Location: The Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle, County Durham
Educational Stipend: GBP16,000
The Bowes Museum, in partnership with Icon, and with the generous support of the Heritage Lottery Fund is offering a programme of Paintings Conservation internships from 2014 to 2019. The Museum will host one paintings intern per year, to work within the conservation department.
Based in the conservation studio at the Bowes Museum the intern will gain hands on experience working on the acclaimed collection of European paintings acquired by John and Josephine Bowes. This includes one of the largest collections of Spanish Paintings in any British museum. More information is available at www.thebowesmuseum.org.uk.
Working with the Paintings Conservator, the intern will carry out conservation assessments and treatments on paintings from the collection. As part of the conservation team, the intern will gain practical, preventive and workplace skills, tailored to help them develop their career in conservation. Projects throughout the year will include:
Conserving paintings for exhibitions and displays
Preventive conservation of the painting collections
Preparing paintings for loan/ tour
Regular contributions to The Bowes Museum blog
Publicizing the work of the department through networking with other professionals, attending conferences, publications etc.
Promoting Conservation through activities working with local colleges and schools
Candidates will be asked to present a portfolio with evidence of their conservation work and/or related painting skills at the interview.
You can apply for these placements if you have a recognized qualification in conservation, preferably specializing in paintings. Applicants wishing to pursue a career in paintings conservation, without formal training, but with a demonstrable interest in museums conservation and heritage, and able to demonstrate a high level of painting skills will also be considered. Applicants from all backgrounds are encouraged to apply
This talk was given by Céline Allain of the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF), after the lead author, Lucille Dessennes, also of the BnF, was unable to attend the conference.
In 2014, a pipe burst in the BnF, causing damage to 12,000 books, mostly from the 18th and 19th centuries. 360 of these 12,000 items contained coated papers, and when the disaster salvage/freeze drying contractors arrived on the scene, they would not accept books with coated pages for treatment.
The emergency team at the BnF instead had to use 6 freezers at the BnF to freeze-dry the 360 books with coated pages, although 51 of the 360 were too dry to be freeze-dried. Allain spoke to how difficult it was for the emergency team to accurately identify which books had coated pages—whether because the feel and look of the papers can vary or there might only be a few coated papers in a volume— and encouraged the audience to train emergency response teams to recognize coated papers beforehand. The difference is rarely as easy to identify as in the graphic below:
A common theme through the talk was the importance of keeping coated papers wet until they can be frozen. Even in the 2-3 hours it took the emergency team to arrive and place books in freezers, a number of books with coated papers had to be frozen “half-dried,” which limited the recovery outcome for these books. Had the books been kept wet and then frozen wet, they would have fared better.
Allain addressed the makeup of coated papers in order to explain why the pages should be kept wet: the coating (a mixture of pigments, binders, and other elements to improve opacity or water resistance) swells in the presence of water, readily attaches to the wet coatings of facing pages, and congeals into a “block” of stuck pages upon drying that cannot be separated without delamination of the paper surface. When the coated papers are still in a wet state, however, the pages can still be separated without loss of content.
The standard treatment for drying coated papers is freeze-drying (see below Further information), as long as there it is not a vacuum-thermal drying procedure. This allows the frozen water to sublimate.
For the 51 books that had been frozen half-dry, however, there were some that had blocked pages that needed to be un-blocked. The authors adapted a number of treatments to the books, including using a Teflon spatula to separate pages while still frozen.
The authors knew from previous research into the paper industry that the main binding agent in the papers was styrene-butadien latex (LSB in French, SB latex in English), which is soluble in tetrahydrofuran. Because the tetrahydrofuran’s toxicity made it too dangerous for use, Allain and Dessennes consulted the solubility triangle to arrive at a less toxic solvent. Using a mixture of toluene and ethanol (50/50 vol/vol), the conservators were able to attain equivalent solubility parameters and un-stick blocked pages of the affected books. The conservators brushed on the mixture, softening the SB latex, and then used a stiff spatula to separate the pages. The work is done in a fume hood. The authors noted that a large drawback is that the solvent can only be applied to specific areas of blockage and cannot be used on a large area or an entire book because the inks are frequently soluble in the solvent mixture.
Dessennes experimented with using the solvent in a solvent chamber, but speculates that because of the thickness of the block, that the vapors could not penetrate the interstices of the paper. Because of the limitations of the solvent applied as a liquid and in vapor form, Allain and Dessennes have plans to experiment with the solvent used in a low pressure environment.
