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The significance of practice in the training of conservator-restorers at the Faculty of Conservation and Restoration of Works of Art, Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw

Krzysztof Chmielewski

Abstracts

Extensive practice in the conservation work on original works of art should be one of the main objectives of the training of future conservator-restorers. The current curriculum at the Faculty of Conservation and Restoration of Works of Art, Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw maintains a relative balance between theory and practice, but it is not flexible enough and being not yet fully adapted to today's challenges in the field of care of cultural heritage. It is going to be reformed in the coming years, with the new curriculum also meeting current requirements in the legislation on higher education in Poland.

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1The Faculty of Conservation and Restoration of Works of Art at the  Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw educates future conservator-restorers in four specializations:

  • conservation of wooden polychrome sculpture and painting,

  • conservation of stone sculptures and architectural details,

  • conservation of books and paper,

  • conservation of historic textiles.

2There is a uniform degree programme, which, as one of the few academic programmes in Poland, lasts six years. Having completed the programme in one of the specializations, graduates receive a master's degree in Art and can be employed in museums, art galleries, archives, or they can work independently as conservator-restorers of works of art.

3The existing curriculum is a result of experience gathered while the Faculty developed over the years. It has been consistently expanded, in accordance with real needs of conservation of the cultural heritage in Poland, the state policy and the requirements of institutions, such as museums. Training of future conservator-restorers is interdisciplinary, including knowledge and skills of the conservator-restorer, chemistry with elements of physics, art subjects (painting, drawing, sculpture), and general humanities subjects.

4 In 2010, Poland began customizing higher education to the requirements of the European Higher Education Area. This is the result of a long process initiated at the signing, in 1999, of the so-called Bologna Declaration. A new law on higher education adopted by the Polish Government and a number of regulations made universities implement new rules, which had to, first and foremost, conform to the European Qualification Framework, along with the European Credit Transfer System. As a result, the National Qualification Framework was created, in accordance with the European Framework.

5 Introducing the new framework was not always easy; not everyone accepted it with sufficient understanding. This was especially the case  in the academic art schools, including the Academies of Fine Arts, where the difficulties arising from their profile were pointed out – which the new framework did not fully take into account.

6 Nevertheless, the new principles required that the academic schools would review their curricula, establish clearer criteria for the verification of student performance, determine how much time they actually would need to achieve their goals, etc. In conclusion, despite of all the inconveniences, the outcome of the process can be considered beneficial for academic art schools. It facilitated the critical appraisal of the existing curricula for their effectiveness and practicality, as well as the introducing or recommendation of revisions where that seemed necessary.

7 This also applied to the Faculty of Conservation and Restoration of Works of Art at the Warsaw Academy. Within this context, it is particularly important  to determine the proper balance between theoretical knowledge and practice in a six-year education process.

8Conservation-restoration of works of art is a practical discipline which purpose is the safeguarding of valuable objects of cultural heritage. It goes without saying that practical interventions must be based on adequate knowledge. However, a clear distinction between knowledge and practice is often difficult to maintain in conservation-restoration. This is especially so when practice is seen in a wider perspective, when it is considered crucial at every stage of a long and complicated process of conservation-restoration. The practice involves proper identification of the historical context of a work of art, the determination of the causes and extent of damage, the analysis of its physical structure, the planning of conservation treatments using  the appropriate methods and materials, and finally, the hands-on conservation treatments. This very appropriate and inclusive concept of practice in conservation-restoration has been defined by ECCO (European Confederation of Conservator-Restorer’s Organization).

9 Manual dexterity required of candidates for the programme at the Faculty of Conservation is assessed during a practical entrance exam. The exam consists of a drawing and painting study, and, for candidates applying for the conservation of stone sculpture additionally a sculpture study .

10 The programme includes courses in the following subject modules, among others:

  • conservation-restoration (corresponding to the four specializations),

  • technology and copy,

  • chemistry,

  • history of art,

  • art (drawing, painting, sculpture).

11The students complete courses within the listed groups of subjects from the first to the fifth year. The sixth year is dedicated to degree work.

