Meet Lansing Moore, director of Center Art Studio, who worked with us on an art conservation project in our exhibition Eloise at the Museum. Conservators are essential to museums and collectors. They clean works of art, preserve objects, and even repair things that are damaged. We asked Lansing questions about his field and tools, as well as Center Art Studio.
DiMenna Children’s History Museum: It is probably fair to say that every object in a museum has been touched by conservators. What do you wish museum visitors knew about conservation’s role in what they see in the galleries?
Lansing Moore: Conservators are the people who solve problems with works of art, like cleaning a very old painting or repairing a broken sculpture. Conservators also make sure that art is safe and protected while on display. If you enjoy the art you see without thinking about conservation the conservators have done their jobs well.
DCHM: We’re always amazed at the range of techniques conservators use when they work with objects.
LM: As a conservator, I’m amazed, too. The tools I use most often are the same tools people have been using for thousands of years—brush, knife, swab. Unlike so much other work today, we still use ancient tools and techniques. We also use modern technology like digital microscopes, ultraviolet lights, and computers to see and understand what we’re doing. Some of the glues we use, for example, are ancient, like fish glue, while others are modern and highly technical—like HXTAL epoxy. (Yes, they really do make glue out of fish… and rabbit skin… and horse’s hooves…)
DCHM: Did you come to conservation through art and art history, through science and chemistry, or some other path? Is there a typical way that people get interested in the field?
LM: I came to conservation through growing up in a family of collectors and loving to make things since I was a little kid. I always had a room where I could paint, draw, and make models. I’ve loved museums and history for as long as I can remember.
There are two ways get into the profession—some people enter the profession as apprentices, and others through graduate study. I was lucky to meet my teacher when I was still in college and I took the traditional apprenticeship approach. But even as an apprentice you have to study, learning art history and new techniques. I love how conservation teaches me something new with many projects.
DCHM: Describe a day in the life of Center Art Studio!
LM: It’s never dull at the studio—no two days are the same. We work on a variety of objects and meet new clients all the time. Every object has a history and each client has their own story.
We might start the day cleaning a 200-year-old painting, then dash out to an interesting appointment with a collector. When we return to the studio, we might spend the afternoon gluing a broken ancient Chinese horse.
DCHM: From all your years in the field, what sticks out as your craziest conservation project? Did you ever say no to a conserving an object?
LM: Our craziest projects are often the ones where we find something unexpected. Once we got a box filled with broken pieces of old South American pottery with lots of dirt from inside the vase. When we put it together we found that it was a burial urn. We even found the dead person’s teeth in the dirt inside.
Other projects present problems we never heard before: one lady called us to say that she had a problem with her furniture. When we went to her apartment we saw that she had a pet Toucan flying around (it was a very large apartment). She loved her bird but the bird, Ernest, kept perching on the backs of her Chippendale dining room chairs, damaging them with his claws. We designed and made quilted, padded seat covers so Ernest could still fly around and perch without damaging the chairs.
DCHM: Touching objects in museums—what’s your position?
LM: I always want to get as close as I can to things in the museum but so many people go through a museum each year that if each one touched the art it might get damaged over time. I look really closely at each thing but I keep my hands behind my back so the guards don’t get nervous. Some museums, however, are special for kids and may let you touch the objects.
DCHM: What advice do you have a young collector (say, a 10 year old)? Where should they start to make sure they are safeguarding the condition of their valuables?
LM: Collecting is fun and it’s never too early to start. I bought my first print with my allowance when I was 13. Part of the fun is to keep records, display your things and to learn more about what you have. So:
- Start a collector’s diary where you make a note of each thing you collect. Write down where you bought or found it (we call this provenance). Also note if the thing is in good shape or damaged, clean or dirty (we call this a condition report).
- Pick a place like a special shelf, box or wall to display your things and lay them out in a way that looks good to you (we call this display design).
- Learn what you can about your prize possessions by visiting museums or looking on the internet to find similar things and noting in your collector’s diary what you found (we call this cataloging).
Soon you will have a mini-museum of your own!