39th Annual Meeting – Paintings Session, June 2, 2011, “A Neoclassical Mystery: The Technical Study and Treatment of an Iconic French Portrait” by Kristin deGhetaldi

There were three very interesting aspects of this presentation if you love the quality of high society French painting between 1775 – 1825… or there abouts:


First, Kristin gave a very nice art historical review of Jacques Louis David’s studio culture and influence, which included more than 400 students that studied directly with the master. She gave some really interesting comparisons between the styles of some of the students and David but ended up focusing on the work of a female student, Marie Benoist.


Second, Kristin focused on Marie Benoist as she presented the very interesting technical and historical study of a very intriguing “iconic” female portrait that was previously misattributed/unattributed and is logically attributable to Benoist, according to deGhetaldi’s research. Actually, I personally liked the portrait better than the David and other portraits that were shown for it’s interesting positioning and thoughtful mood. Flat out, it’s a great picture.


Third, the thorough conservation treatments of the portrait were interesting but not unusual. At the beginning of Kristin’s presentation of the portrait, I was hoping that she was going to let us see the differences through cleaning. I was not disappointed as the final conservation presentation and aesthetics were wonderful.

Portrait by Marie Benoist
The "Iconic French Portrait"


The plentiful photographs, of course, made Kristin’s presentation that much more enjoyable. And the thorough technical analysis with documentary microscopic studies of greens particular to that time period and location that will aid future researchers in authentication clues.


Contact Ms. Kirstin deGhetaldi at k-deghetaldi@nga.gov


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Scott M. Haskins

Fine Art Conservation Laboratories (FACL, Inc.)



(805) 564 3438


39th Annual Meeting – Textiles Session: “Retaining the Unknown: Ethical Considerations and Treatment of a South African Beaded Textile”, Sarah Owens, 11:30AM – Noon

This was a final student project by Sarah Owens, who had returned to school to study textile conservation.

The textile had been donated in 1908 to the Bristol City Museums and Art Gallery, United Kingdom. It was now being prepared for storage and/or long-term display.

The artifact was assumed to be a wrap skirt, but in fact this is part of the unknown: over the years it had been modified in such a way, by the addition of a large tear and a slit in the “waistband”, that it was unclear as to how it had been worn previously.  It was entirely possible that this piece could have been a head wrap, a bodice-wrap, or even a baby-sling.  Sarah showed a key photograph of 2 women from South Africa, which indicated very clearly that each of these other possibilities was indeed viable.  After a very clear, step-by-step description of condition and treatment, the post-treatment photos showed that the decision had been made to leave the later alterations in place, because it was possible that these alterations were in fact made by the original wearer. Leaving them in place allowed for multiple interpretations of this piece, and asks us to avoid pre-judgments as to its use.

This was a reminder to me of something Frances Lennard had said, in her introduction to the panel discussion on “Why We Do What We Do”.   She had said, and I think it is worthy of being engraved somewhere:

“Interventions are ethics in practice”.

Although this was a student project, it was very important as an example of a very advanced thought-process:

The decision NOT to intervene by removing the alterations in this piece was itself an example of ethics in practice.

By retaining the unknown part of the history of this piece, it reminded me of the practice of “proving the null” – something I used to think was impossible!   Thank you, Sarah!

39th Annual Meeting – Textiles Session: “Why We Do What We Do: Ethics and Decision-Making” Panel Discussion, Thursday, June 2, 10:30-11:30AM

This panel featured 4 textile conservators, 2 in private practice (Julia Brennan and Mary Wasserman) and 2 working for large museums (Susan Heald and Christine Giuntini).  All have written a chapter in the forthcoming book by Patricia Ewer and Frances Lennard,  on the topic of textile conservation.

Julia Brennan started off, with a description of how she conducts herself on her many overseas conservation projects, many times working in less-developed countries. She made the point that ethics to her means having a sensitivity and understanding of another set of values.  It requires having respect  for, and developing trust with other parties, in order to create a partnership, which leads to progress and thus accomplishment of the objective. For her, it is helpful to remember that each artifact is more than that – it can also be a living relic.  She referred back to something that was said  during the workshop on Tuesday, regarding Best Practices for CAP surveys: “Don’t let ‘perfect’ get in the way of ‘good’, and finds that this helps her when she finds herself often working with less-than-ideal circumstances.  She also mentioned that she is often bound by unwritten agreements of confidentiality, which, if she were to break them, would be a severe ethical infraction.  It was a nice discussion, where the sensitive nature of her work was apparent.

Next, Christine Giuntini spoke mostly about her experiences at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, wherer she works with curators and designers almost exclusively.  Their collaboration guides her decision-making, and affects why she does what she does.  She also illustrated her comments using several slides from work from the early 1980s.  Exhibits of ethnographic pieces were presented then as pieces of fine art, a different approach than is usually taken today. As she said,  “you do the best you can, based on the information that you have”, and that we use information to change and inform the decisions we make as conservators.  Context is key, and this idea kept coming up over and over again, with each of the 4 speakers.  Christine asked us all to remember – especially the yonger conservators – that there was a time, pre-Ethafoam, when we were all using blue-board on wooden frames to make supports, and this was common practice.  Our decisions and practices were shaped by the availability of  materials, some of which  were not even invented then!

