Watts and Conservation Communities Mourn Frank Preusser
Frank D. Preusser (1944 – 2017)
It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Dr. Frank D. Preusser, Andrew W. Mellon Senior Conservation Scientist, in the Conservation Center at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). Dr. Preusser devoted his life to the preservation of cultural materials and is widely recognized as one of the preeminent figures in the field of conservation science. He joined LACMA in 2005 at a time when the Center was undergoing significant changes and his efforts were instrumental in revitalizing the Center’s scientific program. In addition to providing scientific support to the museum’s conservators and curatorial staff, Frank was the lead scientist and project manager for LACMA’s efforts to conserve Watts Towers – a complex set of interconnected sculptural structures located within the Simon Rodia State Historic Park in Watts, California.
Dr. Preusser received his BS (1967) and MS (1969) in chemistry from the Technical University Munich, Germany and in 1973 his PhD (summa cum laude) in physical chemistry and chemical technology. Soon thereafter he accepted a position at the Doerner Institute, the research center of the Bavarian State Art Collections where he served as Head of the Research Laboratory for over ten years working closely with one of the world’s leading paintings conservators, the late Hubert von Sonnenburg. As the only museum scientist on staff he was responsible for the technical examination of the collections as well as assisting the State’s Historic Monument Protection Agency. He also played an active role in the design of the Neue Pinakothek Munich to ensure the proper display and storage of the works of art.
In 1983 Dr. Preusser was appointed Head of the Laboratory at the J. Paul Getty Museum and later served in multiple positions at the Getty Conservation Institute including Program Director (Scientific Research), Acting Co-Director, Head of Publications, and Associate Director (Programs). As Program Director for Scientific Research Dr. Preusser developed a wide range of new initiatives that set the stage for some of the most important advances in the field of conservation science. During his tenure at GCI, rather than poaching research staff from other institutions, Dr. Preusser purposefully recruited young up-and-coming professionals with various scientific backgrounds and set them off on the challenge of applying their expertise to cultural heritage preservation. Many of them continue his drive to advance scientific progress in the field of conservation. During his tenure at GCI he also served on numerous advisory committees for the preservation of cultural materials – most notably UNESCO’s Advisory Committee to the Egyptian Antiquities Organization on the Preservation of the Giza Plateau; UNESCO’s International Consultative Committee for the Preservation of Moenjodaro in Pakistan; UNESCO’s International Committee on Training Needs in Cambodia; UNESCO’s Advisory Committee on the Preservation of the Monuments of Angkor, Cambodia; and the US National Acid Precipitation Assessment Program.
After leaving the Getty Conservation Institute in 1993, he founded Frank Preusser & Associates where he continued to work on cultural heritage preservation projects for museums, libraries and archives as well as scientific investigations of individual artworks. During this time he was also a guest-professor at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music (Tokyo Geijutsu Daigaku) where he taught several graduate courses in conservation science including an Introduction to Instrumental analysis, archaeometry, and accelerated aging.
While Dr. Preusser’s knowledge of the field of art conservation was without parallel, for those of us who had the honor of working with him he will always be remembered for the devotion and support he gave his staff and colleagues. He loved teaching and guiding his staff and interns to reach their goals and become successful professionals. Many of us today owe our professional careers to his mentorship for which we are truly grateful.
Dr. Preusser is survived by his wife Margarete, his two sons Wolfgang and Bernhard, his daughters-in-law Melinda and Susan, and his grandchildren Adrianna and Devin.
~Mark Gilberg and Charlotte Eng