Lauren Sturdy '11

This summer I interned at the Smithsonian's Museum Conservation Institute with Senior Textile Conservator Mary Ballard working on two main projects. The first was helping to re-house the Black Fashion Museum Collection, recently acquired by the National Museum of African American History and Culture. I worked on thirty-seven objects and sets of objects from the collection, all of which had to be photographed, vacuumed, catalogued, and packed for long term storage. I have had experience with cataloging at the Reeves Center on campus, but had to learn the other tasks and the nuances of cataloging and conserving textiles, such as removing sticky stains and stabilizing holes. Even though I had no experience in conservation before, I was directed how to stabilize the objects and did the conservation work myself.

For the second project, another intern and I co-designed an experiment to deposit Goethite onto wool, polyester, and linen fabrics. I was able to use my chemistry background to adapt a commercial process found in the patent literature to a much smaller scale and very limited equipment. We dyed two sets of fabrics and analyzed them by colorimetry to determine how variables, such as the iron concentration in the dye bath and bath pH, affected the results.

This internship enabled me to use skills that I have gained at Washington and Lee both from my classes and my work-study at the Reeves Center to help the Museum Conservation Institute, while at the same time enabling me to gain valuable experience in the field that I intend to pursue. I learned more about what a conservator and a conservation scientist do on a day-to-day basis, and was enabled to meet conservation scientists, conservators, curators and others working for different museums and to see their workspaces. These visits provided me with more information on how different museums work and some of the issues that they face, as well as providing many useful contacts in the museum field. Since I was one of the few undergraduate interns at the MCI, I met many interns who were completing or had completed their graduate degrees in art conservation or conservation science and they offered me many insights into the graduate school application process and the pros and cons of various graduate schools.