43rd Annual Meeting – Textile Session, May 30, "A Turkish Kilim: Analysis, Stabilization, and Loss Compensation” by Cathleen Zaret.

Cathy Zaret presented on the techniques and challenges she encountered during the conservation treatment of a large Kilim. The Kilim was a 6 x 8 ft fragment from a private collection. After the completion of her treatment, the fragment would be returned to the private collector where it would be displayed over the back of their sofa.
Cathy’s introduction to Kilims provided helpful terminology and historical context. Kilims are woven tapestries, hangings, or rugs. They have non vertical panels with slits in the weave, but the design is such that the slits are small. Kilims formed part of the dowry of women in Anatolia and were made for personal use. Women wove many different designs and motifs into their Kilims and the choice of design does not appear to be geographically associated. Cathy searched through the literature to find a Kilim that appeared similar to hers and could only find one other similar example.
The Kilim fragment had a number of distinct manufacturing and condition features. The yarn in the fragment exhibited color variation and the condition of the yarn seemed to relate to the color. For example, the brown weft was most susceptible to loss, possibly because it had been dyed with iron oxide, rendering it vulnerable to additional damage. There had been many previous campaigns of restoration, all of which were documented as part of this treatment.
The goals for this treatment were to stabilize the Kilim and perform loss compensation on the largest areas of loss while being aware of the future use of the item. Since the prior repairs were in good condition and part of the history of the object, they were left intact.

  • Cathy lined the fragment with net for structural support during cleaning and removed it after cleaning.
  • The kilim was cleaned with a surfactant and then rinsed repeatedly before rolling it in towels and laying it out to dry. This successfully removed most of the soiling from the tapestry.
  • The kilim was mounted on a saw horse tensioning frame for treatment.
  • Used a whip stitch to stabilize the lower edge.
  • Repaired or replaced warp with handspun singles. Introduced the new warp into an undamaged area near the loss and wove it through the area of loss and then moved the yard to an adjacent warp and wove it back across the loss.

Cathy overcame many challenges during this treatment related to the size of the object and its context. To keep track of her treatment on a fragment of this size (6 x 8 ft), Cathy divided the kilim into six sections and worked on one section at a time. She also learned how to manage her treatment when the cost of conservation is higher than the perceived value of the textile.
I primarily work on objects but have occasionally had the opportunity to work with a textile conservator on something that crosses the line between textile and object. Cathy’s talk was comprehensible to conservators well versed in textiles and applicable for those of us who work on the fringes of textile conservation. I look forward to using her conservation techniques and well-organized approach in the future.

42nd Annual Meeting – May 30th, "Sustainability Roundtable" hosted by the Sustainability Committee

What does it take to get your institution to do something about sustainability? The Sustainability Committee roundtable sought to create a space to discuss facilitating change at our institutions. In full disclosure, I am on the Sustainability Committee, however my role at the Annual Meeting did not include organizing the roundtable. Jia-Sun Tsang and Sarah Stauderman lead a discussion of five sustainable issues, focusing on the Smithsonian Institution (SI) as a case study. This was followed by a discussion amongst the audience, who were divided into groups of two.
The five sustainable issues were recycling, reuse, making a difference/activism, preservation environment, and lighting. After the presentation of these five, the audience was invited to add additional issues they would like to discuss, which included planet sustainability (especially water consumption, CO2 emissions, exotoxins emissions).

  • Key factors for improving the success of recycling at the Smithsonian were improving communication between housekeeping and facilities and educating the staff about how to recycle.
  • Reuse of materials occurs at an individual level, through units, and across museums. For example, the SI has a process for reusing equipment, exhibition cases, etc. that are no longer needed at a particular branch. A
  • Activism was profiled through the experience of Eric Hollinger, an employee at the SI who has had a major impact on green issues. He sees himself as an “agitator,” “assistant,” “advisor,” and “advocate.”
  • Making changes to the preservation environment occurs best when all the relevant constituents are at the table (facilities, conservation, curatorial, etc.). An example of effective change to preservation environments was a Smithsonian wide summit that occurred last year.
  • Colonial Williamsburg recently worked across departments to make changes to their lighting system and switch to Light-Emitting Diodes (LEDs). Further information on that case study can be found on the Sustainability pages of the AIC wiki. Another case study for successful changes to lighting is the partnership between the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Department of Energy.

Sarah Stauderman gave us a crash course in management theory to give us the tools and mindset necessary to create change. Learning to frame the conversation to effect change takes practice. These conversations work best if you have a defined purpose and engage multiple perspectives. Change happens most quickly when you can collaborate, compromise, and negotiate with your colleagues. Keeping things simple and aiming for small outcomes will help to get the momentum going on your project. When you do get a meeting, think carefully about where the meeting will be held and if you can make it an experience or in some way engage the constituents in the issue.
We then broke into pairs to discuss the following three questions. The goal of this section was to help participants practice the dialogue and thought processes that facilitate change.
1)   What do you need to achieve the goal?
2)   What in your organization is keeping you from your goal?
3)   What training/resources do you need?
Personally, I found it helpful to have a framework to start thinking about change. Talking through ideas with my partner was encouraging and provided valuable insight. I hope that the other audience participants were able to take away a feeling of optimism about their ability to implement new sustainability initiatives at their institutions.

