On the Road to Conservation: A Pre-Program Road Trip – Part II

Clockwise from top left: JessiKat on the Buffalo campus, Niagara Falls, the Liberty Bell, JessiKat back home, JessiKat outside UPenn's museum, Katherine with Buffalo's mascot. Center: Reading Market in Philadelphia.


This entry by Katherine Langdon is the second part of a two-part blog post. Read the first entry by Jessica Ford below (posted 1/12/2011). Both Katherine and Jessica are pre-program interns working with Richard McCoy at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.
I’m Katherine Langdon, pre-program intern in conservation at the Indianapolis Museum of Art and prospective conservation graduate student, and today I am continuing the story begun previously by my fellow intern, Jessica Ford. If you didn’t catch her blog entry you should begin there.
After our delightful and fast-paced visit to Winterthur for the WUDPAC Portfolio Day we spent the night in nearby Philadelphia. Philly turned out to be an ideal way-station for our travels, not only as a central hub of the east coast, but also as a bustling capital of culture and American history.

Our Thursday began early with a drive to the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, where we had an appointment with Head Conservator Lynn Grant. As I have a background in archaeology, I was especially keen to see how conservation was approached at an archaeologically-focused museum. Lynn was very generous with her time and expertise, answering our slew of questions. We started with a tour of the collections in storage, where nearly a million objects are protected long-term – in fact the collection is so large that only about 3% of their artifacts can be on display at any one time. All of this is in the care of the two (soon to be three) full-time conservators and their assorted interns. The museum, housed in a historic building on the university campus, recently began renovations on much of the service area, so although the conservation staff currently operate in a makeshift lab, they anticipate having great new facilities in the near future.

Thrilled with the thorough visit, we thanked Lynn and stepped out into the very rainy city for an afternoon of exploration. This was Jessica’s first visit to Philly, so I made sure we hit all the major sites, beginning with lunch at the Reading Terminal Market. The rest of the afternoon we wandered through historic Philadelphia, finally visiting the Liberty Bell Center, which contains one small and uplifting exhibit, and touring Independence Hall, which is currently undergoing its own massive conservation project.

As you read yesterday, we spent the following day in New York City before catching a late bus to Washington, D.C. I headed for the National Mall, where I visited for the first time the D.C. branch of the National Museum of the American Indian, built in 2004. I loved the unique design of the building itself and its flowing exhibits, and I was pleased to see that the exhibits included a wide range of cultures and time periods, including some breathtaking contemporary pieces of art. That evening Jessica, Duncan, and I reunited in time to attend a gallery opening downtown where some of Jessica’s artwork was on display.

After spending Sunday driving to upstate New York, we headed to Buffalo State College to get to know the campus and to meet with second-year art conservation student Christine Puza. As we approached the school, two copper peaks towering over the campus caught our attention. A bit of research revealed that the building was part of the former Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane (known now as the Buffalo Psychiatric Center or the Richardson Olmsted Complex), designed by H.H. Richardson in 1870 and now out of use. The state of New York has committed to a restoration of the complex, which could someday perhaps provide great research and conservation projects for the neighboring school.

The friendly Buffalo State campus gave its art conservation program a more collegiate atmosphere than the independent departments of NYU and Delaware. I was surprised that the three programs could have such different, yet equally pleasing, settings and characters. At Buffalo, the Art Conservation Department is proudly housed in Rockwell Hall, the main campus building, near the music department. (The school clearly has its priorities in good order.)

Christine met us here and gave us an in-depth tour of the various labs, where she told us about the coursework underway and shared her own projects. As we entered one room filled with students’ original artwork she explained that the Buffalo program emphasizes the simultaneous development of hand skills and intimate knowledge of historical artistic techniques, taught by having the students replicate traditional methods of manufacture, such as painting with egg tempera. First-year students even design their own projects to focus on crafts of personal interest (smithing or flintknapping, e.g.).

