ENGI/HUMA 240: Engineering and Design for Art Conservation

Rice University – School of Engineering / School of Humanities
Fall 2009, Humanities 119, TR 9:25 – 10:40 AM
Instructor: Dr. Matthew Wettergreen
Email: mwettergreen@rice.edu
Office: OEDK
Office Phone: 713.825.4613
Office Hours: TR 12:00 – 4:00pm and by appointment

Course Description
The objective of this course is to apply the engineering design process to pressing problems in art conservation. One half of this course will focus on the history and practices of art conservation at modern museums.  The other half of this course will utilize the engineering design process to apply the art conservation knowledge to develop innovative storage solutions for the Museum of Fine Arts Houston.

Each week, students will be briefed on a specific issue relating to the art conservation world, starting with the history of conservation leading up through modern times. Students will be given a unique and private insight to the inner workings of the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, including behind-the-scenes access to their storage and conservation facilities. Museum officials will discuss the hidden portions of the museum and the day-to-day of the modern museum. Art storage experts will address the handling and storage of our cultural heritage. Students will learn the properties of materials used in art and the properties of materials used in its storage and preservation. Local conservators will guest lecture, providing unique perspectives on conservation principles in practice. A living artist will provide a perspective of their background, creative process and conservation concerns for their art. Finally, students will learn preventive conservation in long-term art ownership and cultural heritage disaster and damage preparation.

Each week’s art conservation topic corresponds with a step in the Engineering Design Process, a decision based system for developing new products or solutions. One case study will be presented per week that highlights the relationships between the art world and the engineering world. The art conservation lectures and the case study will provide the framework for a semester-long project where student teams will address their own unique conservation issue. Each team will select a piece from the MFAH’s private collection and then develop an innovative storage solution for that piece, culminating in a product design presented at the end of the semester. Through the engineering design process student teams will gain an understanding the problem in context, learn the current solutions, develop design criteria, brainstorm solutions and develop a product. In class activities that foster increased creativity and non-traditional thinking will help to arrive at unique solutions for the semester project.

Students will apply a digital workflow over the course of the semester, resting upon web 2.0 tools to transparently document and research the topic of conservation. Students will have their own blog where they will post recaps of the week’s information, progress reports for their semester long project and relevant information pertaining to art conservation.