WOODBURY, CONN. — Elizabeth H. Jones, former head of conservation at the Fogg Museum, died on May 20, age 94. Known to friends and colleagues as Betty, she was born in 1918 in nearby Waterbury, where she graduated from St Margaret’s School. She earned a degree in fine arts from Vassar College in 1940 and studied painting at the Art Students League of New York for two years before joining the World War II effort in the drafting department of Pratt & Whitney in Hartford.
She came to conservation after the war, apprenticing with art conservator Caroline Keck while studying chemistry at New York University. She received her master’s degree in fine arts from Radcliffe College in 1948 and immediately began working in the conservation department of the Fogg Museum.
In 1951 she directed a National Parks Service restoration project at Independence Hall in Philadelphia and later the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. In 1952 she returned to Harvard and served 22 years as head of the conservation department and keeper of silver of the Harvard Art Museums. During that period she also held a lectureship in the Harvard fine arts department.
After an early retirement in 1974, she was called back to Boston in 1975 to serve as chief conservator at the Museum of Fine Arts. She was a fellow of the International Institute for Conservation (IIC) and the American Institute for Conservation (AIC) and served as vice chairwoman of the AIC in the early 1960s.
Beginning in 1967 Betty devoted many months to the preservation and restoration of paintings, sculptures and structures that were ravaged by floods in Venice, Italy. Working under the auspices of the Committee to Rescue Italian Art (CRIA), she spent the summers of 1969, 1971 and 1972 in Venice. During the academic year, when she was based in Cambridge, she participated in a number of events to raise funds for CRIA.
Betty cleaned off layers of yellowed varnish and grime of works by old masters, such as Poussin. Her work revealed the brilliant ultramarine he used, a pigment that was more costly than gold. Betty took a special interest in the history of ultramarine and also that of a yellow pigment made from tin and lead, which was used only in the Renaissance. Her research established its usage as a reliable tool for dating and authentication.
Many students she taught at Harvard went on to careers in museums. They learned from her the principles of conservation, proper environmental and exhibition conditions and handling procedures, which they went on to apply to the collections under their care. These museum professionals and also the academic art historians never forgot her first lesson: allow the work of art, in the original, to tell you all it knows.
She is survived by her nephews Bennett Jones of Cambridge and Daniel Jones of Exeter, N.H., and numerous grandnieces and grandnephews and their families.
Donations in her name can be made to the Fogg Museum, Institutional Advancement, 32 Quincy Street, Cambridge MA 02138. Please contact Thomas H. Woodward, director of development, at 617-384-7317 with any questions about making your gift.
—Marjorie Cohn, Carl A. Weyerhaeuser Curator of Prints, Emerita, Harvard Art Museums