PSU receives $1 million grant to use science to study and conserve artwork
Author: Kurt Bedell, PSU Media and Public Relations
Posted: October 6, 2017

The skillful coupling of chemistry and art by Portland State University professor Tami Lasseter Clare has helped save valuable pieces of artwork from being lost to peeling, flaking, fading and cracking.

Clare’s use of cutting-edge conservation science to preserve fine art recently led to a $1 million grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to establish the Pacific Northwestern Consortium for the Science of Cultural Heritage Conservation at PSU, the first and only art conservation science lab in the region.

The consortium will give five major regional museums in the Northwest access to conservation science for scholarly and educational purposes. The Mellon grant will expand the analytical capability of the lab that will help both conservation scientists and conservators diagnose, analyze and treat artwork to minimize degradation and to learn more about artists’ methods and materials used in creating works. 

“With this generous grant support from the Mellon Foundation, Portland State and other members of the consortium will now have new tools to conserve the Pacific Northwest’s deep and rich art collection,” said Clare, an associate professor of chemistry at Portland State. Clare was part of the team that studied the structural integrity and aesthetics of a Han Chinese Dynasty Money Tree piece at the Portland Art Museum in 2009.

Conservation projects will focus on Asian and Native American works, as these are areas of strength in Pacific Northwest regional collections. Expansion into Modern Art is also planned. 

“The Pacific Northwest region has been historically underserved in conservation capacity relative to its impressive selection of museums. The growth in both expertise and sophistication around collections care in the region now necessitates access to scientific and analytical services that can adequately support more advanced conservation approaches,” said Alison Gilchrest, Mellon Foundation program officer. “Via PSU, Dr. Clare has the capacity to catalyze collaborative, path-breaking research in the region’s museum sector.”

The consortium will convene an annual forum where conservators, scientists and curators will share project results and brainstorm ideas for future work. The project will also produce educational materials for a variety of groups, including public school students, to enhance their science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics (STEAM) education.

The five initial consortium partners will be Seattle Art Museum, Portland Art Museum, University of Washington Libraries, Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at the University of Oregon and Alaska State Museum.

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