married men received a larger stipend, as they were expected to support a family; married women did not receive the same increase.
I learned of the differences a conservator can make abroad while interviewing a woman who assisted in the establishment of multiple conservation labs in developing countries.
I learned, again, of the ethical quandaries conservators face in private practice, hearing about contracts turned down due to the work required being against the conservator’s ethical beliefs.
Most of all, however, I learned about the incredible exchange of knowledge that can occur when two people at vastly different points in their careers sit down and talk. As an interviewer, of course, my job was mainly to listen. But after I had stopped recording, it turned out, people were interested in my story as well. And oftentimes I left the interview feeling inspired, with new ideas and hopes for myself.
Now that I am back in New York, I plan to continue doing these interviews. And to those who have never participated in the project, I highly recommend it, and I think it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made.