In Memoriam

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Catherine (Kitty) Nicholson Donnelly (1948 — 2020)

Kitty, ink consolidation for the Charters project, Courtesy of the Conservation Laboratory, National Archives and Records Administration.

Kitty Nicholson (Catherine Nicholson Donnelly) passed away on October 2, 2020. She is survived by her husband Hank, her son Rob and daughter-in-law Gwen; her sister Ann Yelin, brother Jim Nicholson, extended family; and a wide range of friends and professional colleagues.

Kitty graduated from Brown University (BA in art history) and the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation (MFA). She had broad professional interests but focused primarily on the treatment and preservation of paper, ink, and parchment. Kitty held conservation positions at the National Museum of American History and the National Gallery of Art, as well as internships at the Boston Public Library and the National Archives. She joined the staff of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in 1984 and remained there for the rest of her professional career.

During her tenure at NARA, Kitty was responsible for conservation aspects of the exhibits program and developed exhibition standards and specifications for display, mounting, and materials. She worked closely with conservation staff and interns, for whom she was a dedicated teacher and mentor. Kitty was a key member of the team responsible for the re-encasement and treatment of the Charters of Freedom (Declaration of Independence, US Constitution, and Bill of Rights) and provided technical oversight during restoration of the Faulkner Murals in the National Archives Building Rotunda. Over the span of her career at NARA, she was involved in all aspects of the lab’s work, from establishing treatment protocols and policies to directing the work of conservators; she retired in 2013 as Deputy Director of Conservation. She also found time to conduct research (notably writing about William Stone’s engravings of the Declaration of Independence) and was actively involved in developing the Paper Catalog for the American Institute for Conservation.

Kitty’s active professional life was balanced by an equally broad array of personal interests and pursuits. She was active member of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church (Capitol Hill) where she helped to oversee educational programs for adults and youth. Kitty also liked to garden, was a member of two book clubs, was an advocate for solar energy, and she was an excellent cook! She practiced yoga, liked to swim, and for many summers taught swimming to kids through a program at American University. In addition, she and her husband were avid travelers; Egypt, Turkey, and the Greek Isles were just a few of their destinations.

Kitty lived a full and active life, and she made many lasting contributions to the field of conservation. Her personal pursuits touched a wide array of friends and family. She will be missed. A memorial service was held for Kitty on October 27, 2020; it will be available indefinitely for anyone who wants to learn more about Kitty and the marvelous life she led, and to mourn her passing:

—Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler, 

Stephen James Ernest Gayler (1977 — 2020)

Stephen J. Gayler, courtesy of Modern Art Conservation

Our dear colleague and friend, Stephen Gayler (“Steve” to many, “Number 1” to his family), passed away on September 25, 2020. Stephen was a gifted conservator of modern and contemporary art paintings. His passion for modern art and his problem-solving skills, great sense of humor, and true kindness to others made him a beloved member of the conservation community. He leaves behind many colleagues who became his good friends. Stephen was known among his close colleagues and friends for his love of James Bond (Roger Moore, more specifically), Daniel Silva novels, “Cheese O’Clock” (as he called it), his brothers (Number 2 and Number 3, as he lovingly referred to them), kayaking (or canoeing—we were never sure), and his pets, as well as his incredible memory for details, Britishisms, and use of words like “groovy,” “ciao,” and “anon.” He will be particularly missed by the team past and present at Modern Art Conservation (MAC), including myself, who had the good fortune to work with Stephen for five years and to be his colleague and friend for 11 years.

Stephen Gayler at work, courtesy of ArtCare.

Born and raised in England, Stephen studied art at Bath Spa University College, receiving a BA in Fine Art Painting in 1999. He began his conservation career at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London earning a Post Graduate Diploma in the Conservation of Easel Paintings. Between 2004 and 2007, Stephen worked at the Tate, The Courtauld Gallery, and with Katherine Ara, William Charles Mackinnon, and International Fine Art Conservation Studios. But Stephen always wanted to explore the world, so he traveled and worked abroad in countries ranging from Italy to Japan. In 2007, Stephen was awarded the Mellon Fellowship in Paintings Conservation at the Balboa Art Conservation Center in San Diego and moved to the US. Ultimately, he chose to settle here, and recently and proudly became a US citizen.

In 2008, Stephen and his then wife moved to NYC. Stephen first worked at Fine Art Conservation Group as Assistant Paintings Conservator. With a growing passion for and dedication to the conservation of modern and contemporary paintings, joined Modern Art Conservation (MAC) in 2010 and served as Associate Conservator for five years. The day he interviewed, he arrived as the consummate Englishman—umbrella in hand, jaunty flat cap on his head. At that time, the practice was small, and Stephen immediately became an invaluable colleague, helping grow the business to include multiple conservators, art handlers, a registrar, and a photographer. He oversaw and trained interns and conservation students, always extremely generous with his knowledge and time.

Stephen Gayler at MAC, working on a large-scale painting with Jason Byers and Nina Engel, courtesy of Modern Art Conservation.

