Shelburne Museum Conservation Lab

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The conservation lab at Shelburne Museum was established in 1983 as part of the Collections Division. In 1999, the division was split into three separate departments, with lab sitting within the department of Preservation and Conservation. In 2015, the Collections Department was re-established, and encompasses registration, art handling, installation, archives, library, and conservation. The department is currently directed by the staff conservator, an objects specialist. In addition to the staff conservator, the department is staffed by a registrar, an associate registrar, a collections manager, a librarian/archivist/registrar for the permanent collection, a preparator, and two art handlers. Preservation of the museum's historic structures is the purview of the Preservation and Landscape department while conservation of the movable artifacts and works of art is undertaken in the conservation lab.

Overview/Mission[edit | edit source]

Shelburne Museum’s mission is to broaden our audience, engage their curiosity, animate their creativity, and give them an extraordinary, educational museum experience.

The guiding principles of the museum are:

  • Preserving, interpreting, and making broadly accessible the Museum's collections
  • Celebrating American ingenuity, creativity, and craftsmanship
  • Imparting a deeper understanding of New England's heritage
  • Fulfilling the legacy of Electra Havemeyer Webb (1888-1960)
  • Collecting art and artifacts of the highest artistic and historical merit
  • Assuming a special responsibility for serving our Vermont community
  • Valuing the contributions of Museum staff and volunteers
  • Achieving and maintaining the highest standards of professionalism

Background of the Institution[edit | edit source]

Shelburne Museum was founded in 1947 by Electra Havemeyer Webb (1888-1960), one of the first major collectors of folk art and the only American woman to create and endow an art and outdoor history museum. She was the daughter of H.O. and Louisine Havemeyer, influential collectors of Impressionist and Old Master paintings and Asian art. Inspired by early-American ingenuity, Mrs. Webb amassed extraordinary holdings of quilts, hooked rugs, decorative arts, decoys, tobacconist figures, weather vanes, trade signs, folk art, paintings and sculpture, dolls, tools, toys, carriages, and 18th-20th century artifacts of every day life. In the 1950s, Mrs. Webb began collecting fine art, acquiring over 400 American paintings and finalizing plans for the exhibition of Impressionist works she inherited from her parents by Monet, Manet, Degas, and Cassatt. Mrs. Webb’s passion for early Americana included architecture, and she preserved and relocated 25 18th-19th century structures to the museum grounds. Shelburne Museum was among the first of a generation of museums including Winterthur, Historic Deerfield, and Colonial Williamsburg that focused on early American art, history, and material culture. In 1960 over 50,000 artifacts were exhibited in 30 buildings. Today there are 150,000 works in 39 exhibition structures.

In the 1980s Shelburne launched an education initiative that has grown into a multi-faceted blend of programs for youth, adults, general, and scholarly audiences. Practical preservation and conservation methods developed at Shelburne have become national models. An aggressive agenda for changing exhibitions was introduced in 2000, resulting in a richer visitor experience and improved opportunities to increase and broaden attendance and donor support. In August, 2013 the museum opened the Pizzagalli Center for Art and Education which includes the Museum’s first auditorium and classroom, and two modern and technologically equipped galleries suitable for large-scale contemporary exhibitions. The Center has transformed Shelburne Museum from seasonal into a year-round resource, dramatically increasing public access to exhibitions and the Museum’s extensive collections and enabling year-round programs.

Milestones[edit | edit source]

Date Event
1947 Museum founded
late 1940s-1950s 23 Historic buildings relocated to Shelburne Museum property.(Shelburne Museum 1993)
1960 Newly-constructed building to display American paintings, Webb Gallery, opened to the public. (Shelburne Museum 1993)
1960s Circus Building, railroad complex, and Electra Havemeyer Webb Memorial Building constructed. (Shelburne Museum 1993)
1986 Ogden Pleissner Building, a new climate-controlled structure built to display the work and studio of painter Ogden Pleissner opened to the public. Round Barn moved to museum campus. Silo flown in by helicopter. (Shelburne Museum 1993)
1993 With funding from a Preservation Capital Campaign, a project manager and 5-member team are hired to restore the steamship Ticonderoga over a period of 5 years.(Shelburne Museum Annual Report 1993)
2000-2002 Collections Management building with spaces for the museum's library and archives constructed. (Kerschner 2007)
2005 Museum recognized for their contributions to historic preservation by the Preservation Trust of Vermont for the restoration of founder Electra Havemeyer Webb's Shelburne home, the Brick House.(Preservation Trust 2005)
2009 Shelburne Museum receives the AIC/Heritage Preservation Award for Outstanding Commitment to the Preservation and Care of Collections. (VermontBiz 2009)
2012 Construction of the museum's Center for Art and Education, first building designed to be open to the public year-round, begins. (Sutkoski 2012)
2013 Pizzagalli Center for Art and Education at Shelburne Museum opens to the public. It contains two exhibition galleries, an auditorium, and a classroom.

