Olivet College recently had the opportunity to chat with Kelly about her Olivet experience – and how it helped prepare her for the opportunity of a lifetime.
Who: Kelly Schulze, 27, is from Kalamazoo. She graduated from Olivet College in 2009 and holds a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and anthropology from Olivet. Schulze worked as a conservation intern at Historic Royal Palaces and Plowden & Smith Conservation in London, and earned her master’s degree in objects conservation from University College London before joining the staff of the Cincinnati Art Museum in 2014. She has since been working in the museum’s conservation department.
What: Schulze and the Cincinnati Art Museum have teamed up to restore and re-install “The Vine,” a bronze statue created by Philadelphia-born artist Harriet Whitney Frishmuth. The sculpture was kept outside in the museum’s Alice Bimel Courtyard, where it was then damaged by wind and rain.
Where and When: The Cincinnati Art Museum hosted a public display of Schulze at work from July 7-31.
Why: Schulze credits her courses and professors at Olivet for preparing her for the field of conservation. While attending graduate school, Schulze realized conservation “is a mixture of chemistry, archaeology and art.”
Describe your role in restoring the famous sculpture, “The Vine”: “This is one of my favorite sculptures at the museum. We have another by Frishmuth on display in our courtyard, and we have a few more in storage in need of conservation. With the exception of ‘The Vine,’ which is life-size, the other sculptures are smaller but all are female nudes modeled after dancers.”
How do you prepare for such a restoration? How does one restore and revive a statute worn by nature’s elements?
“‘The Vine’ was last treated in 2003, but due to her problematic surface she was in need of conservation again. My stages of treatment were to clear loose corrosion, remove old wax coatings, patinate, if necessary, and re-wax. The wax coatings had been applied to protect the surface from snow and rain, but she had very thick coatings that were obscuring some of the surface detail, so I wanted to remove it to get good documentation of her unaltered surface. I did a lot of testing for cleaning, wax removal, and patination before treatment began, which was a big part of the process. I really had to decide what I should remove, what I shouldn’t remove, research conservation of similar sculptures and talk to other conservation professionals. The treatment ended up taking three weeks, and I didn’t need to repatinate. It went really well. I think she looks great now!”
How did Olivet College help prepare you for the art world?
“Susanne Lewis, Ph.D., (associate professor of chemistry) helped me do an independent study focusing on the chemistry of conservation, and Cynthia Noyes, J.D., (professor of sociology/anthropology) helped me get a field-archaeology internship. The collaboration between the two departments was really helpful. The experience I got through Olivet helped me get accepted into the graduate course at University College London. The faculty at Olivet are really great. I am positive I wouldn’t be where I am now without the dedication of Susanne and Cynthia; they were really invested in helping me succeed.”
What are others saying about Schulze? We also had the chance to speak to Museum Chief Conservator Serena Urry, who worked on the overall treatment for the sculpture. She decided to have the restoration take place outside.
It seems you had a bigger idea for showcasing the work Schulze had been doing on “The Vine.” Could you tell us about that?
“I decided that we should invite the public to observe the conservation and provide conservation information, since it was going to be done in public view,” Urry said. “Our public is always interested in our work at the museum. Other issues were making sure Kelly had supplied her project well, with the appropriate solvents and materials, with appropriate safety equipment (and sunscreen!), etc. She handled many of the scaffolding issues herself as it was being set up, with the help of our carpentry and installation staff.”
In addition to her current conservation work, what will Schulze be doing at the museum in the future?
“As assistant conservator of objects, and as the sole objects conservator at the museum, Kelly is responsible for sculpture conservation, and that includes our outdoor sculptures,” Urry continued. “She also maintains the sculptures, with annual or biannual cleaning and waxing. That will now include continued maintenance of ‘The Vine.’”
To see more images of “The Vine” and Schulze at work, visit http://www.cincinnatiartmuseum.org.