42nd Annual Meeting – Research and Technical Studies Session, May 31st, "X-ray Micro Tomography Analysis of Western Red Cedar Secondary Phloem by Peter McElhinney"

What factors contribute to the deterioration mechanisms for cedar bark? Peter McElhinney’s presentation on work completed as an Andrew W. Mellon fellow in object conservation at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C. addressed this question. His project was inspired by encountering labels on storage boxes for objects in the collection with the words “Inherently Fragile: Will Have Continued Loss.” Peter set out to better understand why cedar bark deteriorates so rapidly and dramatically.
Objects made from cedar bark come from Western Red Cedar trees that grow in the North West coast region of North America. Native groups in that region harvest and weave cedar bark to make baskets, hats, mats and other objects. Cedar trees can grow to between 65-70 m tall and 3-4 m in diameter. One of the unusual features of these trees is the way that the bark is made and the type of cells present on the exterior of the bark. Peter focused on four aspects of cedar bark that play a major role in the way it deteriorates: the disruption of the cells on the exterior bark, calcium oxalate crystals, dehydration of pectin, and phenols.
Peter demonstrated the changes to the bark’s cellular structure using diagrams and CT scans. Cedar bark, called phloem, is made up of sieve cells, parenchyma cells and fibers.  Cross sections of bark examined with a Skyskan 1172 micro CT scanner from Micro Photonics Inc. enabled the differentiation of inner and outer phloem. The cells in inner phloem, the section of the bark closest to the tree, are orderly, more rectilinear, and less disrupted. As the cells are pushed towards the outside of the tree, they become outer phloem, and develop a more disordered, compressed, less rectilinear appearance. The fibers in outer phloem have stronger cell walls, whereas the parenchyma and sieve cells tend to be crushed or squished. These changes in the phloem relate directly to the shedding characteristic of objects made from cedar bark.
The CT scan also revealed the presence of a large bio-mineral crystal in the bark sample. These bio-minerals form as part of the normal function of cedar trees based on minerals absorbed from the soil. Scanning electron microscopy with energy dispersive spectroscopy identified small, shard-like crystals as calcium oxalate and the large particle as a silica aluminum crystal. The small shard-like crystals were most abundant in the cell walls in the middle and outer phloem. This corresponds with literature that cedar trees have 10-20 times as many calcium oxalate crystals as other trees. These crystals may cause cell wall abrasion during manipulation of the cedar bark, which could contribute to the bark’s rapid deterioration.
The dehydration of the pectin and phenols also affect the cells. Cedar bark used for objects loses moisture over time, which can cause the dehydration of the pectin in the bark. Dehydrated pectin may reduce the ability of cells to adhere together.  Significantly higher numbers of phenols are present in the outer phloem than in the inner phloem. The phenols protect the bark from ultraviolet radiation damage. This characteristic could influence lighting requirements for objects made from cedar bark if we can determine whether they are made from inner or outer bark.
Conservation applications of these findings help to improve understanding of how cedar bark deteriorates. The cells in outer bark are already structurally compromised, which can contribute to the shedding associated with cedar bark objects. Calcium oxalate crystals can further damage cells during handling of the object. Dehydrated pectin reduces cell adhesion within the bark. Finally, phenols present in high quantities in the outer bark may project the material from damage due to Ultraviolet radiation. Overall, this talk applied complex information about cellular biology to develop a better understanding of cedar bark deterioration mechanisms. This information is essential for developing better preventive care handling procedures for these fragile objects. I’m looking forward to reading the post prints for this talk and studying the figures and images in more detail.

Updates to Sustainable Practices on the AIC Wiki

The Sustainability Committee spent the month of February adding content to the Sustainable Practices section of the AIC wiki. We each choose a short project to work on, most of which involved adding information to the wiki from websites, articles, and books. What better way to highlight our new wiki content than to celebrate it in poetry? It is still possible to delve much deeper into these topics. We welcome your comments and feedback emailed to sustainability@conservation-us.org.

Ode to Feburary

“Oh February, Oh ‘Wiki Month,’” cried this committee,
“How quickly you passed, like snow on the trees.”
“What’s changed?” You ask. “Quite a lot, I think!
There are new pages and content and at least one new link.”
We start with the past, we added our roots.
A brief history of sustainable institutions – Oh what a hoot!
Added are tables on green measurements
For water purifying lab instruments.
What about packing and shipping of art and supplies?
Consider recycled boxes or reused crates, before they fly!
How sustainable are your materials? How green are your treatments?
We’ve started a section but need your comments.
And solvents, green solvents, we cover those too,
With info on substitutions made just for you.
Think big, think bold, and make your lab green,
Or think about starting your own “Go Green!” team.
Contribute, we ask, please help us improve!
Its March and we’ve just gotten into a groove.
– Robin O’Hern and the Sustainability Committee