Saturday, September 10, 2011

Discussion with Sculpture Conservator MC Reiley

MC Reiley, Associate Director of Preservation and Conservation at The Central Park Conservancy (CPC), came to his current position by an interesting route. After receiving a BFA in sculpture and art history, he trained at a foundry and also studied masonry conservation and historic preservation. He is currently responsible for the preservation and conservation of the monuments and structures in Central Park, located in the heart of New York City. Each summer, he selects a small group of conservation students for the Monuments Conservation Internship Program, offered by CPC with a grant from The Charles Evans Hughes Memorial Foundation Inc. and the Samuel H. Kress Foundation. This paid internship gives participants the opportunity to participate in a range of conservation projects and develop their skills in hands-on examination, documentation, routine maintenance, and conservation treatments. He also started the AbOmInOg Intl. Arts Collective in Trenton, New Jersey, which nurtures creative metalworking talent. Since many of the readers of the ECPN blog are aspiring conservators, we asked him to share more about his career path with us.

Q. You originally studied sculpture. How did you find out about the conservation profession, and how did you get started?

A. Growing up my father was a collector of arms and armor, which he also restored with the help of fellow collectors and a conservator or two. I liked lending a hand with his various projects and that experience helped steer me towards sculpture. After college, I entered into an apprenticeship in a fine art foundry where I had a stint in the painting and conservation department. I first began practicing outdoor sculpture conservation full time when I joined the Conservancy in 2003.

Q. How did your hands-on experience in a foundry make you a better conservator today?

A. The experience helped me gain an intimate perspective on the materials and techniques of the foundry process and exposed me to the work of seasoned artists, designers, craftsmen, engineers and conservators. After I left, I wanted to make my own sculpture so I built a foundry and started a small art services business. I was able to call upon that previously gained knowledge and technique, and practically apply it to my work. I still have relationships with many of these people who are a vital part of my development as an artist and a conservator. We exchange ideas about art, current technologies and materials and critically analyze our work rationale and methods.

Q. Where did you study masonry conservation, and what led you to pursue that training?

A. I first encountered stone as a sculpture material. I am also fascinated with natural history and geology. Consequently, I volunteered as a member of a team collecting fossil material in New Jersey. That painstaking and exciting work coincided with my attending RESTORE and Jahn mortar training, and later laboratory courses at Columbia University. I consider my training to be ongoing because of the daily preservation challenges of the Park and the diverse conservation goals of the CPC, which require abundant research and testing, and afford valuable interactions with consulting conservators and specialized contractors.

Q. You’re also the founder of the AbOmInOg Intl. Arts Collective. When and why did you start the collective, and what kinds of programs and opportunities would it offer for aspiring conservators?

A. AbOmInOg intl Arts Collective sprang into being in 1999 as a homespun alternative to the strictures of a commercial fine art foundry. Over time, the collective has transformed into a collaborative engine, where members share their talent, knowledge and resources as well as the sweat of their brow to create art. The collective is now a fiscally sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, an arts services organization ( We are presently implementing an internship program and have volunteer opportunities in a variety of areas from hands-on foundry fundamentals and sculpture conservation to archival documentation, organizational development and beyond.

Q. Can you tell us a bit more about AbOmInOg’s upcoming workshop at Grounds for Sculpture? Can anyone participate? More about the workshop can be found here.

A. We aspire to expand our reach into the community with workshops, demonstrations and exhibitions like the one on November 5th at the Grounds For Sculpture in Mercerville, NJ. This workshop is fun and educational. All levels can participate.

Q. Do you think this kind of hands-on experience with metalworking is valuable for aspiring conservators?

A. It certainly is important for much of my work such as outdoor sculpture conservation and restoration, historical recreations, fabrication, rigging and cast-iron repair. The focus of the conservation may be simultaneous wide and sharp. My specialized experience guides my approach but does not define it. Metalworking led me to conservation and perhaps both disciplines will lead me to something else.

Q. What kind of experience are you looking for in the students you select for the summer internship in Central Park?

A. The CPC monuments conservation internship requires that candidates are currently pursuing a graduate degree in historic preservation, objects conservation or a closely related field. Besides this requirement, no specific training or educational experience is obligatory but certain personal qualities are sought. Traits that I look for are reliability, mindfulness, initiative and the ability to work extremely well as a member of a team. The goal of the internship is to provide experience within the annual maintenance regime of monuments collection and select conservation activity.

Q. What advice do you have for aspiring conservators today?

A. I doubt I need to mention that you should love what you do - but I will anyway. I applaud ECPN members for organizing and building relationships amongst themselves and encourage them to cast a wide net in creating an exchange with allied professionals as well as across disciplines, and to practice in a way that imparts to the public the principles and value of the conservation profession.

ECPN thanks MC Reiley for taking the time to share his thoughts with us. You can follow AbOmInOg on Facebook or visit AbOmInOg online at


Eliza Spaulding said...

Amy, thanks for conducting and sharing this interesting interview!

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