Job Posting – Two Year position: Assistant Conservator (Textiles/Preventive Conservation), Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, VT

The Shelburne Museum is seeking a textile conservator with a strong interest in preventive conservation for a two-year full time position.
The conservator will undertake a variety of projects related to the treatment of objects in the floor cover, bed cover, and upholstered artifact collections and ongoing preventive conservation initiatives.  For all treatments, the textile conservator will take documentary photographs and write condition reports, treatment proposals and treatment reports. The conservator will train and supervise volunteers to assist with preparation of large textiles for exhibition and other appropriate textile conservation related tasks.The conservator will also participate in ongoing projects related to integrated pest management, the efficient and proper operation of the exhibition and storage area HVAC systems and exhibition lighting systems. The conservator will become familiar with established lab procedures for health and safety and help maintain conservation documentation and treatment files and conservation databases. The conservator will work with the registrars and art handlers to improve exhibition and storage conditions for the collection, conduct practical research that informs conservation treatment as appropriate, and contribute to Shelburne’s public outreach program.
The conservator will be joining a conservation department with two staff conservators: an objects conservator and a preventative conservator/conservation administrator.   The lab is equipped with suction discs and a suction table, a Wild binocular microscope, and a Leitz research microscope with polarizing light and UV light attachments.
Qualifications for this position include a Master’s Degree in Conservation or equivalent training with a specialization in textiles and minimum treatment experience of 3 years beyond conservation training.
Candidates for the position should have good communication skills, the ability to work well as a member of a team, and be a member of AIC, IIC, or other appropriate conservation organization. They should be creative problem-solvers, flexible, and adaptable with a positive attitude.
Competitive salary and generous benefits to include medical and dental insurance.
Applications should consist of a letter of interest, CV, and contact information for three references and should be sent to Nancie Ravenel at nravenel[at] by January 20, 2015.

Considering the Research Habits of Conservators

Help Chart Conservation’s Digital Landscape.
Not long ago I saw that the Ithaka S+R, the folks behind JSTOR, released a report about the changing research practices of art historians. Turns out this report was one of a series, with the others looking at the habits of  historians and chemists. Reviewing these documents, I was struck by just how my my own research habits have changed over the last 10 years thanks to digital devices and sites that help me collect, organize, and share information as I do my work. It seemed like a great way to start thinking through some of the issues that will be discussed when FAIC kicks off Charting the Digital Landscape for the Conservation Profession with a forum at the AIC annual meeting. This project, funded by the Mellon, Kress, and Getty Foundations, is an outgrowth of conversations that have been held about Conservation OnLine and the Conservation DistList over the last 5 years. To help start the discussion at the forum during the annual meeting, I’ve been asked to offer a short presentation at this forum on key resources I use in my job, what’s missing, and how challenges to access affect how I do my work.
There will be 3 other short talks too. FAIC’s Eric Pourchot will briefly introduce the Digital Landscape project and hopefully report on preliminary results from the survey that was sent out to AIC members recently. If you missed it, here’s the link:
Representing the Mellon Foundation, Ken Hamma will give us an overview of themes emerging from the various meetings they’ve held or funded around various projects such as ResearchSpace and ConservationSpace, the overall goals of those projects, and how they relate to what’s happening in other fields, particularly the digital humanities. I’m particularly looking forward to hearing from David Bloom, a biologist at University of California, Berkeley and coordinator of the collaborative biodiversity data sharing project, VertNet. He’ll be talking about interdisciplinary collaboration, building community online, and keeping that community engaged.
If you’re at the annual meeting, I hope you can come and voice your thoughts and ask questions. What would help you do your work better, more efficiently? The forum will be on Saturday, May 31 at 1:30-4 pm in Regency A&B, located on the street level of the Hyatt Embarcadero. If you’re at annual meeting, but only can stay for a little while, that’s fine — there will be a flyer available at the session with contact information to contribute thoughts or ask questions afterwards. If you’re not able to attend the session, I hope you’ll keep an eye out for updates on the project following this forum and other events related to this project over the next 8 months.

