Care Through Conservation: Behind the Scenes at the Johnson Collection

May 8, 2020 – July 24, 2020

As a part of her spring internship at the Johnson Collection, Wofford College senior MacKenna Smith curated an exhibition highlighting the role of conservation in the stewardship of fine art. As educational and cultural institutions closed in the wake of COVID-19, the project shifted to the digital sphere. For the week of May 4, MacKenna took over the Johnson Collection's social media accounts, offering an educational perspective on conserving and restoring paintings, culminating in an online gallery talk, live Q&A, and the opening of the digital exhibition Care Through Conservation: Behind the Scenes at the Johnson Collection.

The longstanding practice of art conservation is vital to maintaining a museum or collection––but historically, the process of stabilizing and maintaining works of art through repairs and preventative measures has occurred behind the scenes. 

Through a balanced knowledge of art history, chemistry, and studio art, a professional conservator can identify an artist’s chosen materials, evaluate the impact of time on an artwork, and correct damage. Often, a conservator employs restoration practices to bring a piece closer to its original form, removing discolored materials or filling and repainting damaged areas. Through restoration and conservation, aesthetic issues are addressed, and a work’s structural integrity is prioritized to ensure it withstands the test of time.

Increasingly considered just as significant as its visual impact, a work of art’s material experience is frequently highlighted by museums, galleries, and other arts professionals. Educational windows into the conservation process are quickly becoming an integral part of the museum-going experience. Care Through Conservation: Behind the Scenes at the Johnson Collection illuminates the visual and tactile clues that reveal an artwork’s individual history. Through photographs chronicling the conservation and restoration of select holdings in the Johnson Collection, the educational exhibition—exclusive to the digital realm—seeks to highlight a conservator’s essential role in preserving great works of art for future generations.

Featuring paintings by Lucile Blanch, Adèle Clark, Irma Cook, Josephine Couper, Elaine de Kooning, Maud Gatewood, Rachel Hartley, Colette Heldner, Nora Houston, Marie Hull, Anna Hunter, Glenna Latimer, Ingeborg Lauterstein, Margaret Law, Blondelle Malone, Caroline Rohland, Gladys Smith, and Laura Waring,  Care Through Conservation: Behind the Scenes at the Johnson Collection's virtual exhibition showcases the various techniques of painting conservation and restoration.