Imagine Magazine - Johns Hopkins - November/December 2011 - (Page 40)

exploring career options Conservator Interview by Melissa Hartman Julie Lauffenburger Senior Objects conservator, The Walters Art Museum Growing up in Buffalo, New York, Julie Lauffenburger had easy access to museums such as the Albright-Knox Gallery and the Royal Ontario Museum. Her interests in art were matched by her interests in science, instilled in part by her father, a physics professor. As she explains here, her work as a conservator allows her to pursue these lifelong interests every day. Did you go to college with plans to become a conservator? I actually started college as a physics major, but when I took my first art history course, I just fell in love with it. I graduated from Cornell University with a degree in art history, but I was still interested in the sciences and the physical nature of things. When I was talking with my advisor about my options after college, he suggested that I look into conservation. I was fortunate to have an advisor who worked with students from the graduate conservation program at New York University. That was now 20-some years ago, and conservation wasn’t as well known then as it is now. I traveled to Istanbul, Turkey, to look at ceramic tiles on view there to try to get some information about provenance, or origin. Our pieces were collected in the 1950s, but when objects come through dealers’ hands, we don’t always have information about where they were made. Along with a curatorial colleague, I did a lot of research to connect the Walters’ tiles with samples that had been excavated. We ultimately published a catalog of all of the known iconic ceramic tiles of this period. We also did technical research on the ceramics. We took small, thin sections and analyzed the glazes to find out the glaze components: Was it a lead-based glaze? Was it a sodium flux glaze? This information would allow us to compare our tiles to others that have been sampled. The final step was installation. There is a whole wall in the museum devoted to the installation of these tiles as we think they might have originally appeared. That was a long-term project, and it involved a lot of collaboration with curators, educators, and installation staff at the museum. How did you come to work at The Walters? What exactly do you do there? I came to The Walters as an intern in the third year of my master’s program at the State University College at Buffalo. The Walters is very well known for its conservation department, which is the third oldest in the country. After graduating, I worked at the Smithsonian and then returned to the Walters full time. As an objects conservator, I work on three-dimensional objects made from a huge range of materials. The Walters’ collection is comprehensive from about 2000 BCE to the early 20th century, so I have worked on projects that involve ceramics, 19th century bronzes, ancient bronzes, and more. How is your role different from that of the curators? The curators are the keepers of the art history, the significance, the iconography. When we get new acquisitions, there may be questions about authenticity—even about things that we have owned for some time—because forgery has gone on for centuries, really. The conservation staff will take a look at how objects were made and what they’re made of to see if they are consistent with what we know of the period. The curators, on the other hand, look at it from a stylistic and iconographic sense: what makes sense or doesn’t make sense visually. Can you tell us about a particularly interesting project you worked on? One project I worked on from research to installation was a group of Byzantine ceramic tiles from about 1000 CE. These are glazed tiles with icons of saints and ornamental patterns, and we think they were displayed inside a church, much like an icon screen that you might see now in a Greek Orthodox church. 40 imagine Nov/Dec 2011

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Imagine Magazine - Johns Hopkins - November/December 2011

Imagine Magazine - Johns Hopkins - November/December 2011
Big Questions
In My Own Words
Latin Geek
Latin in Rome
Made in Greece ... or Was It?
Classics for All
Pillaging the Past
The Aqueduct Hunters
What’s Old is News
Selected Opportunities & Resources
Girls on Ice
Nurturing a Passion for Science at the National Youth Science Camp
Off the Shelf
Word Wise
Exploring Career Options
One Step Ahead
Planning Ahead for College
Students Review
Mark Your Calendar
Knossos Game

Imagine Magazine - Johns Hopkins - November/December 2011