45th Annual Meeting – Book and Paper Session, “Less is More/Recapturing the Subtleties” by Adam Novak

For the first BPG Session of a treatment-themed AIC Conference this year, Adam Novak, a paper conservator at Daria K. Conservation, LLC in New York gave his presentation on a topic that is very important but not often discussed in the field: using one’s senses to determine the appropriate treatment for an item. With a multitude of treatment options available, the conservator is (ideally) able to control the outcome and intensity of the treatment by understanding the effects of time, moisture, conductivity, and expansion on the item. Adam referred to the thorough research and presentation at last year’s AIC meeting by Amy Hughes and Michelle Sullivan on minimally invasive treatments using gels as an example of how the conservator can control the treatment.

The primary concern in conservation is obviously the effectiveness of a treatment, but the possible repercussions of the treatment on an object in the future is a concern. Adam spoke of how every treatment carries with it both risks and benefits, and as conservators we can control how invasive (and how effective) we would like a treatment to be. Drawing from conservation’s relatively short past, it is apparent that reversibility is key and often “less is more.” The less invasive the treatment, the better the longevity for the object. This is of course balanced with the efficacy of the treatment as well, which Adam mentioned.

Adam gave a few examples of different paper treatments involving different kinds of media in excellent detail, describing how he approached each object with the idea that one’s “senses are as important as the science.” Which is to say, if you can detect the subtleties of the paper surface, quality of the ink, etc. then you are more able to control your treatment in such a way to retain the integrity of the work. Ideally, if the conservator is honed in on the subtleties of the item being treated, then the overall outcome of the treatment will have little trace of invasion. This quote was integral to the message of the presentation, and appeared twice(!):

As the treatment “toolbox” grows and changes moving in to the future, taking a closer look at qualities of an item to be retained after its treatment and cleaning will become more important and certainly more achievable.