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June 14, 2010

New exhibition at DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum mixes disciplines: history and art with science

The newest exhibition at the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg fuses good, old-fashioned detective work with the high-tech world of exotic tools and cutting-edge science. “Conservation: Where Art and Science Meet” opens June 26 and immerses museum guests in the rarely seen world of object conservation — a fascinating and compelling mix of disciplines — history and art with science — with much the same aura as today’s crime scene investigation dramas, without the criminal element.

Antiques that were centuries in the making owe their continued existence to professional conservators who use the latest techniques to stem the ravages of age. After a decade of exhibition planning, Colonial Williamsburg’s conservators lead museum guests through a behind-the-scenes examination of conservation practices that begins with the object’s creation. As they follow an antique’s “DNA” beginning with the object’s manufacture, they see its interaction with external forces that influences the object. Eventually, the journey concludes with the conservators who analyze and document the forensic evidence and use it to make their treatment decisions.

The exhibition’s curator is Emily Williams, Colonial Williamsburg’s archaeological materials conservator. She and her colleagues have been planning the exhibition for nearly a decade. “I’m thrilled to show guests the connections between science and the arts,” Williams said. “Science helps us learn about the artifacts and tell their stories better, while the history of the objects informs our treatment plans and enlivens the scientific aspects.”

“Our conservators are among the very best in their profession,” said Ronald Hurst, vice president of collections, conservation and museums. “Their dedication and expertise are evidenced by the superior care and treatment afforded the thousands of antiques and works of art in the collections. This intriguing exhibition beautifully illustrates the conservators’ key role at the museum.”

The exhibition also enlightens guests about care for their own keepsakes — encouraging them to apply conservation principles at home. Nearly 70 objects and hands-on activities illustrate museum practices as they suggest methods to care for family treasures. The enemies are the same — light, pests, pollution, temperature, humidity and poor handling all take their toll at home and in museums. “The effects of these problems cannot be stopped, but they can be slowed and their impact lessened,” said David Blanchfield, director of conservation. “That is the ongoing challenge facing conservators every day – one that demands the broadest range of scholarly, analytical, scientific and manual skills.”

The exhibition also examines the sophisticated tools available to modern conservators: X-radiography, X-ray fluorescence, microscopy, infrared light spectroscopy and others.

The exhibition opens Saturday, June 26 — the day following the 25th anniversary celebration of the 1985 opening of the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum. “Conservation: Where Art and Science Meet” is the third of four new exhibitions opening during the museum’s silver anniversary year.

“Conservation: Where Art and Science Meet” will be on view in the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum, 326 W. Francis St, Williamsburg, Va., through January 2, 2013. A Colonial Williamsburg admissions ticket, museum pass or Good Neighbor Card provides access.

The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg include the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum and the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum. The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum is home to the nation’s premier collection of American folk art, with more than 5,000 folk art objects made during the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. The DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum exhibits the best in British and American decorative arts from 1670–1830.

The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg are located at the intersection of Francis and South Henry Streets in Williamsburg, Va., and are entered through the Public Hospital of 1773. Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. For museum program information, telephone (757) 220-7724.

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is the not-for-profit educational institution that preserves and operates the restored 18th-century Revolutionary capital of Virginia as a town-sized living history museum, telling the inspirational stories of our nation’s founding men and women. Williamsburg is located in Virginia’s Tidewater region, 20 minutes from Newport News, within an hour’s drive of Richmond and Norfolk, and 150 miles south of Washington, D.C., off Interstate 64. For more information about Colonial Williamsburg, call 1-800-HISTORY or visit Colonial Williamsburg’s website at

Media Contact:
Jim Bradley
(757) 220-7281