The Interrelated Work of Charles Rhyne

By Nancy McCarthy '92 MALS

Photo: Fred Wilson

Charles S. Rhyne, professor emeritus of art history, has found that retirement has granted him the freedom to focus even more of his attention on the relationship between art history and conservation.

Rhyne, who retired from Reed in May 1997, is internationally known as a scholar of British artist John Constable (1776-1837). As an outgrowth of study on the artist, he became interested in the physical history of painting and in the history, theory, and practice of art conservation and historic preservation.

In 1989-90, he began teaching a seminar at Reed on art history and conservation in which students prepared class reports and papers on all aspects of the subject. Students discussed philosophical issues and conducted laboratory examination of paintings. One year, they used Reed's nuclear reactor to conduct autoradiography of paintings, an extremely accurate diagnostic tool for analysis of changes in paint that may have been made by artists and later restorers.

Rhyne began teaching at Reed in 1960 and recently finished the introductory section to The World of Conservation, a book that will be published by the Getty Conservation Institute. Rhyne's section examines why and how we preserve art, the roles of values in conservation, and questions of authenticity. Rhyne calls the work of the five authors who wrote the book the "most comprehensive of its kind."

During the spring of 1995, Rhyne was a resident fellow, guest of the director, at the Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities, the Getty Conservation Institute, and the J. Paul Getty Museum--the first scholar to be sponsored by all three institutes.

Before retiring, Rhyne received Mellon and Culpeper Foundation grants for the use of digital images for student research, and he gave a paper last April at a national museum conference on the potential of museum web sites for art conservation and historic preservation. Next February he will present a paper at the national meeting of the College Art Association on the technical examination of art and practice of art history.

Rhyne has conducted research and fieldwork on the conservation, or lack thereof, of Northwest Coast Native American art. A recent outcome of that work is his role as curator of the recent exhibition in Reed's Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery of the work of Haida artist guud san glans, Robert Davidson. The exhibition featured a totem pole that he says "exemplifies the ideals of modern conservation, regular monitoring, and minor treatment when needed to avoid restoration."

He calls his retirement "independence" and says his projects are interrelated in ways that increasingly surprise and inform.

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