The artworks used for conservation training are brought in from outside sources. People or museums can bring in their items for evaluation and treatment, with the understanding that it might be a few years before a student chooses it for a personal project. Christine was excited to show us her current paper conservation project, the removal of a poor backing from a woodblock print by Katsushika Hokusai. In the objects lab she pulled out a damaged wooden box she was working on and told us that the second year students enjoy the opportunity to go “shopping” for such projects in the storage facilities of the next-door Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

After a delicious lunch with Christine at the Indian buffet near campus, we realized that the perfect autumn weather would be best spent on a visit to Niagara Falls, only a twenty-minute drive away. There the crowds were sparse and the trees were just unveiling their seasonal chromatic brilliance. Refreshed by this natural masterpiece, we began our long drive home to Indianapolis.

On the Road to Conservation: A Pre-Program Road Trip – Part I

This post by Jessica Ford is the first in a two part blog entry. Please check back for the second post by Katherine Langdon. Both Jessica and Katherine are pre-program interns working with Richard McCoy at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

It’s been almost two months since Katherine and I embarked on our epic journey to visit conservation graduate schools: one that tested our navigational skills, our endurance, and our conservation aspirations. Having returned to the IMA in one piece with a strengthened determination towards our goals, I can say that the adventure was certainly a success.

Considering our daunting plan to visit all three East Coast graduate conservation programs (University of Delaware – Winterthur, NYU-IFA Conservation Center, and Buffalo State) in seven days, teamwork was a must

Image Caption: Clockwise from top left: Our host house in Pittsburgh, Winterthur's campus, Katherine at the Conservation Center, Jessica in Times Square, home away from home - the car, Winterthur's entrance sign.

from the moment we loaded up my trusty Honda Fit with a week’s worth of personal belongings, snacks, and study material.

Our first stop was to visit the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation’s (WUDPAC) annual Portfolio Day. Although we only got a taste of the breathtaking campus, we were assured that Winterthur was a fantastic place to be by Katherine’s book 1000 Places to See Before You Die. Two eager faces in the crowd of about 70 prospective students, Katherine and I were happy to have a chance to walk and talk for a moment with Professor of Material Culture and Adjunct Paintings Conservator Joyce Hill Stoner and converse in-depth with first-year student Crista Pack.

Second-year student Steven O’Banion gave our group an impressive and detailed review of his recent conservation opportunities. His presentation was followed by a whirlwind tour of the entire department. Pictures and more details of the event can be found on WUDPAC’s website.

From there we drove to the suburbs of Philadelphia, where we took lodging for a couple of nights (more on this stop in Part 2 of our story). Early on a dark Friday morning we set out again, this time by train to New York, New York. Katherine had never been to the Big Apple, and I had been once and loved it. Needless to say we were both quite excited for this excursion. The only challenge was smashing as much as possible into one day.

First, we hit the Conservation Center’s 50th Anniversary Celebration Open House. Located just a hop, skip, and a jump away from the Met, the building is in the tall, narrow, town-house style that one would expect uptown, which resulted in the different labs being neatly stacked on top of each other all the way up to the penthouse paintings lab. It was there that we met 3rd year student Kristin Robinson, who talked to us about the school and her experiences. The program in NYC is distinctly different from the other conservation grad programs in that the degree is actually a MA in Art History with an Advanced Certificate in Conservation. A strong interest in art history is part of what drew me to conservation in the first place, so I appreciate the emphasis. Kristin showed us a small, medieval icon that she was currently working on, which highlighted another benefit of the program – its proximity to the IFA’s prestigious art history program (right across the street). A Latin verse on the painting was illegible, but Kristin was able to find help from the Art History Department’s specialized faculty in puzzling together the correct phrase before restoring it.

In addition to the IFA, the number of important museums located nearby makes the location mind-blowing with respect to resources, art historically and otherwise. Some of the conservation curriculum takes place in the labs of the Met, MoMA, etc., and the network of connections built in this environment surely helps many students obtain 4th-year and post-graduate internships from these institutions as well. Plus, anyone who survives in NYC for three to four years automatically gains a fair amount of street cred.

