A few words about the Faculty of Conservation and Restoration of Works of Art in the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, Poland
The Faculty of Conservation and Restoration of Works of Arts in the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw is located in the centre of the capital of Poland, on a quiet street alongside the Vistula river. Between the street and the river there is a lovely park which creates an atmosphere of a sheltered asylum.
At first it is not easy to find your way around the faculty building. There are long corridors and many stairs and floors leading to a number of large and small studios, each with a different purpose and character. Here, side by side, you can find a sterile clean laboratory and a messy atelier full of chaos and artistic passion. Compared to other academic institutions, the atmosphere you can feel is extraordinary. The dignity of a higher education institution mixes with the artistic need for creation; affection for the past is well combined with the use of new achievements in science and technology; and an artistic talent is stimulated for expression and, at the same time, restrained by obligatory precision.
The academic year starts with the surrounding noise of hammers clanging – generated by the first-year students, who are preparing their canvases for still-life oil paintings, in Netherlandish baroque style. This exercise in technology of easel painting lasts for a whole year. In a month, the same noise will be made by second years, specialising in conservation and restoration of historic books, prints and leather, during the backing of their first books sewn by themselves. Other rooms are completely quiet. The girls from textile conservation spend long hours copying mediaeval embroideries or stitching unattached threads of those vestments, that are undergoing conservation treatment. In the rooms located in the lowest part of the building, students from conservation of sculpture, covered in chalky dust, battle with the tough matter of monuments from a historical cemetery. Their work produces a lot of noise, but no one from the levels above can hear it.
The aura of concentration is disrupted for a while at 1 p.m., break time between the morning and afternoon classes. It is especially important during first year, since exercises and lectures frequently last until 8 p.m. It is also an opportunity to rest for a while, to spend time with friends and to check notes again before an upcoming exam. After this loud pause during the day, silence descends over the corridors. Only the mild scent of solvents or the muffled sound of backing tables reveal, that conservation treatments are being applied behind the closed doors of the studios.
Future conservators-restorers are trained in four specialisations: conservation and restoration of paintings and polychrome sculpture; conservation and restoration of books, prints and antique leather; conservation and restoration of sculpture and architectural ornaments; conservation and restoration of historic textiles. Studies last six years. The curriculum of studies includes materials science classes specific to each specialisation, as well as other courses, such as historical artistic techniques, technology of artistic and conservation materials, chemistry for conservators, professional ethics, history of art and philosophy. Students work with authentic historical objects, so that they can learn how to preserve and restore them properly and with respect, under the supervision of professionals. From the very beginning of the faculty, classes have been based on an educational model of the master-student relationship. Small number of students is crucial for the processes of teaching and learning of vast amounts of knowledge – both theoretical and practical. Manual skills and sensitivity are developed in typical artistic classes – painting, drawing, sculpting and making prints. Education in technology and techniques of works of art is realised both in the form of lectures and during practical work, such as making technologically-accurate copies in museums and libraries. Thanks to these classes, every student has a chance to obtain the knowledge of how the relevant work of art is made, by analysing thoroughly every step of its creation.
The education of the future conservators-restorers is completed through annual practice during summer, performed in various institutions all over the country and even abroad. The last year of study is dedicated to the Master’s Thesis. During that time, the student writes a theoretical thesis and conducts conservation-restoration of a chosen object, under the supervision of the promoter.
The programme of educating the future conservators-restorers of works of art has been perfected and improved over the years. Nowadays, the graduates have the knowledge, skill and experience that allows them to undertake conservation treatments by themselves or to lead a team of conservators in a project.
It is important to remember that the very beginnings of the Warsaw centre for educating conservators-restorers, were very unstable. Its founders had unshakable resolve and, consequently, fought constantly for the good of historical and cultural objects, thereby shaping the current status of the faculty.
The faculty was established after World War II, during Poland’s slow and difficult revival. The Nazi occupation of 1939, and its fundamental aim of destroying everything connected with Polish culture, had a dreadful, devastating impact on the heritage of this country. The Nazis systematically reduced to ashes the most valuable monuments, relics and symbols of Polish pride, bearing in mind the maxim that a “nation lives as long as its cultural monuments survive”. Due to many Nazi bombardments, an enormous number of invaluable buildings ceased to exist. Almost all collections of works of art, craftsmanship, unique codices and historical archives, stored in many public institutions or in private ownership, were stolen and moved out of the country or else destroyed. In Warsaw, the most devastating havoc was wreaked during and after the Warsaw Uprising in the late 1944. The destruction performed by the Nazis at that time was punishment for the rebellion having taken place. Devastation of whole districts of Warsaw resulted in deformation of the urban landscape – in effect, the very identity of the city was endangered.
