The Andrew W. Mellon Art Conservation Fellowship

Nidhi Shah, Project Coordinator, Art Conservation Resurgence Project

The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Stichting Restauratie Atelier Limburg with the support of the Ministry of Culture, Government of India and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation announced a new program offering Fellowships to Indian citizens engaged in art conservation. This Fellowship is intended to broaden the experience of conservators currently working in various cultural institutions in India. 

Eighteen of us from India have been awarded this fellowship. Some are working at SRAL, The Netherlands and
some at the MMA, New York. I was lucky enough to have been selected to work at both these institutions for a period of two months each. I completed the first part of my fellowship at the Stichting Restauratie Atelier Limburg (SRAL), Maastricht, The Netherlands from February - April 2014. 

My plan of study for this fellowship entailed firsthand experience and observation of systems, procedures for various aspects related to art conservation. During my fellowship at SRAL I got the opportunity to work with objects and to understand the dynamics of the work place, the efficacy of new materials, technologies and systems. I also collated information on materials, literature, books, etc. used in the subjects related to art conservation.

SRAL provided me with technical contacts, mentoring, and other support throughout the fellowship period. In addition to the various lectures delivered by the experts at SRAL, I got opportunities to be a part of a practical hands-on workshop on ‘Structural Repairs of Panels’, conducted by experts like Britta New and Ray Marchant and Ms. Kate Seymour, attended various seminars and lectures on relevant conservation topics e.g., Light, Preventive Conservation, Solvents and Solubility, Solvents and Lab Safety, etc. and also gained experiential learning. I took every opportunity that came across to learn more about the new techniques, and treatment methods with regards to oil painting conservation. 

At SRAL, I also got the opportunity to work along with another Indian Fellow from IGNCA Mr. Anil Dwivedi on The Fries Museum’s decorative Hindeloopen period rooms (wooden panels). The Fries Museum in Leeuwarden, The Netherlands, owns two decorated period rooms made in the so-called Hindeloopen style. In the 16th - 18th
century, the city of Hindeloopen was a flourishing town mainly because of its harbor and trade with oversees nations, such as India. In Hindeloopen a very distinct style developed (textile, decorative painting) directly inspired by imported textiles and goods from India.

We started with the full documentation of the painted elements of the room. The initial research and documentation will result in a full treatment of the interior. During the first examination, the panels proved to be in good condition. However they also showed a complex history of interventions. This project will be continued by subsequent Indian Fellows. 

I travelled to Amsterdam, The Hague, Amersfoort, Liege, Rome, Paris and Berlin for institutional visits, meetings and conferences like ENCoRE Conference (European Network for Conservation-Restoration Education) at Liege, ‘The Picture Meeting’ conference at Amersfoort RCE, ICCROM visit in Rome, etc. Through these travels I learned a lot about the various types of research and analysis that are on-going in the field of art conservation and how important it is to know and understand the art object, its material, damages, treatments, display, climate control, lighting and storage of collections, packing and transport, documentation and archiving, etc. I also got a chance to visit TEFAF (The European Fine Art Fair), the world’s leading art fair. Its presents 270 of the world’s leading galleries from 20 countries and showcases some of the best works of art. 

The Andrew W. Mellon and Indian Ministry of Culture Fellowship programme for me came as a stepping stone to know and understand the subject of ‘Art Conservation’ on a much broader level, especially how it is practiced internationally and based on my observations, how I can help develop/create a strong system of standards and protocols in the field of art conservation, not only for the benefit of my institution, but through it for various cultural organizations and institutes in the country. Apart from being a part of the conservation institute I was also a part of the cultural activities in The Netherlands. I got to be a part of the three days colourful carnival festival as well as got the SRAL team to enjoy the Indian festival of colours. 

I would like to thank the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Ministry of Culture, Government of India and the Director General, CSMVS for selecting me for this fellowship. I would also like to thank the organizers for helping us put in order our work and being very flexible, which really made me feel comfortable to make my plans during my fellowship at SRAL. This Fellowship has given me the much needed exposure to systems and an insight to some extent, into the conservation culture of both these continents.