Dimensions[edit | edit source]

The museum is situated on 40 acres and contains approximately 150,000 works of art and artifacts displayed in 39 buildings. The administrative offices sit apart from the museum, and, in addition to the conservation lab, include the museum's library and archives.

History of the Laboratory/Studio[edit | edit source]

Date Event
1980 Director Benjamin Mason contracts 4 eminent conservators to conduct a general conservation survey of the museum. All recommend that the museum hire a conservator.
1982 First conservator position created.
1983 NEA grant awarded to museum for initial purchase of laboratory equipment, including a binocular microscope, a microscope with a polarized light attachment, and a vacuum hot table.
1986 Second conservator position created.
1990 Conservation lab size expanded by 50% to 1400 sq. ft. Lighting and ventilation upgraded to include a fume hood and fume extraction trunks. (Shelburne Museum 1990)
1989 Electra Bostwick McDowell Fellowship in Conservation created, providing funding for summer work projects in the department. The fund is shared with the Education department and was begun in the memory of former museum president Electra B. McDowell (1934-1989), in recognition of her great interest in museum education and art conservation.
1992 Collections Care Specialist position created and added to the conservation department.
1996 22 paintings deaccessioned and sold at auction to create a Collections Care Endowment.
1999 Department of Preservation and Conservation created. Collections Care Specialist position eliminated from the department. Collections Care Technician positions moved to a newly created Collections Management Department.
2000 UV attachment purchased for research microscope with funding from the Walter Cerf Foundation.
2002 The Adopt-a-Carousel Animal initiative begins in order to complete the conservation treatment of the menagerie from the museum's 1902 Dentzel Carousel.
2014 Conservation treatment of the 1902 Dentzel carousel's menagerie completed. Work on rounding boards, panels, and chariots continues.
2015 Department of Preservation and Conservation folded into a Collections Department that includes Registration, Art Handling, Installation, Library, Archives, and Conservation.

Staff History[edit | edit source]

Conservators[edit | edit source]

Richard L. Kerschner, Director of Preservation and Conservation, 1983-2015
Valerie Reich Hunt, Objects Conservator, 1986-1998
Nancie Ravenel, Associate conservator, 1998-2002; Objects conservator, 2002-2021; Director of Conservation, 2022-2023; Director of Collections & Conservation, 2023-present

Grant-funded Conservators and Fellows[edit | edit source]

Years Name Position/Project Funding Source
1985 Sara McElroy Paintings Conservator NEA
1989 David Bayne Wooden Artifacts Conservator/Folk Art IMS
1990-1992 Katherine Hird Paintings Conservator IMS
1992-1994 Holley White Paper Conservator NEA
1996-1999 Cathy Coho Textile Conservator/Bedcovers and Floor Covers IMLS, Fidelity
2000 Gaby Keinitz Textile Conservator/Samplers IMLS
2000 Michaela Niero Objects Fellow/Historic Interiors Kress
2001 Jennifer Nichol Objects Fellow/Dolls IMLS
2002 Kirsten Kruse Objects Fellow/Dollhouses IMLS
2003 Melanie Brussat Objects Fellow/Circus, Decoys, Dentzel carousel animal IMLS
2007-2008 Rachel Penniman Objects Fellow IMLS
2008 Laura Brill Objects Fellow/Gilded Age furniture and horse-drawn sleigh Kress
2009 Pamela Betts Paintings Conservator IMLS
2012 Josiah Wagener Objects Fellow/Painted Folk Art Kress/FAIC
2014 Angela Duckwall Textile Conservator/Hooked Rugs IMLS
2015-2017 Kirsten Schoonmaker Textile Conservator IMLS, other funding
2016-2017 Lesley Day Mirling Objects Fellow Kress/FAIC
2018 Ava Freeman Objects Fellow Kress/FAIC
2018-2019 Gennifer Majors Textile Conservator IMLS, other funding
2019-2020 Lindsay Ocal Objects Fellow Kress/FAIC

