Art Conservation Program Celebrates 50th Anniversary with Multi-Institute Exhibition 

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Buffalo State College Art Conservation Department 50 Years of Conservation in Western New York show at the Buffalo History Museum. Photographs by Bruce Fox

Collaborative Displays of Conserved Work on View This Fall and Beyond 

A Civil War surgeon’s kit. A ceramic figurine from the Qing dynasty. Historic books, including one by Galileo from 1632 that reinforced Copernicus’s theory that the earth and other planets rotate around the sun. Western New York art, history, and science lovers can view all these items and more thanks to Buffalo State College’s Patricia H. and Richard E. Garman Art Conservation Department.  

Art conservation graduate students and faculty members conserved these pieces and numerous others for area museums and the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library over the past five decades. To help the department celebrate its 50th anniversary this fall, the Burchfield Penney Art Center, the Buffalo History Museum, the  Buffalo and Erie County Central (downtown) Library, and the Buffalo Museum of Science are displaying artwork, books, and cultural objects that have undergone conservation treatment in the collective exhibition Fifty Years of Conservation of Cultural Heritage in Western New York.    

“We are thrilled to be celebrating 50 years,” said Patrick Ravines, associate professor and director of art conservation. “And we’re honored that our cultural partners agreed to host this multiple-institution exhibit to showcase the variety of work our students and faculty have painstakingly conserved over the years.” 

The exhibit includes:  

The Burchfield Penney Art Center: Opened in August, the exhibit will run through November 29, 2020. It features 77 works, including four pieces each from the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and the Seneca Iroquois National Museum. Also included are an early twentieth-century platinum photographic print by Marie Thibaudeau, paintings by Charles Burchfield, and a bronze sculpture by Charles Cary Rumsey. 

“This is the first time in nine years that a group of Buffalo’s cultural institutions have banded together on a theme,” said Scott Propeack, the art center’s deputy director. “This highlights the value that the program adds to all of our organizations.” 

Central Public Library: In its first-floor Grosvenor Room, the library is showcasing 25 conserved items, including the Galileo book, an album of 1800s Chinese watercolor paintings, a seventeenth-century Roman Catholic choral manuscript, and a first-edition Book of Mormon. These items will remain on view through November 29.   

“Some of these books are very expensive to conserve and wouldn’t be covered by our conservation budget,” said Amy Pickard, library’s rare book curator. “We are so fortunate to have the art conservation program here in Buffalo.” 

  Buffalo History Museum: Its exhibit of paintings, furniture, and one-of-a-kind objects went on display in a first-floor gallery earlier this month and will remain through summer 2021. A sampling of the 160 pieces Buffalo State students and faculty have conserved over the past 50 years, the exhibit includes an 1869 painting of a sign shop on Exchange Street and a Larkin Co. desk built in 1905. 

“I have always been impressed by the knowledge of the department’s faculty in their field and the caliber and dedication of the students accepted into the program,” said Walter Mayer, senior director of museum collections. 

The Buffalo Museum of Science: The museum is labeling 12 artifacts currently on display, including an egg of the long-extinct elephant bird that art conservation faculty radiographed in 2018 to confirm its authenticity. The labels explain who conserved the items and include before-and-after photos. 

“Rather than create a separate exhibit, we wanted to highlight the work that people walk by every day,” said Kathryn Leacock, the museum’s director of collections. “Now, they’ll see the work that went into making them display-worthy. These objects wouldn’t be there without art conservation students, faculty, and alumni.” 

Opened in 1970 as the Cooperstown Graduate Program in the Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, the Art Conservation Department is affiliated with the State University of New York (SUNY) College at Oneonta and with the New York State Historical Association in Cooperstown. Since its founding, the department has offered a master of arts degree and a certificate of advanced study in art conservation in a three-year graduate program. In 1987, the program relocated to the Buffalo State campus. 

Contact: Laurie Kaiser, Assistant Director of Communications, Buffalo State College: kaiserla@buffalostate.edu