The New-York Historical Society aims to engage visitors and history buffs of all ages, from children in our DiMenna Children’s History Museum to adults through our Public Program series. So it’s always great to see someone stay engaged throughout their lives. One lifelong learner is Laura Mosco, a former Student Historian who came back to volunteer at the New-York Historical Society, and is now studying Art Conservation at the University of Delaware. We interviewed Laura about her experiences here, her studies, and what makes conservation so important.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up on Long Island, New York, just thirty minutes outside of Manhattan.
What was your first visit to the New-York Historical Society like?
I was so young the first time I visited the New York Historical Society that I do not really remember. However, I do remember my first visit after the renovations. I was so impressed with the first floor gallery’s high-tech interactive touch screens, and the DiMenna Children’s History Museum. Even though it was geared toward children my parents and I thoroughly enjoyed visiting it. I think my favorite part of the museum however, has always been the Luce center. It is great that even when the objects are not on exhibition they can be seen.
Were you always interested in Art History and Conservation? What drew you to those studies?
My love of museums came before my interest in these fields. In a museum I could be face to face with primary documents and ancient artifacts, and that always excited me. I always loved learning and in museums it was actually cool to learn. In middle school my main interests were science and history. However, in high school I had some fantastic English and art teachers that taught me how these subjects could enrich my study of other topics. At first it seemed like a challenge to find possible career paths that encompassed all my interests, but after some research I realized that museums had positions that utilized all my interests. Then, when I found conservation everything seemed to come together because it is a profession that requires study in art history, chemistry, and art. So I realized I would not have to settle and work within just one subject area, and that was a liberating feeling.
What made you want to become a Student Historian?
The summer before college I wanted to get some actual museum experience, because other than being an avid visitor I did not have any first hand knowledge of the behind the scenes work at museums. So with the help of an internship coordinator at my high school I found the Student Historian Internship. I was interested in this program over others I had researched because it seemed like it would be a very hands-on experience, and that was what I needed.
What kinds of projects did you work on as a Student Historian? What do you feel you got out of them?
As a Student Historian I worked on a pamphlet titled “The History of New York in 30 Objects.” Each intern wrote a paper on an object from the museum’s collections. I wrote about the Tiffany and Co. Subway Controller, which was used by Mayor McClellan during the first NYC subway ride in 1904. This project required me to utilize and perfect my research and writing skills. In addition to this project, we were taken on tours of every department in the museum. We had the opportunity to become familiar with each of the departments’ roles and we got to see where and what they worked with. It was a really exciting aspect of the internship because I will hopefully be working in similar museum settings. Overall, it was a phenomenal experience and I would recommend the Student Historian Internship to every high school student. The way Chelsea Frosini and the education department have it organized allows students to grow and become well-rounded individuals.
Later, you came back as a volunteer. What did you do as a volunteer, and what drew you to that department?
I volunteered in the print room and library conservation lab last winter, during my month long school break. Over the course of the month I helped label and rehouse movie location shots, I made the boxes for rehousing the movie location shot collection, and I labeled the McKim, Mead, and White architectural drawings collection. I was really lucky to get the opportunity to be in and around a conservation lab as an undergraduate student. During my time at N-YHS that winter, I was able to work with Conservator Alan Balicki and Archivist Susan Kriete. In between my tasks, Alan and Susan would show me the projects they were working on. In the conservation lab Alan showed me how he treats creased Vellum, how he surface cleans and mends paper, and how he makes four-fold folders to house books. In the print room I learned about archiving, which was completely new to me. It was all very interesting and I learned many new things. I always found the museum staff to be helpful and welcoming.
What are you studying in college now? Did your time as a student historian or a volunteer shape what you wanted to study, or how you view your studies?
I am currently a sophomore Art Conservation major at the University of Delaware. I hope to also major in Art History and minor in Anthropology, but I have not yet declared those degrees. I think the Student Historian internship and my time in the print room/conservation lab has made me a more driven student. Having had a taste of the fields I have a better idea of what career path I will choose. I can better visualize the professional future I want, and that makes me want to work harder for it.
Did you have any favorite collections or objects here?
The New-York Historical Society has so many fantastic objects. When I worked in the print room Susan gave me a tour of some awesome prints and documents that visitors do not often get to see. I was able to view an original print of Paul Revere’s Boston Massacre. In the Luce Center some of my favorites are the “Punch bowl: Landing of Lafayette,” the “Bottle: Log Cabin,” and the John Rogers bronzes.
Hope to do once you graduate?
That is a great question. What I am planning right now is to work/intern for a few years after my senior year in order to gain experience before applying to conservation graduate schools. Then hopefully I will get opportunities to work in museums in Manhattan, Washington D.C., and abroad. I definitely want to move around and work on projects all over the world. From what I have learned conservation is a field that allows and even sometimes requires travel. I am only a sophomore undergraduate so I have some time to realize these plans. I am really enjoying my art conservation track and I am eager and excited for the future.