Cleveland Museum of Art Conservation Department

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The Cleveland Museum of Art Mission

The Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) was founded in 1913 “for the benefit of all the people forever.” 1 According to the website it strives to help the broadest possible audience understand and engage with the world’s great art while honoring the highest aesthetic, intellectual, and professional standards.

The CMA is proud to be one of the world’s most distinguished comprehensive art museums and one of northeastern Ohio’s principal civic and cultural institutions.

1. J.H. Wade II, act of conveyance of land to be used for the CMA

Background of the CMA

The museum opened on June 6, 1916 after many years of planning. Its creation was made possible by Cleveland industrialists Hinman B. Hurlbut, John Huntington, and Horace Kelley, all of whom bequeathed money specifically for an art museum, as well as by Jeptha H. Wade II, whose Wade Park property was donated for the site. The endowments established by these founders continue to support the museum. The original neoclassic building of white Georgian marble was designed by the Cleveland firm of Hubbell & Benes and was constructed at a cost of $1.25 million. Located north of the Wade Lagoon, it forms the focus of the city’s Fine Arts Garden.


William M. Milliken served as the museum’s second director from 1930 to 1958. During his tenure the museum continued to prosper, particularly during the 1940s and 1950s, when a series of large bequests, including the Rogers Bequest and the Severance Fund, allowed the purchase of significant works that established the museum’s international reputation. Three important milestones occurred in 1958. On March 4 the first major addition doubled the size of the museum. During the year the museum also received a sizable bequest from Leonard Hanna Jr., which provided the funds necessary to function in the mainstream of national and international art collecting. Dr. Sherman Emery Lee became the museum’s third director. Lee would be known for his long tenure in the director’s role and the development of the museum’s Asian collection, which ranks as one of the finest in the country. During his directorship another wing, developed by signature architect Marcel Breuer, opened in 1971. In 1983 Dr. Evan Hopkins Turner became the fourth director. Another addition to the museum opened during his tenure. It contained the museum’s extensive library, as well as nine new galleries.


Turner’s community-centered outlook continued under the directorship of Dr. Robert P. Bergman, who served from July 1993 until May 1999. A specialist in the art of the European Middle Ages, Dr. Bergman established community advisory committees to act as consultants for exhibitions and programs. On March 13, 2000 Katharine Lee Reid, the daughter of former director Sherman Lee, became the museum’s sixth director. Her special interests included 17th century European paintings, 20th-century painting and sculpture, and late 19th-and 20th-century American and European decorative arts. Under her tenure ground was broken for the Rafael Viñoly-designed renovation and expansion of the entire museum complex. Mrs. Reid retired in 2005.


Succeeding Katharine Lee Reid in April 2006,T imothy Rub became the seventh director of the museum. The museum’s renovation and expansion project continued under Mr. Rub, with the renovated 1916 Beaux-Arts building reopening in June 2008 and the new east wing in June 2009. Mr. Rub resigned as director in September 2009 to become director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Deborah Gribbon, a former director of the J. Paul Getty Museum, served as interim director until September 2010. David Franklin, an internationally respected scholar of Italian Renaissance and baroque art, is the ninth director of the museum. Franklin’s term began on September 20, 2010.


CMA Milestones

  • Establishment: 1913
  • Opening: 1916
  • First addition completed: 1958
  • Receive Leonard Hanna bequest: 1958
  • Marcel Breuer Wing opening: 1971
  • Rafael Vinoly openings: 2008-2013 including 33% increase in gallery space; Gallery One, a 12,000-square-foot interactive learning center; 39,000 square-foot enclosed glass atrium

Dimensions

  • Gallery space after 2013 opening: 130,000 square feet

History of the Laboratory/Studio

This history was compiled by Marcia Steele in 2010, then chief conservator, for a presentation at the annual MRCG meeting in Louisville, KY of the same year. The history is based on departmental memory and an interview with Judy Devere, long-term administrative assistant. As memory can be faulty and this history is a work in progress, information found below can be updated or corrected as necessary.

