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Home » News » Spotlight on Alumna Melissa Gardner, Paintings Conservator at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston

Spotlight on Alumna Melissa Gardner, Paintings Conservator at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston

Published March 4, 2019




It is not the easiest career path, but in my opinion it’s very rewarding and there is a huge need for it everywhere. If you are passionate about conservation, there is no reason you shouldn’t do it. Keep at it and it will happen for you. Everyone in the industry is very supportive and welcoming. It’s a great family to be a part of.

Considering a career in art conservation? As alumna Melissa Gardner (BA ’06) can attest, for the student committed to this complex and fascinating profession the path is arduous, but the rewards are proportionate to the work. Melissa is Associate Conservator of Paintings for the Museum of Fine Arts Houston. The Conservation Department at the MFA Houston occupies one of the largest continuous spaces for art conservation of any public museum, and its professional staff is active both in their home institution and in the broader art world. Melissa and her colleagues examine objects on loan and potential acquisitions; conduct state-of-the-art technical investigations in research collaborations with the museum’s curatorial staff; and evaluate, clean, and protect the museum’s collections. They have also become leaders in disaster response, providing support and consultation to dozens of art institutions.

As an FSU Art major in 2002, Melissa stumbled across art conservation through, as she writes, “a kismet google search.” She changed course to earn a bachelor’s degree in Art History with a minor in Organic Chemistry.  She recalls many opportunities for close physical experiences with art during her studies at FSU, from a summer program in Paris led by Dr. Jolles to the department’s affiliation with The Ringling and the FSU Museum of Fine Arts, and particularly the lessons in close visual analysis she learned in Art History courses: “For a paper in Dr. Neuman’s class, the prompt was to really look at a piece of art in person for two hours, to notice every little thing. The physicality of art is so important to conservation, and these lessons grounded me in that close observation essential to my profession.”

With an ideal academic background in art, art history, chemistry, and French language studies, Melissa gained admission into a four-year conservation master’s program at New York University, one of the few art conservation programs in the country. Here she went through more rigorous coursework and technical training. In the summers she traveled to study and work in museums connected to NYU, spending months in Florence, Italy; participating in an archaeological dig in Samothrace, Greece; and learning treatments in conservation at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. She spent her fourth and final year interning in the conservation department at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.

Working as a conservator requires dedication and patience. Melissa has often spent years tediously restoring or cleaning just one piece. Recently she finished restoring Muhammad Baqir’s Dancing Girl, a piece now on display at the MFA Houston’s Art of the Islamic Worlds exhibition, one of the most expansive displays of Islamic art in the United States. Melissa’s vocation gives her opportunities to encounter art on an intimate level that most only dream of, the responsibility of helping ensure the longevity of art for the future, and the satisfaction of stewardship over one of the largest and most important public collections of art in the United States.



Student Authors: Michael A. Avila,
Charlotte Starnes, Jeannine Reyes.