After our visit to from the Conservation Center we headed to the MET, where objects conservator Beth Edelstein showed us where the conservation magic happens: a subterranean labyrinth of labs full of art objects – musical instruments, jewelry boxes, Islamic wall panels – and no less than 40 professionals to work on them. At one point, Katherine nearly had a heart attack when she spotted a very convincing replica of the Mask of Agamemnon. After Beth’s tour ended, our self-guided tour of the galleries began. After a couple of hours the rest of New York beckoned, and we filled the remainder of our afternoon and much of the night with the sights, sounds, and food of Midtown.

Saturday we were in Washington DC, where Katherine and I split up to cover as much museum ground as possible. While she investigated the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, My husband Duncan and I trekked to the Museum of Unnatural History at a nearby Renaissance Faire.

This tale is only halfway done! Check back tomorrow to learn about the rest of our adventures from Katherine’s perspective including our time in Philadelphia, more about D.C., and our visit to the conservation program in Buffalo, New York.

In Haiti: Rescuing Art Amid the Rubble

So, one afternoon, in the rubble-strewn courtyard of Ste. Trinité, I asked architect Magdalena Carmelita Douby, the project’s registrar, about local attitudes towards our somewhat unusual rescue effort. Her answer came without hesitation: ‘We have lost everything except our culture,’ she said calmly. ‘We have to protect what is left.

This poignant quote is from “In Haiti: Rescuing Art Amid the Rubble”


Read more about AIC Members Rosa Lowinger and Viviana Dominguez who were deployed to Haiti to assess the murals at The Cathedral of Sainte Trinité. Read about their trip in Lowinger’s article for the Gallerina blog at the wnyc.org/culture website.

AIC Advocacy – AIC Needs You

In today’s tough times, advocacy is more important than ever. AIC continues to partner with organizations such as the American Association of Museums and National Humanities Alliance to advocate for funding and recognition for conservation and preservation in the U.S. However, we cannot do it without you.

How can you help AIC advocate on your behalf?

  • Be part of our Emergency-Efforts Email Campaigns
  • Sign up for our Advocacy List
  • Engage in long-range advocacy efforts

AIC’s advocacy efforts have two tracks. One encompasses emergency efforts and other encompasses long-term efforts, and you can play an important role in both.

Emergency Efforts

These most often take the form of email blasts from AIC asking you to contact your members of Congress to encourage them to support or oppose a particular piece of legislation. AIC often gets very little notice in advance of legislation votes, so short emails sent to your members of Congress within 24 hours of receiving the AIC email are the most effective way to respond to these calls to action.

One important piece of information to remember is that members of Congress DO listen to their constituents, and these emails and phone calls do make a difference. However, timeliness is what is important, not a well crafted email or letter. Congressional staffers often just keep tallies of those calling or emailing in for or against a particular issue. The result of these tallies is often the only information passed on to the member of Congress.

So, when we ask you to take five minutes to cut and paste a message in an email and send it to your representatives, that is really all the time that is needed.

Some good examples of the important role individuals can play in the federal legislation process are the defeat of the two Coburn Amendments:

  • Early this year Sen. Coburn attempted to prohibit museums from competing for or receiving any funds from H.R. 1, the economic stimulus bill. After a lobbying effort led by AAM in which AIC members were involved, the word “museum” was dropped from the final prohibition. Unfortunately, zoos and aquariums remained barred from competing for economic stimulus funding.
  • More recently, on September 16, 2009, an amendment sponsored by Senators Coburn/McCain – which would have prohibited ANY funding from the Transportation Appropriations bill from going to ANY museum – was defeated on the Senate floor after another AAM lead lobbying effect.

Interestingly, a recent amendment that would have targeted museum funding proposed by Senator Coburn did not make it out of committee, which illustrates that building an effective lobbying effort can extend beyond a particular bill or amendment. I can envision a time when members of Congress will be fully aware that they don’t want to “rile” those conservation people.

