She hasn’t watched TV in 15 years – maybe that’s one clue on how she’s perfected her work-life balance.
As CEO of The Conservation Center – one of the nation’s most elite art conservation institutes – located on the West Side, Heather Becker is a passionate, contemporary-realism artist who both paints and draws. She also works tirelessly, overseeing a team of experts in preserving paintings, drawings, letters and photographs, handling thousands of pieces of art every year at The Conservation Center. And she does it all with grace and poise.
Ms. Becker’s team provides meticulous restoration to just about any form of art, from paintings to textiles and even old family letters at risk of fading from history. It’s something she likes to call “a perfect blend of science and art,” using solvents, mixtures and techniques that have been passed down for hundreds of years. “It’s highly technical work that requires methodology and hand-eye coordination in order to reconstruct areas that have been damaged and preserve those that need to be stabilized,” says Ms. Becker.
THE ADVENTURE BEGINS
From the start, Ms. Becker’s big dreams seemed risky, but she was determined to make a name for herself in the art world. Graduating in 1989 from the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, and despite being in her early 20s, Ms. Becker jetted to central Italy to study on scholarship at the International School of Art. “I was just trying to figure out how to direct my life,” she recalls. “It was a great experience because I was traveling alone and getting exposed to so many broader perspectives.”
In between studying and waiting tables, Ms. Becker met an art conservator and that’s when her direction in life became clear. “I knew when I came back to Chicago, I wanted to work with an art conservator,” she explains. “That’s when I learned about The Conservation Center.” Ms. Becker took the only job they had available 24 years ago as an administrative assistant and so began her climb to the top of the art preservation world. “I said to the founder [Barry Bauman] that I’d start at the bottom and expand my knowledge and learn everything about the business itself,” shares Ms. Becker. “I just became immersed in the business and learned as much as I could.”
A DREAM BECOMES A REALITY
In August 2003, after more than a decade of passion, hard work and motivation, Ms. Becker became the owner of The Conservation Center. Her decision to purchase the center was not based on financial reasons. Rather, she says she was only following her dream. “For me, it’s always been more of a lifestyle and self-fulfillment purpose,” she shares. “I go to work every day incredibly driven by what I’m doing and surrounded by people and objects I care about. It only makes it easier to keep working on your goals and becoming stronger at what you do.”
And becoming stronger in the world of art preservation is not a one-woman show. Ms. Becker says she’s surrounded by fellow artists and advisory board members who provide the support and advice she needs to run a successful business. “I’m constantly plucking ideas from them; they allow me to be humble and admit that no, I don’t know it all,” she explains. “You need people who provide you with that strong foundation.”
THE BALANCE OF LIFE
Ms. Becker’s days can easily become overwhelming, from being responsible for rare and priceless pieces to creating and exhibiting her own artwork throughout America and parts of Europe. But she manages to get through it all thanks to meditation, specifically as a yoga devotee. “I value my time and discipline,” she explains. “When I move in on something, I’m very focused, and yoga and meditation have allowed me to hone in on that.”
Whether meditating or painting, Ms. Becker says it’s crucial to be ‘in that moment’ and to delve into her works as intensely as possible. “I don’t have time for those wavering, non-committal moments,” she continues. “I can be dealing with a very stressful situation, but just staying focused and not allowing myself to lose sight of something in a very calm manner is a tool I think all of us can learn from.”