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Marianne Russell Marti, ’87, is a rare breed. From the age of 12, she knew precisely what she wanted to do with her life: become an art conservator.
Inspired by a trip to the Saint Louis Art Museum, Marti was fascinated by the work being done at the museum’s art conservation studio. She loved making art as a child, but treating and cleaning artwork was a whole new world for her. “I really fell in love with it,” she said.
Today, Marti is living her dream as an art conservator with her own practice. After earning a B.A. in art history from Washington University in 1982 and an M.A. in art conservation from Buffalo State College, she and her husband, Bob, who is also a conservator, established Russell-Marti Conservation Services in California, Missouri. They specialize in outdoor sculpture with a focus on bronze. “We very much enjoy working on outdoor public art,” she said, “because of the interaction with the local people and the sense of pride that is felt, or sometimes reestablished, through the attention and care given to a community’s public monuments.”
Marti’s work goes well beyond conserving artwork; it’s also about preserving history. In 1988, for instance, her firm was first commissioned to work on Abraham Lincoln’s tomb in Springfield, Illinois. Over the years, they’ve done maintenance work on the outside of the burial tomb and spent some time inside the tomb itself, cleaning the decorative bronze works. Ironically, they’ve done similar work in Chicago on the tomb of Stephen Douglas, Lincoln’s political opponent in the presidential election of 1860.
Several years later, Marti and her crew traveled to Pearl Harbor to work on the ship’s bell from the U.S.S. Arizona, which was sunk during the surprise attack in 1941 and is still submerged today. “At the time, there were some questions as to whether the bell had actually come from the Arizona,” she said. “But we discovered charred and burned material inside the bell, indicating that it had been on the boat during the attack.”
In May 2010, Marti’s career came full circle when she arrived back in Buffalo to conserve part of the Queen City’s history. During a three-month project overseen by the Buffalo Arts Commission, she and her crew restored 19 indoor and outdoor sculptures. Work included removing dirt and grime from a marble bust of Millard Fillmore in City Hall, reapplying a protective coating on the Young Lincoln in Delaware Park, and removing graffiti from the Indian Hunter, also in Delaware Park. The work that probably received the most attention involved the David sculpture along the Scajaquada Expressway. These restoration efforts included attaching the statue, which had previously been free-standing, to its pedestal.
Busy in her flourishing career, Marti points to her degree from Buffalo State as a great starting point. “Buffalo State offered a well-rounded education in art conservation,” she said. “And it helped me enormously right from the start. It’s such a respected program, and it opened a lot of doors for me. I still get a lot of ongoing support from the faculty. So it’s just been a wonderful resource.”
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