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Senior Conservator Says Haiti’s Paintings Can Be Restored

posted by Christopher Howard — Jun 16, 2010

The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) has released a podcast interview with Susan Blakney, a senior painting conservator and the founder of Westlake Conservators. She traveled to Haiti May 4–8, 2010, to assess the conservation needs of artwork damaged by the January earthquake.

Blakney and two other conservators visited a dozen museums, which she reports have made great strides in retrieving and storing damaged artwork. She describes seeing five hundred paintings that were stacked “in a pile like pancakes,” awaiting conservation care. Haitians are anxious to save their paintings, which are one of their “national loves and largest exports,” she says. However, the country does not have the materials it needs to conserve these integral parts of its social history, she adds. Conservators will be needed for many years to help restore the country’s artwork and to train Haitian artists on conservation techniques. Blakney is certain that the paintings she assessed can be restored to exhibition standards.

Blakney was part of emergency conservation team sent to Haiti by the American Institute for Conservation (a CAA affiliated society) with support from IMLS. These efforts are part of the Smithsonian Institution’s Haitian Cultural Recovery Project, which is also receiving support from the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Broadway League. The US Committee of the Blue Shield, a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization dedicated to the protection of cultural property affected by conflict or natural disasters, is serving as the international coordinator of this conservation effort.