Kathryn Marsh-Soloway '13 Johnson Opportunity Grant Winner Travels to the Netherlands to Study Art Restoration

Kathryn Marsh-Soloway is a double major in journalism and mass communications and art history with a double minor in poverty and human capability studies and museum studies. A native of Woodbridge, Conn., she used her Johnson Opportunity Grant to finance a summer performing art history and restoration fieldwork in the Netherlands. 


Biking during rush hour in the rain is just one of the many things I learned how to do this summer.

Before ending my four week spring term course, Art History 356: "Technical Examination of Seventeenth Century Dutch Painting" with Dr. Uffelman, he warned me to be careful biking and to look out for mopeds, pedestrians, trams, cars, construction and other bicycles. These words of wisdom echoed through my head on each bike commute into work. Unlike the biking of my childhood, which consisted mostly of loops in a cul-de-sac, my bike commute each morning was one of the many cultural differences I found in my ten-week internship in Amsterdam.

My route carried me through some of Amsterdam's most spectacular sites. My apartment was located directly behind Dam Square. It is always full due to one special event or another--everything from royalty staying in the neighboring palace to beach volleyball competitions or haunted carnivals in the square. I also got to cruise by the Nieuwe Kerk and the Amsterdam Historic Museum each morning. Historic landmarks like the Begijnhof Church helped me remember where to make my turn. This twelfth century Catholic Church and current housing development for widowed women provides a place for peace and quiet in a bustling city and also helped me keep my bearings through all the winding canals. My route then took me down through the Jordansplein. Over a few more canals and I finally arrived at Muesuemplein. Each morning as I locked up my bike, I could see the lines forming at the Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum and Stedelijk Museum. The location of my job this summer was quite the art historian's dream. Thanks to my spring term class with Dr. Uffelman, I was the proud owner of an Amsterdam Museumkart, which gained me access to any museum. Rainy commutes home often led me to duck into galleries to stay dry and get to see even more artwork.

My ten-weeks interning at the Amsterdam Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed (RCE) proved to be one of the most memorable summers of my life. Each week I got to work in state-of-the-art labs, studying perception and cleaning methods. My research focused on the cleaning methods of silver and how new technology in cleaning can be applied to cleaning daguerreotypes. I focused on studying the cleaning properties of thiourea. Looking at the optimal cleaning time, conditions and procedures, I was able to test objects both before and after cleaning to see what, if any, ramifications they had. Much of my summer was spent taking and comparing SEM measurements. I was trained to use the SEM, which I spent a long time reading about in Dr. Uffelman's winter course. It was a truly exciting experience to be able to operate a machine I had studied for so long.

The SEM, or Scanning Electron Microscope, produces a clear magnified image by shooting electrons at an object instead of light. Electrons are shot out of the top of the microscope from the electron gun into a vacuum. This beam travels through the electromagnetic fields and lenses, which focus the beam directly onto the sample. When the beam of electrons hits the sample, the electrons and x-rays are ejected and produce a reading. This non-destructive testing method allows a much deeper understanding of objects. It can be used to take images of the object at a microscopic level as well as for element analysis. My summer was full of polishing silver samples, artificially ageing them, conducting cleaning experiments, taking SEM measurements and even a few day trips to Germany to take roughness measurements. In addition to my experiments, I was able to explore the ethical quandary of cleaning silver and daguerreotypes.

My generous boss also gave me one day a week to travel to a museum in the Netherlands that fit my own personal interest. I submitted weekly updates about the museums I visited, making careful observations of their display techniques and treatment of objects. As an art history major and museum studies minor, it was amazing to see everything I've studied at W&L in practice on an international scale.

My desk was in the basement of RCE in a large room shared by seven other international interns. I learned so much from each of them, and they all helped to make my time in Amsterdam unforgettable. The summer was absolutely amazing. I highly recommend that students take advantage of all that W&L has to offer. Speak to professors and find ways to follow your interests and do things that really interest you!