The Fixer

Kristin Cheronis, conservator, on what we do to art—and what she does to make it better

Kristin Cheronis’s lab, in northeast Minneapolis, looks like an old hospital room, filled with wooden file cabinets laden with medical-type cutting tools and a wheelie tray full of liquid-filled jars she jokingly calls her dessert cart. And, in a sense, this is a place where the broken are made whole again, only it’s art not people who are served.

How did you come to be a conservator—one who saves, preservers, fixes art?
KC: I originally studied archaeology—I worked in Amman, Jordan, and came to art conservation through archaeological conservation. I loved the intersection of art and science.

What are the main reasons you’re called to service public art in particular?
KC: Freezing and thawing cracks art open, acid snow, hail, high winds, tree limbs, snow removal—sculptures are often rammed by snowplows. And then there’s a whole category I call “under the influence.” I see four or five sculptures hit by cars every year in Minnesota. In Irvine Park in St. Paul, someone drove a car down some steps to slam into a fountain.

When you’re working outdoors, how do people interact with you?
KC: People often ask, “Did you just put this [sculpture] up?” They’ve walked by this sculpture for years and just noticed it. They’ll yell out of cars. They’ll offer what they think of it. Public art is kind of a Rorschach test.

What sculptures spur the most interaction?
KC: Mary Tyler Moore, by far. Every five minutes, someone takes a picture of her. People sing to her. They’ve evidently thrown up on her. Foreigners always ask me who she is, and I say, “Well, you’re in America—she was a television star.”

What kind of art endures?
KC: Bronze and granite, certainly. But also popular art—if a work of art is loved, it endures. People actually physically attack art they don’t like.

For more about Kristin Cheronis, read “The Art Angel.”