MONICA BERRY, ART CONSERVATOR
|Polychromed wood sculpture, Pacific NW Coast|
WHAT LED YOU TO BECOME AN ART CONSERVATOR AND WHAT DO YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT ART CONSERVATION?
When I was a kid I made meticulous drawings and paintings, and also loved science. I was pre-med as an undergraduate but majored in art history, while foraging a bit into architecture and fine art. Summer museum jobs with hands on experience–matting and hinging works on paper, doing condition reports for exhibitions, and installing artwork–really got me started. Also I had interesting experiences at the Dendrochronology Lab in the Classics/Archaeology Department at Cornell. They take core samples from ancient wood to measure tree growth rings to provide a dating method, accurate to the year, going back 10,000 years in the Aegean and Near East region, the cradle of so many civilizations. I studied art conservation and Italian in Florence for a year after college, completed some internships, and got into grad school at NYU Institute of Fine Arts, one of a handful of graduate programs for art conservation in the US. It was a thrill to be a conservator at archaeological sites in the Mediterranean for many summers during and after graduate school.
I love the gratification of making something whole, or legible, or returning a work to its original beauty. The best aspect of my job may be seeing the opportunity to save something thought to be utterly lost.
IT WOULD SEEM THAT ART CONSERVATION REQUIRES THE PERFECT BALANCE OF SCIENCE AND ART/CULTURAL HISTORY. IS THIS ACCURATE AND ARE YOU INCLINED MORE ONE WAY THAN ANOTHER?
Absolutely. Science, fine art/hand skills, and art history compliment each other in art conservation. At this point I do more hands on work than research…I guess that makes the artistic side more dominant, but also some degree of engineering is involved too.
THROUGHOUT YOUR CAREER YOU HAVE CONSERVED SOME MAJOR WORKS OF ART. DO YOU HAVE A SINGLE PIECE THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
A few years ago I helped prepare for a show about Aphrodite that originated at the MFA Boston and traveled to Japan and the Getty Villa in California. With Aphrodite as the subject there was certainly beauty in the objects, and the glazed Greek and Roman ceramics were filled with great storytelling. I loved being around these objects and seeing how the curator developed her academic study using the wild narrative of this goddess of love and passion.
WHAT BRINGS YOU JOY?
I can’t wait to be on Mt. Desert Island, Maine in a few days. A perfect day includes a hike up the mountains where you get incredible 360° views of the islands and sea from the exposed granite ridges and summits, followed by a refreshing lake swim…there’s something magical about Echo Lake water. We’ve been going to MDI since our kids were very young, and the place has a history we add to and relive every year.
COMB OR BRUSH?
Fingers and comb.
DO YOU LIKE YOUR NAME?
You know, I guess I do! It’s good to have a relatively uncommon first name (despite Friendsand Bill Clinton). I changed my last name when I got married and Berry was initially hard to embrace, (my husband was not). Now I realize the alphabetical order advantage.
FINISH THIS SENTENCE: MY AGE IS…………….
…changing in October.
WHAT’S FOR DINNER TONIGHT?
Farmer’s market bounty! Tomatoes and basil, crisp cucumbers, sweet corn, roasted beets, melon…I think it’s time for lunch.