45th Annual Meeting, Sustainability, May 31, “Fast, Cheap, and Sustainable: 3-D printing exhibition book cradles,” Fletcher Durant, Sara Gonzalez, Lourdes Santamaria-Wheeler

You could hear the mental wheels turning in the room as conservators scribbled notes and thought: “Where is my nearest makerspace? How many custom mounts will I need for my next exhibit? And how nice would it be to not wrestle with an overflowing closet of book cradles?” This talk provided a futuristic vision of an endlessly sustainable cycle of 3-D printed exhibit mounts that are created on-demand with precision and recycled for the next show – an elegant, zero-waste utopia. Of course, reality isn’t quite there yet, but Fletcher Durant, Sara Gonzalez, and Lourdes Santamaria-Wheeler have been developing prototypes at the University of Florida and are moving us toward the future.

When discussing 3-D printing it’s good to have actual 3-D printed examples on hand. The audience was lucky enough to get a feel for the size, heft, color, and surface texture of the Florida prototype. Thanks to my hand model, Suzy Morgan!


Fletcher presented on behalf of the team, starting with an overview of the standard book cradle options for library and archives conservators and the advantages, drawbacks, and costs of each approach. The University of Florida library system has a robust exhibit schedule, mounting 15-20 exhibitions a year, requiring hundreds of book cradles. Storing these cradles is a challenge and logistics are complicated by the fact that the conservation lab is off-campus. Commercially produced Plexi cradles are expensive, take up lots of storage space, and are not always the appropriate size and fit for the books. Custom mounts made of mat board are more functional than the Plexis, but there are costs and waste associated with creating them, an off-campus lab means complicated construction and transport logistics, and as Fletcher noted, they’re not always the most attractive things to leave the lab. Custom mounts out of Vivak® (PETG) are also popular, aesthetically pleasing and can be constructed/modified in the gallery space, but they cost $10-15 each and still have to be stored after use.

Florida has three 3-D printers available for student and staff projects. The machine is a Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) system, which is an off-the-shelf widely used consumer product. Students are charged $0.15 per gram of filament used, and the average projects require 100g, or $15.00. One important limitation to note is the size of the printer; it can only accommodate approximately 14” x 14” x 12.6”, so average-sized book cradles are fine but anything larger would have to be assembled from multiple pieces.

I’ll leave most of the technical details to the authors in the postprints, but here’s a quick summary of the process: An STL (STeroLithography) file is necessary to produce a 3-D print. You can download existing files; thingiverse is one online source for sharing 3-D print files. Lucky for us, the authors have made their book cradle design available to us all here. You can also scan an existing object with a 3-D scanner to create a file. Or you can create your own original design: Fletcher recommended tinkercad as a good design tool for beginners. 

Fletcher did note that, if you’re not already familiar with 3D design and printing, the initial learning curve can be steep and it’s worth it to work with someone more familiar with the process at first, but once your initial design in ready, minor modifications to the size, face angles, and spine opening can be done quickly.

Materials mater, of course, especially to conservators. There are many, many kinds of filaments available to use in FFF printers, but they all vary in terms of their environmental impact and their ability to pass the Oddy test or meet other standards of exhibit case appropriateness. At Florida, they use Nylon PLA, a plant-based product with no off-gassing. In theory, after the exhibit the book cradle should be able to be shredded, melted, re-formed into filament, and re-used. The authors are working on establishing an in-house recycling program at Florida, but Fletcher noted that realistically you can only get five uses out of the nylon filament. They’re also hoping to Oddy test more filament options.


A few other notes and observations:

  • Printing a complete cradle takes approximately 10 hours; this is hands-off time (they set the printers to run overnight) but it does mean they have to plan carefully about when to print – since students are also using the printers, they try to avoid scheduling large print jobs during finals week.
  • A modification of the design could include slots for book strapping.
  • The surface of the cradle is slightly rough; if desired, it can be smoothed with solvents or by sanding.
  • They have also created mounts for objects (pictured below), which Fletcher thinks might be a more realistic use for this technology in library exhibits. He’s also excited about the idea of using 3-D scanners and subtractive technologies to carve Ethafoam for custom housing inserts.