41st Annual Meeting – Objects Session, May 30 – Three Decades Later: A Status Report on the Silver Lacquering Program at Winterthur by Bruno Pouliot, Catherine Matsen, Jennifer Mass, William Donnelly, Kaitlin Andrews, & Margaret Bearden

For me, this presentation was one of the high points of the conference – a thoughtful re-examination of a typically undertaken protocol.
The Winterthur Museum  collection of silver numbers around 11,600 and over 2,000 of those pieces are on display in period rooms and galleries at the museum. Indeed, as characterized by Bruno Poliot, this is a massive task. To reduce wear and handling, silversmith and then conservator Don Heller began a program of cleaning then coating silver in 1974.  After a period of experimentation, Don chose to use Agateen Air Dry Lacquer #27, a cellulose nitrate, for coating, suggesting that it should be replaced every 10 years but could last up to 28 years in a museum environment with careful handling. Over 1000 silver objects were thus treated between 1982-1987. While the conservators at Winterthur experimented other coating materials, including Acryloid B-72 and Acryloid B-48N in the decade that followed, research undertaken by conservation scientist Chandra Reedy and others, presented in the OSG Specialty Group at the 1999 AIC annual meeting,  indicated that cellulose nitrate prevented tarnish better than acrylic resins, and Agateen #27 became the only lacquer used for silver at Winterthur from 1997 onward.
In 2009, the collection on display was surveyed systematically to assess the condition of the lacquer coatings. They found that:

  • the lacquer on 42% of the objects had moderate to major problems and would require cleaning and re-lacquering
  • condition of the coating did not directly correlate with age, method of application, or composition of the silver alloy
  • condition of the coating did correlation with how well the lacquer was applied and the complexity of the object’s surface
  • the degree to which the coating had yellowed was difficult to assess, but it was found along with tarnish

In 2011, the museum received a 2 year grant from IMLS for a re-lacquering project. The objects to be treated were grouped into one of three categories:

  • objects treated in 1985 or earlier,
  • those with coatings which were defective or otherwise failing,
  • objects which had never been lacquered before. These were often complex.

Procedures for re-treatment were standardized in order to reduce the amount of application defects. Two conservation assistants were hired for the project, and they underwent a two month training program, working on simpler objects before moving on to more complex ones. Bruno did go into a fair amount of detail about the treatment procedures, and I’m sure his paper will also explore those in greater depth than I will here. One key feature of their procedure is examination one hour and then again 24 hours after application of the lacquer to look for imperfections and iridescence, which would indicate that the coating is too thin. Then a final examination of groups of objects is undertaken 2-3 weeks after the lacquer has been applied to ensure that all solvent has evaporated out of the film and to ensure that the coating is free of defects. Touch-ups to the coating can then still be done, and this period allows enough time for the solvent to completely evaporate, ensuring that it is safe to return them to display.
The team also investigated how Agateen #27 ages, looking both at objects coated with the lacquer in Winterthur’s collection as well as from the collections of two individuals who kept their pieces in home environments. The coatings on the pieces from the private collections exhibited a particular pinkish-brown discoloration, not found on any of the museum pieces. Though analysis of degraded coatings with FTIR and XRF and SEM-EDS provided information about the breakdown of the nitrocellulose polymer and elements found within the degraded films, it was the results of  Time of Flight-Secondary Ion Mass Spectroscopy (TOF-SIMS), used to further characterize corrosion within degraded nitrocellulose films, that provided some unexpected results.
In TOF-SIMS, a high energy primary ion beam bombards a sample to ionize molecules on the sample surface. These ionized molecules are then characterized using mass spectroscopy. Looking at the lacquer films from the silver from the private collections, silver sulfide, silver oxides, silver chloride, silver sulfate, sulfate anion and silver cyanide were identified. Except for silver cyanide, all of these corrosion products were also identified in tarnish and corrosion products on uncoated silver.
Bruno pointed out that silver cyanide ranges in appearance from colorless to grey-white in color but could result in the pink-brown color noted in the lacquered objects if mixed with cuprite, which is another corrosion product found on silver objects due to a low copper content. They will next determine whether silver cyanide remains on the silver once the degraded lacquer has been removed and whether this corrosion product is detrimental to the silver.
This pink-brown discoloration was the topic of discussion following the talk. One conservator noted that she had also encountered this condition on lacquered silver from a private collection, and that the condition re-occurred within a few months following re-treatment. She mentioned that Agate, the company which produces Agateen, suggested that this might be a result of exposure to direct sunlight. Another conservator suggested that one potential source of cyanide might be a dip that was used in the past to plate or clean the silver, and that these dips may form complexes on the silver surface which may affect or react with a lacquer treatment. We need to look at how a past procedure may affect a current treatment.
Bruno concluded his presentations with a list of recommendations based on the 550 silver objects completed, and as the team at Winterthur contemplates re-lacquering 500 more pieces in 2015.

