Conservation Assistant – Jacqueline Keck

This summer, three assistants helped in the conservation of The Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley. Not yet full conservators, these assistants use their time working on the panorama to gain experience before attending graduate school. This week I’ll be interviewing the assistants, starting with Jacqueline Keck, who is new to Restoring an American Treasure this year.

Catherine Wood: What’s your background?

Jacqueline Keck: I have a BFA in Studio Art, and I also have an Art History minor. [Restoring an American Treasure] is actually my first project.

CW: How do you like it so far?

JK: I love it. It’s exactly what I want to do.

CW: Is it difficult having your first project be something that’s so big and so public?

JK: It’s nice actually. I worked retail for six years so I’m very used to working with the public. But it’s just such a unique experience because even people who have been working in the field for a long time don’t have anything to compare it to either. It’s one thing to have it be on display… and the other thing is that it’s so big you need a team working on it.

CW: What drew you to conservation?

JK: It was actually here, when I was younger – probably pre-teen or early teenage – and I was walking around and I came to an area that was roped off. I looked in and I saw art handlers, taking art off display so it could be cleaned. It had never occurred to me before that people had to take care of the art – clean it, and if it’s damaged, fix it. And they could touch the art! [laughs] And that’s when it occurred to me, “Oh, I want to do that.”

It took me a while to find what exactly “that” was, because all I knew was what I saw. I did a lot of research on my own, and then I stumbled upon something called Art Conservation. When I met Paul [Haner] was when it all started coming together.

CW: What’s your next step?

JK: I’m taking the next two years to gain pre-program experience and chemistry. Usually once you have a bachelor’s degree, you need to go back for at least one of three areas: studio art, art history, or chemistry. Studying chemistry is very different from what I’ve been doing for the past two years, because when focusing on studio art, you have long classes and a lot of freedom. My chemistry classes are full of bio and pre-med students, and I’m going into art conservation. So it’s different, but exciting. I’ve always enjoyed science.

Graduate schools usually want at least 400 hours of pre-program experience, if not more. Sometimes that’s not hard with big projects like this, which is almost 400 hours on its own. But it has to be supervised, documented experience, so even if you have done all this work, if someone didn’t watch you do it or if you don’t have the documentation for it, they won’t accept it.

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