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Margaret B. Sullivan

Margaret B. Sullivan

June 18th, 1949 October 23rd, 2019

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Obituary

Obituary for Margaret B. Sullivan (Melton)

SULLIVAN, M. Brigid (Melton) age 70, of Cambridge and Boston, formerly of Cinicinatti, OH, Washington, DC, Tucson, AZ, Dragoon, AZ, and Cleveland, OH, on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019.

Brigid Sullivan, an artist and museum objects conservator, restored the murals in Grant's Tomb, kept moths away from the cloak that FDR wore at Yalta, and rushed to Wall Street in the hours of 9/11 to preserve the Daniel Chester French statue of George Washington, wearing a full respirator as the ashes of the Twin Towers drifted down around her.

She figured out why 600-year-old mummies in Arizona and Chile had started to ooze, and rescued priceless bibles from a Jamestown hurricane and flood. She also inspected two fallout shelters at the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller Estate in Vermont and preserved a house at the Kalaupapa Leprosy Settlement and National Historical Park in Hawaii and helped move Augustus Saint Gauden's Robert Gould Shaw Shaw Memorial from Cornish, N.H. to the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

When Brigid was four or thereabouts, she carved her sister Emily’s name into the family piano. It all began when Brigid four or thereabouts, she carved her sister Emily’s name into the family piano. She would have carved her own name, but there were too many tricky curves in the letters that spelled “Brigid” *while “Emily” was all straight lines.

She learned a lot about drawing curves in the next 66 years. And pencil, charcoal, graphite, pastels, oils, water colors, frescos, gold leaf, and, well, everything, really.

She was born in Salt Lake City and toddled in Baltimore. Her family then moved to Cleveland, where her father taught English at John Carroll University and her mother pioneered computerized library science at Western Reserve.

Following in the footsteps of her three older sisters (Melinda, Maurya and the falsely accused Emily), Brigid was taught by Cleveland’s nuns in elementary and high schools. She wrote dreamy plays in which the Beatles and other pop stars recited their love for various Meltons – in verse, of course – and memorized the script of Lawrence of Arabia from having watched it so often in movie theaters. She and her pal, Phyllis SanAntonio, stalked boy bands and giggled about the nuns. Teen-aged Brigid drew everything from pale thin youths out of her favorite books to nuns in high dudgeon.

Her mother moved to the desert outside Tucson in 1971 after divorcing Brigid’s dad, and Brigid joined her after earning a B.A. in Art History, cum laude, at Western Reserve. They lived at The Rancho, which the family built from scratch with adobe, Mickey’s Malt beer bottles and a whole lot of sweat. The beer bottles were turned into a clerestory; their contents may explain why none of the walls were exactly parallel.

Brigid worked for the Amerind Foundation in Dragoon and commuted to the University of Arizona in Tucson, where she earned her master’s degree in anthropology and museum services in 1975.

She moved to Washington, DC, married Alan Porter Sullivan and worked as scientific illustrator for the Smithsonian before returning to Tucson in 1977 to begin a 37-year career in conservation for the National Park Service (NPS) that would take her to more than 50 states and territories from Maine’s Acadia National Park to Guam’s War in the Pacific Monument.

Along the way, she also wrote and illustrated two children’s books, The Cave Monster of the Willamette Valley and There’s A Bat In My Hat.

She also kept refining her art. Sent by NPS to 6-month course of study at the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM) in Rome, Brigid filled notebooks with pages and pages on the chemistry and techniques of art and its preservation. She worked on restoration of a church in the Roman Forum. And she filled sketchbooks with drawings and fresco of ancient buildings, fountains and trees.

And cartoons of her classmates and teachers, of course, because Brigid’s work was filled with her sly sense of humor, whether she was portraying a grumpy chameleon painting its toenails to match the ripening tomatoes, Humpty Dumpty juggling eggs or a dragon trying to hold his smoky breath while sitting in a French train’s no-smoking carriage.

Brigid’s drawings had always been precise, and she was already embracing different ways of expressing herself. But something in Rome (including a second stint at the UNESCO-inspired multi-governmental ICCROM about 10 years later) seems to have expanded her vision.

In 1990, after her marriage had ended, she moved to Boston to head the NPS Northeast Collections Conservation Branch, which is responsible for preservation of more than 36 million artifacts, but continued to work on projects nationwide as well. She lived in Boston’s Little Italy at first and then moved to Cambridge in 1996 and married Larry Lopez, who she had met three years earlier.

Brigid kept a sketchbook with her when she travelled – to England, Ireland, Turkey, Belgium, Holland, France and Italy -- sitting in cafes and striking up conversations everywhere. While sketching the Blue Mosque and the Haija Sophia from the rooftop restaurant of a hotel in Istanbul, she was approached by a waiter who saw what she could do and asked if she could draw his fiancée from a photo in his wallet. She delayed sight-seeing the next day until she felt she had gotten it right, and then gave him the drawing without a second thought. And she signed her own name, not Emily’s.

In addition to her husband, she is survived by three sisters, Maurya Smith (and Edward) of Tucson; Melinda Sadar (and Edward) of Columbus, OH; and Emily Cabel (and Bernie) of Washington, D.C.; five nieces Inara Edrington (Ron), Jessica Ziegler (Ted), Elena Andrews, Emily French (Sean), Melinda Jelbaoui (Aziz), and one nephew John Gilreath (Diane).. She was preceded in death by her parents Jessica Perry and John Melton, and her beloved cats.
A memorial service is planned.

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