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Commoner, Lucy

Conservator Emerita

Textile conservation, museum storage systems, conservation environmental building requirements, exhibition case design, history and preservation of folding fans.


Background And Education

Education And Training

Professional Biography




    Lucy A. Commoner was the Senior Textile Conservator at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum since 1977 and was appointed Head of Conservation in 2004, a position she held until 2016, when she became Conservator Emerita at the museum.  Previously, she was an Assistant Restorer for the Textile Conservation and Egyptian Departments at the Metropolitan Museum of Art where she prepared and installed the textiles for the LilaAchesonWallaceGalleries of Egyptian Art and worked with the museum architects on the construction of exhibition and study/storage cases.  She received a Bachelor of Arts degree in art history and studio art from BrownUniversity.  Her areas of expertise include early Dynastic Egyptian textiles, folding fans (history and conservation), museum storage systems, fiber identification and microscopy, exhibition and mounting techniques for textiles, and the construction and maintenance of a conservation environment. At Cooper Hewitt, Ms. Commoner developed a comprehensive storage and exhibition system for all types of textiles, costumes, and costume accessories which has been in use at the Museum and its off-site storage facility for the past 40 years.  She also designed the textile and book storage system for the Museum of the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.


    From 2002- 2006, Lucy Commoner served as the Curatorial Project Manager for the development and implementation of a new Collection Gallery at the Museum, which opened in the fall of 2003.  Over the course of five years and using her knowledge and experience as a conservator, she oversaw the renovation of the gallery and the design and manufacture of custom permanent exhibition cases as well as developing the changing exhibition program for the gallery and managing a budget of two million dollars.  In 2004, she was awarded a grant of $225,000 from the Getty Foundation for interpretive and educational material related to the gallery.


    From 2007-2014, Ms. Commoner was a Member of task force for the design and implementation of $54 million RE: DESIGN project to create an off-site study/storage/conservation facility, and renovate the Museum’s historic buildings and galleries.


    Ms. Commoner has lectured and published widely including articles published by the Journal of the American Institute for the Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC), the Textile Conservation Group, and the Smithsonian Institution Press.  In 1986, she published, "Folding Fans in the Collection of the Cooper-HewittMuseum" in conjunction with an exhibition of the Museum's fan collection.  She served as both Curator and Conservator for this exhibition. She also served in these capacities and wrote a handbook for an exhibition of the Museum’s sample books, “Multiple Choice: From Sample to Product”, opening in November, 2007.


    Ms. Commoner was instrumental in bringing health and safety issues to the attention of the conservation community.  She organized and chaired two seminars on health and safety for conservators, one at the Cooper-HewittMuseum in 1981 and one at the General Session of the AIC Annual Meeting in 1982.  Subsequently, she organized conferences on the health hazards of textile dyes and on safe pest control procedures for museums.  She served on the Board of Advisors for the Center for Safety in the Arts for many years.  Her interest and expertise also extends to the construction of safe building environments, both for people and for collections.


    Lucy Commoner was a founding member of the New York Textile Conservation Group and the New York Conservation Association and has served on their boards.  She was elected a Fellow of AIC in 1987 and served as Chair of the Membership Committee.  She has been an editor of the AIC Textile Conservation Catalogue since the project began.  She also served on the Board of Advisors of the FIT Graduate Division for several years and has been a conservation grant reviewer for the NEH and the New York State Council on the Arts.


    Ms. Commoner has taught textile conservation classes for the Fashion Institute of Technology Textile Conservation Program, the Parsons School of Design, and is an adjunct professor for the New York University Institute of Fine Arts Conservation Center.  She has trained over 50 pre-program and post-graduate interns in the field through funding from the New York State Council on the Arts, the Kress Foundation, and the Smithsonian.  She has received grants from the Smithsonian Research Opportunities Fund for fan research, the New York State Council on the Arts for internships and research, and a grant from the Kress Foundation for the design and construction of the Textile Conservation Lab at the Museum.


    Ms. Commoner has served as a consulting conservator for numerous museums, including the Museum at FIT, the Queens Museum, the Museum of the City of New York, the New York Historical Society, the Morgan Library and the Museum of Modern Art


Selected Publications

  • Article

    • Commoner, Lucy A. 2015. "Inside Conservation: Reopening Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum." Cooper Hewitt Design Journal, (Spring) 8–11. 2015
    • Commoner, Lucy, Choe, Perry, Eng-Wilmot, Kira, and Hall, Annie. 2015. "Inside Conservation: Reopening Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum." Design Journal, 2 10–13. 2015
  • Webpage


Teaching Overview

  • Adjunct professor at New York University Institute of Fine Arts Conservation Center