The conservation department at the Cleveland Museum of Art was established in 1958. And for much of its history, the department was relatively small with particular expertise in paintings and objects conservation. It was no coincidence that in that year, three important events occurred in the museum's history. On March 4, 1958 the CMA's first addition was completed, doubling its size and enclosing its outdoor garden court. A laboratory in this wing was the setting for the first official conservation lab. During that year the CMA also received the sizable bequest from Leonard Hanna, which provided the funds necessary to function in the mainstream of international art collecting, and finally, Sherman Lee became the museum's third director. Prior to 1958, visiting conservators undertook treatments of the collection.

Before the department was formed, visiting conservators undertook treatments of the collection. In particular William Suhr treated many paintings both at the museum and in New York at his studio from the 40s into the 60s. An American paintings conservator trained in Berlin, William Suhr worked under Wilhelm Reinhold Valentiner at the Detroit Institute of Arts beginning in 1927, and was the conservator of the Frick Collection from 1935 to 1977. He also maintained private clients including individuals and major American museums in Cleveland, New York, Detroit, San Francisco, Chicago, and St. Louis. After World War II he worked closely with clients active in the New York art market, particularly the dealer Rosenberg and Stiebel. The legend remains that Mr. Suhr worked in the storage room of the museum in Cleveland and each day demanded that a single rose be placed by his easel.

A few artist trained individuals were the first permanent department members. Fred Hollendonner (graduate of the Cleveland Institute of Arts) in objects and Joe Alvarez in paintings worked from the late 50s into the 70s and 80s. When Joe retired, the first “officially” trained conservator came from the Intermuseum Conservation Association, a regional lab then located in Oberlin, Ohio. The CMA was a charter member of the ICA when it was founded in 1952. Ross Merrill, a conservator trained in paintings conservation, came from there and joined the CMA conservation department from 1974 until 1981, when he left for The National Gallery of Art. Ross was also a trained painter and continued making fine art and exhibiting it throughout his life. He authored the first Statement of Policies and Procedures for the conservation department when he arrived at the museum and sent a draft to Richard Buck for review. Mr. Buck’s hand-written notes in the margins and accompanying letter are still in the conservation files. In general, Buck read this “with much interest” and felt “the statement is good and a necessary foundation”, but thought “the general statement should be loosened up”. In this document, Ross required the department to “adhere to the Murray Pease Report as the guideline for the operation of the department and the conduct of the conservators”. In a later, undated statement, this was modified to the AIC "Code of ethics”. The mid-70s were pivotal years for the department. A painting considered to be a hallmark was acquired in 1975 that was attributed to Matthias Grunewald. At that time, the lab had little to no analytical equipment. When questions arose about the attribution, samples needed to be sent out for analyses. Subsequently, the painting’s date was determined to be centuries later, in fact a forgery. It was this event that led Sherman Lee to outfit the conservation studios at the museum with updated analytical equipment in order to better understand the collection’s physical materials and conditions. This included then state of the art X-ray fluorescence and infrared equipment.

The staff expanded over the years in the paintings and objects labs, with visiting conservators specializing in paper, Asian paintings and textiles. The original areas of the CMA complex, where conservation work was carried out by CMA staff was in the 1916 building. Fred Hollendonner and Joe Alvarez shared a space on the first level in the northwest corner, with windows facing north. Another paintings conservator, Del Spurlock, worked at the CMA from 1976 to 1982. According to long-term administrative assistant Judy Devere,“He was from Maryland. He started as a handyman at Intermuseum Conservation Association, then was trained as a conservator. At that time, it was unusual for an African American to be a paintings conservator. He was a dear, sweet man. Some of the projects he worked on were: Poussin’s Holy Family on the Steps and a vandalism incident in 1981. A patient from the VA hospital got into the galleries and poked holes in three canvases with a candlestick. Del worked on repairing all three.” An article from the Plain Dealer describes the perpetrator as a “frustrated artist”. This was also the year that Poussin’s Holy Family on the Steps came into the collection. According to Ms. Devere, “A woman owned the painting and wanted to sell to the Louvre, but experts there thought it was a copy. Sherman Lee was interested, if the painting could be exported legally. Apparently it could be, because the owner brought the painting to CMA all rolled up. Joe unrolled the painting and put it back on its stretcher. Although it was already lined, he re-lined it. Sherman Lee was very pleased with the result. This was the highlight of Joe’s career; he was thrilled that Dr.Lee trusted him with the painting.”

