Join the Conversation: Communicating Conservation at AIC’s 40th Annual Meeting

With increased visibility and greater access to our written work, are we building support for our efforts or encouraging consumers to take matters into their own hands? Who’s looking at what we write, and what do they want? What key issues should be brought out when talking to a general audience about our work in the media or online? How do we identify the best of what’s out there and push it forward?

Interested in tackling these questions?

Three short presentations will help frame the conversation before we open up to discussion.

Writer and objects conservator in private practice Rosa Lowinger will look at story telling as it applies to conservation issues and treatment, including suggestions for tailoring one’s approach depending on the arena or platform and tips for making sure one is properly quoted in the press.

Heidi Sobol, paintings conservator at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), and Mark Farmer, the ROM’s web redesign manager, will consider contributions conservators make to institutional blogs, and what their analytics tell them about the audience who is consuming that content, how they get there, and where they go online once they’ve finished reading the post.

Conservators of library and archives materials Melissa Tedone and Beth Doyle will share their experiences in creating social media programs for the preservation departments at Iowa State University and Duke University, respectively, to connect with their academic communities, the local and global public, and with other cultural heritage professionals and raise their departments’ profiles within their institutions.

Come join us Thursday May 10, 2:30 pm in the Galisteo/Aztec room at the Albuquerque Convention Center.

A Thank You

The following has been reposted here from the Textile Specialty Group’s mailing list, TSG-Discuss, with the author’s permission.

Having been a textile conservator at the MMA for over 30 years, I confess that in some ways I kept to myself and did not always participate actively in the Textile Specialty Group endeavors,(though maintained my membership throughout my professional career.)

Now that I am preparing to teach a course on Textile Conservation at the UCLA/Cotsen/Getty Villa program on archaeological conservation, I would like to sincerely thank all of you who have put so much time, energy, professional thought and your personal and intellectual experience into what has become the WIKI– TEXTILES project.

It is a tremendous service to the field, and all of us can benefit from it.
Christine Giuntini, Susan Heald, Meridith Montague, Mary Ballard, Lucy Commoner, Kathy Francis, Deborah Trupin, Sarah Stevens, Jane Merritt,Susan Mathisen, Denyse Montegut, Sara J. Wolf and EVERYONE who contributed in the past untold hours to make this project what it is, and to those who continue to contribute now their time and effort into this project — all deserve a huge thanks and recognitition of the work that has gone into the project.

I personally and professionally truly appreciate what you have done, and think it is a great project. It is so useful on so many levels, designed with forsight and integrity, filling a big need for the profession.

I just wanted at this time to thank you all for your efforts. It is and will be a great resource for so many.

Elena Phipps
President, Textile Society of America (2011-2014)

Scenarios and the Futures of Conservation

Pauline Frederick – Potiphar’s wife from the Bain Collection, Library of Congress, call number LC-B2-2633-9.

I know there’s days when I find myself wishing for a Wayback Machine so that I could travel back into the past, and then there are days when I’m thinking about what might happen five or ten years from now. Do you ever think about how different our jobs will be 20 years from now?

Conservator of frames and furniture at the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia, MaryJo Lelyveld applied forecasting and the technique of  scenario planning to consider what the field of conservation might look like in 2030 for the Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Material (AICCM) National Meeting in September 2011. In the body of the paper she suggests that this longer range forecasting is beneficial in thinking through what skills conservators will need to develop and how organizations will need to adapt as a result. In an appendix, she suggests three possible scenarios factoring in the impact of the cost of caring for collections in a time of slow economic growth, technology, and a rise in volunteerism in the face of an aging population and an under employed younger generation, among other things.

For more commentary on Leyveld’s paper, Beyond Swabs and Solvent Gels: Using scenarios to generate, evaluate and navigate conservation futures, see the American Association of Museum’s Center for the Future of Museum’s blog.


39th Annual Meeting-Wooden Artifacts Group, June 2, 2011. Beautiful Brass: A Fresh Look at Historic Furniture Hardware, Joan Parcher

Backplates, ca. 1750-1780, image courtesy Joan Parcher

I was pretty excited when I saw this presentation listed in the program. Not only were we going to learn about an area of furniture that doesn’t have a whole lot of coverage in the literature, but the person presenting the material was a craftsperson and collector who potentially could offer a slightly different viewpoint on the subject. Joan Parcher is a jeweler and metalsmith whose work is in the collections of a number of museums including the Victoria and Albert and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Additionally, she’s made replacement hardware and repaired furniture brasses for 25 years.

Joan didn’t begin collecting furniture hardware until 2004 when, at a local junk store, she overheard two people, looking at a period Chippendale brass, considering turning it into a Christmas ornament. Since then she’s amassed a study collection of about 10,000 pieces of furniture hardware, ranging from iron nuts to gilt cast brass.

