Campus & Community

Mellon Foundation awards grant to HUAM

3 min read

The Harvard University Art Museums (HUAM) has received a $705,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to fund two three-year postdoctoral fellowships in conservation science at the Straus Center for Conservation. The grant will enable scholars to pursue postdoctoral scientific research within an art museum setting. Fellows will draw upon the Straus Center’s outstanding resources, including the Center for the Technical Study of Modern Art, and the collections of HUAM.

As the first fine arts conservation treatment, research, and training facility in the United States, the Straus Center has played a pivotal role in advancing art conservation science. The fellowships will build on the center’s contributions to the conservation and art historical communities, and will further the Art Museums’ longstanding commitment to creating opportunities for teaching, professional training development, and research.

Scheduled to commence in January, the fellowship program will provide new opportunities for scientists to collaborate with conservators, curators, and faculty from the Art Museums and greater Harvard community, and to contextualize research within the museum and academic communities. Led by Henry Lie, director of the Straus Center for Conservation, each of the three-year fellowships will concentrate on the study of artists’ materials and techniques, with research issues drawn from a broad spectrum of the Art Museums’ collections. One fellowship will emphasize modern and contemporary art-making techniques, using the resources of the Art Museums’ new Center for the Technical Study of Modern Art, while the other will concentrate on the study of traditional artistic materials. The program will include workshops and symposia, providing fellows with the opportunity to work directly with the Art Museums’ curators and conservators and with the University’s academic historians. Fellows will also consult on research undertaken by the Art Museums’ curators and conservators.

In addition to providing the fellows with research funds and stipends, the Mellon Foundation grant provides for the purchase of three additional scientific instruments. A gas chromatograph – mass spectrometer (GC-MS) has been purchased for the analysis of paint media and varnish coatings. A pyrolysis injector was added to the GC-MS for the analysis of polymers prevalent in modern/contemporary art. Finally, a polarized light/fluorescent microscope will be purchased in order to examine the pigments and paint layer structure of artworks. With separate funding, an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer has been added to the scientific equipment in the center. This instrument facilitates the analysis of metals and pigments without the need to collect samples from the object.