Recognize Your Colleagues

Robert L. Feller Lifetime Achievement Award

2012 Recipient | Dan Kushel, SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor, Technical Examination and Documentation, Buffalo State College, Art Conservation Department

Remarks by Paul Messier, Presenter

Let’s be clear:  I realize no one in this room needs me to explain why Dan Kushel deserves the prestigious Robert L. Feller Lifetime Achievement Award – only the second time this honor has been granted and the first time it’s been given to someone other than the man himself, Robert Feller.  You already know why Dan is receiving this award.  Whether or not you know Dan personally, have had the privilege of being one of his many students, seen one of his presentations or read one of his articles, handouts or book chapters, you know why.  We all know why. 
Still, I am not going to pass up an opportunity to lavish some praise on Dan.  His character is defined by professionalism, dedication, innovation and creativity.  His vision is wide and his influence expansive. Though he sees the big picture, he cares deeply about our everyday concerns as conservators and the quality of our own legacies -- our insights revealed through examination and the documentation of the work we do and leave behind.  

Paul Messier (L) and Dan Kushel (R)
Read Dan's Acceptance Remarks

In one way or another, we all know Dan as a talented, kind and patient teacher.  Retiring at the end of this semester, he has taught technical examination and documentation for 34 years.  The core of Dan’s professional identity is teaching.  The simplest way to illustrate his brilliance as a teacher is to review a list of the many formal appreciations and accolades he has received. Here are just two:


  • In 1994, the AIC presented Dan with one of the first two Sheldon and Caroline Keck Awards established to recognize “a sustained record of excellence in the education and training of conservation professionals.”
  • In 1998, on the recommendation of the Buffalo State College faculty and president, the trustees and chancellor of the State University of New York named Dan to a Distinguished Teaching Professorship, an appointment that constitutes the highest tribute that SUNY confers upon its “finest and most accomplished faculty."

Dan’s achievement within the field of conservation, however, is more than the sum of graduate students taught over 34 years.  And this award is explicitly not focused solely on teaching but on Dan’s unwavering commitment to the technical examination and documentation of material culture.  This vital facet of our field is nearly inconceivable without Dan.  His tireless work to elevate examination and documentation practices is the central accomplishment of his career.  His contributions extend not only to hundreds of students (and the students of these students) but to all facets of the field from institution-based research to results-driven private practice. The breadth of this impact owes not only to Dan’s painstaking and exacting scholarship but to his strong adherence to his identity as a conservator.

Regardless of the complexity of the underlying issues, Dan feels his work incomplete until he delivers a clear and always practical distillation to his students and his peers.  His carefully articulated and uncompromising approach perhaps was most needed upon the historic and rapid shift from analog to digital photography.  Through scrupulous research and trials, he rose to the challenge by providing a paradigm for the entire field to embrace the advantages of digital documentation without sacrificing the need for creating a permanent visual and written record.  His example, judiciously formulated and expressed, was delivered to the field in numerous articles, presentations and consultancies.

His voice is perhaps clearest and his influence most deeply felt in The AIC Guide to Digital Photography and Conservation Documentation, now in its second edition.  This seminal work is used worldwide, not only for the betterment of documentation methods but also for spreading the reach and recognition of AIC.  Remember: As an expression of our mutually-held ideals and ethical framework for practice, this is our publication.  As a reflection of us, we should all share a measure of pride.   

The methodologies he developed and promoted, in the Guide and throughout his career, have shaped the field.  Alone this is an impressive achievement and highly worthy of recognition.  But more than anything else the award bestowed on Dan today brings into focus Dan’s fundamental integrity as a conservator. The values he exemplifies:

  • expertise acquired through research and experience
  • clear, exacting and timely communication to the field
  • commitment to essential ethical precepts
  • unwavering devotion to learning and teaching

…all provide a consummate model of distinguished service by a conservator on behalf of conservators.

That's who Dan is.  And that is who we are.

-Paul Messier