  • The condition of nitrocellulose coatings on complex silver objects should be re-assessed every 5-10 years, given their finding that the majority of the coatings on complex silver objects failed within a 10-15 year time frame.
  • When considering application of cellulose nitrate lacquers on silver, resources and time to maintain a silver lacquering program need to be considered as the time needed to remove and replace a cellulose nitrate lacquer is significant.
  • Research into how degraded nitrocellulose lacquer affects silver needs to continue, as does finding alternative options for protecting silver against tarnish.


41st Annual Meeting – General Session, May 31. Conservation Treatment Documentation Databases panel discussion; Jay Hoffman, Linda Hohneke, Sarah Norris (moderator), and Mervin Richard

Though the use of a database as part of a conservation treatment documentation work flow has been presented in the past at AIC at least once in my memory and has been the subject of presentations at the Museum Computer Network’s annual meetings in 2008, 2010 and 2011, as a field, we don’t often talk about this aspect of our work.
There were a couple of reasons why I was looking forward to this session before the meeting. Firstly, I was eager to hear how other institutions make use of databases in their documentation. And having followed some of  the progress of the Mellon Foundation funded project ConservationSpace through their various sites, I wanted to learn more about it too. At the end of this well attended session, not only were both of these satisfied, I also came away with some thoughts about how to improve my current work flow, even though the system used by the institution I work for wasn’t addressed directly. And I felt more convinced that we need to have more opportunities to discuss issues like this one that impact conservators across specializations.
Sarah Norris, a conservator at the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, had worked with a contract MySQL developer to create a treatment documentation database for her institution. In addition to serving as a panelist, Sarah also served as moderator for the discussion.  Linda Hohneke is the senior book conservator at the Folger Shakespeare Library and one of the co-creators of the Filemaker Pro-based documentation database used at the library. Jay Hoffman is founder and CEO of Gallery Systems, a company that produces collections, exhibitions, and conservation management software, notably TMS. Mervin Richard is chief conservator at the National Gallery, Washington and co-director of the ConservationSpace project. Each of these systems has a varying level of complexity and requirements for support, but each has been created with the input of conservators.
Sarah began the session by asking each panelist to speak for 10 minutes about their databases. Helpfully, she provided a handout with possible discussion topics to help the session “stay out of the weeds”. These topics included:

  • the basic structure of the databases,
  • how they manage photographic and written documentation,
  • how they address the needs of libraries, archives, and museums,
  • how they facilitate workflow within the institution,
  • how do they ensure data security,
  • what level of IT support is required for these systems, and
  • what are user costs?

Perhaps the simplest of the four systems presented was the Folger Library’s FilmakerPro-based system, but, really, it is far from simple. They began using this system at the Folger Library in 1997, and a number of people were involved in its creation. The system allows the entry of simple and complex information in a consistent, controlled manner so that the department could track a variety of statistics. The conservators have the ability to add options to multiple choice questions, and they can choose to enter their descriptions in a fielded form or as prose. They are able to upload images into the system, saving the images as NEF and JPG formats. Typically the curatorial department adds requests to a queue to form a request list, and approval for a proposed treatment is done within this system.  The IT department installs the software, keeps it backed up on the server nightly, and troubleshoots.
In commissioning the MySQL-based content management system for the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, Sarah Norris had a number of requirements. The system needed to allow her to:

  • track requests
  • search systems
  • generate documents in PDF format and create a printable photo
  • help her with photo management
  • automatically generate lower resolution photographs
  • have user management features with regard to who gets to see what fields and the ability to add fields.

