Henry Lie of Harvard Art Museums announces retirement

Henry Lie examining the interior of a bronze leg.
Henry Lie examining the interior of a bronze leg.

Henry Lie, Conservator of Objects and Sculpture at the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies at the Harvard Art Museums has announced his retirement in July of this year. After obtaining his graduate training at the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation, interning at the Walters Art Museum, and working on archeological excavations in England, Cyprus and Israel, Henry came to the Art Museums as a fellow in the Objects and Sculpture Lab in 1980. This represented a return to Harvard, where he came to love the collections while completing his A.B. in Fine Arts in 1976. He was named Director of Conservation in 1990 and served in that capacity through 2014.
In the 1980’s, when the department was heavily invested in work for outside institutions, Henry contributed to the national debate on the cleaning and preservation of outdoor bronzes, participating in the Save Outdoor Sculpture initiative in Washington, D.C., and leading the objects lab in treating many large scale bronze monuments, in the Boston metropolitan area, New England and at Harvard. Also during this period, Henry and his staff worked on a number of monumental mounting and restoration treatments including the Assyrian relief sculptures at Dartmouth, Bowdoin and Middlebury colleges and the Antioch mosaic at Smith College. The disassembly and treatment of Harvard’s marble of the emperor Trajan in the Fogg’s shipping room was one of his first treatment projects as a staff member and in part led to the lab’s involvement in other large-scale work.
Henry was an early promoter of computer imaging in the service of technical documentation and with technical art historian Ron Spronk developed improved methods of infrared image capture and mosaicing and layering of IRR, X-ray and color images using off-the-shelf software, which they presented internationally and used extensively in the Museums’ Mondrian: Transatlantic Paintings catalog. He was invited by the Getty Conservation Institute to contribute to meetings of the Conservation Imaging Consortium seeking to encourage the development of new digital tools for technical studies. He was also an author for Robin Thomes’s Object ID: Guidelines for Making Records That Describe Art, Antiques and Antiquities from Getty Publications, in which he advanced simple systems for distinguishing artifacts using aspects of their physical attributes.
Henry and Narayan Khandekar worked with the Andrew W. Mellon foundation in 2001 to define the Museum’s Post-Graduate Fellowship in Conservation Science. Georgina Rayner is the current and fifth three-year fellow and the program has now been endowed as the Beale Family Post-Graduate Fellowship in Conservation Science.
During his tenure, Henry led conservation department-taught undergraduate and graduate courses in the department of the History of Art and Architecture entitled “HAA 101, The Materials of Art” and “HAA 206 Science and the Practice of Art History.” Hundreds of students took these popular seminar courses while Henry was director. Applying the resources and collections at hand, he and his staff encouraged students to handle and look closely at objects, and try the tools, materials, and techniques used to make and examine art. He demonstrated and taught students to look and think critically and creatively. He says that one of his greatest joys at the Museums was assembling groups of bronze casts for the class and using them one-on-one with individual students to help explain the intricacies of the fabrication process. Concurrent with teaching students at Harvard, Henry led his staff in the department’s rich tradition of training conservation fellows in the Straus Center’s advanced-level training program.
Henry considers himself fortunate to have had the chance to contribute to several exhibition catalogs. Working with Carol Mattusch of George Mason University, he provided the technical chapter and entries for bronzes in The Fire of Hephaistos: Large Classical Bronzes in North American Collections catalog in 1996. Four years later he again collaborated with Carol on the study of sculptures from the National Archeological Museum, Naples, to produce Carol’s book, The Villa dei Papiri at Herculaneum, Life and afterlife of a Sculpture Collection. In 1999 Henry authored technical chapters and with Ivan Gaskell co-edited Sketches in Clay for Projects by Gian Lorenzo Bernini: Theoretical, Technical, and Case Studies. Tony Sigel’s description of Bernini’s working methods in this catalog served as a springboard for his important subsequent work on these Bernini models and those in other collections. After a one week whirlwind tour of Italy and Switzerland in 2002 with Harry Cooper and independent scholar, Sharon Hecker, Henry provided a technical chapter for Harry’s book, Medardo Rosso, Second Impressions, describing the artist’s unusual working methods. Most recently he has had the opportunity to provide hundreds of technical entries for Susanne Ebbinghaus’s catalog of ancient bronzes. He points out, with some degree of pain, that this included drilling small samples for analysis from over eight hundred of these objects. With Francesca Bewer, Henry wrote a chapter for the catalog of these bronzes, Ex Aere Factum: Technical Notes on Ancient Bronzes.
Henry has received several awards for his work over the years:

  • College Art Association/National Institute for Conservation Joint Award for Excellence in Conservation, 1997
  • Samuel H. Kress Paired Fellowship for Research in Conservation and Art History/Archaeology, Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, National Gallery of Art, 1998
  • College Art Association 2006 Charles Rufus Morey Award for The Villa dei Papiri at Herculaneum, Life and afterlife of a Sculpture Collection, Carol C. Mattusch with Henry Lie, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 2005

–Harvard Art Museums