Olivia Davalos Stanton followed a hot tip from her roommate and found her dream job.
Her roommate was taking a course she was taking on the science of art materials. “She was like, oh this sounds so interesting, you should go talk to Susan at the conservation lab! Eventually I took her advice, came here and never left,” said Olivia.
Olivia spent the spring quarter of her sophomore year as the Outdoor Sculpture and Conservation intern in the Art+Science Lab. “As soon as I started realizing that art conservation was a career, that it was an actual full-on job I could do, I wanted to be an conservator,” Olivia said. A summer internship at the Getty Museum clinched the decision for her. “During the second week, we had our first hands-on experience with an object. We got to vacuum a 17th century French tapestry. Just the fact that I got to walk all over it, and touch it — don’t worry, I was wearing gloves, and was properly clothed! – but the fact that I just got to handle the art work itself, to hold it in my hand – that was the biggest selling point.”
While at the Getty, Olivia met conservator Marie Svoboda and learned about Marie’s Ancient Panel Painting: Examination, Analysis, and Research (APPEAR) project on Egyptian mummy portraits. These paintings, also called the Fayum mummy portraits, were made between the 1st century BCE and the 3rd century CE, a time when Egypt was under Roman rule. They were typically painted with encaustic (a wax-based pigment) or tempera (an egg-based pigment) on wood panels and placed over the faces of linen-wrapped mummies. There are over 800 portraits worldwide, and the goal of the APPEAR project is to create a technical database of the paintings. (Check out some great blog posts from students working on this project at Johns Hopkins and Penn!)
Back at Stanford in the fall, Olivia discovered two Fayum paintings in the Cantor collection. She wrote up a proposal to use several light-based characterization techniques to study the paintings. What types of pigments were used? Can we identify when and where the paintings were made based on the materials used or cultural clues from the portraits?
Olivia is especially curious to figure out what happened to the painting of the woman. “There’s this really deteriorated or damaged section on the left side and we don’t know how it happened. Was that part broken off completely and damaged with fire or water, or did someone try to put it back together and mess up in the process?” she wonders. Understanding how the paintings were made will help guide future conservation treatments. We’ll post updates on the Fayum mystery here later this year!
Meanwhile, if you’re also curious about conservation (which as Olivia found can indeed be a full-on, awesome job), the American Institute of Conservation has posted a nice summary of types of work in conservation and training requirements, and the Art Gallery of Ontario has a lovely collection of quick interviews with its conservation staff about their backgrounds and advice for aspiring conservators.
For hands-on experience in conservation, apply for a fellowship at the Art+Science lab this summer!