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American Art Program Conservation Initiative

In November 2007, the American Art Program concluded a special one-year initiative providing grants to conserve American art objects in museum permanent collections.

Approximately 100 proposals were reviewed with requests for over $6 million. Applicants were from 34 states and the District of Columbia; from museums of all budget sizes needing to conserve American paintings, sculpture, works on paper, photographs, textiles and furniture. Objects ranged from Navajo blankets and 18th-century portraits to Frank Lloyd Wright furniture and contemporary outdoor sculpture.

The Henry Luce Foundation awarded 48 grants for a total of just over $1,750,000. A list of recipients follows this report.


Conservation treatment of art objects is an area that typically had not received funding from the Luce Foundation’s American art program. The museum field’s ongoing need for conservation support was known to foundation staff through inquiries and field monitoring. The omission of this category of support has been a conscious choice, given the significant resources required to make an impact in this area. The Andrew W. Mellon and the Getty Foundations provide substantial funds for conservation, primarily for condition assessment, fellowships, staff positions and training. The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and Kress Foundation also offer funds for similar purposes. Few resources, however, are available for the routine treatment of objects.

In 2004, the Luce Foundation approved a grant of $100,000 to Heritage Preservation of Washington, DC to study the condition of American art objects in U.S. museums, libraries, archives and historical societies. The overall findings issued the following year in the Heritage Health Index (HHI) were dramatic and eye-opening. Of the 4.8 billion artifacts held in public trust across the country, the index documents that many are at risk and require immediate care: 4.7 million works of art; 13.5 million historic objects-—from flags and quilts to Presidential china and Pueblo pottery; 153 million photographs and 270 million rare books and periodicals.

The HHI report has been a catalyst, particularly for art repositories, and has provided incentive for local conservation fundraising drives. The Luce Foundation responded with two additional grants to the IMLS: $30,000 for a national conservation summit held in Washington, DC in June 2007 and $200,000 for the Conservation Bookshelf, a compendium of conservation reference material distributed free to American art museums and other cultural organizations.

Conservation Initiative

Funds from the Foundation’s American art program’s 2007 budget were designated for a special one-year conservation initiative, with an emphasis on the ongoing treatment of American art objects in museum permanent collections. Guidelines were developed and sent to the director, American art curator and conservator at some 400 museums.

At the outset $1,250,000 was estimated for distribution as follows:

• category 1 for projects requiring up to $30,000, and
• category 2 for projects requiring more than $30,000.

All the proposed projects met eligibility requirements and were worthy of support, but requests outpaced available funds. In an effort to close the gap between need and resources, the Luce Foundation allocated an additional $500,000 to the initiative.

Selection criteria were narrowed from the original broad guidelines. Awards were evaluated on the gravity of the object’s condition, the urgency of the time frame (for example, loan or exhibition preparation), the economy of the proposal (i.e., the number of objects to receive treatment for the stated budget), and the potential for other resources. Secondary consideration was given to the significance of the objects, diversity of media and institutional demographics—location, size and collection

Twenty-five grants were approved in category 1 ranging from $2,100 to $30,000 for a total of $481,300. The average grant was $19,200.

Twenty-three grants were approval in category 2 ranging from $35,000 to $100,000 for a total of $1,280,000. The average grant was $55,600.


The field’s vigorous response to the Luce Foundation’s request for proposals to the conservation initiative clearly indicates that the need for conservation treatment funds cannot be overstated. Even at “major” institutions with annual operating budgets of $100 million, conservation appears to be underfunded, with insufficient allocations for both treatment and staffing common in most institutions.

The Luce Foundation has made a valuable monetary contribution and underlined an important need in the museum field through the conservation initiative and other American art program projects. In previous grants to assess the needs the Foundation has built and disseminated research; lent credibility to the cause of conservation; and, in this initiative, assisted 48 worthy projects.

Given the American art program’s 25 years of leadership, the Luce Foundation will remain vigilant to elevate this priority among museum professionals, trustees and other funders.

Category 1 grant recipients:

The Art Institute of Chicago, IL – $30,000 toward treatment of 19th-century American frames and early 20th-century American furniture.

Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, MD – $20,000 toward treatment of frames for early American paintings.

Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, ME – $15,000 toward treatment and reframing of American paintings for the reinstallation of the permanent collection.

Brookgreen Gardens, Pawleys Island, SC – $20,000 toward treatment of outdoor American sculpture.

Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody, WY – $15,000 toward treatment of outdoor American sculpture.

The Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, OH – $15,000 toward restoration of paintings from the original collection.

Cliveden of the National Trust, Philadelphia, PA – $2,100 to conserve a turn-of-the-20th-century portrait that is a focal point for interpreting this historic property.

