The Materials Lab serves as an environment for art making as a means of learning and knowing. Its programs combine close looking, hands-on experimentation, and interaction with experts to explore the complex physical lives of artworks. It draws on the museums’ rich history as a teaching laboratory, using the arts to model research and critical thinking. This notion was first espoused by Edward W. Forbes (Fogg Museum director from 1909 to 1944), who taught hands-on art history courses that sought to attune students to the materials and processes of art and artists. Forbes pioneered art conservation in the United States, establishing the first scientific research laboratory in this country, which lives on as the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies.
The lab is part of the Harvard Art Museums’ Division of Academic and Public Programs (DAPP) and is headed by Francesca Bewer, research curator for conservation and technical study programs and director of the Summer Institute for Technical Studies in Art (SITSA). Bewer serves as liaison between DAPP and the Straus Center.
The Materials Lab offers teaching and research opportunities for students and faculty as well as public workshops. It also supports research in the form of hands-on experimentation associated with the art-technical investigations of the conservation staff. It is home to the Harvard undergraduate course The Making of Art and Artifacts: History, Material and Technique (in the Department of History of Art and Architecture), and to SITSA.