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Art alumna finds beauty, value in material objects

Whitney Jacobs understands the value of certain objects and their ability to connect us to the past.



NMSU alumna Whitney Jacobs

The New Mexico State University alumna graduated from the College of Arts and Sciences’ Museum Conservation Program in 2013 and is now part of the cohort of the Erasmus Mundus Master’s Program (European Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students). Erasmus is considered one of the most prestigious student exchange programs. Jacobs was one of 10 non-European students accepted into the program this year, and the only one from the U.S.

“Our material culture is important,” Jacobs said. “Whether it is a Van Gogh, an ancient stone statue or a medieval manuscript, these are not just objects, but our connection to the past and bring us together. These things degrade over time and if they are not looked after, we may lose them forever.

“Every object has a different history and must be approached on an individual basis with care and patience.

Her undergraduate studies at NMSU presented her the opportunity to learn from program director Silvia Marinas-Feliner and work on the restoration of 19th century Mexican retablos. Damages to the retablos included corrosion, surface scratches and melting.

It was a combined interest in art and archeology that led Jacobs to study museum conservation.

“I learned about the field of conservation while working at a research station in Antarctica,” she said. “Conservators were working on the objects and buildings left behind by the polar explorers of the early 20th century, and I knew that was exactly what I wanted to do.”

Originally from Los Angeles, Jacobs has interned at the Anthropology Department of the San Bernardino County Museum and the Gilb Museum of Arcadia Heritage.

“It is rewarding to do what you love and to work with things that interest and excite you. Cleaning and restoring an object has to be one of the most rewarding part of working in the industry. To successfully solve these problems is incredibly fulfilling,” she said. “It is an amazing experience in which I am learning a lot, both in classes and from my classmates who comes from all over the world.”

Jacobs is currently living in Greece where she is studying the scientific methods used to analyze the materials found in art and cultural heritage items to better interpret and conserve them.

In the past year, she’s also lived and studied in Portugal, and will move to Italy in the fall.

“I am very, very proud of Whitney’s absolutely impressive achievement,” Marinas-Feliner said. “What she has accomplished is something truly remarkable.”