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MFA for Educators

Engage your students with the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, to illustrate themes and concepts in any discipline.

Behind the Scenes - Conservation


Children will learn about how conservators at the Museum of Fine arts look into works of art extremely closely and improve pieces that need it.

It is quite incredible for artwork that is over 1000 years old to still be in a good enough condition that it helps the viewer gain a better understanding of the history behind the piece, and can imagine what it looked like when it was first made all those years ago.

After this experience, students should gain an interest and understanding in the conservation of art, and hopefully gain an interest in the field.  

Objects/ Galleries*

Beadnet Dress, gallery 105, #27.1548.1

This Egyptian Beadnet dress is from the Egyptian 4th Dynasty, found on a mummy in a Giza tomb. Representing beadwork and wealth, this dress is one of the earliest artifacts of a garment like this. Found by the Harvard-MFA Expedition in 1927 inside Giza tomb, the dress was found dismantled. However, with few beads laying in the original pattern, Millicent Jick was able to reconstruct the 7 thousand beaded dress.

Take notice of the photograph next to the dress, shows what it looked like when archeologists found it.

Emphasize the tediousness of stringing a seven thousand beaded dress.

Mention how the colors in the beads have faded.

Model of a funerary boat, gallery 119, #21.893

One of the 58 boats discovered in the ancient Egyptian tomb of Governor Djehutynakht, the model of the funerary boat dates all the way back to 2010-1961 B.C. This is one of the several models representing funerary boats, which would transport the deceased to the cemetery, painted white with red lines at the top surface to indicate the various sections and beams of the deck. This funerary model is a great representation of conservation for ancient artifacts, as the tomb of Djehutynakht was raided by thieves, and most of the model boats were found piled up and wrecked, taking conservators almost a century to put the pieces back together. The Harvard/MFA Expedition team found the tomb in complete disorder in 1915. Coffins, mummies, and the wooden models were destroyed and thrown to the side. Fortunately, the team of archeologists were able to conserve and bring a selection from the tomb to the museum and restore these beautiful models for people to enjoy.  

Focus on how almost every piece in this gallery had to be put back together.

Mention the different skin colors of the modeled people, those who worked outside had darker skin due to being in the sun constantly.

Ask tour how long they think it must have taken conservationists to reassemble all the pieces.

Cylinder vase, gallery 125A, #1988.1282

This Mayan piece of pottery dates back to A.D. 55-850 found in Guatemala. The scene depicted on this cylinder vase relates back to the mythology of the moon goddess. A non-Primary Standard Sequence hieroglyphic circles the top of the vase and the conservation is somewhat noticeable through the outlining of the figures and text. However, a common question that conservationists ask themselves is “how good should it look?”  Mayan ceramic cylinders are excavated archaeological objects that are over 1000 years old, the surfaces may be worn, and stains or encrustations could potentially be from ancient practices, but still ruin the painted image. Therefore, conservationists are very careful as to what they choose to clean and replace.

Explain the mythology behind the vase and how it could have been used for praying to their gods.

Point out how over 1000 years later the image and text is pretty clear still, due to conservation.

Ask the tour why they think it may not be in best interest to make some pieces look nicer.  

Instructor Tour Routes

We will start in Ancient Egypt, gallery 105, to take a quick look at the Beadnet dress.

We will then go through gallery 119, the ancient Egyptian tomb of Governor Djehutynakht, and focus primarily on the conservation of the models that were once disassembled.

After the quick walk through gallery 119, we will head towards the main attraction, gallery 125, “Behind the Scenes.”

Each instructor is encouraged to point out artwork along the way that looks like it fits well with the overall theme of the day.

Art Activity

The children will restore their own images in a fun and easy project.

They will be given a picture of a recognizable piece in the museum, and it is their job to fill in the missing parts of the art by drawing and coloring it in.

This project can be done in the galleries, and can be arranged that each piece a child is given is within the gallery they do the project on, encouraging them to closely examine the artwork.  


White paper

Construction paper

Glue and/or tape

Exacto knife

Printed Images of pieces around the museum


Cut out parts of the image with an exacto knife

Paste cut image on top of white paper and glue that to construction paper

Pencils and erasers

Colored pencils (optional)

Created By

Alison Chedekel


History/Social Studies, Science

Grade Level