Lab Assistants[edit | edit source]

Barbara McMurray Rathburn, Collections Care Specialist, 1992-1999

  • Three Collections Care Technicians, specialists who maintained the collections on view, assisted in the conservation lab one day per week from 1993-1999. In 1999, those positions were moved to the Collections Management Department.
  • Prior to 1993, there was a Housekeeping Department charged with the task of maintaining the collections on view.

Conservation Interns[edit | edit source]

Shelburne Museum has welcomed pre-program and graduate-level interns in its conservation lab since its inception, but prior to the establishment of the conservation lab, the University of Delaware/Winterthur Museum conservation program sent students to the museum to conduct condition surveys/rehousing projects. Graduate-level interns have come from Canada, England, Switzerland, Taiwan, Bhutan, Germany, and the United States to work in the lab.

3rd or 4th year graduate-level interns[edit | edit source]

Year Name Program
1986 Ingrid Newman State University College of New York/Cooperstown
1990 Keith Bakker CAL Furniture Conservation Program
1992 Jennifer Baker CAL Furniture Conservation Program
2003 Lawrence Shutts State University College of New York at Buffalo
2007 Laura Brill NYU
2015 Emily Wroczynski University of Delaware/Winterthur Museum

Summer work project, pre-program, & other interns[edit | edit source]

The following lists the interns who have worked within the department since its inception.

Year Name(s) Project Funding Source
1983-4 Scott Fulton pre-program intern
1984 Valerie Reich, Neil Cockerline Condition survey and treatment of Circus Posters NEA
1985 Valerie Reich Condition survey of folk art IMS
1986 Eliza Jorgensen, Cynthia Kuniej Examination and consolidation of 6 scenic wallpapers IMS
1987 Elizabeth Wamsley, Annette Ruprecht Conservation of Dentzel carousel animals Funding from the National Gallery of Art in support of preparations for the traveling exhibition "American Sampler"
1988 Chris Lavergne Survey of the Arnold Circus Parade
1988 Catherine Anderson Conservation treatment of Dentzel carousel animals
1989 Rebecca Johnson Conservation treatment of Folk Art Electra Bostwick McDowell Fellowship
1990 Meredith Montague Condition survey of Beadwork and Stumpwork Electra Bostwick McDowell Fellowship
1991 C. Mei-An Tsu pre-program intern
1991 Nancie Ravenel Condition survey and treatment of Horse-drawn Vehicles Electra Bostwick McDowell Fellowship
1992 Mary Jo Davis pre-program intern
1992 Jennifer Baker, Lori van Handel, Betsy Baten Condition survey and treatment of Horse-drawn Vehicles Electra Bostwick McDowell Fellowship
1993 Holly Anderson Survey and treatment of Bandboxes Electra Bostwick McDowell Fellowhip
1994-6 Pamela Betts pre-program intern
1994-7 Nicandra Galper pre-program intern
1995 Karen Pero Lighting survey of 27 collection buildings Green Mountain Power
1995-7 Robyn Woodworth pre-program intern
1996 Stephanie Conforti, Diane Russell Conservation treatment of the Concord Coach Freeman Foundation
1999 Betsy Geiser Conservation treatment of Dolls Electra Bostwick McDowell Fellowship
1999 Kerith Koss pre-program volunteer
2000 Melissa McGrew Conservation treatment of stencil painted walls Electra Bostwick McDowell Fellowship
2001 Rachel Witt, Janelle Borig Conservation of the Million et Guimet Berlin Walter Cerf Foundation
2002 Cary Beattie Treatment of Dentzel carousel Electra Bostwick McDowell Fellowship
2003 Peggy Olley Treatment of Dentzel carousel Adopt-a-Carousel Animal funding
2003 Miriam Wells pre-program volunteer
2004 John Thomas Riddoll, Sandra Hons Treatment of Dentzel carousel Adopt-a-Carousel Animal funding
2004 Diana Haraya pre-program volunteer
2005 Rachel Penniman, Pei Shan Lee Treatment of Dentzel carousel Adopt-a-Carousel Animal funding
2005 Emily Gardner, Bridget Barrett pre-program volunteer
2006 Amelia Bagnall Treatment of Dentzel carousel Adopt-a-Carousel Animal funding
2006 Katrina Bartlett pre-program intern
2007 Kim Crozier Treatment of Dentzel carousel Adopt-a-Carousel Animal funding
2007 Sarah Milton pre-program volunteer
2008 Eileen Sullivan, Lauren Bradley Treatment of Dentzel carousel Adopt-a-Carousel Animal funding
2009 Diana Larabee, Laine Kirkhoff Treatment of Dentzel carousel Adopt-a-Carousel Animal funding
2009 Rose Daly Treatment of Dentzel carousel, preventive conservation Adopt-a-Carousel Animal funding
2009-11 Linzy Vos pre-program volunteer
2010 Utsha Gurung Treatment of Dentzel carousel Adopt-a-Carousel Animal funding
2011 Megan Salazar-Walsh, Sydney Beall Treatment of Dentzel carousel Adopt-a-Carousel Animal funding
2011 Caitlin Chan pre-program volunteer
2011-13 Hillary Mishcon pre-program volunteer
2012 Courtney Sanborn, Hannah Mancil, Rossella Fevola Treatment of Dentzel carousel Adopt-a-Carousel Animal funding
2013 M. Abbott Nixon, Emily Brown, Ellen Nigro Treatment of Dentzel carousel Adopt-a-Carousel Animal funding
2014 Samantha Owens, Megan Salas, Kendall Trotter, Kelsey Wingel Treatment of Dentzel carousel Adopt-a-Carousel Animal funding
2016 Annie Schrandt, Lesley Day Mirling Treatment of Dentzel carousel Adopt-a-Carousel Animal funding
2017 Rachel Childers Treatment of Dentzel carousel Adopt-a-Carousel Animal funding

