Looking Back with Conservator Meaghan Perry

Landmarks
01 December 2023
 

Looking Back with Conservator Meaghan Perry

Landmarks celebrates its 15th anniversary with a blog series that profiles the contributions of key individuals who have made our program a success. This entry in our “Looking Back” series features conservator Meaghan Perry, whose expertise, care, and experience helps keep the collection looking its best.

Perry has served as Landmarks go-to conservator since 2020. She got her start with our program in 2014, volunteering with Landmarks Preservation Guild (LPG) prior to pursuing her graduate degree in conservation. As a professional objects conservator, Perry works with clients across Austin and at UT, she also assists with conservation projects at the Blanton Museum of Art and Harry Ransom Center.

As part of her role with Landmarks, Perry collaborates with Nisa Barger, Landmarks assistant director for collections, on the LPG. This unique volunteer program offers students and members of the public basic training in object conservation. LPG members are assigned a work of art from Landmarks’ collection which they monitor and maintain with bi-weekly conservation reports, and light cleaning on sculptures. Perry leads monthly conservation workshops for the LPG that ranges from learning how to remove or apply coatings to metal sculptures, how to adhere missing pennies to Donald Lipski’s The West, and to properly inpaint blemishes on outdoor sculptures, among other activities. The LPG also provides pre-program training required of students hoping to pursue careers in conservation.

“The conservation field relies heavily on apprenticeships as training, and before going to graduate school, you really have to have so much experience working as a conservator,” said Perry, “Conservators take care of each other, and I feel a big sense of responsibility to these students to help make sure they're guided in the direction they want to go in – it's a challenging field to break into.”

Perry can often be seen caring for the works of art on campus. Given the public nature of the collection, she gets first-hand experience hearing reactions or opinions about the works.

“People always come up to me when I’m working on a piece and will talk to me about whether they like it or not, as though I’m the person that made it or put it there,” said Perry, “which I always find really charming and hilarious.”

Personal interactions with the public bring into focus the different ways people engage with the collection every day. Each work inevitably takes on a life of its own. Sol LeWitt’s Circle with Towers or Mark di Suvero’s Clock Knot have ended up as unofficial emblems for the schools or departments at which they are sited. Some works appear on t-shirts, pins, and stickers. Others are known to attract idiosyncratic interventions from students and visitors.

“People love or hate Sol LeWitt’s Circle with Towers, and I've started just referring to it in my head as UT’s ‘Stonehenge’ because it's a circle of towers; it's concrete and it has this kind of mystical power.” Said Perry, “Around mid-terms and finals we’re always finding offerings or weird rune-like drawings written in the gravel pit around the work–nothing that hurts the work, but actions that express people’s affection for it.”

Perry has had a hand in some of Landmarks more recent projects, including Sarah Oppenheimer’s C-010106. During installation of the work, she had the rare opportunity to interact with the artist.

“It was really incredible to spend a week with Sarah and talk about this piece and really start to develop a good understanding of not just what it was materially, but to hear what was important about it aesthetically,” said Perry. “Just to see how it functions in that space is so incredible.”

Perry interviewed Oppenheimer in effort to develop a conservation plan for C-010106. The plan details proper steps for maintaining the work and will allow future conservators and stakeholders to understand the original intent of the artist while keeping the work looking its best.

Next time you’re on campus, consider what it takes to maintain a public art collection. Whether cleaning the knife-sharp oculus edge of James Turrell’s Skyspace, waxing a metal sculpture, or color-matching a scuff on an outdoor work, Perry is bound to have a hand in it.

Interested in volunteering with Landmarks Preservation Guild? Learn more on Landmarks Volunteer Page.

Love public art? Consider making a donation now to support art on campus.