Science and Mathematics Department begins second year of program

By Ivana Hester

Thanks to the addition of a new Bachelor of Arts major, Columbia graduates may have their artistic works restored by fellow alumni  100 years from now.

The art and materials conservation major was launched by the Science and Mathematics Department in fall 2011 to instruct students on how to preserve and protect deteriorating pieces of art.

This is Columbia’s first science major and the only one of its kind in the Midwest, according to Deborah Holdstein, dean of the School of Liberal Arts

and Sciences. She said the program is growing slowly, as only a maximum of 10 students are allowed to enroll per year.

“To keep the quality of this program, you cannot go with big numbers,” said department chairman Constantin Rasinariu.

During the summer, the Science and Mathematics Department opened a new laboratory dedicated to the major that is equipped to handle its unique requirements, said Michael Welsh, an associate professor in the department and a contributing coordinator of

the major.

Students are taught how to use chemicals to preserve and stabilize artwork and prevent

further deterioration.

They also learn how to work in such a way that their improvements can be modified when new methods are discovered, Rasinariu said.

It is recommended that students supplement their major requirements with courses in Italian and Biology, Rasinariu said.

“We need for our students to be well-rounded,” he said. “We strongly encourage taking drawing in the Art & Design Department as well.”

According to Welsh, at one time a person entered the field of art conservation through many years of

apprenticeship, but  modern scientific developments have emphasized the need for students to earn  a graduate degree.

“We provide the background,” Welsh said. “[We offer] all the coursework, everything for [students] to get into a graduate school and hit the ground running as soon as they get there.”

The college has partnered with Lorenzo de’ Medici, an institute in Florence, Italy, on a required study abroad program students take during their junior year to learn conservation by working hands-on with rare artworks.

Sophomore Joshua Ton said he chose the major because he realized it was a great hybrid of traditional science and fine art.

The job of a conservator is to save the art world, Ton said, and his outlook on the profession’s future

is optimistic.

“Conservators can run around rescuing things from natural disasters, or they can sit in the lab of a museum cleaning something that hasn’t seen the light of day for six centuries,” Ton said. “The sky is the limit. Everything in the world needs a bit of a polish.”