“Learning through Replication” July 30-August 3, 2018. The theme for the 2018 Summer Institute in Technical Art History (STITAH) was “Learning through Replication.” STITAH 2018 facilitated a general introduction to historical and contemporary art-making techniques while promoting discussion among participants on the technical study of objects and their states of condition. The program built upon first-hand craft knowledge towards a holistic understanding of material degradation and preservation. Studio sessions on colorant and ink-making as well as carving and painting in various mediums enabled participants to apply this hands-on knowledge towards the critical assessment of museum objects and to see through layers of degradation and restoration. Meanwhile, methods of technical study—from close looking to low-tech and state-of-the-art equipment—were implemented by the group to explore the potential and application of specific analytical tools in collections research.


The 2016 Summer Institute in Technical Art History (STITAH), with its focus on functional and kinetic art, considered questions such as How does an object’s function impact its preservation? When does replacement become reproduction- and how does this impact the object’s integrity?  How might technical study of such artworks serve as a launching point for collaboration between conservators, art historians and scientists?  Following on five years of successful instruction, the 2016 STITAH served both as a general introduction to the study of technical art history, and also considered challenges specific to functional and kinetic art. Case studies ranged from Renaissance furniture, historic musical instruments to an in-depth look at Thomas Wilfred, in preparation for a major exhibition on the light artist. Guest lecturers to the program included Lydia Beerkens, Senior Conservator of Modern Art, Stichting Restauratie Atelier Limburg in Maastricht, and Dr. Ashok Roy, former Director of Collections and Director of Science, National Gallery in London. 

STITAH 2015 

The 5th Annual STITAH course, an exciting milestone, addressed Inherent Vice and Best Intentions, a flexible topic that allowed for a discussion of artists’ media and potential preservation problems associated with unstable materials, as well as a closer look at conservation interventions, both historical and current.  While conservators today benefit from a good deal of materials research, and are often supported by knowledgable conservation scientists, this reality was not always the case in the past. Further, at times, the best approach may be to simply control the environment around a work of art, avoiding any direct activity on the piece.   These complicated questions, and more, were considered through general lectures, case studies that addressed specific works of art in the laboratory setting, as well as hands-on practicals and similar activities. The fantastically engaged group ended their week with a pedagogical workshop and gallery tour led by senior conservators.


The 2014 STITAH course focused on The Structures of Art, and was intended to complement the 2013 course on the Painted Surface.  Given the potential ambiguity present within the concept of “structure”— especially when viewed from an interdisciplinary perspective— questions posed to both lecturers and participants ranged from the nature of the relationships between material and formal structures of artworks, and between structure and artistic choice, to how the structures of art might be used as an effective course concept in art history departments.  The week’s program was thus organized around various artistic media, beginning with paintings and moving through works of art on paper, to sculptural media and the built environment. As with previous years, the course included lectures, gallery and studio visits, hands-on activities and demonstrations.


STITAH 2013, entitled Behind the Image: The Painted Surface and its Technical Study, strived to address the following questions:  What hidden details of an artist’s working practice reveal themselves through close observation of individual artworks? How might careful study of an object’s condition lead to a better understanding of original intent? How best to synthesize technical studies with traditional art historical approaches, such that each more effectively complements the other?  Study units ranged in time and media, moving through millennia with the help of case studies and close looking at works of art; specific examples includes 3rd century Roman painted ceremonial shields from Dura Europos, works in tempera and oil as well as polychromy, and British and American watercolors. Extensive hands-on practical sessions devoted to tempera, oil painting, acrylics and water coloring complemented the lectures.  

STITAH 2012 

The 2012 STITAH, held at Yale University, provided a general introduction to the topic through three curricular units: Early Italian painting and polychrome sculpture; works of art on paper and paper-based artists’ media; and 18th-19th Century American painting. The participants included 14 art historians and one chemist, attending along with her art history colleague. The group examined works of art in both the YUAG and YCBA galleries, and spent several sessions looking at art works in the YUAG conservation labs. The YUAG conservators further provided in depth demonstrations of analytical techniques, including x-radiography, x-ray fluorescence, infra-red reflectography, and more. A local paper artist lead a workshop on making paper, allowing all group members to make their own paper; the group then participated in a workshop at the YCBA paper conservation lab where they were encouraged to try a wide range of media intended for making marks on paper. David Bomford provided the keynote lecture, followed by a reception and dinner hosted by the YCBA, providing a thought-provoking highlight to the week’s captivating program.

STITAH 2011 

The inaugural STITAH was held at the Conservation Center, with a focus on Pre- and Early Modern Masters. The program took full advantage of New York City’s museums and local expertise, and sessions were held at both the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Frick Collection. A full morning’s focus on x-radiography, infra-red reflectography and binocular microscopy at both the Conservation Center’s labs and the Metropolitan Museum familiarized the participants with these techniques. Case studies addressing specific works of art were supplemented by two practical sessions on tempera and oil painting, where all participants were encouraged to get dirty. A culminating session at the week’s end took place in the Metropolitan Museum’s paintings conservation department.