LaStarsha McGarity wants to combine art and science into a career, and the Saint Louis Art Museum is pleased to have helped make her dreams and aspirations come true. McGarity arrived at the Museum in August 2018 to begin a one-year internship in the Museum's conservation department. When asked why she chose the Saint Louis Art Museum for her year-long internship, McGarity responded, "I felt SLAM would provide the right opportunity for me to learn about both unique and routine hands-on conservation treatments.”
With more than 34,000 works of art in the Art Museum’s collection, McGarity has worked on a wide variety of conservation projects, in addition to standard treatments such as polishing silver and dusting ceramics. During your next visit to the Museum, be sure to check out Richard Serra’s To Encircle Base Plate Hexagram, Right Angles Inverted in the asphalt of Fine Arts Drive between the front steps of the Museum and the St. Louis sculpture. McGarity and a team cleaned the metal, coated the embedded surfaces with a protective coating, and installed it in the roadway with a system that helps reduce rust occurrence. McGarity also had the opportunity to work on Al Loving’s painting titled Zayamaca #4, a gift of the Ollie family, for the upcoming exhibition The Shape of Abstraction: Selections from the Ollie Collection. This sculptural painting is comprised of a paper collage painted with acrylic and mounted to plexiglas. The artwork was disassembled, and a stiffening material was adhered between the layers with archival materials to improve inherent structural weaknesses. McGarity especially enjoyed the numerous personal interactions she had while conserving the art. She spoke with Ron Ollie, the collector who gave the Loving painting to the Museum, and the artist’s estate, managed by Mara Kearney Loving, about Loving’s working style, artistic vision, and expressed wishes about the life of his art.
McGarity is completing a Master’s of Art in Art Conservation and a Certificate of Advanced Study in Conservation Science in the Patricia H. and Richard E. Garman Art Conservation Department at SUNY Buffalo State College. In addition to her internship at the Art Museum, McGarity has gained invaluable experience with internships and fellowships at Museum of Mississippi History, Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, Brooklyn Museum of Art, Texas Southern University, Cleveland Museum of Art, Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art, and Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.
McGarity finds the combination of art and science in conservation fascinating and feels connected to the stories that each piece she works on can tell. As an HBCU alumna, she hopes to encourage and support more students of color to pursue a career in conservation and to encourage the current field to serve communities and institutions of color better. According to the Art Museum Demographic Survey of 2018, people of color comprise only 11 percent of conservation professionals and only 4 percent of the new hires between 2015 – 2018.
The Saint Louis Art Museum's Conservation Department opened in 1963 with one painting conservator. Today the department includes a director of conservation with nearly ten conservators and technicians conserving not only painting but also textiles, paper, and objects. McGarity bids farewell to St. Louis and begins the final step in her training to be a museum conservator with a three-year Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellow at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC starting in September. We know that McGarity will be a great addition to the museum conservation field.