12 The practical aspect of conservation-restoration varies between subject modules.

13 During classes in the lab, students, among other things, perform simple chemical analysis of pigments, adhesives and mortars on samples (taken from the objects under conservation). They observe the sample under a microscope and analyze and describe their composition . Students learn to recognize different materials, for example different kinds of stone, plasters, etc. They analyze  UV, IR and X-ray photos of paintings and learn to recognize different types of varnishes. Students also learn about the chemical properties of the materials used in conservation in the past  and today. Furthermore, they become familiar with the principles of the use of technologically advanced analytical methods, including non-destructive methods.

14 Courses in art-technology give students an opportunity to learn the different techniques of works of art in a historical context. An important aspect of those classes is making a copy of a specific work of art. The  student follows the entire technological process in practice and at the same time having to demonstrate adequate knowledge of techniques. Above all, they have to show their dexterity as well  manually as  artistically. For example, students of the conservation of painting are required to produce three copies in the course of their study: of a medieval panel painting, of a 17th-century painting on canvas and of a 19th-centurypainting or of an icon. In addition, students learn different techniques of gilding. Students specializing in the conservation of books and paper learn graphic techniques and make, for instance, a copy of a water-colour painting; students of conservation of sculpture make copies of stone sculptures focussing on  a variety of materials. These are copies of original works of art, often from  collections of the National Museum in Warsaw. Making a copy is an important practical experience, which is also of great significance for correct understanding of the issues of conservation-restoration. Students who have made  copies of real artwork have a better insight into the whole technological process and the structure of the piece. They understand the practical relationship between different technological layers, such as the support and painting layers, or the built-up of layers of mortar.

15 Most of the curriculum time is allocated to the areas of conservation and restoration. The courses include both lectures and practical exercises regarding various aspects of conservation. In the case of conservation of painting they address conservation of wall painting, panel painting and painting on canvas. Students of sculpture conservation attend classes in the conservation of marble, limestone and sandstone sculpture, but also of sculpture made with stucco and ceramics. Students of the conservation of paper and books are offered classes in conservation of paper, parchment and leather bindings. In spite of the differences in technology and material structure of the objects, it is possible to define the general skills that students should acquire during their studies.

16 As far as learning outcomes regarding conservation-restoration are concerned, students should develop the following skills:

  • ability to generally interpret the object (work of art) under conservation in terms of its historical, iconographical and stylistic contexts,

  • diagnosing the technological structure of the object under conservation based on observation and chemical and physical analysis,

  • diagnosing original and non-original layers and kinds of alterations;

  • diagnosing the types of damage and their causes,

  • presenting a coherent plan of conservation-restoration containing adequate methods and materials necessary to carry out the planned work,

  • determining the proper plan to be followed, first of all indicating the different steps  necessary for the rescue of the endangered object,

  • independent decision-making, regarding as well  preventive measures as practical conservation,

  • the practical implementation of the planned conservation-restoration at a high technological and artistic level,

  • making descriptive, photographic and hand-drawn documentation of the performed conservation-restoration actions,

  • implementing  the ethics of the profession of the conservator-restorer.

17These skills are complemented by knowledge acquired during lectures and individual tutorials. Students are also required to acquire social competences needed in the practice of conservation-restoration. These include:

  • the ability to work in a team,

  • the ability to manage conservation work,

  • the ability to cooperate with other specialists: chemists, art historians, officials responsible for the safeguarding of cultural heritage.

18Students gain these practical skills gradually, starting from basic skills through intermediate to the most advanced ones that require extensive knowledge and proficiency. Initially, the training in conservation is carried out on  non-original art objects, for example, the pictures painted by students. However, beginning with the second year of study, students increasingly are working on original pieces, under close supervision of teachers and assistants. More advanced students are required to be more independent in proposing appropriate practical solutions, for example,in choosing solvents when cleaning the surface of a painting or when removing overpaintings.

19The amount of  knowledge, skills and competences acquired by students is assessed  during exams but is also based  on the level of completion of the conservation-restoration work and the documentation of that work. The evaluated outcomes include: the validity of examination and diagnosis, the correctness of assessment of the need of necessary conservation actions, the correctness of the conclusions reached,  the professional level of the proposal and its implementation.

