Uncrated recently caught up with the DMA’s associate conservator, Fran Baas, who joined the Museum in November. This summer, you can find her working on the 1908 Viennese Wittgenstein silver cabinet, pictured below.
Describe your job in fifty words or less.
My title is Associate Conservator, and I oversee the activities involved in the long-term preservation of the DMA’s permanent collection of objects and textiles. This comprehensive approach includes treatment, research, and analysis, and the preventive care of the collection.
What might an average day entail?
Each day is very different and has me running around all over the Museum. I might be assessing objects as potential loan candidates, responding to e-mails, writing reports, and doing actual benchwork.
For example, recently, over the course of two days, I treated three plaster “pears,” dehydrated a SCOBY (a colony of bacteria/yeast that is part of a contemporary piece), conditioned silica gel, cleaned a few inches of an intricate early 20th-century Viennese silver piece, discussed with curators and collections staff the “inherent vice” of an extremely fragile piece, helped identify materials in an African headdress, and assisted in the treatment of some large oversized paintings. My job keeps me hopping across decades, centuries, and millennia . . . not to mention across the world geographically!
How would you describe the best part of your job and its biggest challenges?
I absolutely love my job. It’s a huge responsibility, but a privilege that I do not take lightly. The biggest challenge is never having enough time!
Growing up, what type of career did you envision yourself in? Did you think you’d work in an art museum?
For a long time, I struggled with where I fit. I am very “left-brained, right-brained,” as they say. Not only do I love working with my hands and looking at art, but I love science and the process of discovery. It took me awhile to find a profession that combines art and science. Conservation is a field where I get to do my favorite things in an effort to preserve art and artifacts for future generations to appreciate. I have the best job in the world.
Do you have a favorite work in the DMA’s collection yet?
As cliché as this sounds, I fall in love with whatever piece I am currently working on. Getting to work with a piece up close, in conjunction with the material analysis and background historical research, allows me to really “get to know” a piece . . . and as a result fall in love.
What are you looking forward to in your future here at the DMA?
I look forward to getting to know each and every object and textile in the DMA’s encyclopedic collection!