Closing One Door to Open Another

Breaking down a photography setup for treatment photos at the Asian Art Museum.

As summer heats up the country, most people are soaking up the sun to relax or taking long-awaited vacations. As an incoming student for the class of 2015 for WUDPAC, my summer brings a different kind of adventure.

Like many other pre-program students I’ve talked to, I began my journey into the world of art conservation because of its interdisciplinary nature. As an undergrad at Mills College, I was gearing up for a career in the arts with a major in studio art, so I thought it would be useful to understand how an institution organizes, collects, and exhibits art. I worked at the Mills College Art Museum, where I did everything from gallery sitting to organizing the archives. But after taking a field trip to Zukor Art Conservation with my traditional bookbinding class, I realized that that studio was where I wanted to be. I found a discipline that merged a practical application of fine art training with collections care.

As I more seriously committed to the field, I saw the challenge of fulfilling all the prerequisites of conservation training as a practice in self-discipline and cultivation. I see conservators as 21st-century Renaissance people. They must have a firm command of chemistry, craftsmanship, ethics, art history, and technology in order to address and balance all of these parts simultaneously. It is about knowing how to work in different of environments, to communicate in different professional vocabularies, and sometimes, to run your own business. The pre-program track is hard work—taking courses, working, studying…and if you’re lucky, you can get six to seven hours of sleep a night. But I believe it’s been well worth the effort because I’ve had the chance to study things I would have never otherwise looked at and met so many great people in and outside of conservation.

Doing consolidation work on a thangka at the Asian Art Museum.

I have been fortunate to work with incredible conservators who I admire and have so much respect for. My initial internship was with Karen Zukor at Zukor Art Conservation, where I observed and assisted many paper and book treatments. She set me out on the right foot that led me to my first AIC conference and to getting familiar with the local landscape. Then I joined the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, where I worked primarily under Shiho Sasaki and Denise Migdail as a conservation technician. My family has always said to be mindful of the company you keep because they reflect who you are. With the intelligence, grace, and work ethic that these conservators have modeled, I look back with gratitude, and I look forward to the broadening this community.

So, that brings us to this summer. At the end of June, I finished my position at the Asian Art Museum, where most of my time was focused on the gallery rotation of light-sensitive pieces from the permanent collection and our preparation for the upcoming Out of Character calligraphy exhibition. By the fourth of July, my life was packed in a few boxes and a couple suitcases, and I headed east to Delaware. I may not be heading on a summer vacation, but I’ve been given the chance to do something much more exciting.

Kimi Taira will be beginning her first-year of the Winterthur University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation. Her pre-program experience and fine art training has primarily focused on paper and boxes/folded structures. Aside from conservation, she enjoys yoga, cooking, writing letters, roadtripping, and testing out every ice cream shop.

Winterthur is celebrating 60 years of graduate programs in art conservation and material culture studies in the current exhibition A Lasting Legacy: Sixty Years of Winterthur Graduate Programs, on view through June 16, 2013.

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