Conservation Assistant – Nicole Pizzini

Today we have an interview with Nicole Pizzini, another conservation assistant.

Catherine Wood: How did you become interested in art conservation?

Nicole Pizzini: I was a chemistry major who took an art history class… and that was a fatal blow to my chemistry major. I just fell in love with art history and knew I had to be doing art. But I still wanted that chemistry side.

Actually, it was looking through job postings here at the Saint Louis Art Museum that led me to discover the field of conservation. I was searching for a way that I could integrate art history into my schooling, and I saw they were looking for a paper conservator. When I researched conservation, I realized it perfectly matched what I wanted out of my career and my life. Art and science? Sign me up.

CW: This is your second year working on The Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, right?

NP: Yes, I started last summer. When I heard about the project I was really excited because it’s in my hometown. I grew up in this museum. I wanted to be able to do what I love here and show my hometowners what I do and how great it is.

CW: What were you doing before Restoring an American Treasure?

NP: During the rest of the year I live in Chicago, working for a painting conservation company called Parma Conservation. I also worked for The Field Museum for about three months, conserving Thangkas – Tibetan paintings on silk. I was mostly building boxes to house them. They were all specially sized to coordinate with the exact thing that was going inside them, and we had to make sure we were using the right tissue and support for each piece. I learned quite a lot about preventative conservation.

CW: How do you like working on the panorama?

NP: I like it. It’s fun working with the other interns because I haven’t worked with someone my age before. And talking with the public has been one of the bright spots too. We get a lot of good feedback. People learn about art conservation, and they’re excited about it. When people say, “Thank you for what you do,” that just makes my day.

It’s fun explaining to people what we do. Sometimes people see us using art supplies and assume we’re artists, so I need to clarify that we’re not exactly artists. Artists create, and we’re not creating – we’re repairing.

CW: Has there been anything that you’ve worked on during the exhibition that you particularly enjoyed?

NP: At the beginning of last year, we were reading about the panorama and its treatment, and someone mentioned that the moon [in Scene 22] might be cut out. So I was counting down the scenes until I’d get to see if the moon was real or fake. I was worried it would be made up. But it was there!

CW: Did you guys ever test it?

NP: We totally did. I did it when it was off hours, because I had to turn all the lights off, so I didn’t want to do it when the gallery was open. I brought one of those bright lights behind it, and it glowed! But everywhere where there was paint loss also glowed, because there wasn’t paint to block the light. So it was like a moon in a spider web – not as effective.

CW: You managed to get a lot of scenes finished this summer. Were you doing anything differently from last year?

NP: I think our speed increased because we came a long way in learning our color palettes over the past two summers. When we started we were still getting a feel for what colors were available to us and what we needed to combine to create certain hues. Now, when I see a color on the panorama, my brain instantly translates it into which combination of crayons I will need to use to match it.

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