The resulting system has different views for different staff roles. Staff members who are not conservators can request treatment through the system, see the status of their requests, and the treatment history of objects. Conservators have access to more information within the system. They can see what’s scheduled for evaluation, and can add background information and estimated treatment time.  Examination and treatment reports are created from forms consisting of drop down boxes (to ensure the use of controlled vocabulary), check boxes, and radio buttons. Note fields are included on these forms to allow for the addition of free-form information.  Values can be entered in some fields to indicate the scale of work required. Photodocumentation is undertaken outside the system and photos are linked from that external drive. When a report is closed, the system creates a PDF and then moves it to a separate, institutional server with the associated image TIFF files where they are then managed by the state. This system is also capable of generating statistics about treatments, the types of treatments being undertaken, and for which departments, allowing treatment documentation to work in a number of different ways.
Jay Hoffman indicated that TMS is going through a major update in which the conservation activity areas of that database are being improved. This process began in 2009 with the formation of a Conservation Working Group consisting of 50 stakeholders. This group work to define work flows, terminology, and general practices. A starter set of templates has been developed for standard data entry, and two sets of wire frames (sketches of what the data entry forms will look like) have been created. These new conservation activity areas respond to a number of needs:

  • to manage projects which may be worked on by several people (projects may mean multiple objects for an exhibition or it may mean a complex object)
  • to create custom templates for different kinds of objects and provide flexibility for different kinds of institutions
  • to output traditional forms (I assume he meant PDF versions of treatment reports created via fielded forms)
  • to link to annotated images
  • to see information from different perspectives

Later during the session, Jay noted that for institutions already using TMS, Gallery Systems is committed to migrating conservation content into this new system which will be rolled out with TMS 2014.
Merv Richard described ConservationSpace as an open source system to manage conservation documentation, manage reports, correspondence, and images. He reviewed the history of the project which began with a pair of meetings in 2006 and 2007 to assess the current state of conservation documentation. Summaries of the findings of the 2006 meeting were disseminated in the GCI Newsletter and Studies in Conservation. The Design Phase, run by Ken Hamma, began in 2009.
The Planning Phase, which ran from 2010-2011, consisted of community design workshops which looked at the kinds of activities defined particular tasks; common types of documentation and events; specific documents created; and functionality wish lists.
Bert Marshall is the project manager for the Build Phase, which has consisted of clarifying work flows. The resulting system must simplify task work flows, allow for discoverability, assist with documentation and allow for collaboration. ConservationSpace is also working to ensure that ResearchSpace and other Mellon-funded database systems work seamlessly with it. The system will be open source and web based to allow for flexibility. It also needs to include imaging tools which would permit the addition of high resolution images, the ability to annotate images and conduct basic editing.
It is envisioned that ConservationSpace will be available either as an enterprise or hosted application. The enterprise system could be integrated with an institution’s Digital Asset Management System, allowing ConservationSpace to pull information from a collections management systems, and would require IT support. The hosted system would provide support and data storage. Both systems would require a maintenance fee, however the details of how much that will be have not been worked out yet.
Release 1, described as functional, allowing for documentation but will have a  limited number work flows, will come out in early 2014. More information about ConservationSpace is available at and
One topic that generated a fair amount of commentary from the participants and the audience was the need to generate statistics about our work and to get some assistance in prioritizing treatment needs. Most systems discussed allow or will allow for establishing treatment priorities, though Sarah indicated that she preferred to make this part of a discussion to be had with various stakeholders so that the treatment queue could be managed more effectively.  A number of library preservation labs are looking at interoperability with various other  database systems, such as those that deal with circulation, as a means of informing prioritization.
On the topic of migrating conservation data from one system to another, it was noted that all data migration requires work, and you have to be careful about how its set up.  Though different from data interchange, the need to import and export information in and out of these systems is required no matter what. Standards and controlled vocabulary are required for these various schemes so that we can share and collaborate no matter what system a conservator uses.

