School of Visual Arts alumna leaves legacy through new drawing tables

Amy Milgrub Marshall
January 22, 2016

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — According to Kimberly Schenck, 1979 Penn State graduate with a bachelor of fine arts in visual arts, believes drawing should be an integral part of everyone’s lives. She sees it as a way to problem-solve and interpret the world.

So when Schenck visited the Penn State School of Visual Arts (SoVA) drawing studio in 2015 and discovered the same tables she had used in the 1970s, she knew she needed to help make new tables a reality. Her pledged gift of $25,000 will fund the fabrication of 20 new tables to be built precisely to meet SoVA’s needs.

“Whatever you are doing in your life, I think drawing is important,” she said. “This was an opportunity for me to give money to something I really believe in, and something I do in my job -- preserve drawing.”

Schenck has been head of paper conservation at the National Gallery of Art for the past 10 years, after spending 17 years in a similar position at The Baltimore Museum of Art. She focused on drawing at Penn State, where she enjoyed the close-knit community in the School of Visual Arts.

“I had the best of both worlds. I had a small community within the art department along with the amazing opportunities you can find only at a large university,” she said.

Schenck credits former Penn State faculty member Diane Pepe with sparking her interest in conservation by teaching her to appreciate the intricacies and beauty of paper. “Diane was inspiring as an individual and also inspirational -- I learned a lot from her.”

After graduating from Penn State, Kim worked in an art supply store, among other jobs, before she decided she was interested in a career in conservation. She worked in museums in Washington, D.C., in different capacities before deciding to pursue a graduate degree in conservation from the Winterthur/University of Delaware Art Conservation Program. “I have always been interested in prints and drawings, so a career in paper conservation made perfect sense.”

At the National Gallery, her job is to preserve works of art for future generations to enjoy. That includes restoring prints and drawings, advising on how and when to exhibit works of art at the Gallery and other museums, and studying works of art to determine the artist’s materials and techniques.

“We also strive to preserve the artist’s original intention and the beauty of the work of art,” she explained. “For example, a stain on a print may not be damaging but interferes with one’s experience of its beauty. Sometimes the work a paper conservator does is simply cosmetic. The goal differs from when a library conservator needs to stabilize the condition of an object, for example the broken spine of a book, so that researchers can safely handle the volume.”

Schenck’s gift to SoVA will help future Penn State students create their own beauty, in an updated facility reflective of the school’s commitment to foundations courses such as drawing. The welded steel tables will have a solid plywood top with Masonite surface cover and feature a simple, toothed sliding apparatus for positioning the tabletop at multiple angles for varied drawing purposes. SoVA shop supervisor Matt Olson built a prototype for the steel portion of the table, which will be made by a vendor, and he will construct the tabletops in-house.

“Kim’s long-term passion for drawing and her generosity in wanting to ‘preserve drawing’ at SoVA warranted careful thought in how to honor her gift,” said Graeme Sullivan, SoVA director. “So our shop instructors designed drawing tables that will last a lifetime.”

Schenck said she is happy the new tables will be her legacy. “I saw their vision, and it was like a mutual light bulb came on,” she noted. “Funding the fabrication of the drawing tables and other improvements to the studio is a way to come full circle and strengthen my commitment to Penn State in many ways.”

Last Updated January 25, 2016