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The Art of the Invisible: Conserving Culture with ICA

Equal parts science laboratory and fine art museum, ICA - Art Conservation (ICA) is located on a nondescript avenue in Cleveland's West Side in what was once a vitrolite showroom. The building now houses a team of conservators and countless works of art and history at any given time. Founded in 1952, ICA was the first nonprofit regional art conservation center in the United States. 

The original intent of six Midwestern museum directors was to provide high quality, cost-effective art conservation services. The mission has not changed over the years, ICA's conservators remain hard at work preserving priceless artifacts (some may have a price tag, but it's really not about that) and conserving pieces of art that provide us an integral glimpse into the past. 

Earlier in August, OAC staff had the chance to tour ICA's facilities, hear the stories behind often-unseen process of art conservation, and congratulate them on their 2016 OAC grant award. The offices are a beautiful in their paradoxes, a place where a 1936 Green Bay Packers championship flag and a late-Renaissance altar piece find a home beside petri dishes and scalpels. “Art conservation is an important combination of art and science,” Jennifer Souers Chevraux, ICA's education outreach officer, tells me as we make our way past a creative triage of expansive maps, fragile photographs, and recognizable public art pieces. Medical tools find new use among parchments and pigments, and it is easy to let your mind categorize the conservators as art surgeons--delicately diagnosing and treating to prolong the life of these pieces. 

Similar to specialties in medicine, each media--paper, textiles, painting, and objects--all have their place in ICA, and a professional conservator on call. "We’re very lucky to be one of the few states that have a regional center, let alone a facility that houses all the disciplines,” said Souers Chevraux. Collaboration happens often among conservators at ICA, across the Midwest, and beyond. 

Textiles come in from historic homes or institutions like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Paintings and Paper materials occupy the center of ICA's offices amidst "Do Not Wake the Art" signs. Objects often becomes a catchall category, everything from pieces destined for public eyes (hello, Oldenburg's Free Stamp) to heirlooms that time forgot but families did not.

"The best conservation is invisible," said Souers Chevraux. "If the job is done correctly, the pieces continue to exist as they always should."
To keep up with ICA's recent projects--sign up for their newsletter, get a peek behind the scenes on social media (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram), and check out their website for more information.  





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