41st Annual Meeting, Textile and Wooden Artifacts Session, June 1. "Treatment of a Suite of Baroque Revival Style Seating Furniture by Genevieve Bienisoek, Biltmore

There’s a growing body of publications which detail the features of well-provenanced period upholstery. Such case studies are extraordinarily important for comparison when one is examining upholstery layers on historic seating furniture. In this presentation, Genivieve Bienisoek walked us through her examination and treatment, working together with Anne Battram and Nancy Rosebrock, of a chair and settee from a suite of 12 chairs and 2 settees.
This was one of a number suites which were purchased or produced to furnish Biltmore, a 250 room house built by George Washington Vanderbilt III, completed 1895, and opened to the public in 1930. The pieces in this group of seating are ornately carved, in the style of  Italian sculptor Andrea Brustolon (1662-1732), and covered with an embossed velvet, referred to as gauffrage. This particular fabric has a linen ground with a wool pile, and was fairly coarsely woven. The design in the velvet was created with a hot roller pressed into the nap. Apparently this was a popular pattern which was once quite common and produced in France, Great Britain and the United States by a number of companies. Though the fabric had originally been bright gold in color, it looked grey-green due to fading and color shift. Genivieve took note of a second fabric – an unstamped wool plush which was used in less visible places, such as under the arms. This fabric was also gold in color but had a thicker pile and a tighter weave. Both fabrics appeared to have been used originally on the chair and settee as no extra nail holes were noted during de-upholstery of the seating furniture.
More than half of this suite had been re-upholstered in 1976, according to the records, when they were placed in Biltmore’s Music Room.  One chair has been left untreated for future reference and research.The aim of this treatment was to return the chair and settee to return them to a nearly new appearance.
Genevieve also made mention of some other features of the chair and settee. Removable pieces of the chair were held with spring clips and slots and screws. The entire back panel of the settee is removable, held in place with turn buckles. The mortises for the arms were slightly larger than necessary to allow for shimming to adjust the level of the ams, ensuring they were horizontal.
After documenting the various upholstery layers and fasteners, she used chalk to track where nails had been removed, and compared it to the show cover, to ensure there had been no empty nail holes. She filled flight holes and other losses in the frames, and inpainted scratches. Re-using existing tack holes, a new linen layer was applied over the exposed original upholstery layers, to a act as an isolating layer against the new show cover and to act as a sewing base.
To ensure that new holes won’t need to be added in future campaigns, she added staples around the spring clip plate to provide a stronger means of attachment of this linen cover. Future campaigns are sure to happen sooner than they might otherwise since Biltmore has no climate control and it is not uncommon for windows to be opened in the house. Everything gets handled and cleaned regularly.
Polyester batting was added to the front of the seat to re-establish the proper shape.
The reproduction show cover was woven by the French firm Prelle. They had the pattern for the gauffrage in their archive. On seeing the reproduction fabric, Genvienve noted that there are actually three levels of stamping in the fabric, adding detail and depth to the design. These details were also in the original fabric, but were difficult to see because of the dirt.
The show cover was stitched to the linen isolating layer with curved needles. Though the trim was originally applied with hide glue, Genievieve used a hot melt adhesive to adhere the reproduction trim, obtained from Heritage Trimmings in the United Kingdom.
If you’re like me, you’re looking forward to the published version of this presentation, which, I’m sure, will be complete with images of the hardware and schematics of the various upholstery layers.

