Most JMU students taking art history simply consider it a course used to complete part of the Cluster Two general education curriculum. For Brooke Heiche, it was the first step toward her future career.
Entering her freshman year undeclared, Heiche enrolled in the course with an open mind and immediately fell in love with the subject. She soon declared an art history major with a concentration in museum studies.
In this major, Heiche was introduced to art restoration — a field focused on conserving and restoring various mediums of art that have decayed because of human neglect or the effects of time.
“I guess why I loved art restoration so much was that I never really considered myself a good artist,” Heiche said. “I’m terrible at creating my own things and making up something from my own imagination. [But with art restoration], I was either copying something or bringing back something that was already there.”
Among damaged art that needed special care, she found her calling. However, her brother, Max Heiche, admits their family was originally skeptical of her decision and feared her major lacked ample career paths.
“I didn’t really understand a lot of the background and didn’t see a whole lot of possibilities with it,” Max said. “But I think that she has that persistence, and she has enough involvement in the field where she’s finding new opportunities and is willing to put in the work to get herself those positions.”
As a senior, Brooke began applying to graduate programs that focused specifically on art restoration. Because she dropped out of organic chemistry — a course she hadn’t realized was a prerequisite to study the field — she was only admitted to programs for art history.
Realizing she needed to build her resume in areas other than restoration, Brooke began volunteering at the Lisanby Museum, located in the lower level of the Festival Conference and Student Center on campus.
“They were like, ‘Let’s give you some more experience in other areas. Let’s have you do something curatorial, visitors, research and educational type things,’” Brooke said. “Just to be able to say that I’ve already had experience as an undergrad at a real museum really puts [me] higher up when [employers] are looking at applicants.”
With experience under her belt, Brooke turned her attention to internships. After being introduced to an opportunity by her boss at the Lisanby, Brooke was accepted to an internship at the Frist Art Museum in Nashville, TN. She’ll be working in an educational position — different from her passion for restoration — training museum guides and working on public programming.
As part of the Washington Conservation Guild, a nonprofit organization of conservationists, Brooke was given an additional opportunity to apply for an internship with a conservation group working in Central Park in New York City. If she’s accepted, she’d be working to restore different pieces of public art.
With multiple options for graduate school and internships, Brooke’s still deciding which path would be best for her career. “With public programming and educational areas — if I end up doing that — I feel like it’ll be a good experience,” Brooke said. “If I like it, then great. I found another career within the museum world that I could pursue. And if not, then I should really buckle up and go back and take organic chemistry.”
Brooke’s roommate, junior media arts and design major Kat Manalo, has total confidence Brooke will be successful no matter what path she takes. Her unmatched work ethic and love for the field are what set her above the rest.
“Wherever she wants to go, I think she’ll be able to do it,” Manalo said. “It’s a mixture of passion, hard work and finding the right people.”
Reflecting on her time at JMU, Brooke says she’s thankful for the art department. Without it, she says, she wouldn’t have been as prepared for the future. It gave her a well-rounded education that she can brag about on her resume.
“I think they’ve obviously done something right with their gen-eds because that’s what helped me find my major,” Brooke said. “I think it’s a really fantastic program, and I’ll be sad to go.”
Despite the uncertainty for her future, Brooke is sure of one thing: her passion for restoring art. Above all, she loves rehabilitating both priceless and worthless pieces once thought to be unsalvageable and seeing the joy on her clients’ faces.
“Just to return [a piece] back to them, to see their faces light up and just how much this insignificant, unvalued piece meant to them is definitely really memorable,” Brooke said. “We’re preserving history. We’re bringing back things that were once lost, and it’s just a great feeling.”
Contact Amy Needham at email@example.com.