Profile of Marcie Wiggins (BA 2014)

B.S. Chemistry and Art History, University of Maryland (2014)
Ph.D. Analytical Chemistry, University of Delaware (2019)

If you’ve ever wondered where your Art History degree can take you, take a moment to learn about a distinguished alumna, Dr. Marcie Wiggins. Marcie is currently a Postdoctoral Associate in conservation science at Yale University’s Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage. Marcie graduated from UMD in 2014 with a double major in Chemistry and Art History, and she recently completed a Ph.D. in Analytical Chemistry at the University of Delaware.

Marcie always knew she loved science, chemistry in particular. However, she wanted to find a different application for chemistry beyond the more traditional paths of biochemistry and the medical field. Marcie also knew that she loved art and found herself continuously wanting to learn more about its materials. Conservation science was thus the perfect fit! She entered UMD as a Chemistry major and added an Art History major her sophomore year to make herself an excellent candidate for a graduate degree that would allow her to become a conservation scientist.

While at UMD, Marcie was incredibly active in the Department of Art History and Archaeology. During her sophomore year she re-founded the Art History Association and served as AHA president as a senior. She quickly fell in love with Italian Renaissance painting in Professor Gill’s popular course, Leonardo: Art and Science. She fostered this love by studying abroad in Rome with Professor Colantuono. In her final year at UMD, Marcie wrote an honors thesis under the supervision of Professor Gill. Her thesis was a case study of the transition from egg tempera to oil paint in Italian art. Marcie was also active in the arts community in D.C. She interned for two years at the Library of Congress, working in their conservation science lab to evaluate materials being prepped for storage.

Marcie says that her degree in Art History has been invaluable to her career. When she entered her graduate program in chemistry pursuing conservation science, she was already leaps and bounds ahead of her classmates, many of whom had never taken an Art History course. She was able to think not just scientifically about the elements they were studying, but also historically. She says that Art History has made her a better scientist and that her degree has shaped how she looks at scientific problems.

Marcie’s undergraduate research recently reappeared in a surprising way. In 2017, while in her graduate program, she was a member of a team of scientists analyzing Domenico Cresti’s oil on wall paintings in Santa Maria della Pace in Rome. She recognized the church, but she couldn’t quite place it. When she revisited her notes from her trip to Rome in 2013 with Professor Colatuono, she realized that she had seen the paintings during her time abroad! While the church was closed for restoration that winter, Professor Colantuono made sure all of the students saw reproduction images of these fantastic paintings and understood the innovation of Cresti’s use of oil on wall painting. Marcie’s article, “In-depth examination and analysis of Domenico Cresti’s oil on wall paintings in Santa Maria della pace in Rome,” was published in the Journal of Cultural Heritage in 2017 (28, 48-55).

Marcie has just started a prestigious two-year post-doctoral position at Yale’s Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage. While at Yale, Marcie is using x-ray fluorescence to learn about objects in the university’s collection. The x-ray fluorescence technology allows Marcie to see the elemental structure of paint. By identifying various elements, she can then recognize different pigments and map an object to see where lead, mercury, chrome, gold, etc. are located. This process can help determine what is original in an object and what has been restored. Sometimes it even allows her to see what is below the paint layer. Think of Marcie as an elemental detective! Her major project at the moment is a dating project for an under-researched group of 15th – 17th century religious paintings from India. Her objective is twofold: to attribute a more accurate date for the paintings and to figure out how these objects were constructed and possibly used by their patrons. Stay tuned for her results!

After her appointment at Yale, Marcie plans to continue working in the museum field. She hopes to find a position at a museum with a lab large enough to do the kinds of analysis she is already undertaking at Yale.

Marcie’s advice for UMD Art History majors? Art History doesn’t have to be narrow. There are many different ways of looking at it and applying it. Practically speaking, Marcie suggests going to the Writing Center. She went herself all the time for her Art History classes and knows that it helped her to become a better writer. And finally, take advantage of the generosity of the faculty in the Art History Department!

“An Art History major taught me to communicate with others, especially from different audiences,” Marcie explains. “In the field of conservation science, you are always having a dialogue with scientists, curators, and conservators. Having an Art History degree helps shape how to present my scientific findings to others in a more applicable and approachable way. Just recently, a conservator colleague mentioned how I was more ‘art historically inclined’ as a compliment over a colleague of a strict STEM background. I am grateful for UMD teaching me how to look at objects from that point of view as I continue to apply material understanding to a larger art historical context.”

If you are interested in learning more about Marcie (and science and art!), check out the website, heritagebites. Here, Marcie and others take complicated scientific papers from the field of conservation science and make them approachable to a broad audience.