Whether or not the zero-waste book cradle utopia ever comes to fruition, understanding the process of 3-D printing and the materials involved is important, since we will begin seeing (if we haven’t already) 3-D printed objects entering our collections.




45th Annual Meeting, Book and Paper, June 1, “Unexpectedly expert: Diversifying your skills to cover all the bases,” Moderated by Angela Andres, Sonya Barron, and Anahit Campbell

The end-of-conference BPG discussion groups are often the highlight of the week, and this year was no exception. The Library Collections Conservation Discussion Group (LCCDG) hosted a jam-packed session with seven presentations about how library conservators, who are often the only conservator at their institution and/or find themselves responsible for far more than just books and paper, become experts in all sorts of unexpected ways.

Sonya Barron, Conservator of Special Collections at Iowa State University Library, began the afternoon discussing approaches to accommodating 3D objects in the archives. Specifically, edible objects. First up was an ear of prize-winning corn. As Sonya emphasized to a chuckling audience, “Corn is very important in Iowa, that’s no joke!” The important corn was removed from its original display case, put through a few freeze/thaw cycles to kill off any pests, encapsulated in polyester film, and stored lovingly in a new archival box. A similar process was used for a small chunk of the Guinness World Record-holding largest Rice Krispies® treat (you can read more about that ISU invention at the Parks Library blog ). Sonya noted that though there may only be a few unusual objects tucked into your more traditional library and archival collections, 3D objects are often the ones that curators and professors want to show to classes and tours, so they need to be able to withstand frequent handling. 

Prize-winning corn in the Iowa State archives.


Deborah Howe, Collections Conservator at Dartmouth College, spoke next about being a conservator in the wilds of New Hampshire and the importance of reaching out to colleagues near and far. She emphasized the importance of networking with local experts – taking advantage of proximity to theatre, arts, engineering, and science resources on a college campus –  and not being afraid to cold call fellow conservators across the country for advice. She maximizes funding and other resources by bringing in experts to host workshops for conservators in the region (which helps her fill her own training gaps as well). And after a productive visit from University of Iowa conservator Giselle Simón, who assisted with moving and initial examination of a large, heavy antiphonal in need of treatment, Deborah suggested that a conservator exchange program could be a good idea (personally, I think it’s a terrific idea).  

Elizabeth Stone, Assistant Conservator at the University of Iowa Libraries, and Janet Lee, Conservation Assistant at the New-York Historical Society, talked about their long-distance collaboration to develop housing solutions for a small collection of Chinese dolls, shoes, and stuffed animals in the Iowa Women’s Archive.  Using video calls, text messaging, and shared folders for images and documentation, they were able to design safe storage solutions as well as investigate the history and background of these objects. This presentation did a good job of highlighting the advantage of technology to facilitate collaboration quickly across many miles, and also that collaboration across disciplines leads to more research and understanding of ephemeral objects in archival collections. 

Janet Lee discovered that the shoes would have been made by mothers for their children (the animals depicted can help date the shoes) and the dolls, which depict fashion trends fairly reliably, were made by girls living in missionaries.


Ashleigh Schieszer, Conservator at The Preservation Lab, a collaborative lab between the University of Cincinnati and the Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County, spoke about her experiences as an emerging professional in a managerial position. She offered suggestions for developing leadership skills, like looking for leadership and management training within your institution, utilizing professional organizations, and seeking mentorship. Ashleigh emphasized the importance of transparency, clear communication, and a “let’s try this” attitude. She noted that institutional and cultural knowledge are often more important and impactful than conservation skills and that team learning activities within the lab have built cohesiveness.

Suzy Morgan, Conservator at Arizona State University Library, implored everyone in the audience to make more conservation instructional videos after a few of her recent experiences illustrated the value in them. When confronted with a large dress in need of housing, Suzy found plenty of written and photographic instruction on how to properly pack it for storage, but it wasn’t until she came across a video produced by the Minnesota Historical Society demonstrating exactly how to pack such a dress that she felt confident enough to move forward. Suzy also found value in creating videos of her own; when the attendance at a training she was scheduled to do in Myanmar tripled, the solution was to have some students in an adjacent room watching training videos while others participated in hands-on activities. She found that tracking down existing videos was a challenge; while there are good ones out there, certain topics are covered frequently while others get no air time. So, leveraging local resources, she used digital video equipment at the campus makerspace and made her own videos. She’s hoping to do another edit on these and shorten them in order to make them available to wider conservation audience.

