Carolina People

Carolina People: Grace White

Carolina People: Meet Grace White, paper conservator at the Ackland Art Museum.

Woman poses with a smock and a brush in front of a table of paper
Grace White Paper Conservator Ackland Art Museum (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Grace White
3 years working at Carolina

What’s a typical day like in your job?

I am an art conservator specializing in works on paper, which means I preserve and treat artworks in the Ackland’s collection to keep them safe and to ensure that they remain in a state as close as possible to the artists’ original intent. I have an ongoing queue of artworks that require my attention, some that are patiently waiting for treatment and others that have a deadline to go on exhibit. I might start my day by setting up aqueous treatments for a series of Daumier lithographs, then move on to mending tears in colorful Japanese prints or assessing the safety of exhibiting light-sensitive Rembrandt drawings. I also make detailed written and photographic documentation for all of my treatments, including any chemicals and materials that I use.

How does your job support Carolina’s mission?

As a caretaker for the artworks in our collection, I help to ensure their accessibility for today’s Carolina community and for many future generations. The Ackland Art Museum is wonderful for making artwork available for close looking for students, faculty and the wider public. We at the Ackland seek to educate, inspire and nurture creativity both in our galleries and in classes in our Study Gallery and Print Study rooms, and I’m proud to be part of that mission.

What do you like most about your work?

I love working hands-on with the artwork. Not many people have the privilege of being allowed to touch the art in a museum, but that is my everyday job. I enjoy working with tiny details, even repetitive delicate tasks that most people would find tedious; most of us conservators are fiddly perfectionists. I especially love in painting, using watercolors to fill in lost areas of an image that might otherwise be distracting; I don’t get to do that very often, so it’s a rare treat when that need arises. And it’s so rewarding when a project is finished to see its improved condition and to feel proud of my work.

How did you get interested in being a conservator?

I always loved art and I knew that I wanted some kind of art-related career, but not necessarily a studio artist. I also loved museums, so I thought an art museum career would be ideal, but something hands-on where I could still use my artistic skills. When I found out about the existence of art conservation, I realized that it was my dream job.

What’s something about your job that others might not know?

There’s a lot of science involved in conservation, particularly chemistry. I need to know how materials like pigments, inks, adhesives and mat boards will affect the paper on a chemical level, as well as how it will react to changes in light, temperature and humidity. I also need to know how to select the right solvents to remove tape or stains without damaging the artwork. Conservation is a great combination of art and science, and I love it.

Carolina People is a regular feature in each issue of the Gazette that asks one of your fascinating colleagues five questions about the work they do for the University. Do you know someone with an interesting or unique job at Carolina? Please email your suggestions to and put Carolina People in the subject line.