Jennifer Loubser after conservation treatment with:
“Five Human Relationships, Represented by Five Different Birds”
China, Ming Dynasty, c. 16th Century.
Ink and mineral colors painted on silk
294 cmH x 112 cm W
Collection of Honolulu Museum of Arts
Q: Why did you become an arts conservator?
I knew I wanted to be an arts conservator when I first started my Art History degree and went on an excursion to the Lascaux cave. Once I finished the tour of the cave, they told me that it was an exact reproduction, and that the real caves were being preserved from damage due to exposure to light, oxygen, and even the carbon dioxide in people’s breath. From that moment, I knew my career would be conserving artwork.
Q: How did you come to specialise your particular area?
Jennifer: Ten years later, I had finished my art history degree and worked in numerous capacities, in the arts, in galleries and museums. I then had the opportunity to work as a conservator for the first time. It was all simply about being in the right place at the right time, when there was a flood recovery effort at the University of Hawaii. Ultimately I was able to make this opportunity the focus of my Masters degree. I was introduced to the conservator at the Honolulu Museum of Art, was offered volunteer work and then found it was possible to gain intern points for this. The conservator then offered me a paycheck and so I worked as a specialist in a traditional Japanese painting conservation studio. Hence my focus on Asian art.
Q: The materials themselves are quite different, is that what caught your interest?
Jennifer: Yes, the materials are all hand made and have been refined over thousands of years. These techniques methods have been perfected over generations and centuries, and are accepted and employed in museums around the world. The pigments, even the fibers used for making paper are all hand made, the attention to detail is extraordinary.
Q: You didn’t start with a conservators course, how long was your training and where did you train?
Jennifer: When I was speaking with art conservators about how to go about becoming an art conservator, they all told me: 'The degree is not yet halfway to where you need to be. You really need at the very least five years of practical experience as well .' So I needed to know I could find work in such a small field, before studying for a master's degree.After my Art History degree, Masters courses in preservation and conservation, I worked for seven years as a specialist conservator in Honolulu and South Korea with plenty of study in Japan. I then decided to complete my conservation masters degree in Australia. My masters was in Conservation of Cultural Materials at the University of Melbourne. There wasn’t a degree like that available, in Honolulu. There are only a few places around the world where you can study conservation at this level.
Q: So there’s one in Melbourne?
Jennifer: Yes, it started at the ANU (Australian National University) in Canberra, so when that continued as undergraduate study in Heritage Conservation, the new program emerged as the Masters Degree, in Melbourne.
Q: So you speak those languages?
Jennifer: Yes, especially Korean, as I lived there, I worked there in the same field, looking after museum collections.I had the good fortune to work on 10 meter high Korean Buddhist paintings, screen panels in the Seoul National Palace Museum, and studied with a lacquer master. I then had the chance to work again with Bhutanese monks, conserving several of the Royal family's thangka paintings in Bhutan. They were all incredible opportunities.
Q: Why and when would you recommend consulting with someone like yourself?
Jennifer: There are all kinds of reason, perhaps because an artwork or object has local historical value or even if an item has personal, sentimental value and has suffered wear and tear over the years, or has just deteriorated through time and exposure to the elements.