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Beneath the surface

As the first recipient of the Koerner Fellowship in Conservation, Stephanie Barnes is on her way to becoming an expert on Canadian artist Kathleen Munn.

Stephanie Barnes

Stephanie Barnes. Image by the AGO

What do you get when you mix an education in chemistry with a passion for art and art history? An art conservator, of course! The AGO’s Art Conservation Department is not only one of the largest in North America, but also a key player in the development of art conservators.

Throughout the year, the AGO’s Michael and Sonja Koerner Centre for Conservation offers a range of opportunities for Art Conservation students and new graduates to practice their skills and bridge the gap between their education and a career in art conservation. Through summer internships, which provide current students with professional experience, and fellowships, which offer professional development and academic research opportunities, the AGO is a great place for art conservators to learn and grow.

Stephanie Barnes is the first recipient of the newly established Koerner Fellowship in Conservation, which supports recent Art Conservation graduates. Barnes graduated from the Queen’s University Master of Art Conservation (MAC) program in fall 2014, specializing in the conservation of paintings – a program unique to Queen’s in Canada. With a Master of Art Conservation and a Master of Science, and with experience at the Canadian Conservation Institute, National Gallery of Canada, Library and Archives Canada, and the Smithsonian’s Museum Conservation Institute, Barnes found her way to Art Conservation at the AGO – where she is working as a fellow.

Barnes’s arrival at the AGO last October coincided with the donation of a large collection of artworks, a gift of Bernard and Sylvia Ostry, including six paintings and several drawings by Canadian artist Kathleen Munn (1887–1974). The timing of this new acquisition presented Barnes with the perfect opportunity to delve deeper into Munn’s work and the different painting techniques she used throughout her career.

Barnes was given access to an abundance of Munn’s archival material and an opportunity to conduct technical imaging of all of the AGO’s paintings by the artist. She was able to see beneath the surface with the use of x-rays and infrared light. During her research, Barnes also collaborated with scientists from the Canadian Conservation Institute on the analysis of samples from Munn’s paintings, which shed light on the materials she used.

Aside from her extensive research, Barnes’s primary area of focus for the past year has been the conservation treatment of Munn’s artwork Untitled (Two Figures in a Landscape). When the work was donated to the AGO in 2015, it was unexhibitable due to lifting, flaking paint and considerable efflorescence. Barnes’s work to restore the painting for display in the galleries is still in progress, with the results to be revealed on September 18 during the talk Close Encounters: Kathleen Munn, Beneath the Surface.

Ahead of Stephanie Barnes’s talk with Georgiana Uhlyarik, the AGO’s Fredrik S. Eaton Curator, Canadian Art and author of Kathleen Munn: Life and Work, we popped into the Conservation Centre to get a sneak peek.

Want more Munn? The AGO is the leading centre for the study of Kathleen Munn, thanks to her family’s generous donation of her notebooks, paintbox and lightbox, along with hundreds of sketches. Works by Kathleen Munn will be on view in the AGO’s Marvin Gelber Print & Drawing Study Centre on September 25 during the monthly “Unshelved” event.

Tickets to Close Encounters: Kathleen Munn, Beneath the Surface are available now. Admission to the AGO Collection and all special exhibitions is always free for AGO Members, AGO Annual Pass holders and visitors 25 and under. For more information, please visit the website.

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