Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation in conjunction with Voices in Contemporary Art: Conservation Fellowships, 2018-present

In 2018, the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation (RRF), Voices in Contemporary Art (VoCA), and the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation (WUDPAC) launched a groundbreaking partnership which provides a new educational model for conservation in contemporary art, while addressing the specific needs of an artist endowed foundation. The fellowships offer second year conservation students intensive exposure to the material demands of contemporary art, while addressing RRFs particular conservation concerns. This multi-year collaboration pairs a team of leading conservators from VoCA with conservation graduate fellows and professors of conservation and conservation science from WUDPAC who work closely with staff at RRF to demonstrate and realize the highest levels of research, scholarship, and art stewardship for RRF’s artwork holdings. 

The partnership serves two of RRF’s current strategic ambitions: conducting a collections survey and launching a catalogue raisonné project. These goals are advanced through deep technical study of selected works and the development of a comprehensive collections manual to support the long-term care of Rauschenberg’s diverse and prolific output. 

Furthermore, in its commitment to fostering the education of future art professionals, RRF has collaborative programs with graduate art history programs. As will be the case when the Winterthur fellows enter the professional world, the program with RRF and VoCA has offered the opportunity for dialogue between the conservation and art history students on topics of shared interest.


Year One (2018–2019)

In the inaugural year of the collaboration, RRF hosted two fellowships, which united the study of the materiality and process of Rauschenberg’s work with the conservation of the intangible aspects of his art as well as the long-term care of his pieces. Jennifer Myers, WUDPAC fellow, completed a material study of Rauschenberg’s paintings c. 1951-53, with particular focus on the Night Blooming (1951) series. She also studied the long-term stability of materials commonly used in their storage. Natalya Swanson, WUDPAC fellow, focused on the use of metal in Rauschenberg's painting and sculpture. She carried out technical examinations of pieces in both the Borealis (1988–92) and Cooperhead (1985/1989) series. Methods for documenting change in shiny, reflective metals surfaces was an additional focus of her research. 

In collaboration with the WUDPAC fellows and VoCA, RRF hosted two study days. One was dedicated to best practices for storage and shipment of Rauschenberg’s sculpture series, Gluts (1986–89/1991–94). The other was a two-day meeting devoted to Rauschenberg’s Night Bloomings and black paintings (1951–53) attended by art historians, museum curators, conservators, and artists who have conserved, studied, written on, or are tasked with the care of these artworks.


Year Two (2019–2020)

The second year of the fellowship focused on Rauschenberg’s textile works, and specifically his Hoarfrost (1974–76) series. Maddie Cooper, WUDPAC fellow, has used the series to develop her expertise in design and execution of condition surveys, scientific analysis of storage materials, environmental analysis of display areas, and emergency response training for gallery spaces. The combination of the outcomes of this work will guide the long-term care of this series, and others, in private and public collections.

The WUDPAC fellows, VoCA, and RRF hosted a two-part virtual study day investigating conservation concerns surrounding aging rubber and Rauschenberg's methodology and use of found tire treads in his Venetian series (1972–73).


Year Three (2020–2021)

The third year of this partnership continued a focus on textile work, and added a new element by honing in on Rauschenberg’s works that include rubber. In the Summer of 2020, Kris Cnossen, WUDPAC fellow, worked remotely and created an extensive sheer fabric library – both physically and digitally. During the Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 semester, the partnership team focused on a 1973 work from the Venetian series as a case study to investigate the effectiveness of anoxic storage for tire rubber. Kris compared the large body of work that already exists with regard to the degradation and storage of rubber and focused on whether anoxic storage is an effective and practical preservation strategy. In the year after their fellowship, Kris continued to work with a team on a Rauschenberg-related case study entitled Environmental Impacts of Anoxia Treatments.


Year Four (2021–2022)

In the fourth year of our partnership, Elle Friedberg and Sarah Freshnock (our two WUDPAC fellows) focused their research on inkjet transfer artworks by Robert Rauschenberg made between 1992-2008. Elle embarked on an analytical investigation of Rauschenberg’s dye and pigment-based inkjet transfer works, in an effort to identify colorants and elucidate their fading patterns. She also designed an item level survey for these artworks, and used it as a tool to document a portion of the collection. Sarah researched the efficacy of cold storage to extend color fastness for these large inkjet transfer prints. Her analytical work centered on one specific conservation adhesive—poly vinyl acetate (PVA)—with the goal of ascertaining if PVA could be safely frozen and thawed without negative effect on the works of art. She complemented this work with an investigation of the environmental, social, and economic sustainability of cold storage for this large collection within the context of the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation holdings.


Year Five (2022–2023)

The fifth year of the partnership focused on time based media, specifically the Carnal Clocks (1969) series. WUDPAC fellow Daniella Briceño Villamil carried out a materials research study of the mirroring process Rauschenberg used in the series. This study involved archival research and an analysis of the clock face of Arrow (Carnal Clock) (1969), using portable analytical instrumentation. Building on this technical examination, Daniella’s preventive conservation project drew on Rauschenberg’s intent, philosophies of time, and current conservation practices to pose the question “How important is time accuracy in these time-based artworks?” In the summer of 2023, Daniella partnered with the Conservation Center of the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University time-based media conservation student Adrián Hernández to design and execute a detailed condition survey of the Carnal Clocks in the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation holdings. Their focus was on the functional time accuracy of the works and developing a glossary of terms to describe the condition of the clock faces.


Project Team

Unless otherwise indicated, team members participated throughout the entire collaboration.


Jennifer Myers, WUDPAC Fellow (Year One)

Natalya Swanson, WUDPAC Fellow (Year One)

Maddie Cooper, WUDPAC Fellow (Year Two)

Kris Cnossen, WUDPAC Fellow (Year Three)

Dr. Joelle Wickens, Assistant Professor of Preventive Conservation and WUDPAC Associate Director, University of Delaware

Debbie Hess Norris, Chair, Department of Art Conservation, University of Delaware

Dr. Rosie Grayburn, Winterthur Associate Scientist & Head of SRAL, and Affiliated Associate Professor, University of Delaware

William Donnelly, Winterthur Associate Preventive Conservator, and Affiliated Assistant Professor, University of Delaware

Laura Mina, Winterthur Associate Conservator of Textiles & Head of Textile Lab and Affiliated Assistant Professor, University of Delaware (Year Two)

Lara Kaplan, Winterthur Objects Conservator, and Affiliated Assistant Professor, University of Delaware (Year Three)

Robert Rauschenberg Foundation: 

Julia Blaut, Senior Director of Curatorial Affairs 

Thomas Roach, Director of Art Services 

Francine Snyder, Director of Archives 

Brittany Richmond, Research Assistant (Year One)

Kristen Clevenson, Assistant Curator (Year Two, Year Three)


Jill Sterrett, Independent Arts and Cultural Heritage Advisor

Michelle Barger, Head of Conservation, SFMOMA 

Jennifer Hickey, Paintings Conservator, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (Year One)

Lauren Shadford, VoCA Executive Director 

Margaret Graham, VoCA Program & Communications Manager 

Two people examining part of a yellow, metal artwork. One is holding a shining a light, and the other is holding up a smartphone. The artwork is propped up on a white cushion and blue blanket.

WUDPAC fellow Jennifer Myers and conservator Christine Frohnert at the Glut study day, July 17–18, 2019.