GCI News
Frank Preusser (1944–2017)
Frank Preusser

Frank Preusser, the first staff member of the Getty Conservation Institute and the individual most responsible for shaping the GCI’s scientific program in its early years, passed away suddenly in January 2017.

Frank began his career in conservation after earning his PhD in 1973 in physical chemistry and chemical technology from the Technical University of Munich. Shortly after receiving his degree, he was hired to serve as the head of the research laboratory for the Doerner Institute, the research center of the Bavarian State Painting Collections. He held that position for ten years.

In February 1983 Frank was recruited from the Doerner Institute by the Getty Trust to create a scientific research program that would form the core of scientific activities of an envisioned conservation institute, as well as supply analytical services to the Getty Museum. Formally appointed director of the GCI Scientific Program in 1985, he had already begun developing a wide range of GCI research activities that expanded in short order. Essentially starting from scratch, Frank began building a scientific department by recruiting a team of young scientists interested in undertaking the challenge of applying science to the conservation of cultural heritage. He also brought on board as consultants or staff several senior scientists who had previously worked with Getty Museum conservators. He initiated a series of collaborative research projects with established and accomplished research institutions around the world and sought to use industry as a resource for existing materials that could be applied to conservation problems for the first time.

By 1987 the Scientific Program's research activities under Frank's leadership encompassed strategies for preventing damage to collections, such as that caused by air pollution and light, fluctuations of temperature and humidity, and insect pests; methods for identifying materials and developing procedures for testing them; research and analysis of artists' materials, including pigments, binding media, and varnishes; evaluation of new analytical, diagnostic, and treatment techniques that could be applied to works of art; and the conservation of building materials such as stone and adobe. In 1990 Frank was appointed associate director of Programs for the GCI, a position he held for three years. During his tenure at the GCI, he also served on a number of international advisory committees focused on the preservation of significant heritage around the world.

Following his 1993 departure from the Institute, Frank founded Frank Preusser & Associates, consulting for a number of cultural institutions and undertaking scientific investigations of specific works of art. In 2005 he was appointed Andrew W. Mellon Senior Conservation Scientist in the Conservation Center of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), a position he held until his death. Among the projects he led while at LACMA was the museum's project to conserve Watts Towers, a Los Angeles landmark.

Frank's legacy includes laying a solid foundation for the work of GCI Science today. In the Institute's embryonic phase, he established the GCI's credentials by quickly carrying out important work that made substantive contributions to the field. For that work, and for his lifelong leadership in conservation science, he will be remembered.

The Institute offers its condolences to his wife, his children, and his grandchildren.