Conservation Volunteers[edit | edit source]

Up to13 volunteers have work on projects in the conservation lab in any given year, ranging from filing documentation and database management, to assisting with conservation treatment, including on the museum's Locomotive 220.

Facilities[edit | edit source]

Analytical Equipment[edit | edit source]

  • Leitz research microscope with polarized light and UV light attachments.
  • Wild binocular microscope
  • handheld long wave and short wave UV lights
  • infra-red web camera

Pest Eradication Equipment[edit | edit source]

  • Chest freezer

Photo-documentation Equipment[edit | edit source]

  • Nikon D50 camera
  • Nikon D3100 camera
  • VioStorm VS-60 ultraviolet lamp
  • various lights and filters

References[edit | edit source]

Kerschner, R.L. 2007. "Providing Safe and Practical Environments for Cultural Property in Historic Buildings -- and Beyond" Contribution to the Experts’ Roundtable on Sustainable Climate Management Strategies, held in April 2007, in Tenerife, Spain.

Preservation Trust of Vermont. Preservation Awards 2005.

Shelburne Museum. 1990. Annual Report. Shelburne, VT: Shelburne Museum

Shelburne Museum. 1993. Annual Report. Shelburne, VT: Shelburne Museum

Shelburne Museum. 1993. A Guide to the Collections. Shelburne, VT: Shelburne Museum

"Shelburne Museum receives award for Preservation and Care of Collections" 25 September, 2009. Vermont Biz

Sutkoski, Matt. 2012. “Shelburne Museum Announces $14M Arts and Education Center.” Burlington Free Press.

Further Reading & Viewing[edit | edit source]

Social Media[edit | edit source]

Conservation posts on Shelburne Museum's blog
Shelburne Museum Conservation on Flickr
Shelburne Museum's Dentzel Carousel on Facebook

Articles by Staff[edit | edit source]

Betts, P. 2013. "Alice Dibble and Painting Restoration in the Early Days of the Shelburne Museum". Postprints of the AIC Paintings Specialty Group, vol. 23. Washington, DC: AIC, 7-17.

