Furniture Conservation Training Program
The FCTP was a unique graduate-level program, designed to allow experienced woodworkers and practicing restorers to pursue advanced mid-career re-orientation of their professional activities into the field of professional, museum quality, furniture conservation.
An innovative curriculum, based on three years of intensive course work with 4 two-week courses per year, combined with extensive home study assignments, plus a one-year internship with a recognized furniture conservator, allowed the students' to maintain employment during their studies.
Upon completion of the program, students received a SCMRE certificate and, through an arrangement with Antioch University, were eligible for a Master's degree in furniture conservation.
By the infusion of these numbers of well trained conservators in a field where a severe shortage of such professionals existed, and still does, the FCTP can be credited with redefining furniture conservation in the USA.
What is furniture conservation?
Stated simply, conservation of furniture and other artifacts is the synthesis of three major endeavors; the minimization of deterioration (preservation), the consolidation (stabilization) of artifacts as they currently exist, and repair/replacement (compensation or restoration) of existing damage. In order to best preserve artifacts, the causes of deterioration are studied to understand how they can be minimized. The same quest for understanding is evident in devising the treatment of objects, in that processes and materials are tested for stability, safety toward the object, and effectiveness.
Beginning in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, artistic and historic objects were being examined in a scholarly manner. Their importance as cultural documents was identified and, as such, the need to preserve them became evident. Museum professionals realized the benefit of interdisciplinary study, recognizing that scientific inquiry could be applied in concert with artistic, technological and historical studies and lead to a better understanding of objects and their deterioration/preservation processes. Early conservation professionals became committed to open communication of ideas and techniques, so that preservation and treatment processes could be examined objectively.
THE FURNITURE CONSERVATION TRAINING PROGRAM
The furniture conservation discipline is much newer than the conservation profession as a whole, having emerged only within the last few decades,. This is due primarily to the relatively recent acceptance of furniture as historically and artistically important, and the dearth of serious students in furniture preservation. Noting the widespread need for practitioners of furniture conservation, the Furniture Laboratory staff of the Smithsonian Center for Materials Research & Education proposed a comprehensive educational program to fulfill this need, the result being the establishment of the Furniture Conservation Training Program (FCTP) in 1986.
The Program is a graduate-level course of study intended to prepare experienced and skilled woodworkers for careers in furniture conservation. The curriculum consists of twelve sequential two-week-long courses offered at three month intervals, followed by a one year, full-time internship in a furniture conservation laboratory including a research project and thesis. This unusual format allows students to maintain their current employment and other commitments for the first three years while pursuing formal training in furniture conservation. After completion of the Program, a Certificate will be awarded by the Smithsonian Center for Materials Research & Education. Although the Smithsonian Institution is not a degree-granting body, students accepted into the Program may receive an M.A. through the Independent Master of Arts Program of Antioch University, Yellow Springs, Ohio, whose faculty has judged the FCTP curriculum to fulfill their requirements for a Master's degree. The Smithsonian Center for Materials Research & Educationhas no institutional affiliation with Antioch University, so students who wish to utilize this option must do so individually.
The purpose of the Furniture Conservation Training Program is to integrate craft and technical skills with the ethical and philosophical bases of the profession and enable graduates to contribute toward the preservation of wooden artifacts within this framework. Woodworking is only one of several skills required of a furniture conservator. Other areas include knowledge of material technology, organic, inorganic and physical chemistry, cultural and art history, methods of analysis, written and photodocumentation, in addition to conservation practices. An excellent cabinetmaker can be a poor conservator. The outlook of the conservator is the key attribute which makes the difference - specifically, respect for the integrity of the object, the desire for minimally intrusive actions, and the concern for the long-term stability of the artifact.
Each of the twelve courses covers a specific furniture conservation subject area. Instruction will be by SCMRE staff and visiting faculty. Taken as a whole, the sequence provides an introduction to furniture conservation, including materials science and technology, furniture history, scientific analysis, and applied furniture conservation. The courses are very intensive, generally running from 9 AM to 6 PM daily. The lecture component for each course varies from three to six days long, and may be opened to outside attendees. The remainder of each course is a structured laboratory session solely for FCTP students. Most coursework will be held at the Smithsonian Center for Materials Research & Education, located in the Smithsonian's Museum Support Center in Suitland, Maryland, about 7 miles from downtown Washington, DC.
Prior to each course, extensive background readings will be assigned. Homework may also be assigned, such as completion of procedures too complex or lengthy for the two-week course format. A three-hour written examination will be given for each course. Other activities, such as written research and oral presentations, may be substituted for the examination. The experience of current students indicates that between each course, approximately 10 - 20 hours per week are devoted to Program-related work. Guidelines appropriate to graduate studies will be applied as they pertain to academic standing, i.e. probation or dismissal. Due to the nature of the courses, the internship serves the critical function of providing a supervised environment in which the knowledge gained previously can be integrated fully.