Conservation Staff

Marian A. Kaminitz has been Head of Conservation at the NMAI since 1991. Her areas of interest are conservation of organic and inorganic objects, ethics and first-person voice, and collaboration in conservation decision-making. Marian initiated and maintains the Conservation department’s Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship program and has mentored numerous fellows and interns. She was Coordinator of the Ethnographic Working Group of the ICOM-CC from 1999–2005. Marian was an Adjunct Professor at the New York University’s Conservator Center from 1989–1999. Before working at the NMAI, Marian was an Assistant Conservator at the American Museum of Natural History. She was a post-graduate Andrew W. Mellon Fellow at the Pacific Regional Conservation Center, Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, Honolulu, HI, and a graduate intern in the Conservation Department of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She holds an MS in Art Conservation from the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation; a BA in Art History and a BS in Home Economics from the University of Tennessee; and a BFA with a Certificate in Gallery Management from the California College of Arts and Crafts.

Susan Heald has been textile conservator at the NMAI since 1994. Susan’s areas of interest include Native American textiles and clothing, development of treatment and storage methods, dye and fiber analysis. She works closely with her colleagues to implement the Conservation department’s Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship program and has mentored numerous fellows and interns. She is currently active with the AIC Materials Working Group, served as chair and vice-chair for the AIC Textile Specialty Group (1997–1998), and on the board of the North American Textile Conservation Conference (2004-2009). Prior to working at the NMAI, she served as the Minnesota Historical Society’s textile conservator, and was a Smithsonian Conservation Analytical Lab postgraduate fellow. She holds an MS in Art Conservation (textile major/objects minor) from the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation, and a BA in Chemistry and Anthropology from the George Washington University.

Emily Kaplan has been an objects conservator at the NMAI since 1996. She specializes in collaborative multi-disciplinary studies of ancient and colonial objects from Latin America, focusing particularly on the Andes and Mesoamerica. She was coordinator for conservation on the receiving end for the five-year NMAI Collections Move from NY to MD; served as an officer of the IPM Working Group for ten years; and is active with the AIC Materials Working Group. Emily works closely with her colleagues to implement the Conservation department’s Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship program and has mentored numerous fellows and interns. She was co-chair of the Smithsonian Congress of Scholars and coordinator of the Smithsonian Secretary’s Research Prizes. Emily was a postgraduate fellow in archaeological conservation at the Smithsonian Conservation Analytical Lab, working for excavations at Harappa, Pakistan, and Ceren, El Salvador. She holds an MA in Art Conservation from Queen’s University, and a BA in Art History/Studio Art from University of Massachusetts/Boston.

Beth Holford has been an objects conservator at the NMAI since 2012 and is currently dedicated to the Community Loans Initiative. She actively works with partner communities to enhance shared stewardship capacity through work sessions and workshops at partner institutions and at the NMAI’s Cultural Resources Center (CRC), and prepares collections for loan and exhibit to these partner institutions. Prior to this, she worked as a contract conservator to the NMAI, implementing the IPM program at the CRC, caring for and cleaning collections and preparing objects for exhibit and loan. Previously, she was the owner and principal conservator for Holford Objects Conservation, LLC, providing conservation services to museums and private clients in the Baltimore and Washington, DC, region. Before this, she was an assistant objects conservator at the Museums of New Mexico in Santa Fe. Other work sites include the Poggio Colla–Mugello Valley archaeological excavation in Tuscany, Italy; the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore; the Yosemite Museum in Yosemite National Park; and the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, DC. All of these experiences have shaped a deep appreciation for cultural, historical, and archaeological materials. Beth holds an MS in art conservation from the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation, and a BA in history from Towson University.

Shelly Uhlir has been exhibition specialist/mount-maker at the NMAI since 2001. Prior to working at NMAI, she worked as crew leader, mountmaker and seminar co-leader for Benchmark (1988–2000); exhibits specialist at the National Museum of African Art (1986–1988); and as an independent mountmaking contractor on multiple exhibitions. Shelly’s areas of interest include design, fabrication, and installation of mounts for exhibition and photography; technical expertise on mountmaking standards and design review; mannequin-making; and teaching workshops and training in the art of exhibition mountmaking. Her professional activities include: founding member of International Mountmaking Forum and Directional Committee member (since 2008); founding editorial committee member for the Mountmaking Forum website (2018; lead editor for the mountmaking page of the AIC wiki; editorial committee member of the STASHc website. Shelly holds a BA with a major in studio arts/photography and minors in art history/ language (French/Chinese) from Northern Illinois University.

Michele Austin Dennehy is a loan project conservator at the NMAI supporting the loan of NMAI collections to the First Americans Museum (FAM). She has more than 30 years of experience working with ethnographic and archeological collections as a loan and exhibition conservator. Her work includes developing collaborative relationships with source communities, including conservation-focused community consultations and planning and coordinating large-scale conservation survey and exhibition projects. For the NMAI’s Poeh Center Project, she conducted background research, supported community consultations, and conserved nine Tewa pots loaned to the Poeh Center at Pojoaque Pueblo, New Mexico, and surveyed approximately 500 Tewa pottery forms in the NMAI’s collections. As part of the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) Department of Anthropology’s conservation team, she conserved Polynesian tapa collected on the U.S. Exploring Expedition, 1838–42. This project was a multidisciplinary effort and included NMNH curators, botanists, and scientists as well as Hawaiian, Fijian, Samoan, and Cook Island Native tapa makers, and a team of six paper and object conservators. The group worked together to identify plant and dye materials used in tapa making and studied how the raw material was processed and culturally used. She has continued tapa research in the Cook Islands and Tahiti. Michele holds an MS in art conservation from the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program.

Caitlin Mahony is an objects conservator at the NMAI, and a former NMAI Andrew W. Mellon Fellow and Pre-Program Intern in Conservation. Some of her interests include preventive conservation, historic and contemporary basketry, care of outdoor sculptures, and the processing and degradation of hides. Through all aspects of her work, she aims to further develop a collaborative practice in conservation through partnerships with and support of Native communities and artists. She works closely with her colleagues to implement the Conservation department’s Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship program and has mentored numerous fellows and interns. Caitlin is currently serving on the advisory board for the Andrew W. Mellon Opportunity for Diversity in Conservation. Previously, she was an assistant conservator in the Department of Objects Conservation for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, charged with the care and study of arts from Africa, Oceania, and the Americas. She holds an MA from the UCLA/Getty Program for the Conservation of Archaeological and Ethnographic Materials, and a BA in Anthropology from Skidmore College.