Ask a Conservator Day Interview with Ruth Barach Cox

By Katelin Lee posted 11-03-2022 17:15


Our Executive Director, Lissa Rosenthal-Yoffe, is on the road this week and has had the opportunity to meet with several conservators! As she's exploring different aspects of the field, she made a visit Professional Associate Ruth Barach Cox’s studio in Durham, North Carolina, yesterday. In celebration of Ask a Conservator Day, she asked Ruth a few questions about her path to the field and her work:

How did you learn about conservation?

I was fortunate to have a unique opportunity in high school to study and catalogue Anasazi pottery which led to interest in archeological conservation and advanced study in archeology including Anglo-Saxon and Viking Art in Archaeology in Durham, England. Upon return to the US, I worked at Winterthur and earned an MS in painting conservation from the University of Delaware. I then was a Mellon Fellow in the conservation department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC specializing in the conservation of Old Master paintings.

What’s the question you’re asked most?

“What is the most famous painting you have worked on?” It was Vermeer’s “Young Woman with a Water Pitcher" from 1662 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Recent work includes a John Singer Sargent and an early painting by Marsden Hartley. As a private practitioner you develop an aesthetic such as contemporary art or Old Masters.

As a private painting conservator in the South, it has become necessary to be versed in the varied aesthetics of paintings from the Renaissance to the present. Though I specialized at the beginning of my career in ‘Old Masters’ I have had to continually expand my knowledge of artists, the aesthetics their works, material choices and conservation issues through to the 20th and 21st centuries. For me, it has been important to discuss issues of modern and contemporary conservation with colleagues who specialize in those periods.

What do you think is the most important issue facing the field right now?

Diversification is important for our field to flourish. We need to work together as a community to focus on the work of conservation. AIC can help us by providing focus on the supports and resources needed for all members. To understand the physical structure of works of art and changes that occur within the structure on both a macro and micro level  a deep scientific understanding of materials is required. Current analytical techniques can help clarify issues and help us understand painting’s conditions and original manufacture more fully. Analytical work can also help us realize what is possible to remediate and what isn’t. For those of us in private practice (CIPP), a resource lists of scientists who can provide sophisticated analysis is greatly needed, so we may continue best practices that “Do No Harm.” Having scientists to turn to for analytical work and data interpretation will encourage more publication of interesting case work.