Drawing on Don Fennimore’s scholarship, information gleaned from patents, 18th and 19th century brass founders trade catalogs, and her own observations of tool and makers marks on  knobs, back plates, bails, casters, posts and nuts from her own collection, Joan treated us first to a conventional presentation focused on the connoisseurship of old and reproduction brass hardware. She shared her observations about ways to distinguish Federal-era plates from reproductions (reproductions probably won’t have wrinkles from rolling on the backs and thick square iron nuts are found with earlier brass hardware) and where one might find makers marks on various kinds of hardware. She highlighted some marked pieces in her collection, made  by late eighteenth-early nineteenth-century Birmingham, England makers Thomas Hands and William Jenkins. She also offered suggestions about the kind of tools to use to make new plates look old, bringing examples from her own collection.

Knobs, late Federal period, image courtesy Joan Parcher


Following her slide talk, Joan allowed us to look at her tools and examples of old and reproduction hardware from her own collection that she had brought with her and laid out on a table. After a day and a half of looking at slides, what a pleasure it was to actually look at stuff. She’s keen to continue this conversation and invited the audience to email (joanparcher[at]cox[dot]net) her images of interesting brasses. Ultimately she’d like to present this collection of hardware photos on a website. What an amazing resource that’ll be.


A take-away from 39th Annual Meeting after a first year on the AIC board: Stepping Out

Here’s a bit about me: I work as a conservator in a mid-sized museum in a small state. I’m an advocate of making conservation literature widely available, ideally on the internet, because that means I’ll have access to it when I need it. Its pretty common that  time in my working day doesn’t permit me to do the research that I need to do my work well, so I do it at home. Any writing I do for professional presentations increasingly is done during off-hours. I’m also passionate about opportunities for cross-specialization collaborations because, as a generalist, my practice is enhanced by learning from specialists. And I am always on the lookout for technology that makes doing research and documentation easier. What some may refer to as my outreach activities on social media platforms began as attempts  at discussion with conservators, other specialist cultural heritage professionals and knowledgable hobbyists about specific collection artifacts, their history and treatment. I’d never been involved in any sort of leadership position within AIC until elected as AIC board director for communications last year.

My time on the board thus far has brought me into discussions with members and  staff about all of the issues I mentioned above. And, since I’m new to volunteering for AIC, I’ve had to learn about how to get things done within the organization and the arc of the meeting planning year. This year, in addition going to talks and enjoying the company of more than 1200 of my fellow practitioners I also attended a number of meetings aimed to foster collaboration, build new resources, as well as helping lay plans for next year’s annual meeting. These meetings seem to have acted as a sort of lens through which I saw the presentations, and I’d like to share some thoughts.

In her General Session talk entitled “Conservation in the Twenty-first Century: Will a Twentieth Century Code of Ethics Suffice?” Barbara Appelbaum encouraged conservators to move beyond our work benches and take our place in the world, to speak for our profession and cultural heritage. Similarly in the Wooden Artifacts Group, in his presentation on Transformative Restorations, Cary Howlett observed that unless conservators publish in arenas beyond our own, restorations based on educated guesses too quickly presented by others may be misinterpreted as authentic material, muddying the historic record despite our best efforts not to do so. Both of these papers in particular were an excellent segue to next year’s conference theme: “Connecting to Conservation: Outreach and Advocacy”.

Never before have conservators had so many options for presenting our work to audiences beyond our profession. Because museum administrations have discovered their visitors are interested in what happens behind the scenes, it seems that the field of conservation and preservation is experiencing greater attention from the media. Additionally, there are numerous options to publish our own work informally on the internet in blogs or more formally in online journals and ebooks. Increasingly I find conservation resources through print-on-demand self-publishing services like or Amazon”s subsidiary CreativeSpace.

Last November, writing on Jeff Peachy’s blog, Peter Verheyen explained some of the issues surrounding online access to scholarly literature. He says, in part:

“The “rights” (copyright) issue is a complex one, and authors often give away their copyright to their research and other work in order to get published… Then, their institutions (in most cases) have to buy back the output of that work, often created “on the clock,” at very steep prices through those journal subscriptions.”

In addition to our institutions needing to “buy back” work done on their time, authors may not have the opportunity to re-issue their own ideas and data if someone else holds title to those assets after they’ve gone out of print. (One small point of clarification on Peter’s post: he suggests that authors for JAIC sign away all their rights to their articles to AIC. In fact, authors retain the rights to their ideas, research, and data, just not the exact sentence structure in the article, but that’s not true of some agreements with other publishers.) Online open journals have lots of different business models, some of which make it very expensive for authors to present their work in order to make those articles freely available to the general public. How economically sustainable are these models? How will the information contained within those journals stay available into the future if these models fail?

Personally, I think that we need to be better informed about our rights as authors and the publishing landscape, particularly as we move away from our benches and out into a bigger world. The landscape is complex. Anyone interested in learning more about it?

Here’s two more things that I want to throw out here. In a meeting about the AIC wikis, the possibility of publishing important out-of-print conservation resources on the wikis so that they could be updated was raised. In fact, there are projects afoot that are aimed at just that. Additionally, there is a dormant project to collect titles of books that have gone out of print that members would like to see back in print. If you’ve got suggestions about what should be on that list let me know.