Question Time: Conservator

Madeline Hagerman

Winterthur Post-Graduate Fellow in Objects Conservation

What’s your average day like?

I spend most of my time researching Delft tiles for my fellowship project, examining and treating ceramic objects for the upcoming exhibition, Dining by Design: Nature Displayed on the Dinner Table, and writing treatment proposals and reports.

What training did you do? How did you get to the position that you are at?

I’ve known that I wanted to work in museums since high school. In my undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I gained experience at a variety of museums in many different types of position: collections assistant, database technician, and curatorial assistant. The project that solidified my desire to be a conservator was rehousing and accessioning a collection of ethnographic materials at UW-Madison. I studied objects conservation at University College London, a three-year program consisting of a one-year MA in the Principles of Conservation and a two-year MSc in Conservation for Museums and Archaeology. I spent the last year of my graduate program learning from the amazing conservators in the Ceramics, Glass and Metals Conservation Department at the British Museum. I applied for this specialized fellowship because it seemed perfectly tailored to my interests in early-modern history and ceramics conservation.

What advice would you give to someone aspiring to get to your position?

The best advice I can give is to job-shadow conservators and pursue internships in conservation. It’s a tough field to get into because of the extensive experience required prior to entering graduate school combined with a limited number of spots available per year. That said, it is the best job in the world and if it is right for you, you can make it happen!

Any helpful resources that you would suggest to help get into your profession/ continuing education/ books/ articles?

For guidance in pursuing a career in conservation, ask conservators! There are many online resources available, especially through the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC). They have a webpage with advice on how to become a conservator in the United States. Also extremely useful, is the Facebook page for the Emerging Conservation Professionals Network (ECPN). They also have a blog that contains good advice for those interested in the field.

What do you find different between working in a small museum and a bigger museum like Winterthur?

I love working at Winterthur. It feels like a large museum, especially since conservators have a dual role as training students in their world-class graduate program in art conservation and treating priceless objects for the museum. As such, there are many highly specialized conservators on-staff. Rather than a small museum with one, lone conservator, Winterthur has 21 conservators, scientists, and technicians on staff. This collaborative environment alongside my wonderful colleagues has broadened my understanding of the conservation field beyond objects.


If you would like to learn more about the type of work Madeline gets up to she has a really great blog page here.