41st Annual Meeting, Contemporary Art Session 2. Film: Conserving Calder's Circus, with commentary by Eleonora Nagy, Whitney Museum of Art

For me, one of the many highlights of this meeting was seeing the wonderful film produced by the Whitney Museum of Art about the work to conserve Alexander Calder’s Circus, (1926-1931). If you missed the session, the 10 minute film is available on the Whitney’s website.
Though the film includes a lot of contextualizing information about the work and the circus in America, Eleonora Nagy expanded on a number of thoughts within the video which I found quite interesting. I wasn’t planning on writing this post when I sat down in the session so I didn’t take notes at the time, but I wanted to share my thoughts and provide a place for others to share their’s.
During her remarks, Nagy related Calder’s Circus to the the Humpty Dumpty Circus toys made by  the Schoenhut Company of Philadelphia over the first half of 20th century which allowed children to create their own circuses.

Schoenhut Humpty Dumpty Circus at Shelburne Museum
Part of the Shelburne Museum’s Schoenhut Humpty Dumpty Circus, c. 1903-1926.

The other miniature circus from Shelburne’s collection that came to my mind is by Edgar Decker Kirk, made 1910-1956 in Harrisburg, PA, though I’d imagine that its unlikely that Calder knew of it. Kirk, a brakesman on the Pennsylvania railroad, made the 3,500 pieces using a penknife and a foot-powered jigsaw and occasionally set up his circus, complete with a tent, in his backyard for the enjoyment of the neighborhood kids.
Kirk Circus from the Shelburne Museum collection
Edgar Decker Kirk (1891-1956), Kirk Circus, 1910-1956. Image courtesy Shelburne Museum.

Calder’s figures were based on actual circus performers of the time, and  included side show performers as well as main circus performers, unlike the Schoenhut and Kirk circuses which do not depict the side show. And unlike real life circus performances, Calder interspersed the side show acts with the main circus acts during the performance of his circus.
Apparently, there’s more footage that was made but not included in this video. I hope the Whitney considers releasing that material in the future.

AIC’s 40th Annual Meeting, Objects and Research and Technical Studies Joint Session, May 9. “The Use of Agar as a Solvent Gel in Objects Conservation” by Cindy Lee Scott

Perhaps better known as a medium used in biological studies, agar is gaining traction in the conservation profession as an ingredient for building poultices. The material, a combination of the polysaccharides agarose and agaropectin derived from the cell walls of an alge, is widely available, both in a highly purified form through laboratory supply houses and in a food grade form. It is used as a rigid gel to make poultices for flat surfaces or as more liquid sol-gel for three dimensional surfaces.

Cindy Lee Scott’s study of this material and possibilities for its use in removing shellac from ceramic surfaces was inspired by work using agar gels to clean outdoor plaster busts presented in 2010 by Paolo Cremnesi and published by Anzani et al. In their work, deionized water was the primary ingredient in their poultices, but Cindy Lee wondered if solvents and other cleaning agents could be added to these mixtures to extend their versatility and how these additions might change the stability and working properties of the gel.

After reviewing various properties of the material, particularly the manner in which the porosity of an agar poultice could be modified by altering its concentration, and then the  manner in which the gel is typically prepared, used and removed from a substrate (it peels off the substrate cleanly), Cindy Lee presented her own work, conducted in two phases.

The first phase of her work, a component of her thesis as part of her studies at the UCLA/Getty program, involved exploring agar as a gelling material for various cleaning agents on terracotta test tiles coated with a kaolinite-type slip with the goal of finding new ways to removing shellac from previous restored ceramics. She tested agar sol-gels mixed with ethanol, acetone and 5M sodium hydroxide, alone and in combination. She looked at efficacy of cleaning and clearance using visual analysis using a binocular microscope, UV-fluorescence microscopy, and FTIR spectroscopy.

She found that these agar gels performed beyond expectations particularly in comparison with other options tested for that study. She found that agar sol-gels had excellent working properties when they were mixed with ethanol and sodium hydroxide and had good clearance from the surface. Clearance improved for gels with a lower concentration of agar when Japanese paper was used as an intermediary layer.