Stephen had a particular expertise in structural conservation but carried out all types of challenging treatments including an 80-foot-long Keith Haring mural, many mid-century modern artworks from a fire-damaged collection, countless Warhol paintings, painted sculptures by Kusama and Oldenburg, and an array of non-traditional works by Dan Colen and other contemporary artists. He helped design a large prototype vacuum hot table that could be used in sections to maximize its usefulness and minimize power/resources. He saved numerous paintings damaged by Hurricane Sandy and, during that time when Chelsea was flooded and without power, offered to climb nine flights up our fire escape to check on the safety of the studio; I reminded him we had a staircase that, although dark, would be safer with the help of a flashlight. He was inventive in his conservation approach and creative in solving the myriad of conservation problems presented by modern and contemporary materials. And he was a wonderful person work with every day.

At MAC, Stephen also attended art fairs in New York and Miami, always making new connections. We knew he had reached a high point of networking when, at the Armory Show, he came upon a fragment of paint on the floor under a painting. Carefully slipping his business card under the fragment, he handed both to the gallerist, most certainly bringing some Bond charm to the moment. Stephen helped design and move our studio to a space three times the size we had been in, always supporting the risks we took to expand the business as a respected part of both the conservation community and the art world at large. He seemed proud to be a part of the MAC and was always thrilled when a work by a favorite artist would come his way—Ryman, Noland, Agnes Martin, to name a few.

But Stephen also has a desire to create his own artwork; in 2015, he left MAC to focus on his own art practice, creating beautiful whimsical ceramics of hippos, paint tubes, books, and paintbrushes. Soon after, he relocated to Los Angeles, CA, where he returned to conservation, helping ArtCare expand their practice. Ultimately, he started his own practice, SG Modern Conservation, and moved to Palm Desert, CA, where he lived until he passed away much too soon.

We have lost a young vibrant member of our conservation community. He will be truly missed by so many who were lucky enough to have known him. Anon, dear Stephen.

—Suzanne Siano, Director and Chief Conservator, Modern Art Conservation, New York, 

Hildegard Heine (1966 — 2020)

Hildegard Heine, portrait courtesy Anne Heine.

With profound sadness we share here news of the death of our colleague and friend Hildegard Heine. Hildegard was a passionate conservator with a specialization in organic objects and preventive conservation. She started her career with pre-program internships in Spain and Germany, followed by a degree in wooden objects conservation from the University of Applied Sciences in Cologne, Germany. At university, she embraced her lasting love of working with collections from indigenous and world cultures, with an internship in the organics conservation lab at the British Museum followed by one with Dale Kronkright in New Mexico. During her post-graduate work at CCI in Ottawa, Canada, she divided her time between object research and treatment and preventive conservation theory and practice. Subsequently she joined Ruth Norton’s international conservation team at the Field Museum of Natural History (the Field) in Chicago for six years. The design, implementation, and teaching resources that she created for re-housing and transport of the Field’s extensive and fragile Pacific collections was one of her lasting contributions.

In 2009, Hildegard returned to Germany where she built her own successful private practice and worked for a wide range of cultural institutions. At the University of Applied Sciences in Berlin, she contributed to two research projects: the development of a modular and sustainable display case system, and refinements to accelerated corrosion testing (Oddy) through standardized equipment and evaluation methods. She also taught in the universities’ conservation degree program. In 2018, Hildegard joined the Museumsverband Thüringen, in Erfurt, where she provided conservation advice to independent museums in Thuringia, notably on strategies to improve collection storage and disaster preparedness planning.

Hildegard working on a pulpit, courtesy of Markus Döll.

Hildegard’s remarkable abilities enabled her to move seamlessly between practical conservation treatment, preventive conservation, organization, and planning and research. Her keen analytical mind, her focus on problem solving and successful outcomes, her ability and proclivity for sharing knowledge, and the dynamism she brought to any team were all much prized by her colleagues.

Hildegard’s sense of fairness was greatly disturbed when, due to new European Union legislation, Germany’s conservation degrees from Universities of Applied Sciences before 2010 were downgraded from the equivalent of MA to BA level. Together with two colleagues, she started a working group within the German conservation association VdR to overturn this decision; through persistence and collaborative efforts, they were successful in obtaining a legal opinion to that effect in 2018.

Hildegard’s friends, colleagues and acquaintances will remember her energy, warmth and exuberance, creativity, humor, and her open and honest approach to life. Only a few months ago, she bid for a plot of land near Erfurt to build a modular house and took up cabinetmaking again to build her own furniture. She also bought herself an inflatable kayak and, in early October, went on a 10-day kayaking trip near Berlin. In the prime of life and without any prior known illness, she died unexpectedly, yet peacefully, in her tent on that trip into the natural world that she so enjoyed.

Hildegard leaves behind her father and five siblings. We will all miss her very much.

—Monika Harter Head of Conservation, Landesmuseum Württemberg Stuttgart,, with contributions from several colleagues

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