Kelly Rectenwald Merges Chemistry and Anthropology as an Art Conservator

As the Cincinnati Art Museum’s Associate Objects Conservator, Kelly Rectenwald is in charge of repairing and preserving the museum’s three-dimensional objects so that they can be enjoyed by visitors for years to come. She discusses the value her job provides her and the community at large for our February 2021 “Cincinnati At Work” issue.

Photograph by Devyn Glista

Age

33

Title/Occupation

Associate Objects Conservator, Cincinnati Art Museum

How long have you been in this job and field of work?

I’ve been the objects conservator at the Cincinnati Art Museum for seven years, and I’ve been in the field of conservation for more than 10.

Why did you get into this field of work?

I was introduced to conservation while working on an archaeological dig. It was a perfect combination of my two majors, chemistry and anthropology. I’d always expected that I would need to choose between the two for a career, so finding this unique field was very exciting.

Best part of your job?

Every object I work on is unique, so I always have a new problem to solve and am constantly challenged. It means that I’m always learning new things every day.

Worst part?

Objects conservators work on all three-dimensional works of art, including almost any material you can think of. Because you have to be familiar with so many different materials, it often makes you feel like a master of none.

What value does this work provide to the community at large?

We can experience and express so many things through art. It has an undeniable positive impact on us. We help preserve and protect artworks so they’re available for our community to enjoy and learn from in the present and future.

What value does it provide you?

I absolutely love what I do. I’m happy to help preserve our material culture for future generations to learn from and enjoy.

How has the pandemic impacted your work?

During the quarantine when I was working from home, it forced me to catch up on research and writing treatment reports, things I’m often behind on. I also fixed a lot of broken things I had laying around to keep up my hand skills!

Fun fact about your job the public wouldn’t know?

If anyone finds a bug in the museum, it gets placed in a bag and sent to me! That’s because bugs can pose a big threat to wooden and textile objects in the collection; an old sweater or chest of drawers is a tasty treat. I’ve spent many hours identifying them under a microscope to ensure they aren’t the kind that eat wood or textile collections.

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