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New GPS program teaches restoration, preservation in Italy

Beth Wheeler

Students in the West Virginia University School of Art & Design are encouraged to engage the world as a fertile ground for art making and critical research through the School’s Global Positioning Studies program. For seven years, students have learned about art and art history through regional travel in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, to sites across the U.S. including Jackson Hole, New York City, Hawaii and Maine, to global study in France, Chile, China and other locales. This year, a preservation studies program in San Gemini, Italy was added to the list of GPS programs. 

The San Gemini Preservation Studies GPS is a four-week series of courses, field projects and place-based experiences run through the San Gemini Preservation Studies International Institute for Restoration and Preservation Studies.

The Institute’s faculty members, who hold adjunct faculty status at WVU, foster the preservation of cultural heritage through courses about the analysis, preservation, and restoration of historic buildings, conservation and restoration of archaeological ceramics, the history and reconstruction of historical books, the restoration and preservation of paper materials in archival collections, historical materials and methods of painting and restoration and ethics and issues in restoration.


“The San Gemini Preservation Studies GPS program is an ideal program for our students,” said Rhonda Reymond, associate professor of art history. “I and another faculty member took classes in the summer of 2016 and the professors were fantastic. They are credentialed and highly regarded professionals in their fields and are also great with the students. The classes intersect with many of our majors, art history, technical art history, several studio areas and areas outside of the College of Creative Arts, including public history, historic preservation, interior design, and they would add to the educational experience of anyone interested in art conservation, and museum or archival studies.”

GPS students in Italy

Beth Wheeler, a second-year art history graduate student from Bellwood, Pennsylvania, had previously studied and lived abroad, and chose to continue her education at WVU in part thanks to the ability to travel during her educational experience. 

“The San Gemini Preservation Studies program seemed well-aligned with my program of study and professional goals, and the opportunity to study historical painting techniques in a hands-on program seemed too good to pass up,” Wheeler said.

In Italy for nearly a month, Wheeler spent her mornings in lectures focused on history, ethics, techniques of painting restoration and the technical aspects of the materials and processes used in her studio classes in the afternoon. 

“During this time, we not only learned sgraffitto, fresco, egg tempera and oil techniques, but we also learned how to prepare all of the materials ourselves,” Wheeler said. “It was exciting to start with a ‘canvas’ that looked like a piece of burlap sack and end up with a beautiful oil painting, or to turn a pile of sand and a bucket of lime putty into a fresco!”

“I also learned a lot about different methods of restoration and was able to see some of these firsthand,” Wheeler said. “Such knowledge is invaluable to me as an art historian, since I will now be able to write about and examine artwork with a much clearer understanding of how they were made and how they may have been restored.”

Wheeler would recommend the program to others considering it, stating, “the coursework is challenging and interesting, and it was amazing to have the chance to study restoration techniques and historical painting methods in the heart of the beautiful Umbrian countryside.”

Lindsay Toney

Lindsay Toney, a senior printmaking and art history double major, also spent a portion of her summer in the San Gemini Preservation Studies GPS program. Toney chose to focus on paper restoration during her time in the program. 

“As a printmaker and art historian, paper was a part of my everyday life and I wanted to know more about it and how I could preserve it to the best of my ability,” said Toney, a Beckley native. “This program did just that.” 

Toney attended lectures and spent lab hours restoring paper documents like manuscripts from the nearby town of Terni. Her favorite part of the program was a research trip to Fabriano, Italy.

“I got to watch and assist in making paper,” Toney said. “It even inspired me to make my own paper for my prints.”

Toney feels more prepared for her career after her time in Italy, she says.

Books that students restored as part of the GPS program

“Not only does the experience look great on my resume but also taught me a lot about proper handling and what types of damages are informational and how to properly store documents so that further damage won’t occur,” Toney said. “I gained so much knowledge about what goes into restoration and all the many different aspects of paper and how it can be treated. Having that knowledge is so important, especially for anyone who is looking for a career that deals with handling paper or documents of any kind.” 

For more information on the San Gemini Preservation Studies GPS program, visit: