Artvoice: Buffalo's #1 Newsweekly
Home Blogs Web Features Calendar Listings Artvoice TV Real Estate Classifieds Contact
Previous story: We Here Highly Resolve, Part 2
Next story: "After Further Review..."

Art Rehab

Art Rehab
Visit the Buff State Art Conservation Department's Open House this Saturday

When someone says “art conservation,” what do you think of? Someone cleaning dust off an 18th century painting awaiting to be put on display or placed in storage? Something like that may be what most people think of, but cleaning old paintings is only a very small part of the picture that is Buffalo State College’s Art Conservation Department. Within the program students and faculty are not just artists or curators, but scientists, archeologists, or even doctors if you’re talking to Department Director Patrick Ravines.

“We work with fine art, historic works, personal heirlooms, personal treasures, anything that fits in the area of cultural heritage,” said Ravines. “Treating old paintings is one of the things we do, it would fit under the umbrella of cultural heritage, but what I like about this department is that it’s interdisciplinary. We have two scientists. They work together with the conservators, because we have a lot of things that are made out of materials, and those materials all have an inherent device. They tend to have their own ways of decaying under different conditions and under different environments. With the scientists, we can study those [materials,] and analyze the differences, analyze the changes, the deterioration, and then figure out what we want to do with it. So here we can do the diagnosis, prescribe the treatment, give [the artifact] its medicine and its treatment, whether it be major surgery, minor surgery, surface treatment—all those things, and make it come out at the other end as presentable based on where the piece is going to be displayed.”

Art conservation is not as simple as painting over blemishes or plastering over cracks. Much like making decisions with a doctor, deciding on how to correct something is a methodical, well thought out choice, and no two pieces require the same treatment. The treatment for artwork or artifacts falls into one or more of three fields: preservation, conservation, and restoration.

“We have a student who’s working on a Greek pot from roughly 2,000 years ago. The ceramic pot is broken into pieces and she is deciding if she wants to fill in some of the voids of the pot or leave them open,” said Ravines. “If you leave it open, you obviously see where the missing pieces are, but if you fill it up and leave the plaster you also see it there. However, you could start coloring [the plaster] in so you can tell that it’s different, but it doesn’t draw your eye to it immediately. That would be more of the restorative part in a sense, the fine-tuning of the color so it would be slightly off but your eye appreciates the entire work. With painting conservation, if there is a scratch on the artwork we could actually fill it in and stabilize that aspect of it, then inpaint with the same tone, same design, same pattern, so that you end up appreciating the entire thing, and that would be conservation and restoration. In a sense we use restoration as a subset of conservation. Conservation being a more holistic approach, looking at artist intent which we get from curators or the owners, looking at the history of the artist, and looking at the material science—what are the materials that the artist used? So if we have that information available to us, we base our decisions off of what we think the artist would have wanted. That’s how we maintain the originality and spirit of the piece.”

The wide variety of skills required to complete a master’s degree with the Art Conservation Department explains why Buffalo State is only one of four schools in the country to offer a master degree of its kind. Students can’t only focus on, or be skilled in, only one side of the conservation, preservation or restoration. They must be able to complete the process from start to finish.

“The neat part is that students have to know how to use scientific equipment—the tools of conservation and restoration, and the artistic application as well,” said Ravines. Students earn their degree after two years of course work and spend a third year working in the field at not only art galleries but at history and science museums, or archaeological sites, as the skills learned in the program are not only limited to working pieces of art. “We have graduates working at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, at museums in San Francisco and Los Angeles, and within the Smithsonian Museums,” said Ravines. To get a first hand look at everything that goes on within the Art Conservation Department at Buffalo State, and view works of art undergoing conservation treatment, stop by for the department’s Fall Open House from 11am to 2pm at Rockwell Hall on the Buff State campus on Saturday, October 17.

For more information visit

blog comments powered by Disqus