Ancient Artways Studio is a full service conservation lab dedicated to the conservation and preservation of historic Native American art and cultural objects in both public and private collections. Services include conservation treatments; collections assessments; collections care consulting; lighting, mounting and exhibit design; and analytical services for testing and mitigation of harmful pesticides in museum collections.


Nancy Fonicello is a private practice objects conservator, specializing in Native American ethnographic material. She holds a degree in Environmental Chemistry, Summa Cum Laude from the State University of New York, College of Environmental Science and Forestry. She has studied Native American art for over 35 years, first as a student, then as a professional artist, finally as a teacher of native traditional arts. She is widely known for her expertise in the traditional techniques of porcupine quillwork, beadwork, hide tanning and feather work and regularly incorporates these techniques into her conservation and preservation work.

In 2002, Nancy worked in the Conservation Lab at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, under a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon foundation, conserving and preparing objects slated for display in the Museum's new facility on the Mall in Washington, D.C. Some of her recent projects include the conservation of an eagle feather bonnet belonging to the Comanche chief Chatay, who was at the Battle of the Washita in 1868, and the treatment of objects from the personal collection of famed American cowboy artist Charlie Russell. Her clients include the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, the Museum of the Rockies, the Smithsonian Institution, the Montana Historical Society, Fort Sill National Historic Landmark and Museum, the Charles M. Russell Museum, and numerous private collectors from around the world.

Commissioned by the Utah Museum of Natural History in 1999, Nancy interpreted the unique construction techniques and materials used in a 1200-year-old quilled moccasin in their collection and created documentary copies for public display and academic study. Nancy has taught traditional quillwork to Native American tribal students under grants from the Montana Arts Council, and has conducted numerous workshops around the United States. Her teaching curriculum is used by Aurora College in Inuvik, Northwest Territories, Canada, for their Traditional Arts Certification program and she served as the lead instructor for a five-day workshop on Athabaskan art for museum professionals, native artists and elementary school programs at the Smithsonian’s Arctic Studies Center in Anchorage, Alaska. Most recently Nancy conducted a two day workshop on the conservation of quillwork at the Ethnological Museum in Berlin, Germany.


Nancy is a founding advisor for the Material Culture of the Prairie, Plains, and Plateau annual conference series, and served as the conference chair in 2004 and 2005. She is an associate member of the American Institute for the Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC).

When she is not working in a museum or studio, Nancy can be found performing professional level chamber music concerts around Montana, riding her horses, or serving the local community as a volunteer firefighter.

Publications and Lectures

Traditional Materials and Techniques for Modern Conservation: The Use of Indigenous Materials and Techniques for the Conservation of Native American Ethnographic Materials, presented at the 2012 Western Association for Art Conservation (WAAC) Conference, Palm Springs, CA

Before Beads: Porcupine Quillwork Techniques of the Native Americans, lecture and workshop, Big Hole National Battlefield, Montana 2012

An Effective Method for Cleaning Feather Bonnets, ICOM Ethnographic Conservation Newsletter, Number 31, February 2010

Multiquill Plaiting: Unusual Porcupine Quillwork Techniques of the Historic Upper Missouri Peoples, presentation, Material Culture of the Prairie, Plains, and Plateau Conference, Lewiston, ID 2010

Disrobing: Research and Preventive Conservation of Painted Hide Robes at the Ethnological Museum, National Museums, Berlin, Germany, presentation, American Institute for Conservation Annual Conference, Los Angeles, CA 2009

Special Considerations in the Use of the Handheld XRF Spectrometer for Pesticide Surveys of Ethnographic Collections, presentation, International Biocide Conference, Berlin, Germany 2008. Also published in ICOM Ethnographic Conservation Newsletter, Number 28, February 2007

Using Art and Science to Preserve History Collections, Guest Speaker, Top Hands Lecture Series, Charles M. Russell Museum, Great Falls, Montana 2007

The Identification of Historic Dyes in Porcupine Quillwork, People of the Buffalo, Volume 2, Tatanka Press, Germany 2005

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