There’s a new face in the Lab these days. Ashleigh Schieszer (pronounced She-zer), our new Conservator and Lab Manager, arrived last week. She hit the ground running just a few days after moving to Cincinnati from Los Angeles, California where she was completing her internship at the Huntington Library. Somehow, though, in the midst of the orientation sessions, getting to know her way around the Lab and meetings with managers and colleagues she found time to sit down for an interview with me.
V: How did you end up in conservation?
A: I was always an artist growing up and thought I wanted to do something in art but always wanted to do something in science as well. While I was interning (of all things) at the Sprint world headquarters, inventorying their entire collection of hanging fine art, I realized I wanted to do conservation. It was that internship that made me realize there were other ways of working with art without having to be an artist. I worked with the Sprint registrar and curator and they’re the ones who first talked about conservation and caring for art.
V: What is your favorite conservation project to date?
A: It might be a toss-up between a 16th century atlas and an album of pith paintings. I think I tend to like large projects.
V: What prompted you to apply for this position?
A: Well, as I said, I like big projects and it was a big job. I enjoy challenges and collaborative environments and I thought this was a very unique lab that had a lot of momentum for growth and I thought, maybe I can help. I also thought the idea of working for two institutions was intriguing.
V: What’s the story on the wallpaper?
A: I did two separate projects. The first one was an internship, the second one I was hired on contract. Both projects were through Heugh-Edmondson Conservation Services, LCC in Kansas City with Tom Edmondson and Nancy Heugh.
The first project I lucked out. I happened to be interning at Heugh-Edmondson when they needed help on a project. Not really knowing what I was getting myself into, I went down there and they took me through a week-long training course through the local college that was set up by Tom Edmondson and Chris Young. I learned through them all about wallpaper conservation and then I spent the rest of the summer with another intern at the time, Saori Kawasumi, working at a historic hotel that was being renovated. The place was so badly damaged that there wasn’t a full sheet of intact wallpaper. There were only fragments. But there were large fragments, and we were able to actually remove the first layer of paint to get down to the wallpaper and we discovered there were multiple layers. The original hotel owners wallpapered on top of other wallpaper to redecorate. So it was sort of an excavation project. We removed large enough samples of the wallpaper so that it could be reproduced in the future. So it was two repeats of the pattern, 42 inches long. So I learned how to remove wallpaper intact, very painstakingly with steam and a spatula. That was a great project and now I love wallpaper.
Then I did a job a few years later with Tom Edmondson and Rebecca Shindel where we worked on wallpaper in the Truman home in Independence, Missouri. The Truman Home was being renovated for a new HVAC system and they had to do a lot of repair to the walls and the wallpaper had to come down for that. In the process it also needed a lot of treatment. So we took it down, washed it, because a lot of it had water damage and staining, we mended it, lined it and put it back up on the wall… We lined the wallpaper to a thick handmade paper with methyl cellulose. .. We used methyl cellulose for the lining and then we used wheat starch paste to apply it to the wall and we didn’t have any trouble with it coming apart. The trickiest part was the expansion and contraction of the wallpaper. Putting it back up on the wall the same dimensions as what it was originally required patience. Because the paper was so big, when you wet it out and put wheat starch paste on the back it expanded much larger than the wall, so we had to wait for it to dry and then shrink to the perfect height and then put it back up with perfect timing.
V: Do you have a favorite conservation tool?
A: I was given a horn folder that I use pretty frequently rather than a bone folder or Teflon folder. It was given to me by the director at Buffalo, Patrick Ravines, when he went to Peru.
V: What was the first thing you remember noticing seemed different in Cincinnati?
A: I thought it was really cool how much public art there was, especially huge murals on the sides of really beautiful historic buildings.
V: What kind of treatments do you like to do most?
A: I enjoy challenges. I like resurrecting things after people think they have long died. I’m very good at inpainting. I really enjoy inpainting. That’s not always needed though.
V: What are you most looking forward to in this job?
