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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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NMSU degree to aid in conservation of world artifacts

Time inevitably withers a house down. If its deterioration is left unkempt and not properly cared for, it must eventually be rebuilt or forgotten. But if the house is kept refurbished and tidy, then its brilliance could be persevered for lifetimes.

The idea is best understood through the "art" of museum conservation, a bachelor's degree at New Mexico State University that teaches the essential, though oft forgotten, skill of keeping the world's art pieces, ancient artifacts and tangible history intact.

"There is an urgent need to train people to preserve our heritage," said Silvia Marinas, creator and director of the new program in museum conservation. "We have to keep our important objects from deteriorating before it's too late or too costly to save them. For this, we need people trained in the care and conservation of our art and other cultural objects."

The four-year museum conservation degree will add three new courses in conservation techniques and collections care to the NMSU course schedule, which can be taken through the art department as a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Fine Arts.

Students will learn to combine practical experience in conservation methods with historical, archaeological, curatorial and scientific studies of the materials and fabrication techniques used to create works of art and other cultural artifacts. Courses in studio art, art history, anthropology, chemistry and entomology must also be taken to satisfy the degree requirements.

According to a survey conducted by the Heritage Preservation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the need for museums to hire conservators and to help curators work with conservators is becoming significantly apparent. Millions of rare artifacts and art pieces in museums and libraries are slowly disintegrating due to improper storage. Only one in five of the institutions surveyed had a paid staff person dedicated to the care of the stored materials.

There are only three graduate programs in the United States - Delaware State University, New York University and the University at Buffalo, each who allow 10 students a year to receive a master's in conservation, Marinas said.

"It makes the degree in museum conservation a difficult and highly competitive task," Marinas said. "You don't become a conservator until you go all the way through a graduate program. It's very hard to acquire the necessary skills and experience on your own. That's why we've created the degree, it will be much easier though NMSU."

Besides the NMSU program, Delaware is the only other university with an undergraduate degree in museum conservation. The degree at NMSU was officially approved in 2005, but did not make it into the NMSU catalog until the 2007-08 edition. Interested students have learned of the program through word-of-mouth or on their own.

The program's first graduate, Kendra Taylor, has recently been admitted to one of the world's most prestigious conservation institutes, The Studio Art Centers International, in Florence, Italy, for a one-year post-baccalaureate program.

Taylor will gain experience working on some of Italy's most important fresco restorations, Marinas said. In the past, such famous artworks as Michelangelo's work in the Sistine Chapel, Raphael's Farnesina Vault and Leonardo da Vinci's "Last Supper" have been worked on by SACI students.

After her year in Florence, Taylor will receive a Post-Baccalaureate's Certificate, which will help her gain admittance to one of the three graduate programs in the United States, Marinas said.