Justin Johnson, Senior Conservator at the University of Washington Libraries, talked about his experience of working on a new lab construction project and the need for conservators to learn the language of architects and contractors. He emphasized that terminology is important  – “design” doesn’t necessarily describe what we think it does, and calling your space a “lab” vs a “center” vs a “studio” can have unforeseen consequences in the architectural plans and execution. The need for clear, precise communication is critical, and Justin noted that misrepresenting priorities can be an expensive mistake. He cited the example that his team had designated a space as a meeting room, but were anticipating also using that space to construct boxes. They hadn’t conveyed this dual-purpose to the architects, though, and ended up with a lighting scheme appropriate to a meeting room but not sufficient for boxmaking.  

Susan Russick, Special Collections Conservator at Northwestern University Library, wrapped up the session with a summary of the many non-book and paper objects she’s treated, or chosen not to treat, over the past few years and some of the risk management decisions and ethical conundrums posed by these objects. She reminded us that while the details may differ, the basic tenets of conservation are the same no matter what you’re working with. She frequently refers back to the AIC core document Defining the Conservator: Essential Competencies (and encouraged the audience to the same). A few other guiding principles Susan shared about how she approaches objects in the collection included: talking to the curator and *listening* to the curator, keeping in mind that she doesn’t always know what she doesn’t know when it comes to objects, trusting that if she finds consistency of information across a range of trustworthy sources then she can feel confident to move forward, and that for some objects, bringing in experts for training and/or treatment is the best option, while sometimes no treatment at all is the appropriate choice.

Susan Russick uses funori to consolidate chalk on the chalkboard of a Nobel Laureate.


After the talks, the floor was opened for discussion. The audience was especially keen to discuss working with architects and contractors for new labs, lab management strategies, and instructional videos.


44th Annual Meeting – Book & Paper Session, May 17, "Targeted Cleaning of Works on Paper: Rigid Polysaccharide Gels and Conductivity-Adjusted Aqueous Solutions," Amy Hughes and Michelle Sullivan

The past few years have seen an uptick in the number of BPG session talks focusing on cross-disciplinary materials and techniques that allow for more targeted treatment approaches. Specifically, the use of rigid polysaccharide gels, such as agarose and gellan gum, and conductivity-adjusted waters are techniques with a more established history in paintings and objects conservation that are being adapted for treatment of works on paper.
Michelle Sullivan, Graduate Fellow in the Department of Paper conservation at the J. Paul Getty Museum, spoke first about the use of gel systems in targeted cleaning of works on paper. Sullivan outlined the advantages of gel systems, which include:

  • targeted, precise application by cutting gels to shape
  • restricted lateral movement, minimizing tideline formation
  • increased dwell time for reagents in solution and solvents
  • no mechanical action, protecting paper fibers
  • colorless, transparent/translucent gels facilitate treatment monitoring
  • ease of removal, virtually no residues

While the science behind these gel systems is best left to the experts in the postprints, here are a few notes worth keeping in mind when designing treatments with gels:

  • Agarose is more opaque than gellan gum; gellan gum’s translucency allows you to more closely monitor treatment.
  • Casting thinner gels affords greater control over solvent diffusion.
  • Pore size is inversely related to concentration; the higher the concentration, the smaller the pore size, which leads to greater capillary action.
  • You can use a range of modified aqueous solutions with the gel systems, including pH- and conductivity-adjusted waters, chelators, and enzymes.
  • The gels can be used with polar solvents; just soak the prepared gel in solvent of choice overnight. Sullivan noted that the gels become more rigid when soaked in solvent, so she recommends cutting them to the desired shape and size prior to soaking.
  • Examination under UV revealed more consistent washing with the gel than with a traditional blotter wash.