At some point prior to 1981, the paintings lab separated from the objects lab and moved to the top floor of the 1916 building. In that space, there was a spiral staircase that led to restrooms and a skylight. The door to the former labs is the only remnant from that era. In 1983, the library moved from the 1958 building to the Breuer building and the library former space was re-designed for expansion of the conservation department to include a prep space, office, paintings, objects and analytical lab. The textile lab remained with the storage collection of textiles in the 1916 former objects conservation space. The staff remained fairly stable from the mid-1990s for about ten years, when staff reductions were made at CMA as well as nationwide. In 2008, the labs moved to the new East Wing of the museum designed by Raphael Vinoly. The interior spaces of each lab were designed by in-house conservators at the time, led by then Chief Conservator Bruce Christman.

Over the past decades the museum has identified areas of the collection with special conservation needs and has systematically expanded the staff to accommodate the ever-growing and world-renowned collection. The textiles lab often hired people on short-term bases to work on specific projects. The Abeg Foundation in Switzerland has a program for training textiles conservators, several of whom came to Cleveland and while working there, were charmed by and dated the museum carpenter, a woodworker, as well as a food and wine connoisseur. The first full-time textile conservator was Karen Klingbiel. She had attended the Abeg, and worked at CMA for four years before leaving, working at a veterinary office in Cleveland and moving to Germany. Permanent positions in textiles and paper labs were created in 1994 and 1998 respectively. Paper conservator Moyna Stanton became acquainted with the print and drawing collections while coming to Cleveland on contract from the ICA for a few years prior to 1998. She was hired full time and carried out her work in the paintings lab while outfitting the former analytical lab for paper conservation.

Two conservators who worked on Asian objects were Yuji Abe and Keiko Keyes. Yuji had a print gallery in Tokyo. Keiko Keyes was in Cleveland in the 1990s. In 2004, Jennifer Perry joined the department as the first full time conservator of Asian paintings. Because no lab existed at the CMA for this specialization, she carried out treatment at the Freer Art Gallery, visiting CMA regularly to carry out a condition survey of the collection and examinations for acquisitions and loans. The 2008 addition includes an Asian lab which has been outfitted for use, however Jennifer left CMA for a position at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Over the years, many interns and Fellows have been trained by permanent staff members. The museum has had a rotating Mellon Fellowship since 1979. Individuals trained through this Fellowship have gone on to positions in institutions in America as well as Europe, including the Carnegie Museum, The Barnes Foundation and IRPA in Brussels. Pre-program and graduate interns have been trained at the CMA as well as several Fellows and volunteers. A list of Fellows, staff, volunteer and interns has been compiled by date for this history.

Midwestern museums are particularly known for long term staff. At CMA, conservators working longer than ten years include Fred Hollendonner (objects), Joe Alvarez (paintings), Bruce Christman (objects), Kenneth Be (paintings), Marcia Steele (paintings), Robin Hanson (textiles), and Moyna Stanton (paper). Long term technicians include Charles Eiben, Jim George and Joan Neubecker. As of 2013, the department has a staff consisting of a chief conservator, seven permanent full-time conservators (2 in objects, 2 in paintings, 1 in textiles, 1 in paper, and 1 in Japanese paintings), a Mellon fellow, four conservation technicians, and an administrative assistant. In 2010 the CMA’s budget for conservation reached $963,000.

