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Buffalo State Art Conservation Professor Serves as Adviser to TFA Alumna’s Film

Posted: January 18, 2023

When Grace Philips, ’16, started making a film for her master of fine arts (M.F.A.) thesis at Columbia University, she drew on the skills she honed in Buffalo State University’s television and film arts (TFA) program.

She also tapped the expertise of Fiona Beckett, assistant professor of paintings conservation in Buffalo State’s highly acclaimed Garman Art Conservation Department.

Philips wrote and directed the short film Georgette in the Garden, which focuses on a recently discovered nineteenth-century painting of a young girl created by a fictional impressionist. When the protagonist, an art conservator at a small museum, starts restoring the painting, she discovers a second, somewhat controversial, painting beneath it.

“I knew from the beginning I’d be getting deep into art conservation science, so I consulted with several conservators, including Fiona,” Philips said. “The collaboration has been great.”

Beckett gave Philips a tour of Buffalo State’s art conservation facilities and made sure the science depicted in the film was accurate.

“I’ve been providing advice related to conservation of paintings, technical analysis, and instrumentation used in conservation,” said Beckett, who has served as an adviser on other film scripts. “Grace approached me a while ago about the script and the idea. I thought it was great to highlight art conservation and was happy to be a part of it.”

Beckett also reviewed Philips’s application for a competitive grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, which Philips was awarded. The grants are specifically reserved for media productions that incorporate science in a meaningful way.

“I think a lot of people are intimidated by science, which probably increased my chances of receiving the grant,” Philips said. “I really admire science, but it’s not my strong suit.”

Production began on January 9, with most of the filming taking place in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Philips was also able to reserve a private conservation studio for one scene. She said a kindhearted art conservator lent her not only his studio but also his microscope, which provides a realistic feel to the film.

Philips said she was well-prepared for the competitive Columbia program after spending four years in Buffalo State’s TFA program.

“The best thing they gave us was hands-on experience,” she said. “The professors would say, ‘Here’s a camera. Go make something.’ They give you so much freedom to experiment.”

While at Buffalo State, Philips won a Pioneer Award for one of her short films and also participated in three TFA trips to the Toronto International Film Festival, which she called one of the best parts of her education.

After she completes her M.F.A. in October, Philips said, she plans to stay in New York City and pursue a career as a screenwriter.

“I’m deeply fascinating with the world as it is,” she said. “I like to tell dramatic stories that also have elements of humor in them. That is what life is like.”

Philips is seeking additional funding to cover expenses for Georgette. More information is available at Film Independent.

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Patricia H. and Richard E. Garman Art Conservation Department

1300 Elmwood Ave  •  Rockwell Hall 230 •  Buffalo, NY 14222
Phone: (716) 878-5025 •  Fax: (716) 878-5039