Conservation Research

The Conservation Office actively pursues research interests related to the collection, preservation, study, and exhibition of Native American objects. Conservators often collaborate with NMAI colleagues as well as conservation professionals from other museums and institutions. Ongoing research focuses on:

  • Testing and evaluating materials for storage, packing, exhibition casework, and mounts
  • Identifying hazardous materials in NMAI's collections and developing mitigation strategies
  • Providing material analysis on items related to NMAI's collections
  • Identifying new technologies for preservation and treatment of collections
  • Developing strategies for training conservation students that incorporate collaborative approaches to conservation.

Publication is an integral part of the research program. See NMAI Conservation Publications.

Conservation fellows conduct or participate in a research project or serve as an assistant to the conservation staff liaison for an exhibition during their time at the museum. Below is a list of recent research projects and publications, and past and present Andrew W. Mellon Postgraduate Fellows, listed chronologically.


Sarah Owens

  • Conservation asssitant to Circle of Dance
  • Research: Yup'ik fur parkas and boots: deteriorating factors and conservation options; determining fabrication techniques and methodology, conservation and mounting options

Peter Mc Elhinney

  • Conservation asssitant to Central American Ceramics
  • Research: Deterioration mechanism of historic Western red cedar bark (secondary phloem) as found in cultural material from the Pacific Northwest Coast


Angela Duckwall

  • Conservation assistant to A Song for the Horse Nation
  • Research: Evaluating ultraviolet fluorescence as a means of identifying natural red dyes

Lauren Horelick

  • Conservation assistant to Window on Collections
  • Research: Adhesives used for tear repair of Native processed intestines, referred to colloquially as gutskin. Gutskin is a material used by coastal Native Alaskans to create parkas, drums, bags and other functional objects. This research involved the use of the scanning electron micrsoscope to visualize the interface of adhesives and gutskin.
  • What's going on with guts: Assessing the affects of adhesives on inner organs used for cultural objects. Canadian Conservation Institute Symposium 2011
  • Blog


Ainslie Harrison

  • Research: Determining fabrication techniques of Pre-Columbian gold and tumbaga artifacts using technical examination and instrumental analysis (XRF, SEM-EDS, FTIR, and GC-MS). Specific research questions include: methods of gold bead fabrication, the origin of resins used in composite gold/resin objects, and compositional indicators of provenience.
  • Conservation assistant to exhibition Potomac

Luba Dovgan-Nurse

  • Research: Condition Assessment of Basketry Collection Made of Spruce Root (Tlingit)
  • Conservation assistant to exhibition Infinity of Nations


Anne Gunnison

  • Research: Conservation issues and web-based outreach and documentation for installation and exhibition of artist Brian Jungen’s monumental piece Crux (as seen from those who sleep on the surface of the earth under the night sky) at the NMAI in Washington, D.C.
  • Conservation assistant to exhibition Infinity of Nations
  • Conservation assistant to exhibition Brian Jungen: Strange Comfort

Yoonjo Lee

  • Research: Developing protocols for using the Minolta CM-2500d spectrophotometer to monitor fading in materials from the NMAI’s collection, such as hide and textiles, and modern materials such as plastics.
  • Conservation assistant to exhibit preparation for Recent Acquisitions and installation of A Song for the Horse Nation and Vantage Point


Catalina Hernandez

  • Research: The uses of non-woven fabrics in the conservation of cultural heritage—researching nonwoven polyolefin fabrics as breathable barrier materials to determine which types can be safe, efficient, effective and affordable for use in conservation as alternatives to expensive and sometimes inaccessible materials currently in use. In particular, investigating materials that are accessible and affordable in developing countries such as Colombia.
  • Conservation Assistant to exhibition preparation for A Song for the Horse Nation

Sarah McNett

  • Research: Contributions to the development of standardized methods for pesticide testing using handheld X-ray fluorescence analyzers. Using the NMAI’s handheld Niton XL3t X-ray fluorescence analyzer, collecting data that will be used to assess the accuracy of test results in relation to factors including user variability, number of readings taken, and choice of testing locations.
  • Conservation assistant on preparation and installation of objects in Potomac Atrium exhibit cases


Daniel Cull

Anne Kingery


Kim Cullen Cobb

Anna Hodson


Megan Emery

Anne Murray


Nicole Grabow
Conservation assistant for Window on Collections: Many Hands, Many Voices.

Lara Kaplan
Conservation assistant for Our Universes: Traditional Knowledge Shapes Our World.

Renata Peters
Conservation assistant for Our Lives: Contemporary Life and Identities.

Rebecca Snyder
Conservation assistant for Our Peoples: Giving Voice to Our Histories.

Lauren Chang
Conservation liaison for Listening to Our Ancestors: The Art of Native Life Along the North Pacific Coast.


Alyssa Becker
Research: Becker, A. and S. Heald. 2003. "Trial by fire: fire retardants ignite a research project in exhibit case materials." Textile Specialty Group Postprints. American Institute for Conservation 31st Annual Meeting. Arlington, Va. Washington, DC: AIC. 1–12.

Hélène Delaunay
Conservation assistant for The Language of Native American Baskets from the Weavers' View.

Farideh Fekrsanati
Research: Development of standardized reporting methodology for pesticide testing using a Niton X-ray Fluorescence Analyzer.

Hugh Shockey
Research: Measuring air exchange in exhibition cases using a barometric pressure datalogger. Poster presented at 2003 American Institute for Conservation 31st Annual Meeting, Arlington, Va.


Jenifer Bosworth
Research: Developing a method for identifying organic pesticide residues on collections at NMAI. Poster presented at 2002 American Institute for Conservation 30th Annual Meeting, Miami, Fla.

Lauren Chang
Research: Preserving sound: dance regalia in the collection of NMAI.

Esther Chao
Research: Identification and considerations of feathers on Hupa and Kiowa objects. Poster presented at 2002 American Institute for Conservation 30th Annual Meeting, Miami, Fla.

Mika Takami
Research: Takami, M., S. Heald and J. S. Johnson. 2002. "Collaborative treatment of a Native American robe from the Miami community with silk ribbonwork and metal decoration materials." Textile Specialty Group Postprints. American Institute for Conservation 30th Annual Meeting, Miami. Washington D.C.: AIC. 85–95.


Dominique Cocuzza
Research: Wool Trade Cloth in the Collection of the National Museum of the American Indian.

Ellen Carrlee (neé Roblee)
Research: Carrlee, E. "Identification of potential changes to ethnographic artifacts from low temperature pest management." Journal of the American Institute for Conservation. 42 (2003):141–166.

Ulla Zenz
Research: Conservation Treatment in Cultural Context: Lakota.


Joanne Boyer
Research: Use of Cyclododecane for Temporary Stabilization of Fragile Ceramics for Transport.

Sara Caspi
Research: Use of cyclododecane for temporary stabilization of fragile ceramics for transport.
Caspi, S. and E. Kaplan. 2001. "Dilemmas in transporting unstable ceramics: a look at cyclododecane." Objects Specialty Group Postprints. American Institute for Conservation 29th Annual Meeting, Dallas. Washington D.C.: AIC. 116–135.

Monika Harter 
Conservation assistant to Beauty, Honor, and Tradition: The Legacy of Plains Indian Shirts.