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In the News: Art Conservation Alumna Featured on CBS for Her Contributions to Tuskegee Project

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LaStarsha McGarity, a 2019 graduate of Buffalo State College’s Patricia H. and Richard E. Art Conservation Department, was featured on CBS Sunday Morning on August 30 for her work on a historic diorama housed at the Legacy Museum at Alabama’s Tuskegee University.  

McGarity, an Andrew W. Mellon fellow in objects conservation at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., conserved Diorama No. 13 as part of her master’s project at Buffalo State. She spent a year painstakingly restoring a diorama of Benjamin Banneker, a surveyor, author, farmer, and astronomer, as he was surveying what would become Washington, D.C.   

The Banneker diorama was one of 33 created under the direction of Charles Dawson, a noted commercial artist, for the American Negro Exposition, which took place 80 years ago at the Chicago Coliseum to celebrate African American achievements since the end of slavery.  

After the exposition, Dawson brought 20 of the dioramas, made from wood, plaster, clay, and Masonite, to Tuskegee, where he had once been a student. Over the years, they fell into disrepair.

LaStarsha McGarity, '19, working on the diorama

Art conservation alumna LaStarsha McGarity, '19, working to restore the historic diorama of Benjamin Banneker for the Legacy Museum at Alabama’s Tuskegee University.

In the CBS story, Jontyle Robinson, curator of the Legacy Museum, said she believed it was essential that African Americans help restore the artistic works that tell stories of their history. She launched the Alliance of HBCU Museums and Galleries, enlisting some top art restoration centers and art conservation programs to introduce Black students to the field of conservation by working on the dioramas.  

Patrick Ravines, associate professor and director of Buffalo State’s art conservation program, had been working with the alliance over the past five years, discussing ways to bring more students of color into the program. Coincidentally, McGarity, an African American student specializing in objects conservation, was looking for a master’s project to work on during the 2017–2018 academic year.  

“We asked her if she’d like to take on a diorama, and she was thrilled,” Ravines said.

Because shipping would take too long and be too costly, Ravines flew to Tuskegee and rented a van to bring the diorama to Buffalo. After McGarity completed the project, she drove it back.   

“McGarity’s work was impressive, and it’s no surprise she landed the prestigious fellowship that she has,” Ravines said. “We are so pleased and proud that she was featured in the CBS story, recognizing her contributions to the field so early in her career.”


Top image courtesy of CBS Sunday Morning's Facebook page

In-text photo by Kaitlyn Wright