42nd Annual Meeting – Awards

2014 AIC Annual Meeting honors creativity, vision, and experience with awards for professionals
Every year at the Annual Meeting, AIC honors distinguished professionals in conservation practice and education, as well as allied professionals who have contributed to our field.  The Emerging Conservation Professionals Network contacted the honorees for this year’s awards and asked them a few questions about their background and ideas on the current state of the conservation profession.
Monona Rossol has been honored this year with the AIC’s Special Recognition for Allied Professionals.   This award recognizes the work of valued colleagues from allied fields who have contributed to conservation with their expertise and spirit of interdisciplinary collaboration.
ECPN:  In a few sentences, tell us about your professional background.
MR: I have three degrees from the University of Wisconsin: a BS in Chemistry with a minor in Math, and two art degrees, an MS and MFA.  I was a co-founder of the first nonprofit dedicated to art safety in 1977, when I began working as an industrial hygienist.  In 1984, I was approved for full membership in the American Industrial Hygiene Association.  In 1987, I founded another nonprofit called Arts, Crafts and Theater Safety and am currently its president.
ECPN: When did you first become interested or involved in museum professionals’ specific industrial hygiene issues?
MR: I worked as a research chemist to put myself through graduate school for art.  It became apparent to me that many of the same hazardous chemicals used in the labs were also used in the Art Department but without any training, ventilation, or safety equipment.  My first lectures on this subject were in 1962 in graduate school.  When I set up my first art studio near Madison, WI, the State Historical Society was aware of my dual interests and asked me if I could do some conservation for them, especially painted furniture and ceramic conservation.  When I moved to New York City, I also did other objects work.
ECPN: What do you feel are the greatest strengths of the conservation profession today?
MR: The strength of the conservation profession today is in the growing number of conservators with strong backgrounds in chemistry and related sciences.  For example, when I OSHA-train young people at Winterthur now, I can discuss issues at a vastly higher level than I could have 30 or even 15 years ago.
ECPN: How did you first become involved with AIC?
MR: I’ve been an AIC member since 1981 and had a bit to do with their first Health and Safety Committee.  I would have trouble counting all the times I’ve done lectures, workshops and training sessions at AIC conferences and events over those years.
ECPN: Do you have any words of advice for emerging conservation professionals, as an educator, advocate, or professional?
MR:  Just keep studying.  I never stop taking courses and workshops and reading everything I can get my hands on.  I suggest we all do this.  Everything you learn about your profession can be useful at some point.  Besides, it’s fun.  If it’s not, you are in the wrong field.
Walter Henry was awarded an Honorary Membership this year by the AIC Board of Directors in recognition of his exceptional contributions to conservation in his work with online resources like CoOL and the Conservation DistList.
ECPN: In a few sentences, tell us about your professional background.
WH: I started out as a book repairer for the collections at Stanford in the early 70s. In 1978 there was a flood and over 54,000 books got wet. The woman in charge of that program […] was Sally Buchannan, who went on to be one of the finest library preservationists ever. The flood work lasted until about 1980. The money that we got from insurance and law suits funded the nascent conservation/preservation department. There was no budget for conservation staff […] so for the first six months I was the secretary.
I never had formal academic training in conservation. Don Etherington, who is responsible for more book conservators of my generation than anyone else, took me under his wing as my mentor.
I spent a lot of time at the computer center and my son came home one day with something that amazed me: a print out of a Usenet forum. Someone would make an outrageous comment and others would respond, on and on until the subject was dead.  Around the same time, work was being done to make searchable texts.  The DistList started in 1987 with an announcement on the bulletin board at the AIC annual meeting and grew from there. Managing the software started taking up more of my time, and I had more aptitude for that than for bench-work. Stanford was a wonderful place for me […] and they ended up hosting the DistList and CoOL for many years.
ECPN: What do you feel are the greatest strengths of the conservation profession today? And our biggest challenges?
WH: I want to rephrase that as ‘What’s changed in the last years in the field of conservation?’
I think one thing is the shift to a general expectation that you will go to a formal graduate training program, and finish with a certain base level of knowledge and some skill.  Another shift I’ve seen is in conservation technicians.  A big part of it was the late Carolyn Rose and her Requisite Competencies for Conservation Technicians and Collection Care Specialists.
The development of the specialty groups within AIC is both a good and bad thing. The first few meetings I went to […] I learned a great deal from attending talks in paintings and objects. Now you can’t afford to miss any talks in your own specialty, but the quality of the talks has increased. The professionalism of the organization has grown, it’s a stronger organization than it was, and I think everyone recognizes that.
ECPN: What about the future, how can the field improve?
WH: I’m not going to answer that […] because my opinions aren’t the ones you should be listening to. I did some stuff I’m half proud of, but my vision for the future of CoOL isn’t where it should go. The advancements in conservation will come from young people rather than from people my age, that’s all I can say.
Vicki Cassman has been recognized by AIC this year with the Sheldon and Caroline Keck Award for her career in the education and training of conservation professionals.
ECPN: In a few sentences, tell us about your professional background.