The second phase of Cindy Lee’s work, undertaken during her internship at the Museums of New Mexico, extended the number of cleaning agents added to agar gels. Additives included solvents, surfactants, chelating agents, oxidizers, and acids. She noted working properties of each mixture, color changes to the gel that might lead to staining, and stability of the resulting gel. In this phase, access to analytical equipment was limited, so her analysis was generally limited to visual observation. Additionally, these mixtures were applied to plaster tiles coated with various materials including alizarin dye, shellac, various paints, PVA emulsion, and soil and artificially aged to test cleaning and clearance.

To summarize very quickly, as far as adding solvents go, best results for workability were achieved with ethanol, then Stoddard Solvent followed by acetone and xylenes. She noted that solvents added in too high a concentration could cause the gel to dissociate. Good working properties were also noted for gels made with the chelating agents, oxidizers, acids and bases tested. The surfactants tested caused complete dissociation of the gel. As far as cleaning efficacy, it appears that gels tested had a more difficult time removing dye and smaller particulates, but with regard to smaller particulates, concentration of agar within the gel appears to have a great influence. She found that efficacy could be improved by altering concentrations of agar and solvent, the temperature of the poultice on application, the length of application and number of applications of the poultice.

Cindy Lee concluded her presentation with  pros and cons of using agar-based solvent gels for objects conservation. Since she was kind enough to provide me with her paper and slide deck to help me write this post, I will share them here (if you click on the image it expands):

In short, I found her presentation to be an excellent introduction to this material and I can’t wait to experiment with it myself. It was also excellent to see the kind of simple testing we all do regularly in our own labs presented in a RATS/OSG session, and I look forward to seeing this work published. I don’t presently use Agar, but her presentation has encouraged me to do some experiments to see if this material would be appropriate to use in my own practice.

AIC’s 40th Annual Meeting, Wooden Artifacts Session, May 10. “Ornamental Opulence: The French Régence Frame in the Metropolitan Museum of Art by Cynthia Moyer

It is not unusual to find extraordinary examples of the carver and gilder’s art surrounding important paintings in collections all over the world. And while the provenance, subject, and materials of the paintings have been considered by curators, art historians, and conservators, equal attention has not always accorded to the work of art surrounding the painting, and so I was delighted there were two papers considering picture frames in this session.

In this paper, Cynthia Moyer, the first designated picture frame conservator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, shared her investigation of a French Régence frame, dated approximately 1720, which frames Atalanta and Meleagar by Peter Paul Rubens,c. 1616. Both painting and frame had been in storage for over 40 years as a result of their poor condition. As the painting was conserved, Cynthia studied the frame from a technical point of view, stabilized its damaged ornament, and repaired and compensated losses.

She observed that the frame had originally had a landscape orientation rather than its present portrait orientation based on the nature and position of the carvings, and suggests that it may have been a royal commission based on the quality of the ornament. As would be typical of the guild system in which such a frame would have been made, the frame was unsigned and its construction is typical of the period. Cynthia described the stylistic characteristics of frames of the period to help place where the ornament is situated within. The frame’s sight edge had been modified to accommodate the painting and had an added build-up on the back which obscured any marks that might have been found there.

Radiographs were taken to understand how the carving was applied. Although the resulting image was difficult to read, they did confirm that the frame had been enlarged along the sides. Cross sections of the gilding layers were examined under the microscope and using scanning electron microscopy. Microscopy revealed a simple glue layer over the water gilding. No toning was evident in the sections examined. Hematite and carbon black were identified in the bole layers in SEM, and the gold leaf was found to contain less than 1% each of silver and copper.

After describing the conservation treatment undertaken on the frame, Cynthia went on to consider how this frame, which most likely related to architectural moldings, came to be associated with the Rubens. The circumstances of this French Régence frame stands in contrast to the one presented in the talk given by MaryJo Lelyveld earlier in the same session, which was commissioned for the painting it contains. Although curatorial files for the Rubens record an extensive history in and out of private hands, dealers, and auction houses, Cynthia could find no images of the painting in its frame nor any descriptions. There were many opportunities to reframe the painting over its lifetime, and it was not unusual for frames to be replaced and thrown away on the whim of a collector. It remains unclear where this frame came from and when or how it came to be associated with the Rubens.

