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Following their HEARTS

Meet three women who excel in nontraditional

Following their HEARTS
Meet three women who excel in nontraditional


Not so long ago, women had few career choices. As little girls, most women knew they would grow up to be teachers, nurses, secretaries or housewives. But thanks to the many women who have courageously transcended career barriers over the past 90 years, the gender boundaries for jobs have slowly dissolved. Some women have even pursued nontraditional occupations, encouraging us all to follow our dreams.

Such is the case of the three women profiled here. Each of these 40-something women has an unusual career that began when she followed her heart.

Restoring the past

San Antonio native Anne Zanikos is an art conservationist. She meticulously breathes new life into works of art that, for one reason or another, need repair. On any given day, you can find Zanikos and her staff working on the various restoration stages of seven to eight different projects in her lab.

Interestingly enough, Zanikos entered this field while studying to become a scientist in chemistry and biology at the University of Santa Clara in California. With a B.S. in biology and a minor in chemistry, she'd already begun working on a master's degree in marine biology when she literally stumbled upon this new career.

During a museum studies field trip to the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, Zanikos discovered a path made specifically for her. "As soon as the museum conservator started speaking," recalls Zanikos, "I turned to my friend and whispered, 'That's what I'm going to do.'" Her friend started laughing and inquired, "After all the years we've been studying chemistry in the lab, this is what you've decided to do?"

And for the past 25 years, that is exactly what she has done. In 1989, Zanikos opened her own private practice after working eight years as an apprentice for both museums and private-practice conservators.

Some of what she does can be physically taxing, such as the murals she recently restored that required her to be on scaffolding daily throughout the project. Other times she finds herself struggling with self-doubt when she ponders making the right decision about the type of treatment and materials she's using on a piece.

Recently she worked on a panel painting that was extremely thin. It had previously been restored before it came into her hands and still needed much work. Zanikos worked at finding the best treatment to keep the piece intact. After conducting some research, she decided to apply a new technique involving balsa wood and a sawdust adhesive. Happily, she found this method to be exactly what the panel needed. The analytical problem solving involved in getting to this point is an example of what can keep her up at night.

Zanikos explains that art conservation is the preservation and restoration of works of art or historic objects. Her original goal for any piece is to preserve or restore the artist's intention of how the object should look. Before she begins a treatment, she researches the piece's history to find as much information as possible about it, including any facts about the materials used to create the original work. "Materials science is a very important part of our knowledge base," she explains. "Any material we introduce into an object -- be it adhesive or varnish -- needs to be reversible and to age well."

Art conservation brings Zanikos the satisfaction of solving a problem while preserving something worthwhile. "It's the owner's love of the painting that makes my work so rewarding. I'd rather work on a painting of little monetary value that is well loved than one that is worth more and simply passing through dealer hands," she says. Focusing on detail and quality of work allows Zanikos and her staff to restore a highly damaged painting to what the artist first intended. In this she finds her work passion realized.

When asked about her most challenging project, Zanikos reflects on the restoration of the centuries-old statues of San Antonio's San Fernando Cathedral. They were vandalized in 2004 by an enraged man who claimed to be God. The scope of this project included working with objects that were big, heavy and so damaged they could not stand on their own. "It was an emotional challenge, as there were a lot of expectations resting on the restorations within a specific timeline," she recalls. Eventually, the project was successful and met the needs of both the cathedral and parish.

One thing most people don't realize about art conservation is that it is a thoughtful field that embraces a consensus of experienced professionals. Zanikos is continually learning from other conservation scientists who have shared their techniques through journals, seminars and Internet discussion groups. "You can't simply pick up a book and say you're going to restore a painting," she points out. In addition to analytical problem solving, "one must possess a lot of patience and faith."

Zanikos finds women to be well-suited for this field, as it involves keeping a lot of balls in the air at one time while embracing the consensus of others. "You have to be willing to be in this for the long haul and struggle with the decisions you make,"she says.

Clearly this skillful conservationist enjoys running her own business and directing her career. She strongly believes that if a person is willing to work hard, be persistent and make some sacrifices, there will be great rewards in that individual's life.

Zanikos has learned many lessons through her career. Since her training as a scientist led her to be very analytical, it took her a few years to move beyond the hard scientific facts and truly understand the power of art to move people. Her problem-solving skills allow her to contribute to the world by conserving works of art that reach down into the human soul.

Upon reflection, she says if she weren't working as an art conservationist, she would use her love of science, investigation and patience to teach university or high school students. In lieu of educating students, she seeks balance in her life through activities with her family and church. Her husband and 12-year old daughter take first place. "It is exciting to see the young woman my daughter is growing into," she says. As a member of her church vestry, she feels life would be quite empty without consistent spiritual nurturing.

Tina Sull