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Subject: A death

A death

From: Francesca Bewer <francesca_bewer<-at->
Date: Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Eugene F. Farrell (November 18, 1933 in New Haven, CT
March 19, 2012 Cambridge, MA)

It is with sadness that I inform you of the death of Eugene F.
Farrell, former Senior Conservation Scientist at the Harvard Art
Museums' Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies. Gene
passed away in his sleep on March 19, 2012 at the age of 78. He will
be remembered by generations of conservators as a generous colleague
and a dedicated teacher. He was knowledgeable, calm, and
open-minded, qualities for which he was greatly appreciated,
especially during discussions and at meetings.

Gene came to the conservation field with a background in geology
(B.A. cum laude, and M.A. in Geology from Boston University), which
he supplemented with courses in X-radiography, physics, mathematics,
geochemistry and petrology. In 1956, the same year he married Lynne
Breda, Gene became member of the Scientific Research Society, Sigma
Xi, which "honors excellence in scientific investigation and
encourages a sense of companionship and cooperation among
researchers in all fields of science and engineering." He was a
teaching fellow the following year at Boston University and spent
the summer of 1958 studying ice cores in Thule, Greenland as a
crystallographer for Permafrost Ice Studies at the Snow, Ice and
Permafrost Research Establishment, Wilmette, Illinois (now in
Hanover, New Hampshire). That led to a job as research staff member
in the Crystal Physics Laboratory of the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology (1960-77), during which time he published numerous papers
in the American Mineralogist, Materials Research Bulletin, American
Ceramics Society Bulletin among others, and also collaborated on a
patent for a "Cathode Ray Tube Whose Image Screen is both
Cathodochromic and Fluorescent and the Material for the Screen."

Gene began his museum career in 1977 after he answered a small "help
wanted" ad in the Boston Globe for analytical work at Harvard
University's Fogg Museum in the Center for Conservation and
Technical Studies (CCTS). Like Rutherford John Gettens (the Museum's
illustrious first staff chemist from 1928 to 1950), Gene had no
prior museum experience, but quickly learned to apply his skills and
knowledge to the materials of art. He started as Assistant
Conservation Scientist under the museum's Science Associate, Leon
Studolski, and helped to integrate petrography, Fourier transform
infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) and X-ray diffraction (XRD) in the
laboratory work. He was soon promoted to Conservation Scientist.
Shortly thereafter, in 1980, he became the Senior Conservation
Scientist of the CCTS (now called the Straus Center for Conservation
and Technical Studies)--a position he held until his retirement in

Gene greatly enjoyed the collaboration between scientists, curators,
conservators and students. His quiet demeanor belied his great
productivity; the quality and quantity of analyses he carried out is
attested by the cabinets filled with report files and by his
numerous publications. Among the broad range of topics and materials
he investigated were: the painting materials of Vincent van Gogh and
of Winslow Homer; the composition of pigments from ancient Persia
and of 16th- to 18th-century house paint; pasteprints; illuminated
Renaissance manuscripts (in particular those in the Historical
Library of the University of Valencia, Spain, where he was Visiting
professor at the Polytechnical University of Valencia, Spain in
1990--the research culminated in the bilingual book he co-authored
with Salvador Munoz Vinas, published in 1999); the materials of
stone sculpture--Indian, Chinese (Scholars' Rocks), and Gothic (an
eighteen-month project on the analysis of Gothic stone sculpture
from New England collections funded by the National Endowment for
the Humanities); the materials of Chinese Ceramics, and of baroque
terracotta sculptures. Gene also trained his analytical skills on
the origins of turbidity in acrylic paints and on the metal
composition of Renaissance bronze medals.

He was a Lecturer in Fine Arts at Harvard University from 1984
onwards, and taught courses on the "Technical Examination of Works
of Art" and on "The Materials of Art," and also taught for the
Harvard Freshmen Seminar program. His many students will remember
him for his patience and courteousness: regardless of their level of
scientific knowledge, they knew that they could depend on him for
any help they needed. He also genuinely took pleasure in helping the
Center's graduate conservation interns/fellows with their research
projects and worked with them enthusiastically. Some of the projects
that he oversaw were of great interest to museum community at large.
For instance, in 1984-85 under the guidance of Gene and the center's
director, Arthur Beale, Pamela Hatchfield and Jane Carpenter
undertook the first major investigation of the potential effects of
formaldehyde and formic acid on museum collections.

Gene, along with Arthur Beale and fellow Conservation Scientist,
Richard Newman, publicized the effects of acid rain on outdoor
cultural properties. He was also involved in the important 2-day
seminar on "The Role of Conservation and Technical Examination in
the Art Museum" that was hosted in 1985 by the Center for
Conservation and Technical Studies in conjunction with New England
Museum Association, and attended by more than a hundred
participants. And in collaboration with colleagues at Harvard's
Peabody Museum, Gene developed ways of applying atomic absorption
spectroscopy instrumentation to the analysis of cultural artifacts.

At the beginning of the 1990s Gene oversaw the major upgrading of
the Center's analytical facilities. And together with his colleagues
he began creating libraries of FTIR and X-ray fluorescence (XRF)
spectra using the Forbes Pigment Collection and the Gettens
Collection of Binding Media and Varnishes. He also oversaw a new
internship in conservation science, and more recently, the first
Andrew W. Mellon postdoctoral fellowship in conservation science at
the Straus Center for Conservation, a program initiated in 2002.

After a brief break from museum work following his retirement, Gene
worked on a part time basis on a range of analytical projects at the
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, collaborating anew with his former
colleague Richard Newman, now Head of the MFA's Scientific Research

Gene always had a dual interest in science and art. Throughout much
of his adult life he took courses in art history, languages and
history. He played the guitar. And he studied instrument-making at
the Museum of Fine Art's antique instruments collection, and made
several guitars and a lute. He also obtained a certificate in the
art of hand wrought ironwork, of which he was very proud. Gene's
interests ranged beyond science and art, particularly to all matters
Gaelic. The Farrell ancestors had come from the Dingle peninsula in
Ireland before they settled in what is now West Virginia. Gene took
numerous trips back to the old homeland starting in 1968, both with
his family and with study groups, and he also studied Gaelic
assiduously at the Harvard Extension School. It is in Ireland that
he and his family made the acquaintance of (and fell in love with)
Irish wolfhounds. They adopted their first one from a shelter in
1982. Gene was an indefatigable student to the end: in addition to
other courses, he was giving himself a self-tutorial on quantum
physics in the period before he died.

Gene is survived by his wife Lynne Breda Farrell, his son Eugene
Thoralf, and Owen (Gaelic for Eugene), the latest in a long line of
rescued Irish hounds. Gene will be greatly missed and remembered by
all who had the very good fortune to spend time with him.

Francesca Bewer
Research Curator
Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies
Harvard Art Museums

                  Conservation DistList Instance 26:11
                 Distributed: Saturday, August 4, 2012
                       Message Id: cdl-26-11-001
Received on Wednesday, 1 August, 2012

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