Six months ago in early March, Megan Millman and I were thrilled to find out that we would be interning at Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library. Our job was to create an educational program that taught kid-size art conservation to children and their families for the museum’s Terrific Tuesdays program, which is held every July and August. We began planning immediately. First, we met with our academic advisor, Vicki Cassman, on campus at the University of Delaware to come up with four themes and a few activities for each. Each theme would focus on one subject; these included light, the environment, color, and taking care of your objects. From the very beginning, we knew that we wanted to have one theme that would allow children and their families to experience a day in the life of a conservator, or an “art doctor” as a little boy named Charlie put it. This day was given the title Teddy Bear Triage.
After several weeks of planning and researching in every coffee shop with free Wi-Fi on Main Street, followed by several weeks of gathering materials and experimenting with the support of the conservation and public programming staff at Winterthur, we were ready to present our activities to the public. However, we needed more than just the two of us to run these events. Thankfully we had the help of 15 teen volunteers! These volunteers came from a variety of backgrounds. They ranged in age from 11 to 18, in personality from spunky to systematic, and in interest from baseball to business. We spent a week in June training the teen volunteers for Terrific Tuesdays. In the mornings, they also explored various aspects of the museum and garden. The garden tour was particularly memorable thanks to our enthusiastic tour guide, Duncan Pike, who, as usual for him, was wearing an outrageous hat. This particular example had horns and red hair sprouting from a Viking helmet! The teen volunteers also did team-building activities such as English Country Dancing (which we secretly captured on camera—to their horror). In the afternoons, Megan and I talked with the volunteers about a variety of art conservation topics. Afterwards, we practiced the activities we had planned for Terrific Tuesdays. Somewhat surprisingly, making faux food brought out many of the teens’ creative sides. I was impressed with one volunteer’s elaborate fruit tart, while another made a very detailed strawberry—seeds and all! By the end of the training week, the teens were prepared to handle any situation.
For Teddy Bear Triage, we invited our guest to bring in their own toy from home. If they forgot, there was no need to fret because we had a large box of spare toys they could borrow for the day. It appears, however, that just one spare would have been sufficient, because almost every toyless child picked up the same large stuffed animal horse and proceeded to “ride” it around the reception room.
At the first Triage activity, the children photographed and measured their object and completed a condition report. Next, they cleaned their toy using erasers, cotton swabs, glass cleaner, or a conservation-grade vacuum. Then, they visited the treatment table, where they filled and mended areas of loss on different materials. The final step for the children was to create a storage unit, or “home,” for their toy using a shoe box and acid-free tissue paper.
We really enjoyed introducing art conservation to kids (and often their parents) during each week of Terrific Tuesdays. We hope we’ve inspired a few of our guests and teen volunteers to consider the possibility of a career in this exciting field!
Melissa Miller is an art conservation and anthropology double major at University of Delaware and the historian of the Art Conservation Club. She studied abroad with the UD art conservation department in Peru and interned with S. L. Benfica’s conservation department in Lisbon, Portugal.
Megan Millman is a chemistry education and art conservation double major at the University of Delaware, a member of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars and the Kappa Delta Pi International Honors Society in Education, and the Administrative Vice President of Gamma Phi Beta Sorority. She studied abroad with the UD foreign language program in Sorrento, Italy.