Two weeks after finishing my Masters dissertation from University College London, I started my first real conservation job—the Winterthur Fellowship at Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library and the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation (WUDPAC for short). I’m incredibly excited to start my conservation career at such an amazing (and beautiful) place!
Winterthur (pronounced winter-tour, if you were wondering) is a museum of American decorative arts. It was established by Henry Francis du Pont (H.F. for short) at his family home in the 1930s. As part of his mission to preserve early American interiors, du Pont sometimes collected entire rooms from houses built in the 1600s to 1850s and installed them at Winterthur.
In a particularly dramatic example, one room houses the facades of four colonial homes—with cobblestones in between to create a colonial street scene known as "The Court." To accommodate his growing collection, du Pont added on to the estate until it gradually encompassed 175 rooms, and today includes galleries, a research library and archives, and teaching and laboratory facilities for graduate students in Art Conservation and Material Culture Studies.
My fellowship project involves researching Winterthur’s collection of 516 Dutch and English delftware tiles—355 of which are installed in 12 fireplaces around the house. Little is known about how the tiles got to Winterthur and when they were installed in the fireplaces.
Hopefully through archival research and scientific analysis, I’ll be able to piece together more of the tiles’ stories. I also will be treating some of the tiles which are deteriorating or have disfiguring historic restorations. I’ll be creating a storage method for the loose tiles that fits in the limited space and allows for safe handling.
I’m starting my project by researching the history of Dutch and English delft tiles. The tiles in the collection have many different patterns and designs—appearing to span a period from the 1620s to the 1850s. While researching, I will also be surveying all of the tiles for condition issues.
I spent the past year at the British Museum as an intern in the Ceramics, Glass, and Metals Conservation Department. In CGM I gained much more experience working with ceramics from all over the world—especially Medieval floor tiles and Neo-Assyrian bricks.
My experience at the British Museum will hopefully help me find a way to treat the Delft tiles at Winterthur! Watch this blog for weekly updates and follow me on Twitter to learn more about some of the individual tiles I’ll be looking at on #WeirdTileWednesday and #WeirdTileoftheDay. See you next week for an incredibly brief history of Delft tiles!