UD students Boxi Lui (second from right) and Emily Cummins (right) and Winterthur volunteers show examples of "inpainting" from famous works.

Budding art conservators

Undergraduates teach teens about art conservation

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9:36 a.m., July 19, 2013--Ketchup, it turns out, is a really great cleaner for pennies.

It was a recent discovery made by high school students, who have been trained by two University of Delaware undergraduate students on art conservation methods. Over the past month, the 15 teens have run weekly activity booths during Winterthur’s “Terrific Tuesdays” program to engage the museum’s youngest visitors on art conservation. 

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There’s the penny-cleaning table, where kids can experiment with various household products to see which is most efficient at cleaning copper. Or “teddy bear triage,” in which torn and tattered stuffed animals are documented, cleaned and treated. And the ever-popular station where children make marbled paper from just shaving cream and food dye. 

For two years now, UD art conservation undergrads have worked on this event with Winterthur staff members Lois Stoehr and Lois Price, who this year worked with William Penn and A.I. du Pont high schools to recruit interested student volunteers. 

“The UD students have been fantastic,” said Stoehr, an alumna of the American material culture program and associate curator of education for the museum. “They bring incredible knowledge, enthusiasm and talent, and I could not do this without those two.”

Those two are Emily Cummins, a junior from Warrenton, Va., and Boxi Liu, a first-year student from China. As Summer Scholars, they have conceived the education program stations, trained the high school students and worked with Winterthur staff on event planning and logistics. 

“It’s been awesome to see the success of our ideas come to life,” said Cummins. “Kids enjoy them, they’re fun and we get to introduce these concepts to people who may have never heard about them.”

Liu, who applied for the program to improve his English, now finds himself speaking before large groups of students, discussing, for instance, the “inpainting station,” where white boxes cover pictures of princesses and superheroes. 

“Kids color the box to fill in the painting, just like art conservators fill in pieces,” he explains in a voice he admits is “a lot more comfortable and confident than [it was] two months ago.”

Though many of the high school students don’t see themselves as art conservators — or even as art conservation college majors — they do see the value in the skills they’ve gained over the summer. 

Morgan Brokenborough, a William Penn senior who wants to study biomedical engineering, said she’s learned “so much about teamwork, communication, science education — the kinds of things I know will be able to use no matter what I do.”

In addition to “Terrific Tuesdays,” which is housed in the main gallery of Winterthur and draws around 50-80 people each week, the UD students and teen volunteers have also worked with the city of Wilmington and the Grand Opera House to offer many of the same programs (like the penny cleaning station) at various Wilmington parks on Thursdays in July.  

This fall, the undergrads will work with Winterthur’s Stoehr on making trips to high school science classes to introduce more teens to art conservation.

Article by Artika Casini

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