View Full Version : Intro Post :D

04-04-2012, 07:09 PM
Hi there!
My name is Joy. I'm an assistant preparator newly employed at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas. I'm just getting into the field and am completely in love. I'm exploring the forum and am wholly excited about the amount of information here. I have a variety of art education- some college credits in interior design, graphic design and studio art, but have yet to find something that has really sparked my interest. Until now!

Any advice for someone just starting out? I am curious about figuring out what educational path would be best suited for becoming a preparator. Or is experience in the field more important?


T. Ashley McGrew
04-04-2012, 08:34 PM
Hi Joy,

I have heard that there was a bachelors program in Museum Preparation at one point... somewhere... I have never come across one though. One of the most interesting things about the profession is that its primary and defining aspect is that of being almost completely autodidactic.
The more engaged you are in the physical world around you the more resources (experience) you have to draw on, so it sounds like you are off to a fine start. Usually by nature if you are a preparator you will continue to train yourself naturally - figuring out more things as you go along and improving systems and methods as opportunities allow.

This thing of actually talking to each other is a pretty new phenomenon. As a rule we have been an un-acknowledged community (even by ourselves). With technology like the forum and our list serve now available we are all kind of getting to know each other in a way.
Up until now you mostly paid a lot of attention to things to try and figure them out yourself (I learned crating by looking at crates) and then whenever you get the chance to work with someone you steal all of their methods and then pretend you already knew it all along (kind of a joke there - just kind of though). Since by and large it tends to an accidental profession occupied by a high percentage of artists I would let your own muse be your guide. You will find yourself drawn into whatever suits you best.
I think from discussions we have had both on the list serves and over beers we have pretty much determined that there is no such thing as a Preparator anyway.
Basically most everyone is a preparator/fill in the blank. That is to say that we tend to be hybridized because the job usually requires it. Some folks do more installation work and may specialize in rigging. Others are packer/craters. Some love mountmaking or case fabrication. Some folks are serious about making a safe home for the objects they care for and are collections staff or collections managers. If bringing order to chaos and being a protector of objects in the wider world is your thing you may find yourself with the title registrar. I have known of several preps who became conservators. Some gravitate more towards exhibition or lighting design. You will probably find yourself doing a mixture of several things listed above. No matter what, you will find yourself learning about all of those things in order to do your job as well as you can.
In terms of instruction mostly I would say that you should see what problems you are most drawn to solve or what areas you think could be improved and then figure out what it takes to make it happen. So in a way truthfully often the collections we care for determines our training and professional development.

If you look at the wide variety of people who are a part of PACCIN you can kind of squint your eyes and see as clear a picture of a Preparator as is really possible. There are people with all sorts of titles who are "one of us". It’s more of a type of person than anything else - you take great satisfaction (usually well hidden) in solving problems, always put the collection first, and don't take yourself too seriously.
So now that I have rambled on and on, answering the actual question you had asked won't take too long. Formal training is just plain sparse. The most consistent and well established courses are at the Campbell Center. There are a few small training programs (I know there is one in the Bronx). PACCIN does workshops but we are all-volunteer so there is a limit to how many we can put on.
Some of the best training there is consists of working for a top notch Arts Services Provider in the commercial sector - preferably in a decent sized art market. In a short period of time you can gain a wider range of experience there than you can at any single museum.
Certainly the most current and dynamic source of information is the PACCIN List serve (if I do say so myself). If you aren't signed up already you should do so. Related information is often found on the Registrars list serve (which is Huge), Mountmaking-forum group, NAME-AAM group, and Museum-L. Traditionally it has been hard to get onto AIC lists unless you were somehow granted an "affiliated professional" status but much of that issue will be solved by the development of the AIC Wiki and related Collections Care Network. Paper publications are even worse. Anyone working in a museum should have a copy of the MRM 5, If you do packing - all three PACCIN Publications. Storage and Installation - Pollutants in the Museum Environment. Case fabrication - Exhibit Conservation Guidelines (CD-ROM).

Other than that it is hard to say. It is really up to each individual to train themselves. I think though that you could be in a great place. It is always exciting to be involved with an institution during formative periods. Hopefully your museum will be bringing in outside professionals from time to time. Try not to be shy - instead spend as much time as you can with them to glean as much information as you can. For example in my first museum if we were paying a conservator to do work in the collection it was made known that I needed to be on them "like white on rice" because that was going to be the best (probably only) education I was going to get.
Sorry for the possibly discouraging news and for going on and on. Ask your question on the PACCIN list serve and someone will probably chime in with many times as much usable info using a small fraction of the verbiage.
Glad to hear that you are really enthused about the work.
Best of luck,


Richard Hinson
04-05-2012, 07:06 AM
Hello Joy and welcome to the exciting profession of art handling.

Ashley just about tells it all in his response and one thing I would like to reiterate is use the time you spend with professionals wisely. If you hire knowledgeable outside contractors, ask lots of questions about why they do things the way they do. I've been in this field for 25 years and learn new things every time a work on a project with outside people. I try to keep an open mind and not consider the way I do something is the best. It is the best for me, but if a better idea comes along, I try to incorporate it in what I do.

Paul Brewin
04-05-2012, 12:15 PM
Welcome - and say hi to Don B for me, he was director here at SDMA when I was hired in '03. How is the new museum? If you wish to share any information and/or photos of workspaces, specialized equipment, lighting technology, or unique methods and processes used at your museum we'd enjoy learning from you!