With organizational changes in the museum, the department and department head were considered under or part of various other departments. From its beginning, the department was considered to be part of the curatorial staff. In 1984, prior to the opening of the expanded conservation facilities in the former library space, the structure of the department was changed from curatorial to that of art support. Evan Turner had close collaboration with the department during his tenure and continuing into the 90s the chief conservator reported directly to the Museum director. Upon Dr. Bergman’s death, the chief conservator reported to a deputy director of collections. In 2008, Director Timothy Rub started a division of museum services, and he himself served in that position due to a hiring freeze at the time.

The conservation staff’s major areas of responsibility include monitoring the museum’s most important asset—the collections. The chief concerns are protecting these collections from deterioration by monitoring the museum’s environment; establishing museum-wide policies for the optimum preservation of the collections; planning and working on special exhibitions and gallery installations and rotations; and performing technical examinations on all potential acquisitions and as needed for collections catalogues. Research by various staff members has been published in conservation journals, exhibition catalogues, on the CMA website as well as collections of technical essays.


Milestones

  • 1958: Conservation department established and lab built
  • late 1970s: Ross Merrill drafted first Statement of Policies and Procedures
  • 1979: Department began hosting a rotating Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship
  • prior to 1981: Paintings and Objects lab spaces divided
  • 1983: Department spaces, except textile lab, moved to previous library in 1958 building
  • 1994: Textile Conservator position added
  • 1998: Paper Conservator position added
  • 2004: Asian Paintings Conservator position added
  • 2008: Entire department moved to East Wing of the Rafael Vinoly addition, included labs spaces for Paintings, Paper, Asian Paintings, Textiles, Analytical, Prep of Paintings, Photo and Paper, and Administration

Staff History

As of 2013 the conservation staff includes the Chief Conservator, seven permanent full-time conservators, four conservation technicians, a Mellon Fellow, and an administrative assistant.

Conservators

Chief Conservator:

Fred Hollendonner, Objects,
Bruce Christman, Objects, -2007
Marcia Steele, Paintings, 2007-2012
Per Knutas, Paintings, 2012-2019
Marcia Steele, Paintings, 2019-present

Paintings Lab:

Hammond Smith (1920s?)
Joseph Alvarez (1957-1975)
Ross Merrill (1974-1981)
Delbert Spurlock (1976-1982)
Sonja L. Sopher (1982-1985)
Paula M. DeCristofaro (1982-1986)
Bruce Miller (1984-1989)
Marcia Steele (1987-present)
Kenneth Bé (1991-2006)
Heather Galloway (1998)
Dean Yoder (2009-present)
Per Knutas (2012-2019)

Objects Lab:

Frederick Hollendonner (1960-1989)
Bruce Christman (1979-2007)
Patricia Griffin (1995-2002)
Larry Sisson (2002-2004)
Sari Uricheck (2006-2007)
Dana Norris (2006-2008)
Rachel Penniman (2009)
Shelley Reisman Paine (2009-2011)
Samantha Springer (2009-2015)
Colleen Snyder (2010-present)
Beth Edelstein (2017-present)

Paper Lab:

Yuji Abe
Keiko Keyes (d. 1989)
Gina McKay Lodge
Moyna Stanton (1998-present)
Amy Crist (2014-present) library, books and paper

Textiles Lab:

Hermine Altmann (1968 extensions-1983)
Helen Stocher (1969)
Jane Hammond (1980-1995)
Karen March (1986 extensions-1992)
Katrin Stoltenberg (1988-1990)
Bettina Beisenkotter (1991)
Bettina Niekamp (1992-1993)
Angelika Sliwka (1993-1994)
Karen Klingbiel (1994-1998)
Robin Hanson (1999-present)

Asian Paintings Lab:

Jennifer Perry, Japanese paintings (2004-2009)
Sara Ribbans, Japanese paintings (2011-present)
Yi-Hsia Hsiao, Chinese paintings (2014-present)