Sullivan then presented two case studies. First, by tracing the outline of a stain onto a sheet of polyester film and then using this template to shape the gellan gum, she was able to reduce the stain locally without the risk of tidelines. In the second example, Sullivan humidified a print and then washed it overall by placing it face-up on a sheet of gellan gum. A medium-weight sekishu paper was placed between the print and the gel. (She tried Hollytex as a washing support, but it did not allow for consistent penetration.)
Experimentation is currently underway to determine whether or not gel residue is left behind on the paper substrate. Agarose, gellan gum, and methylcellulose are being tagged with UV-fluorescent dyes in order to track their movement onto the paper; results of this testing should be available  in 2017.
Next, Amy Hughes, Andrew W. Mellon Fellow at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, spoke about her research into the use of pH- and conductivity-adjusted waters in treatment. Adjusted waters minimize swelling of the paper fibers while at the same time improving wetability and solubilization of degradation products, allowing conservators to design treatments that are more sensitive to the object. Again, I’ll leave the scientific explanation to the expert (though I have to note her lovely illustration of osmosis featuring a very plump carrot), but the procedure involves measuring surface pH- and conductivity of the object using agarose plugs and handheld meters (this video from the Getty clearly outlines the process) and then combining ammonium hydroxide (weak base) and acetic acid (weak acid) to form ammonium acetate (neutral salt) that, with water, can be used to create an isotonic solution (a procedure also outlined in a Getty video). Hughes did note that some objects washed in adjusted waters retained a vinegar odor that took 3-5 days to dissipate; further testing is underway to address this issue.
These talks left me feeling very inspired to begin testing out these new treatment methods in my lab!

44th Annual Meeting – Book & Paper Session, May 17, "Soft Matter: Gel development for conservation treatment," Mylène Leroux

Following Hughes and Sullivan’s talk,  Mylène Laroux, Master 2 Student at Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, reiterated the composition and advantages of gellan gum other rigid gel systems, highlighting the fact that they are simpler and safer for both the object and the conservator. She then compared these physical gel systems to the newly-developed Nanorestore® gel.
Nanorestore® gel was developed by the Nanoforart project, whose main objective, according to their website, is “the development and experimentation of new nano-materials and responsive systems for the conservation and preservation of movable and immovable artworks.” Nanorestore® is a chemical gel with high internal cohesion. It is available in pre-made sheets which are ready to use for aqueous treatment or they can be soaked in organic polar solvents for 12 hours and then used as a solvent gel. As with other gel systems, the Nanorestore® (soaked in ethanol) allowed Leroux to perform local adhesive stain removal without the formation of tidelines. Initial studies indicate that Nanorestore® has higher liquid retention rate than the polysaccaride gels. It’s also a sustainable option, since the gel can be placed back into solvent and reused multiple times.
At this time, Nanorestore® is not widely available and only comes in a few small sizes, so practical application in paper conservation labs is currently limited. However, it’s exciting to see new products being developed and tested, since we conservators are always looking to expand our toolboxes.

43rd Annual Meeting, Electronic Media and Objects Joint Session, Co-Organized by Voices in Contemporary Art (VoCA), May 14, “Preserving What is Right: Learning the Ethics and Similarities of Collaborating with a Living Artist and Buddhist Monks,” Céline Chrétien

Object Conservator Céline Chrétien described her experiences working with contemporary artist Richard Fauguet to conserve his piece Mirida and her more recent work with Buddhist monks to conserve actively-used liturgical objects. Though on the surface these projects seem very different, they both raised interesting questions about how to apply conservation ethics to situations in which the artist – or, in the case of the liturgical objects, the believers – still have a living relationship with their objects.
While working at the FRAC (Regional Fund for Contemporary Art) in Besançon, France, Chrétien was responsible for the conservation of the 1993 piece Mirida by artist Richard Fauguet. Mirida consists of three translucent silicone rubber horse heads covered in glass marbles. The silicone heads are somewhat soft and intentionally deformed to evoke Fauguet’s dreamlike aesthetic. The heads were damaged from the mounting screws and the silicone had discolored. Conservation was necessary, but no alterations could be made to the piece without permission from the artist. During an initial conversation Chrétien had with the artist to discuss the condition of the piece and its need for conservation, Fauguet was concerned that the silicone had discolored too severely and he believed that the best approach would be for the piece to be remade, either by him or by Chrétien. The collections manager immediately rejected this proposal, however, since in reconstructing the piece its authenticity would be lost. Once Fauguet was able to come see the condition of the piece in person, he determined that the discoloration was not as drastic as he feared and agreed to treatment of the original work. Chrétien mended the horse heads with Beva and constructed new mounts and crates that offered more support to the silicone forms. Chrétien had to navigate complex ethical considerations through multiple conservations with the artist, his colleagues, and her colleagues at FRAC to arrive at the best outcome.
This collaborative experience served Chrétien well during her more recent work at a Buddhist monastery in northern India. The monastery was preparing for a new exhibition space, and many of the clay figures and masks used in religious ceremonies were in need of conservation treatment. These objects had never been repaired by outsiders, only local members of the community. Chrétien interviewed the monks to learn more about how the objects were used and their goals for treatment. People still leave offerings at the objects, which serve as homes to various deities. The deities will leave when the object becomes damaged, so they must be repaired in order to invite the deity back to reside there again.
Since the Buddhist objects were being actively used, they couldn’t be treated in the same ways ethnographic objects are treated in Western museums. As a result, Chrétien and her fellow conservators had to take an approach that is more similar to working with living contemporary artists. Chrétien drew interesting parallels between conservation of ethnographic objects in an active monastery setting and conservation of contemporary art in consultation with the artist. In both cases, the interview is a crucial tool. The conservator is an outsider and must act as mediator. And care must be taken not to privilege the norms of traditional Western conservation ethic.

