One of the most interesting jobs at an art museum is one you may not have heard of before. Art conservators are the unsung heroes who ensure beloved works of art will be around for generations to come. It’s challenging but rewarding work, and requires a lot of patience and skill! We asked AGO conservator Joan Weir to tell us how she made her way into this uncommon profession, and what keeps her excited to come to work every day.
AGO: What do you do at the Gallery?
JW: I conserve both historical and contemporary artworks such as prints, drawings, watercolours and installation works as well as archival documents and books. I really enjoy caring for such a wide variety of materials and techniques which can be quite challenging at times and always so interesting.
AGO: What education and training got you here?
JW: I have an undergraduate degree in fine art (studio). As an art student I studied printmaking, photography and sculpture. After graduation, I returned to school to study the necessary chemistry that is required for admission to art conservation programs. I received a Master’s of Art Conservation from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., with a speciality in the conservation of paper objects.
AGO: Any tips for aspiring conservators?
JW: My advice would be to take some courses to learn more about materials and techniques of whatever area of conservation you are interested in, such as painting, sculpture, printmaking, drawing, bookmaking, metal work, stone work, textiles or architectural materials, to mention a few. Conservation work is slow, thoughtful work that requires steady, focused hand skills and a lot of patience. Be prepared to travel to study and to gain needed experience to be competitive in a small job market.
AGO: What’s the best thing about being a conservator?
JW: I feel fortunate to be next to extraordinary art every day and to be able to examine works in great detail. It’s a continuing source of intrigue and delight. The sharing of information, skills and research among colleagues means a job with lifelong learning built in, and it’s a great feeling to be preserving art now for future generations!
Read more about the AGO’s conservation and restoration projects here.
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This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.