Carlson, N. and R.L. Kerschner. 2011 "Leveraging Preservation Funding to Enhance a Museum's Reach." Museum Computer Network 2011, Atlanta, GA.

Hornbeck, Stephanie, Nancy Pollak, Nancie Ravenel, and Kathy Francis. 2011. “Another Perspective: Voices from Outside Textile Conservation.” The Textile Specialty Group Postprints: Papers Delivered at the Textile Subgroup Session, American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works, 39th Annual Meeting, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Jun3 2011 21: 1–7.

Hunt, V. R. 1998. “Conservation of Folk Art: Shelburne Museum’s Collection and Approach.” In Painted Wood: History and Conservation. Proceedings of a Symposium..., Williamsburg, Virginia, 11-14 November 1994, Valerie Dorge and F. Carey Howlett, eds. Los Angeles: Getty Conservation Institute 424–436. ISBN 9780892365012

Kerschner, R. L. and V. Reich. 1987. "Conservation Notes" in An American Sampler: Folk Art from the Shelburne Museum. Washington DC: National Gallery of Art Washington. 208-211. ISBN 9780894681042

Kerschner, R. L. 1992. “A Practical Approach to Environmental Requirements for Collections in Historic Buildings.” Journal of the American Institute for Conservation: 65–76.;

Kerschner, R.L. 2000. “Implementation of Practical Climate Control Strategies at the Shelburne Museum.” In The Conservation of Heritage Interiors: Preprints of a Conference Symposium 2000, Ottawa, Canada May 17 to 20, 2000= La Conservation Des Intérieurs Patrimoniaux: Les Prétirages De La Conférence Symposium 2000, Ottawa, Canada Du 17 Au 20 Mai 2000, 161–166.

Kerschner, R.L., and N. Ravenel. 2006. “Here We Go ’Round Again: Cleaning Linseed Oil from Carousel Animals at the Shelburne Museum.” Journal of the American Institute for Conservation:Volume 45, Number 3: 201–210.

Kerschner, R.L. 2007. "Providing Safe and Practical Environments for Cultural Property in Historic Buildings -- and Beyond" Contribution to the Experts’ Roundtable on Sustainable Climate Management Strategies, held in April 2007, in Tenerife, Spain.

Kerschner, R. L., and J. Baker. 2008. “Practical Climate Control: A Selected, Annotated Bibliography.” Accessed March 17, 2013.

Kershner, R.L. 2008. “Providing Safe and Practical Environments for Cultural Property in Historic Buildings… and Beyond.” Http://www. Ischool. Utexas. Edu/kilgarlin/gaga/proceedings. Html.

Kerschner, Richard L., and Nancie Ravenel. 2013. “Challenges in Art Conservation at the Shelburne Museum : Middlebury College.” Middlebury College, Middlebury, VT, October 9.

Ravenel, N. 2003. “Conservation Before Conservation at the Shelburne Museum: The Doll Collection.” Ed. others. Objects Specialty Group Postprints: Volume 10, 2003 10: 62–66.

Ravenel, N. 2004. “Technical Tidbits.” In The Dolls of Shelburne Museum, by Jean Burks. Shelburne, VT: Shelburne Museum. ISBN 9780939384280

Ravenel, N. 2005. “‘There Is a House That Is No More a House’ Conservation of the Painted Wall Paneling in Shelburne Museum’s Stencil House.” In Wooden Artifacts Group Postprints. Minneapolis, MN: American Institute for Conservation.

Ravenel, N. 2010. “Pemulen TR-2: An Emulsifying Agent with Promise.” Western Association of Art Conservation Newsletter 32 (3) (September): 10–13.

Ravenel, Nancie, and Richard L. Kerschner. 2014. “Balancing the Preservation and Restoration of Shelburne Museum’s Artizan A-2 Band Organ.” Carousel Organ: The Journal of the Carousel Organ Association of America, January.

Ravenel, Nancie. 2016. Decoys x-rayed: What VolumeRAD tomosynthesis and computed tomography contribute to technical study. In Objects Specialty Group Postprints, vol. 23. Montréal: American Institute for Conservation.