Further information: “Effet de la lyophilisation sur le comportement mecanique et chimique du papier, du cuir et du parchemin”Flieder, Francoise; Leclerc, Françoise; Chahine, Claire
Carlsen, Soren. “Effects of Freeze drying on Paper,” IADA Preprints, 1999, p. 115-120.
David Tremain on Emergency Drying of Coated Papers http://cool.conservation-us.org/byauth/tremain/coated.html
NEDCC leaflet on Freeze-Drying: https://www.nedcc.org/free-resources/preservation-leaflets/3.-emergency-management/3.12-freezing-and-drying-wet-books-and-records
CCAHA on freeze-drying techniques: http://www.ccaha.org/uploads/media_items/ccaha-freezing-drying-techniques.original.pdf
NARA on efficacy drying techniques: http://www.archives.gov/preservation/conservation/drying-methods-02.html
LOC on drying techniques, what to do if collections get wet: http://www.loc.gov/preservation/emergprep/dry.html
Since 1975 the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation (FAIC) has supported an initiative to chronicle the history of the field of conservation. The FAIC Oral History Project has resulted in a growing database of transcripts and audio recordings of interviews with conservators, conservation scientists, and individuals in related disciplines. This archive constitutes an invaluable professional resource.
I became involved in the project a little over a year ago, contributing to the archive by conducting interviews. I can testify that my involvement has been both immensely rewarding and unexpectedly challenging. It’s reasonable to feel pressure to do justice to someone’s legacy. Before even arriving at the interview, however, the greatest obstacle I’ve encountered has been to simply schedule a meeting.
Though some individuals firmly decline an interview, the most common response has been agreement to interview — but in a few months. These few months usually turn into several additional months, which may turn into a year or more. In many cases, this is understandable: I’ve found that the timing of my request and the career trajectory of the potential interviewee are crucial. Conservation professionals close to retirement but still working are generally difficult to pin down, while those who have just retired are in a transitional period and may have equal difficulty scheduling a meeting. A commitment to periodically following up is critical to securing an interview.
I’ve found thus far that conservators and conservation professionals generally tend to be modest individuals who would otherwise be inclined to downplay their achievements. Those who have agreed to interview seem to have done so with reluctance. It is in these instances that it is most important to advocate for the value of recording both professional and personal experiences, and to attest that a request for an interview reflects the richness of an individual’s career rather than age. Many members of the generation of conservators in question were fundamental to shaping training programs, treatment methodologies, and the field of conservation as it has emerged in its own right.
As for the interview itself, I admit that it can be a humbling experience. For one, it can be embarrassing to hear yourself on tape! Yet, on the whole, leading interviews has constituted a beneficial learning process for me. Through doing so, I’ve been developing a tangential set of skills to endeavor to employ in each interview: I research my subject thoroughly beforehand to develop meaningful questions; try to listen patiently and actively with minimal interjections; and attempt to direct the conversation organically in a way which puts the interviewee at ease. These are valuable abilities to be nurtured.
An interview I conducted last month confirmed for me how personally insightful it can be to speak with colleagues for the Oral History Project. Interviewing Ann Massing, Paintings Conservator and Assistant to the Director at the Hamilton Kerr Institute (Emeritus), provided insights into the formation and teaching philosophies of the Hamilton Kerr Institute at Cambridge University, where I am currently a Post-Graduate Intern. I was amazed to hear about how international the cohort at the Institute was from the get-go, a characteristic that is still cultivated today. I was exposed to the history of the Institute and its major players over the years, foremost being the first director Herbert Lank, whose influence has been lasting. This has enriched my understanding of working at the Institute. Through Ann’s interview, I also received a sense of how incredibly interconnected the field is, and I am grateful to her for having shared her personal history with me.
As an emerging conservator, it has been fascinating and rewarding to learn about the history of conservation through the Oral History Project. It is a unique way to discover more about institutions of interest or to become better acquainted with colleagues in your vicinity. Interviews provide a window into how the discipline has developed, as well as into current trends in the field and prevailing research questions. Speaking with such accomplished and influential professionals is a privilege, as is being an agent for preserving their memories and legacy, and I would highly recommend the experience.
If you’d like to become involved with the Oral History Project, contact Joyce Hill Stoner at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the AIC page for more information.