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05 April 2019

Lorna Rowley speaks with Master of Conservation graduate students while Vanessa Nicholas examines a shawl from the collection through a microscope. Photo: Garrett Elliott

In residence until the end of April at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre and the Master of Art Conservation Program at Queen’s University, Vanessa Nicholas and Lorna Rowley are, respectively, the 2019 Isabel Bader Fellow and Graduate Intern in Textile Conservation and Research. They have learned about the oldest garments in Queen’s Collection of Canadian Dress, including a Regency style day dress that was once in Agnes Etherington’s possession. Their research on the provenance, style and material of this dress has taken them from the Cataraqui Cemetery to the colonial United States, and has piqued their interest in fashionable florals and silk worms.

On Sunday 15 April, 2–3:30 pm, Nicholas and Rowley will present an insider art talk to the public on their research into some of the oldest materials in the Agnes collection of Canadian Dress as part of the INSIDE AGNES: Music and Art Series. Admission is free, and all are welcome.

The 2019 Fellowship project has subjected two dresses and two shawls in the collection to historical and scientific analysis with the aim of determining their provenance and materials. “These garments and accessories all predate Confederation, and our oldest case study is a silk day dress made in a style that dates to the early nineteenth century” says Vanessa Nicholas. “Curiously, the dress’s silk likely dates to the 1770s or 1780s, and we have synthesized genealogy, fashion history and lab results to reconstruct the life of this object.” This research will be contextualized within environmental history, which studies the relations between human culture and the natural world.

Nicholas and Rowley work in office space at Agnes and lab space in the Master of Art Conservation Program. Throughout the project, they have been sharing their expertise with conservation students through workshops and discussions, as well as consulting with other conservators and professionals in the field about their research.

The Isabel Bader Fellowship in Textile Conservation and Research is a four-month residency and research opportunity that promotes investigation in textile conservation and costume history. Through the generous support of Dr Isabel Bader, the Fellowship links two of Queen’s University’s  unique resources: the Queen’s University Collection of Canadian Dress at the Agnes, which comprises over 2000 articles of fashion from the late 1700s to the 1970s, and the Master of Art Conservation Program, which offers Canada’s only graduate degree in conservation theory and treatment.

About Vanessa Nicholas and Lorna Rowley

Vanessa Nicholas is a PhD candidate in the Department of Visual Art and Art History at York University, and has an MA from the Courtauld Institute of Art and a BFA from Queen’s University. Nicholas has held academic and museum positions and internships at a number of institutions nationally and internationally, and has also published and presented on textile history and historical and contemporary art. In 2017, Nicholas was also the recipient of the SSHRC Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship Doctoral Award.

Lorna Rowley holds an MPhil in Textile Conservation from the Centre for Textile Conservation and Technical Art History, University of Glasgow, and a BA in the History of Art and Design from the National College of Art and Design, Dublin, with a specialty in embroidery. Rowley has experience in the professional conservation field, having worked in the Dublin-based studio of Rachel Phelan, and with the Institute of Heritage Preservation Research, Bureau of Cultural Heritage, Tainan, Taiwan. In 2015, Rowley was joint recipient of the prestigious Indigo Arts Alliance Denese L. Easterly Conservation Training Pre-program Award for her passionate commitment to the field.