Art history minor leads to prestigious Andrew W. Mellon Diversity in Conservation program - The University of Tulsa
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Art history minor leads to prestigious Andrew W. Mellon Diversity in Conservation program

Tiara Woods

Tiara Woods (BS ’23) has always had an interest in chemistry, but when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, she realized that a strict STEM path might not be right for her. She began shifting her perspective and pursued classes in the School of Art, Design, and Art History. “I wanted a career that involved art in some way,” said Woods. So, she decided to earn a minor in art history to complement her chemistry major. “I thought about how I could combine my interests in art, chemistry, and art history. Through my research, I found out about the conservation field.”

Art conservation is an interdisciplinary field that requires artistic and scientific understanding of the materials. Art conservators use a variety of analytical techniques to evaluate the condition of an object, and then treat the object to stabilize its condition.

Daniel Lang Collection

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Tiara Woods, right, works with other University of Tulsa students to catalog the Lang collection

During her time as a University of Tulsa student, Woods was able to participate in a project with the Tulsa Undergraduate Research Challenge (TURC) under Associate Professor Maria Maurer. Woods worked with Maurer and other students to research and catalog the artworks of Daniel Lang (BA ’53), whose artwork has been featured in major museums. Following his death in 2013, Lang’s estate donated a collection of his works to the university. “Little research had been conducted on him or his work prior to this project,” Woods explained. “This project will allow Lang’s work to be seen by students and scholars in the museum field.”

Person examining art
Woods examines a work of art at the Brooks Museum

Throughout the project, Woods conducted condition reports on the collection housed at TU. Through the knowledge she gained from an internship at Memphis Brooks Museum of Art and her own coursework, Woods developed a database to catalog the information collected from each work. She also taught the other students involved with the project how to conduct condition reports, which are used by museum professionals to note the physical condition of a piece. Conservators are then able to clean the artwork and work to repair any damage. Like those conservators, Woods used one of the reports to conserve a Lang painting by cleaning accretions that had developed. Woods’ reporting method would eventually become the standard way the team would record the condition of all 155 works in the collection.

“I’m especially proud of Tiara’s work cataloging, condition reporting, and conserving Daniel Lang’s work,” Maurer said. “These kinds of jobs aren’t always glamorous, but we know so much more about the collection and its significance thanks to Tiara and the other TURC students.”

Thanks to the hard work of Woods and the other students, an exhibition of Lang’s work will be featured on campus from January through March 2024.

Andrew W. Mellon Opportunity for Diversity in Conservation

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2023 Mellon workshop participants

Before her graduation in May 2023, Woods was accepted to the prestigious Andrew W. Mellon Opportunity for Diversity in Conservation. The program was founded to address the lack of diversity in the study and practice of conservation. It strives to introduce students from underrepresented backgrounds to the practice of conservation and help them build the necessary skills through hands-on workshops, internships, and long-term support via mentoring.

The program includes a weeklong summer workshop in Los Angeles, as well as eligibility to apply for a 10-week paid internship of the participants’ choice after the workshop. Woods had to submit three short essays, a resume, a transcript, and two letters of recommendation in her application.

The experience has allowed Woods a brief glimpse into her future. “This is a career that will allow me, a young Black woman, to provide a crucial perspective often ignored in history. I gained valuable competence in historical, ethical, and material concepts associated with cultural heritage conservation,” she said.

Throughout the program, Woods was able to achieve a more comprehensive understanding of conservation and the diverse options available in the field. Be it textiles, paintings, or objects, her experiences with the program have helped her learn more about her options and what path she would like to follow. Additionally, Woods learned networking skills that connected with other art conservators.

Woods plans to take a few gap years to further explore her passions and her identity. In the meantime, she has been accepted as one of eight, fully supported Mellon opportunity interns. These 10-week internships take place a year following the summer program and are designed for those who wish to continue with a career in conservation of cultural heritage through applications to graduate conservation programs. During this time, she will also begin fulfilling requirements needed to apply to graduate school.

Interested in studying art from a diverse range of time periods and cultures? TU’s Kendall College of Arts & Sciences’ art history program teaches students to interpret the visual world around them and investigate the artistic legacy of the past.