Susan Heald spoke next,  and she referred to both the tangible and intangible aspects of Cultural Heritage.  She specifically referenced the UNESCO convention of 2003, which  specifically talks about the need to safeguard both tangible and intangible aspects of culture.   At NMAI, where she works, they see themselves as the custodians of heritage, not the owner.  She also compared the CCI 1986 Conference on the Care and Preservation of Ethnographic materials, where very few native people were in attendance, with the 2007 Symposium on the same topic, which featured a much larger number of presenters being native people.    She closed by referencing the AIC Code of Ethics from 1994, which talks about the necesity of having an informed respect for  property, and also the 2004 ICOM Code of Ethics, which states the need to take into account the interests and beliefs of the community – the source of the heritage.  It was a good reminder that we really do have a concrete basis for the belief system that we all should hold, if we consider ourselves to be professional conservators.  Some pretty serious people have given these concepts serious thought, and have produced documents upon which we base our actions as professionals.

Finally, Mary Wasserman spoke of her experience in Florence, Italy, where she has been practicing textile conservation for a very long time (that’s what she said!)  The case study that she wrote about for the new book took place in a historic house over a period of 10 years.  It included the need to replace a collection of silk banners which had been hung from the ceiling, but which were returned to their place of origin, thus necessitating the creation of reproductions.  Photographic reproductions were made and printed on new silk fabric, which were then fabricated into banners and re-hung on the ceiling, where the originals had been originally. Mary stressed that this was a collaborative effort between 2 teams of conservators, and this collaboration guided the decision-making throughout this very long project.  Being well informed of the topic before even starting the work was key to her work, which echoed what Christine had just said: you do the best job that you can, with the information that you have.

In the ensuing general discussion from the floor, various comments were made – it’s difficult to repeat them all, but here are some snippets:  Context trumps all in decision-making….. it all comes down to the availability of materials…..sometimes you find yourself deviating from your training, depending on the audience you are working with and their level of sophistication and differing values….. it’s not YOUR collection, it’s THEIR collection……There is no right or wrong,  it’s what’s best in the context of the present ?…. this attitude extends to working with very small museums, without any paid staff (this echoes what was said during the CAP workshop:  the worst thing you can do is to come into an all volunteer situation, and tell them everything they have been doing is wrong!!!)…the success of our outreach depends on a change in attitude, and the development of respect for local context and resources….. question: is it ethical for an institution to hold collections when they don’t have the staff to care for them?…..conservators have to be flexible, in order  to work with all kinds of situations, and to develop achievable goals wherever they find themselves (another echo from the CAP workshop!) Final question: is it ever ethical to leave out the words when writing a condition report – and just rely on photographs?

This panel discussion was time well spent, and everyone was sorry to hear that time was UP!!!

39th Annual Meeting – Workshop, May 31, “AIC Workshop: Museum Mannequins” by Helen Alten

The workshop began on time. We were provided an advance copy of the general workshop notes with advice to skim or read prior to the workshop. Very helpful! There was a large amount of material covered. The workshop was a survey of many different techniques used in exhibitions from many locations. The PowerPoint presentation was full of images, bullet points, along with references to additional handouts provided during the workshop. Showcased what works well and what does not work.

The presenter, Helen Alten, used a combination of lecture and hands-on-activities to give participants a clearer idea of the techniques being discussed. Most helpful, as we moved through a variety of techniques. The presenter also invited participants to discuss their experiences, questions, and mount solutions in the workshop.

Participants had varying levels of experience, training, and areas of specialty. Group work during these activities was encouraged and added additional brainpower to working through what were new techniques for many of the participants.

Wide range of information covered from anatomy, mount making decision process, nice bibliography, Patterns of History, and research. Additive and subtractive constructions, as well as other rigid subforms, finishing techniques, plus, hands, legs, and stands, hair, and mount attachment methods were discussed.

There are times when the literature and the lecture becomes significantly clearer after hands-on opportunities are completed. Participants were asked to bring a garment to use for a hands-on session. Hands-on sessions were possible thanks to tool kits provided which eliminated the need for participants to bring sharp, cutting, heating, and large sized tools that may have been very difficult for travel. Hands-on sessions included: Measuring Costumes, Flat Form Mannequin, and Ethafoam Mannequin via LaRouche/Peacock Combination Method.

An extra bonus included a history of undergarments. With time running out Helen encouraged those of us still to stay for a quick casting and molding exercise using alginate and plaster.

Fun Factor: (Scale 1-5; 1=zero fun through 5=best fun ever, involves good cake)

Fun Factor Rating: 4, even without cake! Met new people. Able to share potential mount techniques.

Recommendation: Sign-up if you have the opportunity. Go for a full workshop/course of longer duration (week or longer). It is worth the time.

Tip: Provide an experience gauge for participants in workshop announcement. Way too much info and hands-on activity to cram into 6 hours, make it 7 hours. We used the time to our best advantage but ran-over by 45 minutes and left out some hands-on activities.

AIC’s 39th Annual Meeting – Links to photos

Photos from AIC’s Annual Meeting are being uploaded to our Flicker site as time permits. Each photo below represents a set. So far I’ve posted photos from the reception at Philadelphia Museum of Art on Wednesday night, the Manikin workshop, and Thursday’s portfolio review session. There will be a lot more coming, so please check back regularly to this post or go directly to our Flicker site (at www.flicker.com/photos/aic-faic/) to view additional photos.

Museum Manikins Workshop (click on this photo to view the entire set)


The reception at Philadelphia Museum of Art, June 1 (click on this photo to view the entire set)


Portfolio Review Session (click on this photo below to view the entire set)

AIC-AM2011-020611-Portfolio Review-013-post

ECPN Officers (click on this photo below to view the entire set)