The Emerging Conservation Professionals Network (ECPN) is conducting a diverse series of Specialty Group Interviews to promote awareness and a clearer understanding of different pathways into specializations that require particular training. The first installment of this series began with East Asian Art in 2016. Installments continued with AIC's Electronic Media Group (EMG) in 2017, Wooden Artifact Group (WAG) in 2018, Libraries and Archives in 2019, Photographic Materials Group (PMG) and Architecture Specialty Group (ASG) in 2020.
We are currently interviewing conservation professionals from AIC's Textile Specialty Group (TSG). We’ve asked our interviewees to share some thoughts about their career paths. We hope this information will inspire emerging conservation professionals and provide valuable insight into these areas of our professional field.
For our second interview from the Textile Specialty Group series, we introduce Heather Hodge (@Heather Hodge), a recent graduate from the SUNY Buffalo State Garman Art Conservation Department and current Postgraduate Fellow in Textile Conservation at the Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
I completed my Master of Arts and Certificate of Advanced Study from the SUNY Buffalo State Garman Art Conservation Department in 2021. I am currently the Postgraduate Fellow in Textile Conservation at the Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library.
How were you first introduced to conservation, and why did you decide to pursue conservation?
When I started my undergraduate degree at Juniata College, a liberal arts school in Pennsylvania, I had an interest in science, particularly chemistry, though I wanted to be involved in the arts. One of my first-year art history professors was aware of conservation and they suggested I explore the field. They showed me the graduate program prerequisites and encouraged me to keep them in mind as I picked my courses in the coming years, and so I did. After that, what probably clinched pursuing conservation for me was my first visit to a conservation lab, The National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, my senior year of college. Prior to that I had no frame of reference for what conservation looked like as a career.
Of all specializations, what contributed to your decision to pursue textile conservation?
I originally pursued paper conservation as a specialty and much of my pre-program experience reflects that. Over the years, I grew curious about textile conservation, as my personal hobbies lay in the textile arts: knitting, embroidery, upholstery, etc. I ultimately decided on textile conservation while I was a summer intern at the National Park Services Museum Conservation Services where I worked on objects from Scotty’s Castle located in Death Valley National Park with Textile Conservator Anne Ennes. During that internship, working with textiles tangibly and intellectually felt more aligned to my skills and interests. As pervasive objects in our daily lives, it can be easy to take textiles for granted, but I love that the more time you spend with textiles, the more you appreciate their complexity.
What has been your training pathway? Please list any universities, apprenticeships, technical experience, and any related jobs or hobbies.
I started as a Chemistry major at Juniata College before switching to Art History after my first year. After completing my undergraduate degree, I was shy of the required studio arts courses for the conservation graduate programs, so I completed those at Montclair State University in New Jersey. My first conservation internship was at The Better Image private practice in New Jersey. I then moved to New York City where I held conservation technician positions at The New York Botanical Garden LuEsther T. Mertz Library, The New York Public Library, and an internship at The Brooklyn Museum. In my later pre-program years, when I had the resources, I took continuing education classes in woodworking and textile weaving. As I mentioned above, I also held summer internships with the National Park Service where I focused solely on textile conservation. During graduate school I completed summer internships at The Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields, Trupin Conservation Services, LLC., and Zephyr Preservation Studio, LLC., with my third-year internship at The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.
Are there any particular skills that you feel are important or unique to your discipline?
Textile conservation is unique in a few ways. Having a knowledge of and experience with conservation stitching as well as historic sewing techniques is foundational to much of the work done. The drape and handle of the textile must be considered when determining a treatment plan. Textiles also tend to have many lives, frequently used, reused, and repurposed. Each mend and alteration reflect the object's history and that must be taken into consideration when approaching treatment.
What are some of your current projects, research, or interests?
There’s so much about textiles that interests me! However, a couple research topics I’d like to study further are multi-modal imaging and electronic textiles.
Multimodal imaging is a non-invasive technique which utilizes sections of the electromagnetic spectrum, such as ultraviolet radiation, visible light, and infrared radiation, to photograph objects and which can highlight various condition issues, previous conservation or restoration interventions, as well as materials.
I love understanding materials. There’s been some study into noninvasive dye identification on textiles using multi-modal imaging coupled with analytical examination such as Fiber Optics Reflectance Spectroscopy (FORS). I hope I can contribute to that work in the future.
Electronic, or conductive textiles contain materials, whether fabrics, threads, or inks, that are made with conductive metals and are used to create an electrical circuit within the object.
During my summer internship in Indianapolis, I was invited to attend a workshop on electronic textiles by my supervisor, Textile Conservator Amanda Holden. Prior to the workshop, I was entirely unfamiliar with electronic textiles. Electronic textiles are fascinating artworks with specific needs, as they essentially combine textiles, time-based media, as well as aspects of performance and installation, and they are more and more prevalent in collections.
Do you have any advice for prospective emerging conservators who would like to pursue this specialization?
There are many paths to a career in conservation and so I can only speak to my experience.
Gaining conservation experience working with many types of materials was valuable for me. This allowed me to tease out which specialty I wanted to focus on, but as most objects, textiles included, are composed of composite materials, I knew having a variety of experiences would be relevant no matter my specialty.
I leaned into my conservation network to keep me connected to internship and job opportunities, lectures, and workshops. I worked to broaden my knowledge base through continuing education classes. It’s encouraging that so much is now available online to delve into whatever your distinct interests and passions are or to gain a different set of hand-skills.
My pre-program years were during and after the 2008 recession and like many others, I struggled to find relevant and paid work in the field. I understand getting into conservation can take a lot of time and money, and so I’m happy to be a resource for any prospective emerging conservators.
What is your favorite textile that you’ve worked on/treated?
I’ll speak about a textile I recently worked on which was a wonderful challenge. I explored mist consolidation as a treatment for deteriorated nineteenth century iron-dyed silk yarns on a needlework map sampler in The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s collection. Typical textile treatments such as a stitched or adhesive stabilization were not possible in this case. Overall, the treatment was successful, but I’d like to do more research to better understand the applicability of the technique on other textile artifacts.