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Our Initiatives


Oral History Project

The Oral History Project, established in 1975 under the leadership of Joyce Hill Stoner with the support of the Board of Directors of the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation (FAIC), led to the creation of an archive of transcripts of interviews with conservators, conservation scientists, and related professionals. These documents now form an invaluable record on the history of the field.

Over the years more than 100 conservators and students worldwide have assisted in the project by conducting interviews on a volunteer basis.  Funding for transcription has been provided by FAIC/AIC.  More than 280 transcripts are currently on file, most with signed releases and open to researchers.  Recent users of the archive have investigated the history of preventive conservation, conservation in New York City, conservation at the Fogg Art Museum, and the history of textile conservation. 

The project’s database contains the names of people who have been interviewed, their conservation specialties, life dates, publications, and other information.  An evolving list of candidates nominated for future interviews is also maintained.  In 2004 the project files were officially transferred to the Winterthur Museum Archives.  Partial funding for the professional management of the archives is provided by Debra Hess Norris, Director of the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation.

As the file of interviews grows, collaboration for international collection is in progress with the International Institute for Conservation (IIC) and the Theory and History of Conservation Working Group of the International Council of Museums - Conservation Committee (ICOM-CC).


History of the Project

In 1974 Rutherford John Gettens, one of America’s pioneer conservators who worked at the original technical laboratory of the Fogg Art Museum, spoke at the American Institute for Conservation meetings in Cooperstown, New York: “To come to the point quickly, I think we should begin to think about collecting material for a history of the conservation of cultural property.” He went on to remark: “Knowledge of the beginnings and growth of our profession is a necessary background for training programs in art conservation. . . . We wouldn’t really be a profession without a stepwise history of growth.” Gettens emphasized the necessity of recording personal recollections, anecdotes, and informal doings that would tie together “serious events.” After the meeting, he went to his summer home and began to make handwritten notes about his early experiences at the Fogg, but ten days later he died.

During a seminar held at the Freer Gallery of Art in March 1975 in honor of John Gettens, his wife Katherine, George L. Stout, Richard D. Buck, W. Thomas Chase, and Joyce Hill Stoner met to discuss the possibility of beginning an oral history project. The project officially began later that year. 

The first interview took place on 4 September 1975 at the Camino Real hotel in Mexico City during the joint AIC/IICMexican Group meeting. The project’s planning group reconvened at that time and discussed the early days of the Fogg Art Museum conservation department, the origins ofTechnical Studies in the Field of the Fine Arts, the Forbes pigment collection, conservation efforts during World War II, and the founding of IIC.

Interviews were also carried out during the November 2006 symposium sponsored by The Conservation Center of the Institute of Fine Arts and the Villa la Pietra, New York University, in collaboration with the Opificio delle Pietre Dure Laborati di Restauro Opere d’Arte. This symposium brought together many of the surviving participants in the rescue effort to consider the 1966 flood and its legacy for the discipline of art conservation and international emergency response. The Florence Flood interview project was coordinated by Rebecca Rushfield.

As of 2014, more than 30% of the project’s interviewees are now deceased, emphasizing the importance of arranging interviews whenever possible..

Further Reading: "Archival Records of Art Conservators" by E. Richard McKinstry Andrew W. Mellon, senior librarian H.F. du Pont Winterthur Museum.


How to Get Involved

If you would like to be interviewed, contribute by carrying out an interview, or suggest a colleague to be interviewed, please contact Joyce Hill Stoner.

Conservators in hard-to-reach locations have typed their own answers to the suggested questions and such contributions are welcome for the archive.  Please download the resources below for more information. 

If you have information to supplement the formal interviews, such as accounts of meetings, parties or dinners in which glimpses of the human side of the pioneer men and women of the field can be seen, you are invited to submit vignettes for inclusion in the archives by contacting Rebecca Rushfield.

Resources for Interviewers
If you will be participating in the project please download the resources below for more information:


Accessing the Archives

To access the information in the Oral History Project archives:

  • Read through the  Current List of Interviews.
  • Send an e-mail or written request to Joyce Hill Stoner, c/o Winterthur/UD Program in Art Conservation, Winterthur Museum, 5105 Kennett Pike, Winterthur, DE 19735 USA. 
  • Note the topic of the proposed research and some sample questions that might be answered by the file.
  • When quoting material from the file please reference “FAIC Oral History File housed at the Winterthur Museum, Library, and Archives.”