Conservation Technicians

Nelson Rivera (1975-1983)
Sarah Sandford Miller (1979-1980)
Mary Brownlow (1981-1988)
Susan Bosch (1983-1985)
Fiona Maxwell Green (1985-1987)
William Root (1988-1990)
Elisa Jensen (1989)
Joan Neubecker (1989-present) photo and imaging
James George (1990-2011) paintings
Charles G. Eiben (1997-2005) paper
Joseph Ionna, (2002) textiles
Elizabeth Wolfe (2002-2010) textiles, objects, environmental
Stephen Fixx (2009-present) paper
Christopher Bruns (2010-2016) objects and environmental
Dave Piurek (2012-present) paintings and frames
Laura Gaylord Resch (2016-present) preventive conservation

Administrative Assistants

Elizabeth “Pat” Walton (1974-1978)
Ann Wilson (1978-1979)
Nanne Krikoff Olds (1979)
Elizabeth Bailey (1979-1980)
Beverly Goldbeck (Page) 1980-1981)
Judith DeVere (1981-2005)
Katarina Kirchenbauer (2005-2007)
Joan Bewley (2007-present)

Mellon Fellows

Karen Crenshaw (1979-1981) paintings
Zahira Véliz (1979-1981) paintings
William Real (1982-1985) paintings
Barbara Buckley (1985-1987) paintings
Kenneth Bé (1987-1991) paintings
Hope Gumbrecht (1990-1992) objects
Carol Warner (1990-1991) objects
Christina Currie (1992-1993) paintings
Rainer Richter (1992-1994) objects
Patricia Griffin (1994-1995) objects
Nancie Ravenel (1996-1998) objects
Larry Sisson (1999-2002) objects
Maurizio Michelozzi (2002-2003) paper
Jennifer French (2004-2006) objects
Aleksandra Carapella (2006-2008) paintings
Amy Crist (2008-2011) paper
Catalina Vasquez-Kennedy (2011-2013) paintings
Leanne Tonkin (2014-2015) textiles
Amaris Sturm (2018-2021) objects

Kress Fellows

Beth Campano (1995-1997) paintings
Julliette Jacqmin (2005-2007) objects
Eileen Sullivan (2009-2011) paintings
Kimi Taira (2015-2016) paper

Fulbright Scholars

Marta Oriola Folch (2000-2003) paintings

Visiting/Contract Conservators:

William Suhr
S.W. Hlopoff, objects (1960)
John MacKenzie (1962)
Phillip Vance (1982)
Ray Nurse (April 1988) Vancouver BC, musical instruments
Michael Heslip
Jonathan Taggart (1990-1992)
Carol Aiken (1993-1994) portrait miniatures
Rostislav (Papa) Hlopoff
Joseph Ternbach (consultant in metals)
William Young (analytical work)
Dean Yoder (1995-2009) paintings
Noahachi Usami (2001-2009) Asian paintings
Ephraim Jose (2001-2004) Asian paintings
Tatsui Handa (2001-2012) Asian paintings
Kathleen McKay (2003-2009) objects
Janice Williams (2004) textiles
Ruth Bubb (2005) paintings
Travers Newton (2005-present) paintings consultant
Per Knutas (2008) paintings
Shelley R. Paine (2008) objects
Paula Hobart (2008-2009) objects
Paul Messier (-present) photographs
Hugh Glover (2009-present) furniture
Emily O’Brien (2009) objects
Carol Forsythe (2010) objects
Cecilia Ronnerstam (2010) miniatures
Kate Payne-de Chavez (2012) objects
Molly Gleeson (2012) objects
Tom Podnar (2012) outdoor sculpture
Jiahua Dai, Chinese painting 2015
Yanjing Wang, Chinese painting 2016
Li Shang, Chinese painting 2017
Pinfang Zhu, Chinese painting 2018
Zhihong Zhang, Chinese painting 2019

