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In Memoriam:    Gary M. Stewart (1953-2009)

Gary M. Stewart, ca. 1985

Gary Michael Stewart, the NMM’s first Conservator, died from a heart attack at his home in Statesville, North Carolina, in mid-September 2009. Stewart held a Bachelor of Music degree (1975) from Appalachian State University (Boone, North Carolina), where he also took elective courses in technical drafting, advanced woodworking, metal machining and casting. During this time, he also apprenticed as a machinist at the Campbell Research and Development / Central Tool and Die Company in Hickory, North Carolina.


Left: Gary M. Stewart poses with what he liked to call his "Brontophonic Wonderphone Tuba" that he made (ca. 1983-1984) specifically to play in the South Dakota Symphony and the Sioux City Symphony Orchestras.


He was the second graduate student to earn the Master of Music degree in the History of Musical Instruments offered by the NMM/USD (1978), with a thesis focusing on the "Restoration and Cataloging of Four Serpents in the Arne B. Larson Collection of Musical Instruments." While studying at USD, Stewart worked as a technical assistant at the NMM and began his long tenure as the tuba player in the NMM’s Golden Age of Bands, conducted by Arne B. Larson.

Gary M. Stewart was the NMM's first conservator

Gary Stewart in Old Main workshop, ca. 1977-1979

Gary M. Stewart, 1976

Stewart playing a serpent at
AMIS meeting, Vermillion, 1976


Stewart and Darcy Kuronen work on a fortepiano, 1985

Following a Research Fellowship at the Smithsonian Institution (1977), Stewart was hired as the NMM’s first Conservator, as well as an Associate Professor of Museum Science on the USD faculty, positions he held for thirteen years. He mentored students in the M.M. program, including Darcy Kuronen (left), who was later appointed the Keeper of Musical Instruments at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. While in Vermillion, Stewart was also the principal tuba player in both the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra (1986-1990) and the Sioux City Symphony Orchestra (1978-1990).


Left: Stewart advises Darcy Kuronen on the finer points of building a fortepiano for the NMM (1985).


Stewart was a passionate advocate for the instruments under his care. His contributions to the acquisition, preservation, conservation, scientific analysis, and restoration of musical instruments at the NMM are significant and simply too numerous to enumerate.

Stewart works on a mayuri from India

Inpainting a 19th-century
mayuri from India (1982)

Stewart works on the NMM's Janko piano keybaord

Stewart works on the NMM's
Decker Brothers Piano (ca. 1895) with
experimental Janko keyboard, 1987.


Restoration of mayuri, 1982

Restoration of a
19th-century mayuri (1982)

Photographing a serpent

Photographing a
serpent (1982)

Examining a tuba

Restoring a tuba (1982)



Among some of his most memorable restorations are the serpents in the NMM’s collections; the upright grand piano by Clementi and Co., London, ca. 1818 (NMM 2761, the legs of which had once been shortened to accommodate a low ceiling); an historically appropriate stand for the harpsichord by Gommaar van Everbroeck, Antwerp, 1659 (NMM 3985); the stage-prop trumpet by Dominick Calicchio, Hollywood, California, 1978, used in the movie, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (NMM 6176); the disc music box by F. G. Otto and Sons, Jersey City, New Jersey, 1896-1897 (sold by the Equitable Manufacturing Company, Iowa City, Iowa; NMM 2521), the gears of which seemed to be constantly in need of repair from use; the long-necked lute (mayuri), made in India in 19th century (NMM 2903); the alto slide trombone by Johann Christoph Fiebig, Berngrund, Saxony, 1771 (NMM 5946); and innumerable brass, woodwind, stringed, and percussion instruments.


Stewart using a microscope

Stewart conducts a
microscopic cxamination (1981)

Stewart examines a contrabassophon

Examining a Schultze
contrabassophon (1982)

Gary Stewart examines fragments of a serpent in the NMM's collections

Studying fragments of a
serpent in the NMM's collections (1982)


Gary M. Stewart examines bass violin in Witten-Rawlins Collection, 1984

Stewart's handiwork can also be seen in many of the instruments prepared for the openings of the Beede Gallery for Non-Western instruments, the Graese Gallery for Early American instruments, the Abell Gallery for European and American Keyboard Instruments, and, the Rawlins Gallery exhibition, "The Genius of North Italian Stringed Instrument Making 1540-1793."


Left: Stewart examines a Venetian-school bass viol made about 1540 (NMM 3375) in the Witten-Rawlins Collection (1984).


During a sabbatical in 1988, Stewart became a Conservation Consultant for the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where he later held a Mellon Foundation Fellowship, a Samuel H. Kress Foundation Fellowship for Advanced Training in Conservation, and was hired as an Assistant Conservator in the Research Laboratory in European Decorative Arts (1990-1993). While in Boston, Stewart cleaned and restored many important early brasswind instruments, including the earliest surviving alto saxophone made in Paris by Adolphe Sax (ca. 1848). Other restorations at the MFA included an over-the-shoulder trombone by Frans Joseph von Engelen, Liere, Belgium (1840); a bass horn by Thomas Key, London (1807-1813); an experimental cornet with two leadpipes made by Isaac Fiske, Worcester, Massachusetts (ca. 1870); and, a Belgian double-piston-valve trumpet made in by Mahillon (ca. 1840). Stewart also made a functional replica of a salpinx—an ancient Greek trumpet—from the MFA’s Ancient World Collection.


List of instruments to prepare for the Mason City exhibit

He moved to Miami Beach in October 1993 to fill a position as a Conservator at the Wolfsonian Museum. While living in Florida, he was also a conservator in private practice (1993-2000). Stewart was hired to return to the NMM for six months in 2001-2002 to prepare 180 objects for display in the NMM’s exhibition at the Meredith Willson Museum & Music Man Square in Mason City, Iowa.


Left: Stewart points to list of instruments to be prepared for display at the Meredith Willson Museum (2001-2002).


Throughout his career, Stewart was called upon as a consultant for the conservation and evaluation of musical instruments in various public and private collections, including those in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Doug Lehrer Collection, Sioux Falls; the Henry Meredith Collection in London, Ontario; the instrument collection at Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg; the Rosenbaum Collection in Scarsdale, New York; the Moore Collection in New York; the collection at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan; the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; the conservation of silver objects for the Department of State; and, many other private collections.

Return to NMM Newsletter Index (March 2010)

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Most recent update: December 7, 2013

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