Today’s post is by 2018 MRCG Emerging Professionals Scholarship winner Elizabeth Robson, a conservation student at the SUNY Buffalo State Garman Art Conservation Department. She is currently a third-year intern at the John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, FL. Here Elizabeth shares her experience touring Ellen Watt’s painting conservation studio in Saint Louis, MO, as part of the 2018 MRCG Annual Symposium in Saint Louis, MO.
One of the activities generously offered to attendees of the MRCG Annual Meeting was a tour of the private practice studio of Paintings Conservator Ellen Watt. She is the owner of Watt Restoration, located in the Central West End district of St. Louis, her hometown. Ms. Watt graciously offered three emerging conservators both a ride through the snow and a personal tour of her lab on the first day of the symposium. The lab is located in the charming Pierce Arrow Building, which is also occupied by various other artists and creatives. The building itself was once part of an automobile factory and has been updated with attractive finishes and glass-front studios.
Ellen’s studio consists of a well-lit, large main space and a back room for UV examination and solvent storage. Her display of personalized posters, showing examples of paintings before and after treatment, welcomed us into the space. There were a variety of paint samples and books displayed throughout the room, which gave it an academic and professional vibe.
Ellen then showed us the treatments she is currently working on, including an oil on canvas portrait of a young girl by Mary Louise Fairchild (American, 1858-1946). It exhibits blistering and flaking characteristic of fire damage, and may be hiding another painting behind it! There was also a small Venetian scene which she had removed from its uniquely-shaped stretcher, and two 20th-century paintings on board that need minor cleaning. We were intrigued to examine the surface variations in these paintings, and to see the tools and spaces Ellen was using to treat them.
During this visit, the emerging conservators in attendance were able to discuss treatment dilemmas and the realities of working in private practice with Ellen. She was very positive and encouraging in this aspect, and has found success in her practice without encountering much trouble from clients. We were all thrilled that Ellen was willing to share her experiences with us as we consider our future plans in the conservation field. Establishing contact with a person who has years of expertise and could help emerging professionals who may end up going into private practice is an invaluable resource. This opportunity to network in a small group at the MRCG conference was greatly appreciated. Many thanks to Ellen Watt for her kindness and hospitality! Please visit wattrest.com to contact her or learn more about her practice.