A: The variety of working for two institutions with completely different collections with curators with different goals and being able to meet everyone’s needs.
V: You said you had mentors?
A: Yes, my mentor lives in Kansas City: Whitney Baker at the University of Kansas. She was the first conservator I ever met. She took me under her wing and I worked for her for 3 years at the University of Kansas Libraries. If it wasn’t for her I probably would not be in conservation today. She introduced me to Tom Edmondson and Nancy Heugh and they’re like my conservation family now. We get together every time I‘m in Kansas City. I think Tom Edmondson and Nancy Heugh were the ones who really propelled me and encouraged me to go into graduate school.
V: Before you got here what was your favorite blog post from the Lab?
A: The ear was pretty cool but I think it was really neat to see how creative you guys were with box making, enclosures.
To help us get to know her a little better I asked Ashleigh a few general questions too. Here are some of her answers:
V: What’s your favorite movie?
A: That changes. Probably my all-time favorite movie has to be with Steve Martin in “The Jerk.”
V: Your favorite book?
A: It’s been a while since I’ve done some adult reading for fun. I read a lot of non-fiction lately. “Books Will Speak Plain,” by Julia Miller is the one I’ve been reading the most recently. The one that blew my mind as a kid was, “A Wrinkle in Time.”
V: Who’s your favorite artist?
A: Ursula Von Rydingsvard. She’s got these big wooden sculptures covered in graphite in the sculpture garden of the Nelson-Atkins museum in Kansas City. As a teenager, I was captivated by a quote of hers about Three Bowls where she said, “ I am drawn to that part of the world where man made walls erode in a way where there is no longer a strict line between what man has made and that which nature has made. That is what attracts me to ruins.”
V: If you could travel anywhere in the world where would you go and why?
A: Well, I’d really like to go visit different countries in Latin America. I find the culture of Latin America very interesting, especially having taken Spanish in undergrad.
V: Who do you think has influenced you the most personally?
A: Other than my family, my godmother Marie… It was hugely influential to have a person outside my family who was so deeply invested in my life and still is to this day. She traveled a lot and I think seeing her example is where I gained the courage to go out and try things and move all over the country.
V: Do you have any hobbies?
A: I enjoy gardening and cooking.
V: What is your favorite cuisine?
A: I guess Thai. That’s what I had for lunch today. I really love all food, whether it’s Barbeque, ethnic, chili…
V: Do you prefer coffee or tea?
A: I drink a lot of coffee but spruce it up with cardamom and cinnamon… to relax I like to drink jasmine tea.
V: What are you most looking forward to in Cincinnati?
A: The chili. I actually went to the Camp Washington chili place and it was good. I ordered the chili cheese fries and they were fantastic!
V: Do you play any musical instruments?
A: I grew up playing the piano which I was horrible at. I hated practicing. However, working at the musical instrument museum in Phoenix re-inspired me to pick it up again and now I love playing.
V: Do you have any pets?
A: I’m kind of a dog person but I have 2 cats because I travel a lot. I’m definitely an animal lover.
V: How many cities have you lived in?
A: Kansas City; Lawrence, Kansas; Mesa, Arizona; Buffalo, New York; Boston; Paducah, Kentucky; Northampton, England for 2 months; L.A. and Cincinnati… 9 places.
V: Which one is your favorite so far?
A: My top three, how’s that? Boston is a really cool city. I really ended up loving it there, but I love, love, love the Southwest. Phoenix and L.A. are probably my favorite just because of all the hiking. It was so exotic when I came from Kansas to see mountains, palm trees, cactus plants…
V: How do you feel about zombies?
A: (laughing) I think we’re not prepared enough. No, I don’t know… I used to know someone that had a zombie kit in their car and they used to wear bracelets on their wrists that in the case of a zombie attack they could be used for measuring…That’s all I know about zombies. I’ve really never watched any zombie movies, shamefully.
Veronica Sorcher (PLCH) —- Conservation Technician