VC: I am a conservation educator, working for the last eight years at the University of Delaware, directing the undergraduate program in art conservation. Prior to this I taught anthropology and museum studies, and practiced as an itinerant textile conservator. My educational background includes a BA in Art History (UC-Davis), MS in both Art Conservation (University of Delaware) and Textile Science (UC-Davis) and a PhD in Anthropology (Arizona State University).
Conservation was a discovery I made while taking a gap year (1977) in college ‘to find myself.’  I was visiting a small museum while taking a traditional weaving course in Sweden and I asked a woman repairing artifacts what her job was called.  She said […] I could go to Stockholm and intern at the Nordiska Museum.  The director told me I should go back to the US and apply to the University of Delaware/Winterthur program, which he had recently toured and found to be very impressive.
ECPN: What achievements do you believe qualified you for the Keck award?
VC: I support my students and give them room to grow.  I believe in their abilities and if they work hard I will help them achieve their goals.  I am genuinely interested in teaching techniques and methods, and I am willing to try new things. I especially believe in active learning.
ECPN: How has the conservation field changed since you became a conservator? How do you think the field will evolve in the future?
VC: As I was finishing my conservation degree in 1985, preventive conservation was the new emphasis in the field, and I still believe this is vital and central to undergraduate art conservation education at University of Delaware.  Our new preservation challenge is in the digital world.  It will take a different set of skills and talents than we require currently for graduate school admissions. Designing a curriculum for digital, electronic, or time-based media preservation is an important challenge our field needs to address.
ECPN: Do you have any words of advice for Emerging Conservation Professionals or others who want to contribute to conservation and heritage preservation?
VC: The field is highly competitive, but we persist because we love the artifacts, and the stories and people associated with them.  Pursuing this field requires persistence and dedication.
Undergraduate art conservation programs are popping up around the country, and my advice when considering these programs, is to ask how many professional conservators are on the faculty, who can mentor on a regular basis.  In general, it is very possible to prepare yourself (without a program) for graduate admission for art conservation, but it is not easy.
Suzanne Davis is the recipient of the AIC’s Conservation Advocacy Award, which recognizes conservation professionals who promote and enrich our field through outreach and advocacy.
ECPN: In a few sentences, tell us about your professional background.
SD: I head the conservation department at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, where I’ve worked for 13 years. I also provide field conservation for the museum’s excavations in the Mediterranean, Middle East, and North Africa. Before the Kelsey, I was a conservator for the U.S. Navy’s Underwater Archaeology Branch.
ECPN: What do you feel are the greatest strengths and challenges of the conservation profession today?
SD: A huge strength is that conservators have amazing skill sets. We should be taking the lead in cultural institutions, not only directing collections management and preservation, but guiding development and fundraising efforts, and directly influencing strategic vision and mission.
Two major challenges I see for our profession right now are that it is insular and exclusive. Few conservators participate in allied disciplines by attending or presenting at allied conferences, or reading or publishing in related journals. Current grad school applicants in the U.S. need a lot of internship hours to be competitive, but museums can’t usually afford to pay interns for their learning experience. They pay with the staff time and resources they commit to training the intern [but] this system excludes anyone who can’t afford to take unpaid internships. The field is exclusive in more subtle ways and our methods for recruiting and fostering potential conservators could be updated to serve us better.
ECPN: What achievements are you most proud of that you feel qualified you for the Conservation Advocacy Award?
SD: I’m proudest of my day-to-day work with students. The Kelsey Museum has a long tradition of conservators who are active in teaching and service.  All the advocacy I’ve done is rooted in this belief. We never felt like we were “dumbing down” information, but distilling concepts to their essentials. Writing about them for a general audience was a lot harder than we expected.
ECPN: Do you have any words of advice for ECPs or others who want to contribute to conservation and heritage preservation?
SD: If you can match your skills and interests to an existing need, that’s a good way to contribute in a meaningful way. Think about places you can add value. If you’re at a museum, you could start writing for the blog, give a talk about your work, or collaborate with the education department to develop outreach products like tours or podcasts that focus on conservation. If you’re in private practice, you can use your website to talk about conservation in detail and write about work in the public sphere. All of us should share our work, not just through AIC, but through conferences and publications in allied disciplines. You can also look around your local community for ways to contribute and be an advocate for conservation.
If you’re considering graduate school in conservation, spend time researching other careers in the cultural heritage sector. Conservation isn’t the only way you can contribute, and there might be something you like better.
Conservation and heritage organizations like AIC almost always have open service positions, and some of which focus on outreach and advocacy. Know about opportunities like these and volunteer where you can. You might see a need or gap where others haven’t.  If you do, and you believe in it, don’t be afraid to advocate.
This year AIC also awarded the Sheldon and Caroline Keck Award for conservation education to Steve Koob (Corning Museum of Glass).
To learn more about AIC’s annual awards for members and allied professionals, visit http://www.conservation-us.org/membership/awards.  These interviews were conducted by email and in person by ECPN officers.  For questions, contact ayesha.fuentes@gmail.com.
– Ayesha Fuentes, ECPN Communications co-officer

(Posted on behalf of Ayesha Fuentes by Fran Ritchie, ECPN Professional Education and Training co-officer)