Poster Session-AIC Annual Meeting, May 13-14, 2010

The poster session can sometimes be thought of as the underdog of sessions in the larger scheme of the AIC conference. These unassuming presentations are hidden in the Exhibit Hall behind all the booths of various conservation products, books, high tech analytical equipment and long lines of conservators getting their morning or afternoon coffee fix during breaks in the conference. But if you make your way to the back half of the room, you’ll see rows and rows of boards where authors present their work on a wide range of topics, covering the gambit of everything “conservation”. The nice things about the poster session are that you can view the posters at your own pace and talk to the authors’ one on one about their work making it a more intimate conference experience. You are also able to take in posters on a very broad range of topics. This year posters covered subjects such as nanoparticles, contemporary art, new applications of analytical techniques, conservation in the field and even a mammoth!

At first, walking to the back part of the Exhibit Hall and coming upon all the posters can seem a little daunting, but with a coffee and snack in hand provided during the session breaks, you are ready to tackle the poster session and read about all this amazing work presented to you in a very visual and succinct way. We were really happy to cover this session because it is one we enjoy going to most, especially when the poster authors are available to answer questions or discuss their projects. There were many posters we thought were really interesting and had a hard time choosing which ones to write about, but we focused on these 6 for the post. Vanessa looked at posters from US institutions (#19, 28, 44) and Molly was the correspondent covering posters from international participants, many of whom were from Central and South America (#21, 31, 37). Summaries of these posters and our thoughts are below.

You can find the list of all the posters from this year’s conference on the AIC website. And if you missed this year’s conference or didn’t have a chance to check out all the posters while you were there, AIC has plans to archive the posters on their website so you can check them out there.

Molly Gleeson & Vanessa Muros

19. Failure to Bind: A Re-examination of the Ageing of Hook and Loop Fasteners

Joy Gardiner, Textile Conservator/Assistant Director of Conservation, Winterthur Museum & Country Estate and Winterthur Assistant Professor in Art Conservation, and Joseph Weber, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Conservation Science, University of Delaware in the Winterthur/University of Delaware Art Conservation Program

This poster caught my eye because I recently had been reading about ways to mount textiles for display. One method I read about was the use of hook and loop fasteners (illustrated here by The Textile Museum), or Velcro as many of us refer to these fasteners, as a less invasive method to mount textiles. In this poster, the authors looked at the failure of 2 mounted window hangings where hook and loop fasteners were used to attach the textile. They found that over time the fasteners suffer from mechanical deterioration and the loops have a tendency to stretch and break. Images of the hook and loop surfaces taken using the SEM really illustrated this type of degradation and damage to the fasteners.

Other tests were conducted, in addition to the SEM examination, to understand why the fasteners failed. The authors conducted XRF analysis on some older fasteners and found titanium. This is thought to be due to the addition of titanium dioxide (TiO2) to the fibers which can photo-oxidize if unprotected. Tensile testing was also conducted on new and old fasteners to look at shear strength. The authors saw that on the old fasteners, even though there was degradation to the hook side where the material had softened, mechanical failure of the fastener actually occurred on the loop side. To let people understand what the degradation of hook and loop fasteners looks like, samples of the old failed fastener and a new fastener were attached to the board. This allowed viewers to see the differences in the texture of the two fasteners and to attach and pull them to feel the differences. This was a really nice and visual way to understand what mechanical degradation does to these materials since the old fastener was really easy to pull apart and didn’t make the usual “ripping” sound that these fasteners make. Hopefully the authors will continue to research the degradation of these materials so that conservators can better understand the limitations of these materials and the performance of older hook and loop fasteners that have already been used to mount textiles in collections.

21. Ceramics Affected by Salts: A Comparative Study of Treatment Methodologies in Chile and at the Arizona State Museum

Francisca Gili and Ester Echenique, Conservators, Universidad de Chile

I was really drawn to this poster since I worked on an archaeological project in the north of Chile a few summers ago but the issues of salts in the burial environment and their impact on the excavated ceramics was not something that we were able to investigate. This poster describes a joint project between two Chilean conservators – one working in Chile and the other working in Arizona. Representing the project at the poster session, all the way from Santiago, Chile, was Francisca Gili. When I asked her how this project started, she explained to me that she was talking to Ester Echenique, her friend/colleague working in Arizona, about the issues of salty archaeological ceramics in collections. As they were discussing this topic, they realized that there were several major differences in the identification and treatment of salt-contaminated ceramics in Chile vs. the U.S. (and Arizona in particular, as both regions recover ceramics from similarly arid and salt-laden burial environments). Two of the biggest differences were that in Chile, chemical spot testing is not widely being used to characterize the types of salts present in ceramics, while spot-testing is regularly carried out in the US, and also that desalination is rarely used to treat salty ceramics in Chile while it is commonly used treatment in the US. In Chile, Francisca found that many conservators and archaeologists are resistant to desalination treatments due to the concern that this treatment will remove important contextual information from the objects – many of the ceramics in the collections examined do not have good accompanying documentation.

From these observations, Francisca and Ester decided to examine the approaches to the care of salty ceramics used at six different institutions in Chile and at the Arizona State Museum. This project is seen as the start of a dialog between conservators in Chile and the US regarding treatment approaches and issues. Francisca was very excited by the possibilities of this type of exchange and she had some really great ideas, including interest in bringing Nancy Odegaard and Scott Carrlee’s spot testing course to Chile for training conservators working there.