The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC – $25,000 toward conservation of the period frame for a monumental Bierstadt painting featured in the gallery.

Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington, DE – $18,000 toward the conservation of John Sloan paintings for an upcoming retrospective exhibition.

Grand Rapids Art Museum, Grand Rapids, MI – $20,000 toward treatment of frames for American paintings to be installed in the Museum’s new building.

Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute, Utica, NY – $20,000 toward conservation of American paintings and works on paper for a traveling exhibition of the permanent collection.

Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, CA – $14,200 to conserve a badly-damaged large scale work by California artist Ed Moses.

Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, Santa Fe, NM – $25,000 toward conservation of Pueblo pottery for an upcoming exhibition.

Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY – $30,000 to conserve the four major Edward Hopper paintings in the permanent collection.

The Newark Museum, Newark, NJ – $15,000 toward treatment of American paintings from the permanent collection for upcoming exhibitions.

New Britain Museum of American Art, New Britain, CT – $20,000 toward treatment of paintings to be rotated in the permanent installation.

North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, NC – $30,000 to conserve prominent modern paintings for installation in new American art collection galleries.

The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC – $20,000 toward conservation of newly-acquired photographs by Brett Weston in preparation for an upcoming exhibition.

Reynolda House Museum of American Art, Winston-Salem, NC – $15,000 toward treatment of masterworks from the permanent collection.

Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, WA – $12,000 to conserve two period frames for major paintings featured in the newly-reinstalled American art galleries.

Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, OH – $20,000 to conserve a rare painted steel sculpture by David Smith.

The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, MD – $30,000 to conserve eight 19th-century frames for works from the Museum’s extensive Alfred Jacob Miller holdings.

Warner House Association, Portsmouth, NH – $20,000 toward treatment of early 18th-century ceiling paintings in this historic Georgian-style house.

Washington Art Consortium, Bellingham, WA – $15,000 toward conservation of American works on paper in preparation for a traveling exhibition by this consortium of Washington museums.

Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust, Oak Park, IL – $15,000 toward conservation of eight pieces of furniture designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for his first home and studio in Oak Park.

Category 2 grant recipients:

Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY - $35,000 to conserve American paintings in preparation for a national exhibition tour.

American Textile History Museum, Lowell, MA - $40,000 to conserve historic American textiles and costumes for an orientation exhibition.

The Barnes Foundation, Merion, PA - $75,000 to conserve and stabilize 19th-century Native American ceramics.

Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA - $60,000 to conserve a suite of American late-neoclassical period furniture for permanent installation in new decorative arts galleries.

Chinati Foundation, Marfa, TX - $60,000 to conserve signature outdoor sculpture by Donald Judd.

The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH - $35,000 to conserve American modernist sculpture during the Museum’s capital expansion project.

Cummer Museum of Art, Jacksonville, FL - $40,000 to conserve American bronze sculpture not treated since installation outdoors in the 1960s.

Denver Art Museum, Denver, CO - $50,000 to conserve Navajo textiles in preparation for an exhibition.

Hunter Museum of American Art, Chattanooga, TN - $75,000 to conserve period frames for newly-reinstalled American 19th-century paintings.

The Jewish Museum, New York, NY - $40,000 to conserve newly-acquired vintage American photographs.

List Visual Arts Center, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA - $50,000 to conserve a monumental mural by American color-field painter, Kenneth Noland.

Memorial Art Gallery, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY - $40,000 to conserve American paintings long-relegated to storage.

Museum of Arts & Design, New York, NY - $45,000 to conserve a ceramic wall relief by Robert Arneson for permanent display in the Museum’s new building.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA - $100,000 to conserve American paintings and furniture for reinstallation in the new American art wing.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX - $35,000 to conserve key American neoclassical furniture displayed in the Bayou Bend house.

National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC - $50,000 to conserve works to be installed in a new long-term survey exhibition at the Heye Center branch in New York City.

Oakland Museum of California, Oakland, CA - $50,000 to conserve paintings for installation in the new Gallery of California Art.

Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe, NM - $100,000 to conserve works recently acquired from the Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation previously stored inadequately in the artist’s homes.

The Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, NY - $50,000 to conserve American paintings in preparation for reinstallation in the Museum’s new building.

Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA – $50,000 to conserve historic American wedding garments for an upcoming exhibition.

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA - $100,000 to conserve American paintings for reinstallation in new American art galleries.

Clyfford Still Museum, Denver, CO - $50,000 to conserve paintings from Still’s personal collection in preparation for their first public exhibition in a new museum dedicated to the artist’s work.

Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT - $50,000 to conserve American drawings in preparation for an exhibition and catalogue of the Museum’s permanent collection.

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