Museum docents report that visitors are often curious about frames on paintings. A study of frames helps flesh out the story of the people who owned the paintings and how they lived. Important frames, their history and the manner in which they were constructed need to be published more often so that their context can be better understood as well as any underlying messages that may be communicated when a painting is reframed.

AIC’s 40th Annual Meeting,Wooden Artifacts Group Session, May 10. “Making the Case for Conservation” by Carey Howlett

Carey Howlett suggested that the title of last year’s meeting “Ethos, Logos, Pathos: Ethical Practice and Critical Thinking in Conservation” evoked the first two of Aristotle’s principles, ethos and logos, but the last of these, pathos, fit more comfortably in this year’s topic, Outreach and Advocacy. Pathos is rhetoric that targets emotion, and while emotional appeals may not fit easily with a professional presentation of what we do, conservators do need to create messages that appeal to the emotions of the general public. Drawing from case studies from his career, Carey indicated that too often we focus too strongly on environmental and condition issues in a manner that are emotionally neutral or negative and disconnected from context that conveys why others should care about saving cultural property.

Suggested solutions included sharing the excitement of discovery that comes as a result of examination and technical analysis in a summary in treatment reports provided to stakeholders. Carey illustrated this with his investigation of the painted surfaces on Fouquet’s 1:60 scale plaster model of the Virginia capitol, commissioned in 1787 by Thomas Jefferson.

“Cheap tricks” like repackaging presentation titles to reference popular culture can also provide a hook. The example he gave was retitling a talk he had given to conservators “Conserving the Worsham-Rockefeller Bedroom” as “Extreme Makeover: the Boudoir Edition” for a general audience. The point – to utilize irreverence as a means of engaging- was also brought out Rosa Lowinger’s presentation in the Communicating Conservation session in talking about her posts entitled “Ask the Art Nurse” on the blog and James Jankowski’s suggestion that we all learn to be more “bilingual” when talking about what we do in his presentation during the Articulating Value session.

Further tying this presentation to the one he offered last year, Carey urged us to publish more often, especially in arenas outside of our own, to make our efforts more widely known and understood.

AIC’s 40th Annual Meeting, Wooden Artifacts Sesssion-The Edge in Focus: the Many Stories of an 18th c. French Frame Treatment by MaryJo Lelyveld

I’ve been following MaryJo Lelyveld’s work with interest for while now. In addition to working a conservator of frames and furniture at the National Gallery of Victoria, she is pursuing a Masters of Management (Strategic Foresight) at Swinbourne University. Based on one of her articles, I’ve added Plextol B500 in my arsenal of options for adhesives I use for replacement gilding, and I’ve told more than a few people about her work looking at possible scenarios for the future of the conservation profession.

In this talk, MaryJo applied a framework called Integral Theory to help navigate the various ways help articulate object values and understand our audience’s perspective on our work, using her work on a carved and gilded French frame made in 1710 for The Crossing of the Red Sea by Nicolas Poussin, c. 1634. [A  short tirade digression: Note that in this article celebrating the restoration of the painting and frame which even quotes MaryJo about her work, the frame was not included in the image. There is an image of the framed painting on the National Gallery of Victoria’s homepage.]

Integral Theory, as developed by Ken Wilber, uses a 4 block grid system, similar to the one Barbara Appelbaum uses for her Characterization Grid which maps various values as they apply to artifacts to assist in developing proposals for conservation treatment, and likewise provides a systematic overview of a complex practice. In MaryJo’s rendering of Wilber’s grid for conservation practice, each quadrant relates to a particular viewpoint, the personal, the physical, the cultural, and social as they relate to the conservator, the artifact, and the audience. The graphic nature of the grid, I think, is really important in explaining this as applied to conservation, and without one of her examples I’m afraid I won’t be able to explain it well here. I look forward to seeing her work on this topic published.

She pointed out that each single quadrant only provides a single perspective, a partial truth. By navigating the viewpoints, the grid enhances a conservator’s ability to combine these partial truths to gain a fuller understanding of the object and its place in society and explain its importance and why it might merit conservation treatment.