I find it difficult to summarize my professional self into words. This identity statement I wrote for WhatIsConservation.com is the closest I’ve gotten to expressing my whole self in a bio:
Natalya Swanson is a 31-year old white, cisgendered, queer woman who resides in the Bay Area of California. She self-identifies as a heritage conservator, community organizer, and educator. She acknowledges that colonizing systems, from land theft to linguistic classifications, are embedded in all Western frameworks and is learning how to subvert these systems in her every decision. Natalya believes that dialogue and discussion are the most basic and important tools of collective resistance, that we all have agency to undermine capitalist and corporatist rule by leveraging our positions as consumers, and that we have a shared moral responsibility to practice intersectional environmentalism. Natalya currently works as the Assistant Conservator of Objects at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (her salary is $75,500). Previously, she has worked in universities, museums, artist-endowed foundations, and private businesses across the east coast and midwest of the United States and in Amsterdam, NL. She has lectured on ethical relativism, value-based decision making, sustainability as a moral construct, and care of plastics; she co-hosted two seasons of the podcast Conservators Combating Climate Change, where she discusses what it means to do inclusive, compassionate, and empathetic sustainability work, and will soon launch a new podcast, The Ethics of Caring, which explores heritage work through the lens of social justice values and feminist philosophy.
This statement includes some important identifiers and leaves out others. It excludes my spirituality, my love of cooking and eating, my belief that compassion-oriented communities is the answer to whatever the question is.
Here are other statements I once thought were worth mentioning:
My research is grounded in the philosophy that governs decision making processes. To increase empathy and awareness of the narratives I am telling through documentation, I practice reflexivity and a value-based decision making model. Since 2018, I have been actively researching and experimenting with alternate documentation methods in an attempt to increase transparency and embrace the subjective nature of my practice. I most enjoy collaborative, interdisciplinary, and team-based work.
I am particularly interested in variable media, and exploring how to document behavioral work-defining properties (see Stella Waitzkin’s Four Thousand Images and Robert Rauschenberg’s Copperhead metal paintings). These works present similar challenges to conceptual, performance, and time-based media, but their material properties belie their complex performative natures, making them susceptible to a static interpretation.
To supplement my graduate studies, I participated in a collaborative partnership between the WUDPAC, Voices in Contemporary Art (VoCA), and the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation (RRF) from 2018-2019. The focus of my research was Robert Rauschenberg’s metal paintings made on mirrored/reflective substrates from the 1980s and 90s. I continued this research at the University of Amsterdam where I assisted in the Interviews in Conservation Research project under the direction of Dr. Sanneke Stigter.
I am passionate about community engagement, mentorship, and cross-disciplinary collaboration. I have served in various roles in the Emerging Conservation Professionals Network (ECPN) since 2016, and currently am the Digital Media Co-Officer. In Fall 2019, Emma Hartman, Co-officer, and I organized a webinar entitled, “Navigating the Workplace and Harnessing Community as an Emerging Conservation Professional: A Panel Discussion” and in April 2020 we launched the podcast Conservators Combatting Climate Change, to foster ambition in collection care professionals. More information about these initiatives can be found here.
Other outreach initiatives include creating teaching didactics for the Iraqi Institute for the Conservation of Antiques and Heritage with WUDPAC classmates, contributing to the Materials Information and Technical Resources for Artists resources pages.
Before my graduate studies, I received my BA from the University of South Florida and AA from the State College of Florida, and worked in conservation studios in Florida, Illinois, Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C in almost all conservation disciplines.
In 2016, I began working as a Project Manager and Conservation Technician at Conservation Solutions, Inc. (CSI) a Washington, D.C. based firm specializing in the conservation-restoration of outdoor sculpture, architecture, and painted surfaces. I conserved artifacts at the National Air and Space Museum, U.S. Library of Congress, Kennedy Space Center, The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, and Vizcaya Museum and Gardens.
The content on this website represents select conservation experiences from 2017-2020 while a Graduate Fellow in the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation.
Projects are largely organized by institution, which can be accessed using the Conservation experiences menu item. From there, projects can be viewed directly by using the plus key or by clicking on an institution’s name; this link will take you to that institution’s landing page which includes basic administrative and organizational information.
All images are mine unless they are specified otherwise.
Many, many thanks to everyone who has and continues to support me in this journey. There are too many to list here, but if you are reading this, you are certainly one of those people!
Many thanks also to the FAIC George Stout Fund, Samuel H. Kress Foundation, Dr. Edward F. And Elizabeth Goodman Rosenberg, University of Delaware Center for College of Arts and Sciences, University of Delaware Center for Material Culture Studies, Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation Professional Development committee, and National Endowment for the Humanities for financially supporting my research and studies.