On the job with…Milwaukee Art Museum conservators

Jim DeYoung uses a solution of purified water to wash an 18th century engraved medieval print in a technique called blotter washing. Credit: Kat Schleicher Photography

Every day, before thousands of local and out-of-town guests enter the Milwaukee Art Museum, Jim DeYoung and his small team of conservators inspect the art. 

Some days, their highly-trained eyes spot a tiny scratch on a piece of medieval folk art. Other mornings, their specialized touch is used to dust a 200-year-old painting.

“Usually, if something comes down here with damage, our intelligence network missed something,” said DeYoung, the museum’s senior conservator, who has worked at MAM for 41 years. 

DeYoung specializes in works of art on paper, although he said he and his staff are all generalists.

Generalist or not, the road to becoming a conservator is long, with jobs requiring a master’s degree and years-long apprenticeships, followed by career training throughout the profession.

“It takes years to acquire the skills, a light touch and a good sense of observation,” DeYoung said. “Anything I can do to keep these people on board, I do. We are all family.”

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