For Samantha Hunt, DU ART Grant Revealed a Mermaid’s Origin

“Funding like DU ART is the reason I was able to attend such a prestigious university—twice!” said Samantha Hunt (BFA ’15), who holds a BFA in Pre-Art Conservation and is now a candidate for her MA in Art History and Museum Studies.

As an undergraduate, Hunt received a DU ART grant to travel to Copenhagen to study the origins of a wooden mermaid sculpture that she discovered while interning for a private conservator in Denver.

“I saw it in the lab and asked about it,” she said. “It was very colorful and beautifully carved, with iridescent paint on the tail. This is what really caught my attention. We wanted to know where it came from.”

Before her trip, Hunt conducted a complete start-to-finish treatment on the polychrome carved wood sculpture, which included cleaning, consolidating flaking paint, and filling and reconstructing losses. Damage to the mermaid’s tail indicated it had likely been sawed off from a larger setting, so Hunt emailed nautical museums in the United States and abroad. She learned all she could so her time in Copenhagen would be well spent.

Back at DU, she shared her findings: the mermaid dated to the Pre-Raphaelite era and likely originated from a carousel or other amusement-type sculptural setting.

Catherine Chauvin, director of the School of Art and Art History, said, “Students learn so much when they can experience the vision of a collector, interview a curator or visit the location where a piece of art was created. Unfamiliar language, or even weather, informs our research. It’s detective work, or treasure hunting. And it’s critical.”

DU ART is a volunteer organization, established in 1993 to support the School of Art and Art History. Through the program, undergraduate and graduate students can apply for up to $1,500 in grants for travel, lodging and conference registration. There are more applications than the fund can presently support.

In 2016, alumnus Art Karstaedt (JD ’75) jump-started a $50,000 DU ART fundraising campaign with a $10,000 gift. Over the past two years, One Day for DU has raised almost $6,000 toward the DU ART campaign goal.