The U.S. Department of State’s role as a steward of heritage assets is integral to the nation’s diplomatic mission abroad. Other facets of cultural diplomacy are the visual arts programs designed for American embassies, the grant-funded conservation projects in developing countries, and museum collections overseen by allied heritage programs within the State Department.
Through a partnership between the Museum Tekstil and the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, textile conservator Julia M. Brennan led a nine-day textile conservation workshop for Indonesian heritage professionals, and worked with a local team to complete the conservation and remounting of twenty-four monumental batiks in the State Department’s collection by renowned Indonesian artist Iwan Tirta and others. The initiative prioritized capacity building for the Indonesian museum community, provided participants from across Indonesia with foundational training in preventive conservation and textile care, and furnished basic tools and supplies.
Garden Fountain in Algiers
Coastal locations are beautiful – and a maintenance challenge because of the effects of water and salt on building materials. Attesting to this are the before- and after- conservation views of a marble fountain on the grounds of the Chief of Mission Residence in Algiers. The facilities team of U.S. Embassy Algiers led the project to remove the calcium deposits from the pedestal by hand and restore the appearance of the marble. They used a soft chisel and mallet to loosen the mineral build-up and a Dremel tool for the more delicate work. Light soda blasting completed the cleaning and hydrostatic mortar secured the fountain to its base in the remounting. The closed-loop fountain is operational once more.
NOW in Guangzhou
Conservation of the outdoor sculpture NOW by the artist Joel Shapiro was completed in January 2022. The conservation effort was coordinated with the artist and specialists in the Cultural Heritage office and at U.S. Consulate General Guangzhou with support from the Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies (FAPE) and private consultants in the United States and China. The sculpture was mechanically stripped, cleaned, and repainted in-situ using a custom high-performance, multi-part paint system.
Shapiro created the artwork in 2009 and it was installed in 2013.
Italian Art Conservation
The U.S. Consulate General Florence and the Arts and Conservation faculty of the Studio Arts College International (SACI) worked together on several initiatives to document and restore the heritage collections of the Department of State. They produced a guidebook of the historic consulate, Palazzo Canevaro, in 2019. Under the steady hand of Valeria Brunori, Conservator and Curator for the Cultural Heritage office and U.S. Tri-Mission Rome, and with the scientific consultancy and oversight of the Soprintendenza Archeologia, Belle Arti e Paesaggio per la città metropolitana di Firenze e le province di Pistoia e Prato, SACI began the conservation work needed for five oil-on-canvas paintings in the collection at the consulate: three portraits, a still life, and a landscape scene. In 2018–2019, SACI surveyed, analyzed, cleaned, and restored the still life and landscape artworks. SACI then began the survey of the three portraits. Brunori completed the art restoration project in 2021 after the school’s closure during the pandemic.
With generous support from the Fund to Conserve U.S. Diplomatic Treasures Abroad, the Office of Cultural Heritage is pursuing an authentication study of the State Department’s painting of Washington at Princeton, attributed to Charles Willson Peale, on display in the Louis XVI Salon of the Ambassador’s Residence in Paris, France. Cultural Heritage seeks to authenticate the painting through a connoisseurship study to establish a complete provenance, complemented by a comprehensive technical investigation involving comparative analysis of the painting against other known Peale works. Conservation of the painting will follow these studies. The Franco-American collaboration between institutions, curators, historians, and conservators serves as a diplomatic gesture, and findings from the study stand to contribute to American art historical scholarship. Cultural Heritage will make the results of this investigation available to Peale scholars and the art historical community at large through the production of a short documentary film.