Associate Project Specialist, Field Projects

Photo Jonathan Bell

For Jonathan Bell, who grew up in New York City, travel was a part of his life early on, and included trips to the North Carolina farm where his mother grew up, and later to the Caribbean and Jamaica, his father's place of birth. In his teens, Jonathan also spent some summers in France, where he added French to the Spanish he had learned as a young child. He attended Hunter College High School in Manhattan, where he played piano, sang in a jazz group, and participated in school activities that had an international focus. He knew, even then, that he wanted to do international work.

At Harvard, he selected East Asian studies as his major and began intensive work in Mandarin Chinese. Another course sparked an interest in Buddhism, and Jonathan ended up writing an undergraduate thesis on the Buddhist iconography in wall paintings at a couple of sites in China. He also worked at the university's Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, cataloging and researching its Tibetan thangka collection.

Graduating in 1997, Jonathan spent two years at the Université Paris–Sorbonne (Paris IV) studying Tibetan iconography and earning a diplôme d'etudes approfondies. As part of his studies, he traveled to China's Sichuan Province to view the murals of the remote Baiya Monastery. There he had the opportunity to watch an Italian conservation team at work, an experience that initiated his interest in conservation—and in learning Italian.

During an internship and subsequent consultancy with the Cultural Heritage Division of unesco in Paris, Jonathan decided that he wanted more technical background in conservation. He enrolled in the historic preservation master's program at Columbia University in New York, and while there he wrote a thesis that analyzed the compatibility of modern building materials with historic fabric in a fifteenth-century Islamic tomb complex in Pakistan.

After graduating from Columbia, Jonathan came to the GCI briefly as a consultant in June 2001. Five months later, he returned to the Institute as a staff member, hired to assist on the China Principles project. Since then he has been enjoying the intellectual challenge of working as part of a team applying those principles at two very different sites—the Mogao Grottoes and Chengde. Conservation requires him to draw upon a wide range of knowledge and skill, and for Jonathan that keeps the work exciting.