Let the Talks Begin-WAAC Annual Meeting, Day 2

Restoration of a video installation, disaster response due to Texas wildfires, conserving a sandstone facade, cold storage of photographs, treating paper collections in 12 Alaskan museums and developing an architectural conservation plan for a university…those were just some of the topics presented today on the second day of the WAAC Annual meeting.

Conservators from all over the western part of the US came together today for the first day of talks. A broad range of topics and specialties were presented to the approximately 60 WAAC members attending the meeting. Here are some of the talks I found particularly interesting:

Luminous: How Conservation Studies, Treatment and Advocacy are Integrated in an Exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum
Nicholas Dorman, Seattle Art Museum

Nicholas Dorman discussed a current exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum, Luminous: The Art of Asia, that has incorporated the information gathered from the research and treatment conducted on the materials in preparation for the exhibit, into the didactic material presented to the public. Detailed images to highlight technological features or materials identified, xrays and CT scan images provide additional information to viewers and are an opportunity to educate them about conservation and the activities of SAM’s conservation dept. The website for the exhibit includes several videos highlighting the treatments and examinations conducted to give the public an inside view to the contribution the conservators made to what they see on display. This is great example of public outreach about conservation and integrating the hard, and of course interesting, work conservators do into an exhibition.

Color: Review of the Main Color Producing Mechanisms and Illustration with Feather Colors
Christel Pesme, Getty Conservation Institute

Christel’s talk demonstrated that the way that we perceive color is very complex and affected by many factors such as the material we are observing, the light used and how that material interacts with the light. Christel has been working on a project to look into the fading of feathers in California featherwork and showed us how looking at this material changes the way we think about the color we see on artifacts. The way that color is structured in feathers is very complex and through visual examples, she showed us that the same feather in reflected light can be two different colors on either side. She also showed us that transmitting light through a feather drastically alters the color and makes a blue and red macaw feather look brown. Her talk certainly made us all think about how we view color and how that affects our determination of what we observe as and determine to be fading. I know I’ll never look at something again and not wonder if whether the light, and the object itself, is playing some trick on me and drastically changing the way I view the color it contains.

What to Do When a Chemist Comes Knocking on the Door: Identification of Plastic Materials in Museum Collections through Collaboration with and Undergraduate Chemistry Program
JoAnn Peters, Central Washington University

JoAnn Peters is an organic chemist who teaches at Central Washington University and became interested in conservation science after attending an NSF funded workshop on chemistry and art. This interest, and work that she did with the Royal British Columbia Museum on the identification of plastics in their collection, inspired her to create a collaboration between museums in her area and the undergraduate chemistry students she teaches. As part of her work at the university, JoAnn teaches students about chemistry and conservation science while having them identify the types of plastic materials found in the collection of the Yakima Valley Museum. The information is used to help the museum determine how best to care for these objects. The students have so far only used microchemical testing, but JoAnn hopes to be able to use infrared spectroscopy as well, a technique that is taught as part of the undergraduate chemistry curriculum. The creation of this collaboration is a great example of the benefit of such partnerships between institutions and universities/scientists, which also extends to the education of students both in chemistry and conservation science. The collaboration seems to be positive for both institutions and hopefully can be a model for other museums and university faculty to follow.

The Watercolors of Charles Russell: An Examination of the Artists’ Materials and Techniques on the Montana Fronter
Jodie Utter, Amon Carter Museum

The next to last paper of the day was presented by Jodie Utter, a conservator of works on art on paper who for the last four years has been studying the materials and techniques used by artist Charles Russell who painted watercolors depicting the Montana Frontier. Using techniques such as polarized light microscopy, XRF, infrared reflectography and UV light, Jodi has been able to trace the changes in his technique and the paints he used throughout his career. In the examples she showed us, we got to see how his early paintings had detailed underdrawings and his figures had no shadow, but as he gained more experience and practice, his underdrawings became sketches and his paintings more sophisticated. His use of paints changed over time as well, choosing initially watercolors that would give the scene a transparency and luminescence to later choosing more opaque paints and employing the impasto technique to give a three dimensionality to his work. Jodi is working on this technical study for a book that is being written for an upcoming exhibit of Russell’s work. I’m sure the viewers will be as interested in the technical information she discovered about Russell’s paintings as much as seeing the paintings themselves.

At the end of the day the WAAC attendees made their way to the Byrne-Reed House, a historic home that was restored by the Humanities Texas who uses it as a place for exhibits and offices. We enjoyed good food and drink on the beautiful open porch of the house and in the restored living room. We also got tours of the upper floors of the house and got to see rooms that still kept the original floor plan, the sleeping porch with a section of original railing and some beautiful plaster work on the upper exterior walls. It was a wonderful way to end such a great first day of talks.

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