Sign up for our Advocacy List

Join our advocacy-efforts list. AIC is developing a list of members who would like to be contracted beyond emergency efforts to assist AIC in broader advocacy work for the arts and humanities. You would be sent additional email blasts when action was needed on Federal issues and to keep you informed of actions being taken that might affect the arts and humanities. Also, we might be able to expand our efforts and advocate for state issues if needed

You can join the list today by:

  • Login to the AIC website and click on Manage Your Profile and scroll down to Interests and select Advocacy Alerts
  • Email resyler at conservation-us dot org and ask to be added to the list.

Long-Term Advocacy Efforts
These following organizations offer occasional training sessions on how to be a good advocate.

If we want conservation to have a greater focus in arts advocacy, we need to be represented.  Take a few minutes to try to open up a dialog with the staff in your representative’s District Office.  You can set up an appointment to talk about what you do, invite them on a lab tour, or include them in museum events.

We at AIC are happy to help you gather materials and make your case. Contact me at rseyler_at_conservation-us_dot_org.

Thank you!
Ruth Seyler

Conservator works to save Hollywood’s Batsuits

The insidious danger comes from below. Liquids oozes up to wreak havoc on a foundation that seemed solid, but now suddenly cracks with fissures that spiral out of control. Malicious gases rise and permeate, damaging everything in their path. No, this is not part of some super-villain’s diabolical plot to destroy Gotham or Metropolis, but there are heroes in danger in this scenario. I’m Ron Barbagallo talking about the impending peril that I thwart daily while preserving Disney animation cels and other art made with painted plastic materials. I am the art conservator and director of Animation Art Conservation, and for nearly 25 years (along with my partner in all things chemical, conservation scientist Michele Derrick) I’ve worked to protect Walt Disney animation cels, as well as other motion-picture artifacts such as Tim Burton’s painted plastic puppets or the on-screen Batman suits, from further degradation.
The costume of Batman has lived in the public imagination since the Franklin Roosevelt administration, has stayed close enough to that original color scheme and overall profile that fans of any age know the hero when they see him on the page, on the screen or ringing the doorbell on Halloween. What has changed, here in Hollywood, is the cloth and thread which the hero wears on the screen. In the movie-serial years, filmmakers translated comic book drawings with stitched fabric but in recent decades there has been a new array of materials – specialized plastics poured into molds, for instance, have given Gotham’s caped crusader a pliable body armor. It’s an understanding of those plastics where a new conservation expertise comes into play.

Read the complete article by Ron in The Los Angeles Times: Hero Complex feature.

New Conserve-O-Grams Available Online

The U.S. National Park Service Museum Management Program is pleased to announce the publication of several new Conserve O Gram technical leaflets on the following topics: 

The National Park Service (NPS) Conserve O Gram (COG) series is geared to collections management staff. Technical leaflets cover a range of collections types, including archives, ceramics, digital media, fine arts, furniture, leatherwork, natural history collections, photographs, and textiles. The COGs address specific procedures, techniques and materials on preservation, security, fire and curatorial safety, agents of deterioration, packing and shipping, storage, and disaster preparedness.

The Conserve O Grams series and other resources are available for free download on the NPS Publications page.



Conservation Voting: Is This The Right Issue to Be Polling the Public About?

Landscape with a Watermill by Meindert Hobbema - hunter digitally removed
Landscape with a Watermill by Meindert Hobbema with hunter

Judith Dobrzynski’s article on RealClear Arts, an artsjournal.com weblog discusses the interesting experiment in “visitor engagement” at the Minneapolois Institute of Afts where the institution has been asking people to vote on the conservation desitny of a painting in the collection.  The issue centers on whether the hunter figure dressed in red, a later addition to the painting, should be covered over to allow viewers to see the artists original intent.

Read the full post on the ArtsJournal.com

Also take a look at the MIA’s case on their blog “The Bubbler