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Art Department

From Fine Art to Historical Preservation

From Fine Art to Historical Preservation

: Photo by Andrew Fearon.

Cornish graduates use the skills and knowledge they learn here in many ways; for Crystal Medler [AR ’08], a passion for art led her to preservation work.

By Crystal Medler

Five years ago, a student in my final semester, I left everything I knew behind – family, friends, and the city I grew up in. I went straight from Cornish into the graduate program in historic preservation at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

My interest in preservation had been growing over time. After witnessing what I thought was unnecessary destruction or neglect of countless buildings throughout the Pacific Northwest — even right next door to Cornish —  I felt that my admiration of historic architecture could be put to use in protecting, preserving and documenting historic buildings. The University of Pennsylvania’s program in Historic Preservation was the answer to my calling. There, I was able to combine years of training and experience in photography and painting with an almost instinctual need to preserve history: historic buildings, sites, art, objects, records and much more.

In 2009, I traveled to England as part of a small group from Penn, using a grant awarded to me by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation. There, I helped restore and replicate an 18th century wall painting. Using my background in painting, I was able to implement the entire replication process.

Following the project in England, I went to Italy to attend the San Gemini Preservation Studies Program in Umbria. The program combined lectures on techniques for preserving and restoring works of art, as well as classes in traditional Italian painting.

Those painting classes in San Gemini took me right back to Cornish, except instead of oil and acrylic we were working with fresco and sgraffito. Finally, everything came full circle when I wrote my thesis under the advisement of landscape historian John Dixon Hunt. My thesis examined how art critic and pioneering preservationist, John Ruskin, was impacted by the invention of the daguerreotype camera primarily in his efforts to document architecture in Venice, Italy.
Since 2011, I have been working in Seattle as a historic preservation specialist. I’m a part-time staff member at the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation where I have completed many different projects including photographic work that was recently featured in Seattle Met Magazine. The Trust is very involved with preservation advocacy, and so a few of us recently flew to D.C. to speak with the Washington state delegation about the importance of preserving the state’s architectural history. In addition to working at the Trust, I also consult for individuals in need of building and site histories, archival research and other preservation services.

For me, Cornish provided a strong foundation and the practical tools necessary to build a career that I love, a career that calls for technical knowledge and skill to tackle important preservation issues. As John Ruskin once said, “when love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece.” This I learned at Cornish: do what you love, acquire the necessary skills, and you’ll achieve amazing things.

* In addition to her work as a Historic Preservation Specialist, Crystal is a talented photographer and painter with subjects ranging from ancient ruins, modern skyscrapers, and other features of the built and natural landscape. She has exhibited work at WilliamTony Art Gallery, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Starbucks, Coastal Kitchen, Sisters restaurant, the Snohomish Art Gallery and the Art Not Terminal Gallery in Seattle. Learn more about Crystal’s work or get in touch with her through her LinkedIn.

Oh, also she’s getting married in April! Congrats, Crystal!”

PICTURE: Crystal Medler at work; photo by Andrew Fearon.


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