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Learning How to Improve Their Careers

Thwarted Artist Sketches New Path


As a child, Kathleen Wigglesworth had a recurring dream. In it she was an angel with a magic wand, whose earthly job was to make things beautiful. Young Wigglesworth believed she'd one day become an artist or even an art teacher. But this was not to be.

Her mother discouraged such impractical vocations, declaring secretarial work a far better choice, Wigglesworth recounts today. So in the early 1970s, after receiving her bachelor's degree in art education and feeling uncertain about her future, Wigglesworth dutifully took a secretarial position with a Wisconsin-based snowmobile manufacturer, then stayed on a corporate career track for the next 25 years.

Although the 49-year-old Claremont resident has worked her way up from administrative assistant to software sales associate at Hewlett-Packard in Los Angeles, she still thinks about the career path not taken and finds herself sketching portraits during rare idle moments at work.

"It's a real dilemma for me, because HP has been a wonderful company to work for," she said. "They treat employees respectfully, pay well and have a terrific benefits package."

Wigglesworth consulted David Swanson, the Wisconsin-based chief of staff of the "What Color Is Your Parachute?" career lecture team. Swanson encouraged Wigglesworth to embark on a self-discovery journey to learn more about her passions, skills and aptitudes. She would begin by taking a battery of tests at, the Internet supplement to Richard Bolles' book "What Color Is Your Parachute? 2000" (Ten Speed Press, 1999).

After reviewing Wigglesworth's test results and consulting with her for two sessions, Swanson told her: "You're a right-brained person who's been in a left-brained game for so long, you're like a fish out of water." But he added that Wigglesworth had proved herself a valuable anomaly by demonstrating high competence at left-brained activities such as organizing and systematizing. This, he said, could make her quite marketable in the art world.

"You'd be an absolute godsend, a gift from heaven for art people," particularly those lacking organization skills, he said.

Swanson encouraged Wigglesworth to do additional self-evaluation before choosing a career path. Because she loves organizing, she may want to find a vocation that will allow her to routinely use this skill. She also can explore various art disciplines to see which most appeal to her. And should she wish to maintain an affiliation with her current employer, she might contact the David and Lucille Packard Foundation in Los Altos, Calif., to learn about opportunities in its arts support program.

Swanson and several art vocation experts had these additional suggestions, based on Wigglesworth's preliminary choices of potential art careers:

* Explore art conservation. Wigglesworth expressed interest in the demanding field of art conservation. But should she choose this profession, her road ahead would be challenging and time-consuming.

Art conservators strive to protect, preserve and restore art objects. They may be called upon to delicately treat tears, stains and surface dirt on precious works of art, said Mark Harnly, a conservator at the Getty Center in Brentwood. They also must inspect art objects and document their condition before and after transport, said Victoria Blyth-Hill, head of conservation at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. And here in Los Angeles, they must be proficient in "earthquake mitigation," making sure art objects are protected in the event of seismic activity, Blyth-Hill said.

To become a conservator, Wigglesworth would have to gain entrance to one of the three U.S. universities that offer graduate programs in art conservation: State University of New York/Buffalo, New York University or University of Delaware. Competition for the schools' limited first-year spots is keen, and many candidates apply repeatedly before getting accepted.

Because of art conservation's technical and scientific demands, Wigglesworth would have to take about a year's worth of general and organic chemistry courses as prerequisites for the programs..

Before applying to grad school, Wigglesworth also would have to rack up field experience, perhaps as a volunteer at a regional conservation lab or as an aide to a conservator in private practice. Then with her grad school applications, she'd have to submit a portfolio of her artwork or conservation projects, said Chris Tahk, director of SUNY/Buffalo's art conservation department.

If Wigglesworth doesn't want to pursue a graduate degree in art conservation but still wishes to work in the field, she might consider becoming a conservation technician, aiding conservators in their daily work. Even as a conservation technician, however, she'd still need adequate knowledge of chemistry, said Penny Jones, executive director of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works in Washington.

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