By CYNTHIA SCHUSTER EAKIN
All history has value. Preserving our cultural past helps to shape the present and the future.
Cleveland is privileged to be home to ICA—Art Conservation, the oldest regional conservation center in the United States. According to Julie Reilly, executive director of ICA—Art Conservation, there are only seven other conservation centers in the country. Others are located in California, Minnesota, Nebraska, three in Massachusetts and one in Pennsylvania.
Originally known as the Intermuseum Conservation Association, ICA was established by the directors of six major Midwestern museums in order to provide professional, high-quality and cost-effective art conservation services and specialized graduate-level conservation education. Founded in Oberlin, OH, in 1952 as the nation’s first nonprofit regional art conservation center, ICA became the model used by the National Endowment for the Arts when it established a network of similar centers across the U.S. in 1971. ICA relocated to a facility in Cleveland’s Ohio City neighborhood in 2003 in order to be closer to the population it serves. In 2022, it moved to a new facility in the Pivot Center for Art, Dance and Expression at 2937 W. 25th St. (See article below.)
“About 70 percent of our work is done for non-profits like independent museums, libraries, historical societies, hospital collections, corporate collections and private collectors,” Reilly noted. However, she added that ICA’s conservation expertise is available to everyone. No art piece is too large or too small.
“A conservator needs a degree in the historical sciences, studio arts and art history. This is a field for people who have skill sets in both technical and artistic academic disciplines,” she explained, noting that a conservator specializing in restoring archaeological items might also want to study anthropology.
Most art conservators have graduate degrees, according to Reilly. “There are four institutions in the U.S. and one in Canada that offer degrees in art conservation. These programs include two years of graduate course work followed by a year of internship. Each of these programs accepts 10 students or less. They are more competitive than medical school,” she said. “The one thing that I think is important to understand is that we conservators are the last people really studying the best of technology on a technical level.”
“Most of the work that we do is from public collections. We worked on the sculpture by Phillip Johnson that is on the Case Western Reserve University campus. We treated the Free Stamp sculpture in Willard Park. We worked on the fuselage of Neil Armstrong’s jet and repainted it, treated the dashboard controls and the cockpit seat. It’s now located in The Neil Armstrong Air and Space Museum in Wapakoneta, OH, Armstrong’s hometown,” Reilly said.
“Some items are less pleasant to work on, but it is historically important for these objects to exist,” she noted. “Then, we get something like an original John Singer Sargent painting to restore and it is absolutely sublime. We see the full range of art culture.”
A significant part of ICA’s mission is to provide training and education to the stewards of cultural heritage. It provides the best possible programming and plans to help museums, historic houses, historical societies, galleries, performing arts organizations and libraries across the country. Services include storage and housing of objects, handling and stewardship, building and construction planning, exhibitions and displays, packing and transit, preservation planning and collection specific preservation and conservation training. Some institutions have employed ICA’s services for decades. Clients include Stan Hywet Hall, the Allen Art Museum in Oberlin and Malabar Farms, as well as private collectors.
“We also do a lot of educational programming. We offer a program almost every month. For example, every November we offer a course on caring for your family silver. We also have a course on how to wrap and protect your outdoor sculptures for the winter,” Reilly said. “We work with a lot of high school and university students, but anyone can attend one of our Zoom programs. Go to our website and provide your email address and we will send you our program schedule.” Conservation lab tours are free, but must be scheduled in advance. Visit www.ica-artconservation.org or call 216.658.8700.
Cleveland shines as home to oldest regional conservation center in U.S.
By CYNTHIA SCHUSTER EAKIN