20A summer internship is an additional opportunity for students to gain practical experience. They last four weeks and students are obliged to take part in it three times in the course of study. Summer internships are often organized outside the school: on site for instance in  churches, in  conservation studios of museums or archives, or at archaeological excavation sites. The students can thus become familiar with real working conditions in the fields  they will encounter after graduation. An important way of broadening one’s experience is also student residencies in other schools of conservation in Europe within the framework of the Erasmus programme.

21The ultimate test of assess the knowledge and practical skills of the student is a degree project and the final examination. Students select an object for conservation under guidance of their diploma supervisors, they perform tests and chemical analyses, submit a draft conservation proposal and realize the scheduled work. The outcome is evaluated by an examination board. During this stage , the student’s independence, their involvement and competences in taking correct decisions in future professional practice seem even more important than the excellence of conservation work.

22The most time within the curriculum of the six-year study programme is allocated to practical exercises in conservation-restoration. The average time is about 120 hours per semester (four months), but some of the exercises are planned for more than 200 hours. These classes are held two to three times a week, in four-hourblocks.

23Practical exercises in the lab, where students will learn various methods of chemical and physical analysis, on average, consume 15 to 45 hours per semester.

24The copy-of-works-of-art classes range from 60 to 100 hours per the semester. In total, during the entire study course, one subject in conservation, for example the conservation of a panel painting is allocated about 400 hours. However, summing up  the time allocated to all paintings conservation subjects (panel painting, painting on canvas and wall painting), this results in  approximately 2000 hours plus 360 hours of summer internship. In conclusion, about  one-third of the time is given to theoretical lectures, and two-thirds to the practical exercises in the studio and in the field.

25The amount of time that students spend on conservation-restoration classes is reflected in the ECTS. Most students receive points for credited conservation subjects: on average, between 6 to 12 points. By comparison, attending the copy–of-the-works-of-art classes gives them on average 5 points; the art subjects – 4 points; practical sessions in the laboratory – 2 points; history of art – 1 point.

26 Despite the fact that in the current curriculum  a relative balance is maintained between "theory" and broadly-understood "practice", we have been planning a partial reform. The programme is very tight and leaves students little time for improving their knowledge outside school. Some reduction of the number of hours will be difficult but it seems necessary, so as to allow students to spend more time on working in the library and on self-study. We are planning a better distribution of proportions between the different subjects throughout the curriculum. The concentration of mandatory subjects in the years 1 –3 will give us the opportunity  to offer more facultative subjects to fourth- and fifth-year students. To this end, new studios have been established recently: for the conservation of archaeological and ethnographic monuments, the  conservation of contemporary art and the  conservation of photography.

27There is also the question of allowing students of a specific  specialization to participate in  classes (including practical exercises) carried out in other areas. This will create a greater "mobility" of the students between specialist studios and  increase the interdisciplinarity of education and self-reliance of senior students. However, the goal of  the proposed changes is not a reduction in classes relating to conservation practice because these are the most important ones. Implementing these changes while at the same time maintaining the interdisciplinary nature of education for future conservator-restorers of works of art will be a challenge. We hope that this will work out successfully.   

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References

Electronic reference

Krzysztof Chmielewski, « The significance of practice in the training of conservator-restorers at the Faculty of Conservation and Restoration of Works of Art, Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw », CeROArt [Online], HS | 2014, Online since 25 September 2014, connection on 17 December 2017. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/ceroart/4398

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About the author

Krzysztof Chmielewski

Krzysztof Chmielewski PhD, conservator of painting and art historian, specializing in conservation of panel and wall painting. He was educated at the Warsaw University and Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. In 2002 he gained his PhD from the Jagiellonian University in Cracow. He worked on  conservation of mosaics and wall paintings at the archeological sites in Lebanon, Syria and Libya. He lectures at the Faculty of Conservation and Restoration of Works of Art Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw and is now Vice Dean of the Faculty.

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Copyright

Licence Creative Commons
CeROArt – Conservation, exposition, restauration d'objets d'arts est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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