Elisabeth C. G. Packard, 87, Walters Art Gallery conservator

February 23, 1994|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,Sun Staff Writer

Elisabeth C. G. Packard, an internationally renowned art conservator who was an original staff member of the Walters Art Gallery, died early Monday -- a day after her 87th birthday -- of heart disease at Broadmead.

She had lived at the Cockeysville retirement community since 1987.

She helped classify the gallery's 20,000 objects, which had been bequeathed to the citizens of Baltimore by Henry Walters who died in 1931.

"She was highly regarded for her ethics, skills and emphasis on documentation," said Terry Drayman Weisser, who succeeded Miss Packard after she retired in 1977 as director of conservation and technical research at the Walters. "She set the standards for the conservation profession."

"She felt an obligation to train conservators entering the field and she was a patient teacher and an endearing person," said Ms. Weisser, who came to the gallery to be trained by Miss Packard.

"Because she was such a record keeper and had such a wonderful memory, she was a natural resource for us and if we had a question on a piece, she'd come down and fill us in on it," said Ms. Weisser. "In fact, she was scheduled to come in next week and help us with a project."

Richard H. Randall Jr., who retired as director of the Walters in 1981, said, "She probably trained more conservators in the U.S. than anyone else, probably four generations worth."

Born in Baltimore, the daughter of an Episcopal minister, Miss Packard was a graduate of Bryn Mawr School and of Bryn Mawr College in 1928. She did graduate work at Johns Hopkins University, planning to become an archaeologist, before she joined the Walters in 1934.

When a conservation laboratory, one of the first in the nation, was established at the Walters, David Rosen, a well-known New York conservator, was hired as a consultant. Miss Packard asked to become his apprentice.

"I was interested in the field and asked him if I could join the department," she said in a 1977 interview in The Sun, "and he took me on and I've been here ever since."

She said that the use of X-ray had a tremendous influence on the work of the conservator who usually depended on such tools as the microscope to repair artwork.

"The use of X-rays for studying paintings really began in the '20s," she said in the interview, "and that was perhaps the turning point in conservation work, because at last you could look at a painting and tell how it was made and what sort of condition it was in."

A longtime resident of Lutherville, she helped get the village declared a registered historic district and houses in the area placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1947, with the assistance of her late brother, William G. Packard, she began restoring the octagonal Lutherville home of the Rev. William M. Heilig, who built the house in 1855 with plans published in "Godey's Lady's Book."

She was a member of the American Institute for Conservation, the International Institute for Conservation and Women's Hamilton Street Club.

She was a communicant for 50 years of the Episcopal Church of the Holy Comforter, 130 W. Seminary Ave. in Lutherville, where services are to be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow . Interment will be in Alexandria, Va.

Survivors include her sister-in-law, Anne Bagby Packard of Lutherville; four cousins, Cary Phillips of Hot Springs, Ark., Edmund C. Gardner of Dunmore, W.Va., Dr. Harrison McKim Gardner of Columbus, Ohio, and Harriet Gardner Meadows of Spanaway, Wash.; and a nephew, Dr. Roger M. Winborne Jr. of Roanoke, Va.

Memorial donations may be made to the Walters Art Gallery, 600 N. Charles St., Baltimore 21201.

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