Skip over navigation | Sla menu over

 Sharon Cather (1947-2019)


ICOM-CC is saddened by the passing of Sharon Cather on 6th June 2019 after a long illness.

Sharon will be remembered for her formidable intelligence and tireless dedication to improving standards and practice of wall painting conservation. A visionary thinker, she set out to change the field by elevating the status of conservators and placing them in pivotal and recognized roles in the cultural heritage decision-making hierarchy. She was an early advocate for incorporating environmental investigation and research into the causes and mechanisms of deterioration into the conservation curriculum and placing preventive conservation alongside treatment in the overall conservation process. She championed innovative scientific methods and an interdisciplinary approach to conservation which attracted students from around the world from the fields of art history, architecture, archaeology and the sciences to study wall painting conservation at the Courtauld. Though never one to shy away from a difficult challenge, she also knew when to exercise restraint, her mantra to, “do as much as necessary but as little as possible”, is one that many conservators today guide their practice by. Most importantly, she was a respected voice in the field who challenged the status quo and questioned existing practice in an effort to redirect the attention toward pressing issues, the titles of a few of her publications demonstrate this, ‘Choices and judgement: the professional conservator at the interface’, ‘The dilemma of conservation education’, ‘Costing graphic documentation: how much money and whose time?’ and ‘Complexity and communication: principles of in-situ conservation’.

An art historian by training, Sharon studied at the University of California, Santa Barbara and Princeton University. She was a Rome Prize fellow at the American Academy in Rome (1981–82) where she worked on an exhibition of Gianlorenzo Bernini drawings. She later taught at Cambridge University before joining forces with Professor David Park in 1985 to found the Courtauld Institute of Art Conservation of Wall Painting Department. Sharon was the Shelby White and Leon Levy Professor of Conservation Studies at the Courtauld Institute of Art upon her retirement in 2018. During her 32 years at the Courtauld Institute of Art, Sharon supervised fifty-eight MA dissertations as well as numerous PhD students. Her passion for protecting wall paintings was infectious and through her teaching she influenced, inspired and mentored a generation of conservators.

Her reach and impact in the field of wall painting conservation extended well beyond the UK; she directed major conservation and research projects in Bhutan, China, Cyprus, Georgia, India, Jordan, Malta and Spain. Sharon was also actively involved in teaching programmes in China, Georgia, Malta, Israel, Qatar and India, playing a central role in the founding and implementation of the Leon Levy Foundation Centre for Conservation Studies at Nagaur in Rajasthan and the MA-level teaching in conservation undertaken at the Mogao Grottoes in collaboration with the Dunhuang Academy, Lanzhou University and the Getty Conservation Institute.

Sharon advised and participated in international research projects, authored numerous publications and organized conferences. She served on the editorial board of Zeitschrift für Kunsttechnologie und Konservierung; was a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries since 1993; a Fellow of IIC since 1995 including serving as Vice President (2010-2014) and as Chair of the Technical Committee for both the 2010 IIC Istanbul Congress and the 2012 Vienna Congress; and, was a guest scholar at the Getty Conservation Institute in 2000–01.

In 2014, Sharon was awarded The People’s Republic of China Friendship Award, China’s highest award for foreign experts who have made outstanding contributions to China’s economic and social progress. In 2017, Sharon was awarded the Plowden Medal from the Royal Warrant Holders Association which cited “her commitment and leadership in research, innovation and education in wall painting conservation” towards “a more holistic, methodical and scientific approach to conserving wall painting across the world—whether in an English cathedral or an Indian palace”.

Though perpetually overworked Sharon always made time for her colleagues and students dispensing advice, guidance and a bit of humor—often late into the night during smoke-filled, brainstorming strategy sessions. Those of us lucky enough to have crossed paths with Sharon will remember her revolutionary spirit and uncompromising ethical stance but also her endless generosity and unwavering support. She will be greatly missed.

A conference to celebrate Sharon’s life and achievements will be held in the UK in the Spring of 2020; for further information please contact David Park at david.park@courtauld.ac.uk.

Lori Wong and Charlotte Martin de Fonjaudran

Share this page