The Summer Teachers Institute in Technical Art History (STITAH) is an intensive week-long professional development program for art history faculty from universities across North America. The result of collaborative efforts between the Conservation Center at the Institute of Fine Arts (New York University), the Yale University Art Gallery (YUAG) and Yale Center for British Art (YCBA), and the Kress Foundation, the course alternates between the Conservation Center and Yale University. Local conservators, conservation scientists and curators, along with featured guest lecturers from peer institutions, both national and international, present case studies in technical art history and lead practical sessions that allow participants to closely observe original works of art, both in the gallery as well as the conservation laboratory. Hands-on studio exercises replicate traditional artists’ studio practices and demonstrations of analytical equipment illustrate how technical studies might inform art historical research. Professional discussions and informal conversations about all topics covered are encouraged throughout, and post-course support is offered through case studies adapted expressly for the STITAH participants, for their own classroom use. Please read below for descriptions of prior years’ STITAHs.
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.
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.
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.