$403,000 Mellon Grant Supports Gulf Coast Art Conservation
Art conservators and graduate students from the University of Delaware and Winterthur Museum & Country Estate will be able to continue important work on the restoration of Gulf Coast treasures damaged by Hurricane Katrina through a $403,000 grant announced by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
“We are grateful for the support of the Mellon Foundation, which continues to demonstrate its commitment to the preservation of America’s cultural heritage and to the education and training of future conservation professionals,” Debra Hess Norris, Henry Francis du Pont Chair in Fine Arts at UD, said.
“As an institution, Winterthur is committed to preserving America’s cultural heritage,” Leslie Greene Bowman, director and chief executive officer of Winterthur Museum & Country Estate, said. “The Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation (WUDPAC) program provides training and expertise that its graduates can share with sister institutions throughout the world. We are honored to offer our time and expertise to both institutions and deeply appreciate the support of the Mellon Foundation.”
An emergency response team composed of Winterthur staff and WUDPAC faculty was formed immediately after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast last fall, Norris said.
The Mellon Foundation provided emergency funding to support the work of the team, which was led by Jennifer Mass, a senior scientist at Winterthur and an adjunct faculty member in WUDPAC. The group included specialists in the conservation of textiles, paintings, objects, paper, photographs, furniture, and library materials, as well as preventive conservation and conservation science.
Response and recovery efforts were focused on two museums in Biloxi, Miss., the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art and Beauvoir: The Jefferson Davis Home and Presidential Library.
“While the effects of Hurricane Katrina on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast museums have been tragic, we are glad to have this opportunity to assist the cultural heritage professionals at Beauvoir, Ohr-O’Keefe, and the Mississippi Department of Archives and History as they begin their recovery process,” Mass said. “We are thrilled to receive this generous support for our project, and hope to lay the foundation for continued collaboration between the University of Delaware, Winterthur Museum & Country Estate, and Mississippi’s Gulf Coast museums.”
The Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art houses a collection of pottery by George Ohr, one of America’s finest art potters, and also a collection of African-American art and archival material from Biloxi and its diverse communities.
At the time of the hurricane, a new complex designed by the noted architect Frank Gehry was in the final stages of construction, Norris said. The buildings sustained significant damage and the collections were moved by staff members to temporary storage at the Mobile Art Museum in Alabama and a warehouse north of Biloxi.
The Beauvoir estate included five main buildings and all but the Jefferson Davis home and presidential library were destroyed, Norris said. The collections of the Confederate Soldiers’ Museum and Davis artifacts and memorabilia displayed on the first floor of the presidential library were scattered over the 51-acre property or washed into the Gulf of Mexico.
The contents of the Davis home and some rare books and manuscripts were moved to temporary storage in Jackson. Wall paintings dating from 1852 in the Davis home sustained serious damage, Norris said, adding that the important research library remained intact, although the site and collections still remain vulnerable to severe weather.
Following extensive consultation, and with the support of the Mellon Foundation funding, Winterthur and UD plan to continue response and recovery efforts on the Gulf Coast through 2006.
Norris said the team hopes to establish a full-time position at Beauvoir for one year and to provide opportunities for graduate students WUDPAC and other programs through hands-on work under the direction of selected expert conservators. The team also will offer recovery workshops for cultural institutions and the public in the Gulf Coast.
Marjie Gowdy, executive director of the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum said, "The assistance and advice of the conservators of the University of Delaware and the Winterthur Museum have been invaluable to our museum during a time of such loss and devastation. For the Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art, the conservators have worked with Anna Stanfield, our director of exhibitions, and Bob Brooks, exhibits specialist, to repair and preserve water-damaged African and African-American objects and art, as well as other paintings. The conservators' training has provided invaluable education to our staff.”
Gowdy added the museum “looks forward to having a University of Delaware conservator on the coast this coming year, through the Mellon Foundation grant, for continued advice and assistance. We especially look forward to being able to serve our community through the public forums targeted to disaster preparation and the saving of family treasures."
Patrick Hotard, executive director of Beauvoir, said UD and Winterthur “have just been outstanding in helping us with conservation and restoration issues. It is impossible to put into words how wonderful the conservators have been and we feel very fortunate to have institutions such as the University of Delaware and Winterthur working with us.”