After the war ended in 1945, the time had arrived to preserve and restore those objects of Polish culture that had survived. There were not many left and for that reason, they were even more valuable. A great number of specialists were needed to take care of artefacts spared by the war. At that time, the main problem were conservation-restoration ‘treatments’ undertaken by amateurs. Another issue was the fact that the Polish government, henceforth, was identifying conservation with restoration. Therefore, it became necessary to create a centre where the art of saving artefacts, monuments and objects of cultural heritage would be taught properly.
Thanks to Prof. Bohdan Marconi, Edward Kokoszko, Michał Walicki and Ksawery Piwocki, in 1947 it was possible to create the Studio of Conservation of Paintings in the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, which was changed in 1950 to the Faculty of Conservation. The newly created faculty had five specialisations – conservation of paintings, conservation of decorative art, conservation of sculpture, conservation of graphics and conservation of wall paintings. During that time, there were lectures and classes in subjects like history of art, history and theory of conservation, ‘hand-free perspective’, technology, physics and chemistry, drawing, painting and sculpting. Thanks to Marconi, who was the dean of the faculty at that time, conservation studies gained a comprehensive character whereby conservation skills were connected with scientific research and humanitarian studies.
Two years after the faculty was created, many changes occurred in the structures of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. Unfortunately, the faculty was rearranged into a department of conservation – a postgraduate programme (course) that lasted for two years and was only for graduates of the Faculties of Painting and Graphics of the academy. In 1964, it became one of the departments on the Faculty of Painting. These adjustments contributed to inhibiting the development of studies into conservation of works of art at the academy.
By a decision of the Ministry of Culture and Art in 1972, the Faculty of Conservation of Works of Art was reactivated (in 1992, it changed its name to the Faculty of Conservation and Restoration of Works of Art). At that time, many new departments and conservation studios were created in the faculty. The numbers of scientific and teaching staff were also rising. In 1975, the faculty was moved from the facility located on Myśliwiecka Street to the building on 37 Wybrzeże Kościuszkowskie Street that had been regained by the academy. Since then, the faculty has been in the same place.
In the years 1976-1977, the faculty had four departments (which still exist):
- Department of Conservation of Paintings and Polychrome Sculpture
- Department of Conservation of Old Prints and Graphics
- Department of Conservation of Sculpture and Architectonic-Sculptural Elements
- Department of General Artistic Training
In addition, at the faculty there were formed:
- Department of Chemistry, Physics and Specialist Photography
- Department of Conservation and Technics and Technology of Wall Paintings (1981)
- Department of Conservation and Restoration of Textiles, which is unique in the country (1992).
Since 1988, studies in the faculty last six years.
In 2017 the faculty celebrates its 70th anniversary. Many things have changed since its beginnings. The faculty building has recently undergone a complete renovation and a new part was built – the east wing.
The faculty is constantly evolving. In recent years, several new conservation studios have been created:
- Studio of Conservation and Restoration of Photography and Decorative Art in the Department of Studio of Conservation and Restoration of Books, Graphics and Antique Leather
- Interdepartmental Studio of Conservation of Archaeological and Ethnographical Artefacts
- Interdepartmental Devision NOVUM of Care and Conservation of Modern and Contemporary Art
The faculty cooperates with many conservation centres, institutions of culture and centres of scientific research in various scientific fields, and also with many foreign institutions.
Since 1999-2000, the faculty has been taking part in the Socrates-Erasmus programme and exchange students and teachers with other universities and academies in the whole of Europe. Since 2006, the faculty has also been taking part in the GAUDE POLONIA programme.
Employees of the faculty are members of international organisations such as ICOM and ICOMOS. They menage national scientific and conservation projects that are funded by, for instance, the Copernicus Science Centre. Staff of the faculty also take part in international projects, such as RAFAEL, as well as EUREKA, COST and LASCAN – a programme in the field of laser surface cleaning of works of art. Many faculty employees have received awards and honours for their scientific work and conservation projects. The whole faculty, as an institution, is also a member of ENCoRE.
In 2013, during a parametric evaluation of scientific institutions, the Faculty of Conservation and Restoration of Works of Art received the highest possible grade, A+, the only scientific and artistic institution in Poland to earn this accolade.
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