Interns and Volunteers

Program interns

Lance Mayer, ICA paintings
Betty Engel, ICA paintings
Cynthia Connelly (1993) summer intern
Linnea Saunders (1999-2000) volunteer and advance intern paintings
Miriam Norris (2002-2003) textiles
Carol Traynor (2004)
Caitlin M Jenkins (2006) objects
Emily Gardner (2006?) objects
Brad Blahnik (2006) summer intern, image data
Ivy Garrigan (2009)
Allison Balloon (2008) CWRU
Keith Conway (2009-2010) Kent State
Robin O'Hern (2010) summer intern, objects
Genevieve Bieniosek (2012) summer intern, objects
Becky Kaczkowski (2012) summer intern, objects
Anisha Gupta (2014) summer, paper
Sam Owens (2015) summer, objects
Mary Wilcop (2017) summer, objects
Allison Brewer (2018) summer, paper
Karen Bishop (2018) summer, objects
Stephanie Guidera (2019) summer, objects
Melissa Amundsen (2019) summer, paintings

3rd or 4th year graduate-level interns

Shelley R. Paine (1977) Winterthur, objects
Laura Reutter (1988-1989) Buffalo, objects
Lisa Bruno (1990-1991) Winterthur, objects
Janine Wardius, Winterthur, paintings
Beth Campano, Buffalo, paintings
Jonathan Taggart, Winterthur, objects
Kate Payne (2007) Winterthur, objects
Eileen Sullivan (2009) Buffalo, paintings
Jennifer Dennis (2009) Buffalo, objects
Lianne Uesato (2012-present) Buffalo, objects
Kimi Taira (2014-2015) Winterthur, paper
Jacinta Johnson (2015-2016) Winterthur, paper
Bianca M. Garcia Martinez (2015-2016) Winterthur, paintings
Li-Ling Ho (2017), Asian Paintings lab
Pin-Xuan Li (2018), Asian Paintings lab
Ya-Yen Chuang (2019), Asian Paintings lab
Rachel Childers (2019-2020), Buffalo, paintings

Volunteers and Pre-program Interns

Clifford Stark paintings
Karen Miller (2008) office and paintings
Brittany Hudak (2008) data entry
Alan Zelina (2008-present) office and textiles
Betty Jo Scurei (2009-present) textiles
Christopher Bruns (2008) all labs
Jennifer Cicero (2010) objects
Carla Fontecchio (2010) paper and prep
Katherine Dunlevey (2010-current) textiles
Sarah Casto (2011-2014) prep, paper, textiles and objects
Christine Haynes (2011-2014) prep and objects
Abigail Walker objects (2011-2013)
Laura Siegfried (2014)
Margalit Schindler (2014-2019)
Allison Slenker (2014-2017)

Facilities

The conservation suite opened in 2008 and was funded by the Nord family. It contains separate lab/office spaces outfitted for work on Textiles, Asian Paintings, Paper, Paintings, Objects, Photo Documentation and Prep work including matting and framing of works of art on paper, photographs and paintings, as well as its own spray booth, environmental chamber, library stacks and Administrative office. Adjacent to the labs is an art viewing room connected to the Prints and Drawings curatorial offices. All art storage is currently on site.

Analytical Equipment

  • FTIR
  • handheld XRF (Bruker Tracer IV)
  • x-radiography equipment (two units)
  • Beta radiograph plate
  • IR camera

Environmental Equipment

During the 2008 renovation an environmental chamber was added to the conservation suite. Galleries, storage, and exhibition cases are monitored with Hobos running Hoboware pro and Climate Notebook. In the analytical lab, there is a scientific oven used for Oddy tests.

Photo-documentation Equipment

Currently the photo technician carries out formal photo-documentation for treatment, loan, examination, analysis, and acquisition. Conservators also assist with specific documentation using other imaging techniques such as IR, x-radiography, and reflectance transformation imaging (RTI), microscopy.

References

Further Reading & Viewing

Social Media

Conservation posts on CMA's blog
CMA on Facebook

Articles by Staff

Interviews & Media Appearances

External Links

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