CV |Contact

Margaret Holben Ellis

Eugene Thaw Professor Emerita of Paper Conservation; Exhibition Conservator, Art Institute of Chicago

M.A. in Art History and Advanced Certificate in Conservation, Institute of Fine Arts, NYU

Three video projections of a woman on a tropical island from different prospectives. The room is illuminated with light emanating from green glass bottles displayed on the floor.

Although now retired, I am fortunate to enjoy the vibrant Institute community. My tenure with the Institute has been a long one: in 1987 I was appointed the Sherman Fairchild Chair of the Conservation Center, coming from the Metropolitan Museum of Art department of paper conservation. Since then, I taught the conservation treatment of prints and drawings, as well as technical connoisseurship for art historians. In 1998, I was honored to be invited to plan the facilities and programs of the Thaw Conservation Center at the Morgan Library & Museum, where I served as the Center’s first Director until 2017.

I am a Fellow and past President of the American Institute for Conservation (AIC), a Fellow and past Board member of the International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (IIC), and a certified Conservator/Restorer of the Institute of Conservation (ICON). Fellowships include the American Academy in Rome (1994), the Getty Conservation Institute (2015), and the Menil Drawing Institute (2023). At present, I serve as Exhibition Conservator for Willem de Kooning: Drawing (expected 2026) for the Art Institute of Chicago. I am founder of the online resource, a growing compendium of the papers of Leonardo da Vinci.

I have published and lectured on artists ranging from Raphael, Dürer, and Titian to Pollock, Samaras, Lichtenstein, Dubuffet, and, currently, Willem de Kooning. My research on artists’ materials and techniques is also broad and encompasses Day-Glo colors, Magic Markers, and Crayola crayons.

Sample courses

The Conservation Treatment of Prints and Drawings
The Technical Connoisseurship of Works of Art on Paper
Readings in Paper Conservation

Selected publications

“Moldmates Matter: Computational Tools to Enhance, Measure, Compare, and Match Historical
Papers,” with William A. Sethares, and C. Richard Johnson, Jr., Getty Research Journal, No. 17, February 2023, pp. 1-24.

LEOcode Goes Live: A Dynamic Resource and Tool for Paper Historians, Conservators,
Codicologists, and Art Historians,” with Abigail Slawik, Proceedings of the International Association of Paper Historians (IPH) 36th Biennial Congress, Krems, Austria, 2022 (forthcoming).

“Advances in the Computational Characterization of Leonardo’s Papers: Why Moldmates
Matter,” with W.A. Sethares and C.R. Johnson, Jr., Proceedings of the International Association of Paper Historians (IPH) 35th Biennial Congress, Washington, DC, 2021 (forthcoming)

“The Computational Characterization of Leonardo’s Papers,” with W.A. Sethares and C.R.
Johnson, Jr., Decoding Leonardo’s Codices: Compilation, Dispersal, and reproduction Technologies, Eds. Paolo Galluzzi and Alessandro Nova, Florence: Marsillo, 2020, pp. 277-288.

“Computational Watermark Enhancement in Leonardo’s Codex Leicester,” with William A. Sethares and C. Richard Johnson, Jr., Journal of the American Institute for Conservation, March 2020.
Read “Computational Watermark Enhancement in Leonardo’s Codex Leicester” online

“Computational Connoisseurship: Enhanced Examination Using Automated Image Analysis,” with C. Richard Johnson, Jr., Visual Resources Special Issue on Digital Art History, Vol. 35, #1-2, March-June 2019, pp. 125-140.

“Drawing for Printing: An Expanded Fabrication Narrative for Dürer’s Adam and Eve of 1504,” with Marjorie B. Cohn, Master Drawings, Vol. LV, #4, 2017, pp. 435-452.

“The Application of Automated Chain Line Pattern (CLiP) Matching to Identify Paper Mouldmate Candidates in Rembrandt’s Prints,” with C.R. Johnson, Jr, W.A. Sethares, S. Haqqi, R. Snyder, E. Hinterding, I. Leeuwen, A. Wallert, D. Christoforou, J. van der Lubbe, N. Orenstein, A. Campbell, and G. Dietz, in New Directions in the Study of Rembrandt and His Circle. Amsterdam:University of Amsterdam Press, 2017, pp. 319-334.

The Care of Prints and Drawings (Revised Edition), Lanham, MD: Rowman Littlefield, 2017.

“Myth and Manipulation: Deconstructing and Reconstructing Dubuffet’s Imprints and their Assemblages,” with Lindsey Tyne, Dubuffet Drawings, The Morgan Library & Museum, 2016, pp. 70-83.

“Perilous Message, Precarious Medium: The Pastel Drawings of Lucas Samaras,” with Lindsey Tyne, Dreams in Dust: The Pastels of Lucas Samaras, The Morgan Library & Museum, 2016, pp. 25-31.

Readings in Conservation: Historical Perspectives in the Conservation of Works of Art on Paper, The J. Paul Getty Trust, 2014.

“Roy Lichtenstein’s ‘Mechanical Drawings’ in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” with Lindsey Tyne, Roy Lichtenstein: The Black-and-White Drawings, The Morgan Library & Museum, 2010, pp. 52-63.

Selected honors

Professional awards include the Caroline and Sheldon Keck Award (2003) for a sustained record of excellence in conservation education, the Rutherford John Gettens Merit Award (1997) in recognition of outstanding service to the profession, and the President’s Award (2022) for exceptional performance in the conservation profession conferred by the AIC. Academic awards include Fellowships from the American Academy in Rome (1994), the first Rome Prize to be awarded to a conservator, the Getty Conservation Institute (2015), and the Menil Drawing Institute (2023).