Nina Roth-Wells ’91
This profile originally appeared in Bowdoin magazine, Vol. 74, No. 3, Spring 2003
When Nina Roth-Wells '91 took professor Clif Olds' class, East Asian Art, during her first year at Bowdoin, she knew she wanted to pursue study in the field. "It was so hard," she said. But the subject excited her. And, when she studied away in Paris, she was able to take both art and architecture courses. Nina attributes her art conservator beginnings, however, to a poster for a graduate school program. She was intrigued by the complexities of painting from the types of brushes used to which pigments were in the paints. "I was interested in the nitty gritty of it all," she said.
After graduation, Nina took a position as a conservation intern at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum (in her home town of New York City), which had a large collection of printed textiles. "I got a lot of practice rolling them and storing them," she said. Nina attended graduate school the following year in Ontario, which proved to be "grueling." She was interested in "every aspect of painting"; she learned about the support, the structure, the chemistry, physics, and aesthetics involved in producing and maintaining pieces of art. After receiving her degree in 1994, she worked at a firm in upstate New York while her husband, Andrew Roth-Wells '93, went to graduate school in Syracuse. "Andy always wanted to move back to Maine," she said. So, after five years in upstate New York, they returned. Coming from the inner city of New York, Nina laughed at this decision. "I really liked Bowdoin but never thought I would go back."
Nina's dream of opening her own business was put on hold while she earned money using skills that she had gained both as a student and avid horseback rider at Bowdoin. During her first years back in Maine, she worked as a vet, nurse, tech, and accountant at a local animal hospital and taught horseback riding lessons. In the meantime, she started networking in the art conservation circle. "It took about two years to get a big job." And now, her business is running smoothly, with herself as the only member. "It's great!" she said, of owning her own business. "I recommend it highly." She also added, "it's neat to have a field that's fairly specialized." Nina has an on-going contract with the Maine State House and a job-by-job relationship with the Portland Museum of Art. Her project at the State House occupied most of her winter and, in December, she worked every day to get six paintings finished in one month. "Things get fixed when it becomes necessary," she said. For example, "Governor Baldacci chose different paintings than Governor King." And that's when they call her in.
Her goal is to make each painting look like it is not damaged. "The most rewarding feeling is to step back and know that you've made it look 100%, and you can't even tell where your repairs are."
Although Nina never pictured herself living in Maine, she now enjoys the intimacy of her small community and rural landscape. This summer, she plans to go sea kayaking, "pending babysitter," she laughed. Nina thought she would be more productive than she has been with the addition her daughter, Emma (now one-year-old). "[Emma] spent hours in the swing while I was working. I am always setting up entertainment, yet containment, systems for her."
Reflecting back on her Bowdoin experience, the mother, the art conservator and Mainer wishes that she had done more outing club activities, but felt that her inner city background made her very presence in Maine a challenge. Her advice to graduating seniors: "Don't let the shock of the real world get you down." She didn't, and now she's living in a small community in Maine doing what she loves on her own clock. - Lauren M. Whaley '03
Photo: Kennebec Journal/Joe Phelan