Ravenel, Nancie. 2017. “Decoys Inside and Out.” In Birds of a Feather: Wildfowl Decoys At Shelburne Museum, by Thomas Denenberg, Kory W. Rogers, and Cynthia Byrd, 27–39. New York, NY: Skira Rizzoli. ISBN 9780847860609

Stulen Jr, F. L. 2000. “The Restoration, Preservation, and Reinterpretation of the Steamboat Ticonderoga.” In The Conservation of Heritage Interiors: Preprints of a Conference Symposium 2000, Ottawa, Canada May 17 to 20, 2000= La Conservation Des Intérieurs Patrimoniaux: Les Prétirages De La Conférence Symposium 2000, Ottawa, Canada Du 17 Au 20 Mai 2000, 45–50.

Wroczynski, Emily, Nancie Ravenel, and Chip Stulen. 2018. “‘Derailing’ the Myth of Gilded Age Decoryation in the Grand Isle Private Railcar: A Case Study of the Painted Ceiling Panels.” In Macro to Micro: Examining Architectural Finishes, edited by Mary A. Jablonski and Kristin Travers Moffitt. London: Archetype Publications.

Online Projects[edit | edit source]

Ravenel, Nancie and Mirling, Lesley Day. 2017. Inside Decoys at Shelburne Museum., accessed February 28, 2019.

Interviews & Media Appearances[edit | edit source]

Lavin, J. 2004."Sustainable Access: A Discussion about Implementing Preventive Conservation" Getty Conservation Institute Newsletter. 19/1

O'Grady, E. 2017. "Shelburne interns gain valuable experience" Shelburne News. August 11.

Thurston, J. 2008. "Meet the Museum's Rescue Squad" WCAX News. April 1.

"Interview with Richard L. Kerschner." 2010. Image Permenance Institute Newsletter. Volume 11.

Westley, L. J. 2011. "The Shelburne Museum Shuts Down for Winter, But Not Everything Hibernates." Seven Days. November 23.

Links[edit | edit source]

Support[edit | edit source]

Conservation and collections care initiatives at Shelburne Museum have been supported by federal funding agencies and foundations. Summer internships have been supported by the Electra McDowell Fund and the Adopt-a-Carousel Animal initiative. Grants, other than those which have supported the work of conservators and fellows contracted to work in the lab, awarded to the department include:

Year Funding Agency Project Description
1986 IMS Conservation treatment of quilts at a regional conservation facility
1988 IMS Purchase and installation of storage shelves for prints, paintings, and folk art objects
1991 NEH 5-year multi-faceted environmental improvement for 27 collection buildings
1994 IMS Storage improvement project for conservation technician to work 3 days per week to survey and improve storage areas
1999 NEH 5-year project to upgrade fire and security sensors, re-wire, and install new exhibition lighting in 6 historic structures
1999 IMLS Purchase storage shelving for new Collections Management building
2003 IMLS Environmental improvement for Decorative Arts storage by insulating building and installing residential HVAC equipment
2004 NEH 2.5-year project to improve collection environments, mitigate fire and security risks and improve lighting in 3 exhibition buildings.
2008 Shumway Foundation Conservation treatment of 30 Circus posters
2009 Save America's Treasures 2-year project to improve infrastructure, upgrade security, fire-detection, and HVAC control systems.
2014 NEH Sustaining Humanities Collections 2-year project to improve collection environment, mitigate fire and security risks, and improve lighting in the Dorset House.
2019 NEH Preservation Assistance Grant to conduct condition assessments and produce treatment proposals for 10 large paintings in the collection and their frames. This work was undertaken by conservators from the Williamstown Conservation Lab.
2019 IMLS Museums for America Grant to conduct conservation assessment of 313 printed works of art on paper housed in boxes. This work was undertaken by paper conservators in private practice M.J. Davis and Carolyn Frisa.
2019 NEH Sustaining Humanities Collections 2-year project to improve HVAC system, mitigate fire and security risks, and improve lighting in the Stagecoach Inn.
2020 IMLS Museums for America Grant to inventory and perform a condition assessment of the Museum's pharmaceutical collection.
2021 IMLS Museums for America Grant to inventory, perform a condition assessment, and design a display methodology for a group of 2000 commemorative handkerchiefs in the Museum's collection.