John Winter FIIC (1936-2008)

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Monday, 24 March, 2008
Place: 
Washington DC

In Memoriam John Winter (1936-2008)John Winter, Conservation Scientist in the Department of Conservation and Scientific Research at the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, passed away on March 24, 2008.
John was born in Stapleford, Nottinghamshire, England in 1936. He attended Cambridge University, where he was awarded a BA (natural sciences) in 1958, and Manchester University, where he earned his PhD (organic chemistry) in 1961. He specialized in natural product chemistry. Following the completion of his academic career, John performed research in chemistry at the University of British Columbia, Université de Strasbourg, Laporte Industries Ltd (U.K.) and Sheffield University. In 1968 John joined the Museum Applied Science Center at the University of Pennsylvania and undertook research on dating methods and the study of archaeological materials and museum objects, especially organic residues within ancient ceramics. In 1971, John joined the staff of the Technical Laboratory of the Freer Gallery of Art.
Over the course of more than thirty-six years, John's achievements at the Freer and Sackler were notable in a number of areas. His work on the study of East Asian paintings and pigments was groundbreaking and resulted in dozens of publications. Of particular significance was John's work on the study of carbon-based inks, organic pigments, and the photographic enhancement of seal impressions on paintings. More recent work included the identification of pigments used on an important group of 6th century stone sculpture found at Qingzhou, Shangdong province, China, and the study of paintings from China dating to the 17th to early 20th century. And just weeks before his death, John's book on the scientific study of East Asian paintings went to press, with an expected release date this summer.
Along with his research accomplishments, John was dedicated to the field of conservation and to service in its professional organizations. He served terms as vice-president and president of IIC, coordinated various working groups of ICOM's Committee for Conservation, and was on the editorial board of Reviews in Conservation. He served as a dedicated abstractor for Art and Archaeology Technical Abstracts for over 30 years and in recent years represented the IIC on the AATA Editorial Board.
John's contributions to the field include not only his own publications but also the production and script of a 45-minute movie, The Art of the Hy_gushi; a slide show - The care of East-Asian paintings - distributed by the Smithsonian's Office of Museum Programs; and the editing and introductions for numerous other publications. He was instrumental in the training of many students, interns, and research fellows, including Stanley Chang (Head of the Research Laboratory of the National Palace Museum, Taiwan), Masaaki Sawada (Head of the Nara National Research Laboratory of Cultural Property), Hiromu Abe (Head of the Shoso-in, Nara), Steven Weintraub, Marco Leona and many others.
As a scientist, John was thorough and careful in manner, but he was also inventive, and developed new ways to address intractable problems. He was a fine experimentalist and designed and made beautiful laboratory equipment.In communicating the results of his research, John's writing was exemplary in its clarity and precision. He was always ready to help his colleagues, and there are many scientists now working in the field who will remember John for his advice, guidance, and in a number of cases, for giving them a start in conservation science.
Those who worked with John will remember him fondly for many reasons. He was an incomparable coworker, dedicated both to his work and to the museum.His even temper, good humor, patience and thoughtfulness toward his colleagues was unfailing, and all who were fortunate enough to work with him were better for the experience.
John leaves behind his wife, Ann Yonemura, Curator of Japanese Art at the Freer and Sackler Galleries, and more bereaved friends and colleagues than can be counted. But his work will live on, to inspire and educate us for years to come.
W. T. Chase and Paul Jett