MUSEUM: Fellowship focuses on conservation

Posted on September 17th, 2009 by americanindiannews in Past News

Suitland, Md.—For Anne Gunnison, there is a great future in plastics.

Gunnison, a Mellon fellow at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, is studying how to protect and preserve the plastics used in a large mobile that the museum plans to install this fall titled “Crux (as seen from those who sleep on the surface of the earth under the night sky)” by artist Brian Jungen of the Dunne-za Nation near Vancouver, B.C.

To view some of Jungen’s works, including “Crux,” go to

Courtesy Anne Gunnison Conservation intern Anne Gunnison holds open the mouth of a green, plastic crocodile from a new work in the National Museum of the American Indian’s collection.

Courtesy Anne Gunnison Conservation intern Anne Gunnison holds open the mouth of a green, plastic crocodile from a new work in the National Museum of the American Indian’s collection.

“It’s very colorful,” said Gunnison, who is 29 and from Sacramento, Calif. “He uses a lot of different colors of luggage to make figures. By starting now, we can take steps to conserve the piece upfront.”

A recent graduate with a master’s degree from University College of London’s Institute of Archaeology, Gunnison’s research will be in the growing field of conserving plastics.

A million dollar grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation currently funds conservation fellowships and internships.The museum strategically intends these internships to foster a new generation of professionals adept in the innovative ways in which the museum involves Native peoples in the care of materials.

“We introduce them to our methodology so they learn about collaboration with the people who created these objects,” said Gina Ward, development officer at the National Museum of the American Indian. “We put culture and collaboration on an equal footing with science.”

In 2007 the Mellon Foundation pledged $1.5 million toward an endowment for Advanced Training in Conservation at the museum with the understanding the museum would raise another $3.5 million. To date, the museum has raised all but $500,000 toward this goal.

The Mellon fellows have hailed from museums in London, Vienna and Auckland. They have worked in museums such as the Guggenheim, the Chicago Institute of Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Mellon Foundation donations to other museums are used to fund conservation, develop departments and other works. It is unusual for the foundation’s contribution to be used for a training fellowship program, said Marian Kaminitz, the head of conservation at the museum.

Like Gunnison, most leave with a unique specialization after being assigned to an exhibition and being responsible for working with the related indigenous community.

Brian Jungen is a celebrated young sculptor whose work from such materials as deconstructed Nikes and luggage has won international acclaim. He has shown in such events as the Biennale in Sydney, Australia. To see that exhibition go to This summer he is working with Gunnison, talking through long-term questions such as how much change is acceptable for his plastic.

Highly flammable collodion and celluloid plastics began appearing in the 1800s. By the 1920s, plastic was everywhere. Over time, older plastics have decayed, cracking and fading, and sometimes damaging other objects next to them. Now conservationists are taking a proactive approach to caring for contemporary plastics.

“Plastics conservation is a growing field,” Gunnison said.

She hopes that planning, including perhaps making changes to the environment around the plastic art, will keep Jungen’s mobile from ever needing large-scale repair.

Maybe the Mellon fellowship works in somewhat the same way, Kaminitz said.

“By training conservators at the start of their careers, the museum can encourage respect for indigenous communities around the world,” she said. “Through the Mellon Fellowship program, we introduce conservators to this methodology and encourage them to fit this approach into their professional work in the future.”

By Kara Briggs
American Indian News Service

Comments are closed.

More News


FOOD: Let’s eat: The executive chef of the Mitsitam Cafe whips up a cookbook

FOOD: Let’s eat: The executive chef of the Mitsitam Cafe whips up a cookbook

Washington, D.C.—Chocolate, chiles, tomatoes, blueberries and corn are just a ...

RECIPE: Mitsitam Cafe buffalo and duck burger

Buffalo and duck burger topped with roasted pepper, Dijonaise sauce ...

RECIPE: Mitsitam Cafe’s Mexican hot chocolate warms up cool summer nights

When the summer sun gives way to cool nights, chef ...

RECIPE: As cherries blossom, a taste of summer

Cherries pair with the earth and sea in this favorite ...

RECIPE: Chocolate’s indigenous history makes spicy tale

Washington—Chocolate is a flavor as old and varied as the ...

Readers' Favorites

CULTURE: Children step up as culture-bearers

CULTURE: Children step up as culture-bearers

Washington, D.C.—Kelly Church, a weaver of black ash baskets, is ...

EXHIBITION: Quileute separate fact from fiction for ‘Twilight’ fans

Seattle, Wash.—The Seattle Art Museum opened an exhibition of some ...

ART: One man’s interest helps save ancient art

Dennis White, 63, an Ojibwe mathematics scholar from the Lac ...

ARTS: Jungen’s farfetched animals stretch the imagination

Washington—Artist Brian Jungen’s oversized animals have invaded the Smithsonian’s National ...


MUSIC: Nakai expands the language of Native American music

MUSIC: Nakai expands the language of Native American music

R. Carlos Nakai’s new album “Dancing into Silence,” (with William ...

MUSIC: Sky’s the limit for blues musician Derek Miller

Washington, D.C.—Derek Miller stepped onto an international stage in early ...

MUSIC: Jazz sax in a Native key

New York—Cherokee saxophone player and bandleader Sharel Cassity has a ...

MUSIC: Native American school band rocks the oldies – and the ancients

Ten years ago Kim Cournoyer answered an ad seeking a ...

MUSIC: Roots of the blues go deep into shared Native and African American history

Jimi Hendrix meteorically rose to rock-and-roll fame playing, smashing and ...


PEOPLE: Helen Maynor Scheirbeck (1935-2010)

PEOPLE: Helen Maynor Scheirbeck (1935-2010)

Washington, D.C.—Dr. Helen Maynor Scheirbeck, longtime champion of American Indian civil rights, ...

MOVIES: Big and blue, ‘Avatar’ with Wes Studi comes to DVD

Cherokee movie star Wes Studi is no stranger to standing ...

Movies: Native film star tells of his hero’s journey, on and offscreen

For Wes Studi, playing a character confronting colonial powers while ...

People: Unsung hero has a million books he’d like you to check out

Irving Nelson has had a desk in the director’s office ...

Museum: Seeds of understanding accompany interns into wider fields of work

Washington, D.C.— As the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American ...

Online Exhibitions

ARTS: Animal images tell visual story of boys in trouble

ARTS: Animal images tell visual story of boys in trouble

Rick Bartow’s sculpture “From the Mad River to the Little ...

Exhibition: “A Song for the Horse Nation” gallops into museum and onto the

The exhibition “A Song for the Horse Nation” recently made ...

Fritz Scholder continues to stir, stretch boundaries of Indian art

The Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian recently held ...

U.S. Postal Service delivers a tiny timeline of Native America

Washington—Stamps have carried art portraying Native Americans all over the ...