Plying the Trades: Report from NATCC Conference

“Plying the Trades: Pulling Together in the 21st Century,” the 8th North American Textile Conservation Conference (NATCC), met in Oaxaca, Mexico this past November, 2011.  Following two days of apropos workshop offerings, including an introduction to biological classification for textile conservators held in the local ethnobotanical gardens, two aqueous cleaning courses with the ever-in-demand Richard Wolbers, back-strap loom weaving (with regional artisans specializing in different techniques), natural dying (using local products including the hand-spun wool slated to be dyed), and feather mosaics (following a traditional technique using adhesive derived from a specific orchid flower), the program got off to a resounding start with a thought-provoking keynote address by Dr. Sven Haakanson.  If anyone present already felt sated from the successful workshops and early regional tours they could not help but quickly be drawn into the flow of the following two days.  Dr. Hakkanson’s touch points of living heritage, community, and repatriation of knowledge paved the way for an exciting conference filled with multi-cultural and disciplinary presentations, covering the territory of regaining lost traditions, sharing knowledge with local communities, creating discussions between communities, collection holders, and conservators, and finding paths for mutual ground or compromise for object care.

A few highlights included a history of community development and outreach at the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), conservation in the public eye (quite literally due to their on view textile conservation laboratory) at the People’s History Museum in Manchester, UK, and the immense challenges and rewards of building international education programs.  Participants were further inundated with information during poster sessions, set during coffee breaks, which successfully promoted many discussions.

Planned to the nines, the conference also included a cocktail reception in the beautifully restored Centro Academico y Cultural San Pablo (originally established as a Dominican convent in 1529), and, the following evening, the conference closed on a high note with a full parade down the streets of Oaxaca complete with band, balloons, dancers, lanterns, and fire works leading the attendees to a lovely dinner set in the local Ethnobotanical Gardens.  Everyone left Oaxaca full of knowledge, mescal, and a new found appreciation of community.  Not to worry if Oaxaca proved too difficult to reach: post prints are available for purchase through (CD format) and plans are in the works for NATCC’s next conference.  Moving from one welcoming community to another, and focusing on modern materials, NATCC is slated to meet in San Francisco, November, 2013.

—Denise Migdail