A state-of-the-art conservation lab is currently being constructed within the confines of the Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage on West Campus.
The new lab, set to open this April, will create a space for the conservation of objects from all collections at Yale, from dinosaur skeletons at the Peabody Museum of Natural History to 20th century American paintings at the Yale University Art Gallery. The lab is designed to accommodate large-scale objects and multiple projects at a time. Ultimately, the conservation lab will offer a new space for collaboration among the conservators of Yale’s diverse collections and the research scientists at the IPCH.
“Yale has never really had a central lab where all materials can be analyzed and where scientists and conservators can directly interact,” Chief Conservator for the YUAG and Director of the IPCH conservation lab Ian McClure said. “We will be able to walk out of the conservation lab and directly across to the IPCH research science labs.”
Though the conservation lab will be divided into three main areas — works on paper and textiles, paintings, natural history specimens and other objects — McClure said the lab’s large amount of open space offers flexibility.
The lab will also feature more specialized areas, such as a matting and framing room, a structural workshop for sculptures, a high ventilation room for work with sprays and toxic solvents, and a lead-walled imaging room equipped with a 300 kilovolt X-ray.
Director of the IPCH Stefan Simon said the lab has exciting architectural features, such as skylights that maximize the lab’s natural light. This form of light is essential for examining artifacts, Senior Conservator of Paper of the Yale Center for British Art Theresa Fairbanks-Harris said.
Simon said the lab, which is adjacent to main corridor of the IPCH, will have windows overlooking this hallway so passersby can see what is going on inside. McClure said there will be displays of artifacts visible from the corridor and possibly signs that list what work is currently being conducted at the lab.
Given that many of the collections that are beneficiaries of the lab have their own conservation spaces elsewhere on campus, such as the labs at the new Center for Library Preservation and Conservation at 344 Winchester Ave., McClure said the lab is unique in its promotion of collaborative activities.
“We see the lab as providing a place where all the conservation folks can come together,” Director of Preservation at the Yale University Library Bobbie Pilette said. “There might be an item that would involve one or more of the museums and the Library, so having a facility where areas are shared is a plus.”
Pilette said the lab also provides a space for collaboration that already occurs between conservators for Yale’s collections and research scientists at the IPCH. For the Beinecke exhibit “Blue: Color and Concept,” conservators worked with the IPCH to analyze the resistance to fading of items, as blue is a particularly light-sensitive color, to see how long they could be on exhibit.
Fairbanks-Harris, who teaches courses on conservation for undergraduates, said the lab also seeks to promote teaching at Yale. She added that she is excited to use the lab to expand students’ understanding about the science behind cultural artifacts.
Helder Toste ’16, an art history major, said he thinks the lab’s incentive for collaboration between STEM fields and the humanities will make the conservation of Yale’s collections much more effective.
For some collections at Yale, the conservation lab will also offer convenience. Simon said there will be storage facilities for the YUAG, the Peabody, the Yale Collection of Musical Instruments and the Yale Center for British Art in the same building that the IPCH is located in. McClure said the proximity to the lab will greatly reduce the distance some items will have to travel.
According to the IPCH website, the lab was originally supposed to open in March. McClure said construction proceeded a bit slower than anticipated because the lab was retrofitted from space formerly occupied by a pharmaceutical company. Unexpected architectural features, such as steel reinforcements in the walls, were encountered — and builders needed to be particularly meticulous about potential leaks when installing the lab’s many skylights.
A portion of the construction on the lab is funded by the $25 million donation that launched the IPCH. Additional funding stems from Yale’s capital projects fund.