28. Examining Conservation Techniques Using Microscopy: A Comparison of Wheat Starch Paste Preparation Methods

Crystal Maitland, Paper Conservator, Johns Hopkins University Sheridan Libraries

Having just participated in a session on making wheat starch paste, both in the microwave and the stove top, I was really interested in looking at this poster and talking to Crystal about her findings in comparing the two preparation methods. As an objects conservator, I occasionally use wheat starch paste, but obviously not to the extent paper conservators do. I felt that because of my limited experience in making and using starch paste, I couldn’t discern the differences in preparation techniques or other factors that can influence how your paste behaves. So I decided to try check out this poster and try to talk to the author about it.

Crystal’s poster was divided into sections that brought up a question, what the general thinking is, how she set out to double check that line of thought, and what the results were. The types of questions she asked were: do you have to soak your wheat starch paste before cooking and do the starch particles actually swell?, how does the cooking and texture of starch paste made using a double boiler compare to that made in the microwave?, and how does storing your starch paste in the fridge compared to a cool dark place affect it?. The investigations into finding the answers to these questions involved examining samples of wheat starch paste under the microscope and these photomicrographs were included in her poster.

I won’t give away all the answers in the post, since you can access her poster online and see all her work there, but I will say I was glad to learn that although wheat starch paste in the microwave looks a bit more granular than that made in the stove top, after straining and kneading, both pastes look the same under the microscope. This means no more long days spent hand mixing paste on a hot plate anymore! The report Crystal wrote up on her project is also available online and she mentioned continuing her research to look at how preparation methods and other factors can affect tack. So keep your eyes open for more investigations into wheat starch paste from her.

31. Weavers Look for a Way to Preserve Their Heritage

Hector Meneses, Textile Conservator, Museo Textil de Oaxaca, Mexico

Conservator Hector Meneses was at the poster session to discuss another equally inspiring collaborative project taking place between the Museo Textil de Oaxaca (MTO) and the Community Museum of Teotitlán del Valle (MCTV) in Oaxaca, Mexico. Teotitlán del Valle is a Zapotec community just outside of Oaxaca known worldwide for the production of beautiful textiles, and almost everyone in the community is involved in weaving. Traditionally, as I only recently learned, men were the weavers in Teotitlán, but now most people in the community are involved.

MCTV was established in 1993 and the textiles on display have been on permanent exhibition since then – they now suffer from dust accumulation, infestation and improper support. Last year, the museum board contacted MTO for advice on care, display and storage of their collection, which led to the formation of a joint project between the 2 institutions. Hector Meneses is a textile conservator at the MTO, who is now working with the MCTV staff to establish a preventive conservation program, and to help assess condition, storage and display of the textiles. This summer (2010) he is helping to bring students from the National School of Conservation, Restoration and Museum Studies (Manuel del Castillo Negrete) in Mexico City to Teotitlán for a three week internship to carry out treatments on some of the textiles. In the past, students have come to the MTO for internships, but this summer the museum didn’t have the funds for student internships. Fortunately, Hector was able to arrange with the community in Teotitlán to help provide food and lodging for the students to allow them to do this work for their internships. In addition, the community weavers will be involved in this work – the weavers are preparing materials for the treatments that the students will carry out. Hector is hoping that it will be possible to bring students back next summer to continue working with the textiles and the community.

37. Restoration of an Historical Object

Catalina Rivera, Textile conservator in private practice, Chile

This poster describes the treatment of a Chilean national treasure–the flag that was presented in honor of the 1818 Oath of Chilean Independence. As Catalina Rivera explained to me, the flag is particularly important to Chilean people because the physical document of the Oath of Independence has been lost. In addition to being present for this historic event, the flag was also part of more recent historical events – while on exhibit in 1980, it was stolen by members of the Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR) in protest of the military dictatorship in Chile. It was returned 23 years later as part of a demand for the release of information regarding detainees of the Movement who disappeared during that time. Amazingly, according to Catalina, the flag was not damaged while it was held “hostage” – based on the presence of creases, it appears that it was folded for storage during this time, but otherwise its condition was unchanged.

In 1975, prior to its theft, it was restored by Poor Clare nuns, and this restoration subsequently caused wrinkling and distortions in the fabric. The flag was also soiled, stained, faded, and had numerous losses and tears. So after it was returned, conservation was seen as a priority. Treatment was carried out last year and included cleaning, removal of old repairs, reduction of creases and stabilization. This work was funded by then-President Michelle Bachelet, who was also present when the flag was finally reinstalled in the exhibition in the Museo Histórico Nacional in 2009. It was evident that Catalina was honored to have the opportunity to work on this object, and that it was really an emotional experience for her – this project also received a lot of publicity in Chile, and parts of the treatment were filmed and showed on the national news.

44. Donato Bastiani and the Oriental Institute Museum

Alison Whyte, Assistant Conservator, Oriental Institute Museum

Having worked at the Oriental Institute (OI) Museum, I was of course drawn to this particular poster (sorry for my blatant bias) because I was always fascinated by the images in the OI archives of Mr. Donato Bastiani, the first “conservator” (or really restorer) there, working on these amazing monumental artifacts in the collection. Mr. Bastiani (this is how we always referred to him in some kind of deference to his amazing skills as an artist and restorer) came to Chicago from Italy to work for the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893 to make plaster decorative figures for the buildings that would house the art and scientific wonders of the age. In the 30’s he began working as the chief restorer for the OI Museum and worked on monumental pieces in that collection such as the colossal stone bull head from Persepolis, the reliefs from Khorsabad and the colossal statue of King Tut. Though not much documentation accompanies his early work, or that of the many other people who did early conservation work at the museum, this poster highlights the strides the Oriental Institute made early on to have their collection preserved and presented to the public so that everyone could experience these amazing objects from abroad. Not only do the photos serve as a record for what was done to artifacts in the past and shows what condition they were in, but they are really cool to look at too!