43rd Annual Meeting, Electronic Media and Objects Joint Session, Co-Organized by Voices in Contemporary Art (VoCA), May 14, “Beyond the Interview: Working with Artists in Time-based Media Conservation,” Kate Lewis

Kate Lewis, Media Conservator at the Museum of Modern Art, spoke about communicating with artists, a daily practice for time-based media conservators. Time-based media art is inherently dynamic and its conservation requires ongoing collaboration throughout the life-cycle of a piece. Gathering information from an artist is a cumulative process, with opportunities for both formal and informal conversations at multiple stages, from acquisition to condition checking to installation.
The first opportunity for conservators to communicate with the artist is at the point of acquisition. This is a chance to gather information about the media production history and specifications for the technology needed to show the piece. Initial contact generally happens via email; for efficiency and consistency, Lewis has a standard set of questions that she sends to artists.
The next point at which communication with artists happens is during the condition checking phase. This is when all of the media in the piece are examined to ensure that the necessary files and equipment are present and working properly. Gathering information at this point can be a challenge; artists are often busy and may feel rushed, especially if they don’t fully understand the more technical concerns.
It is often at the installation stage that museum staff conducts a formal artist interview. Installation is the first time the staff has a chance to experience the art, and it’s at this point when final tweaking of volume settings and other technical details happens. There are so many people involved and there are many conversations happening between museum staff and the artist, that capturing important snippets of information can be tricky. Lewis likes to audio record whenever possible, in addition to taking notes, and then follows up with more formal questions later on. Post-installation is often the ideal moment for more in-depth conversations with the artist.
Lewis spoke to the importance of revisiting questions with the artist multiple times. A cumulative approach is inevitable, given time-constraints and the nature of these interactions, but it also affords an important opportunity to develop trust and empathy for the artist and the piece. It can take a while to get the artists away from their canned “spiel.” It can also take time for conservators and other museum staff to understand and appreciate, even if they don’t agree with, an artist’s point of view.
Some artists are elusive but exert a lot of influence over their work. Lewis talked about a few artists she’s worked with whose pieces have very specific technological requirements that will face obsolescence in the not-too-distant future, and an unwillingness (at least at this point) on the part of the artists to discuss hardware, software, or format alternatives. Lewis and others in the room speculated that artists don’t always want to talk about how components of their work might change; they might be resistant so that things won’t be changed too soon, forcing conservators to work a little harder to keep as faithful to the original for as long as possible.
Lewis made the interesting point that time-based media art is so new and dynamic that we’re still determining what counts as “patina” for these works; ongoing conversations with artists help us figure out what elements may be altered or replaced and what must be saved in order to retain the authenticity and integrity of the piece.

42nd Annual Meeting – Electronic Media Group Luncheon, May 30, “Sustainably Designing the First Digital Repository for Museum Collections”

Jim Coddington, Chief Conservator, The Museum of Modern Art
Ben Fino-Radin, Digital Repository Manager, The Museum of Modern Art
Dan Gillean, AtoM Product Manager, Artefactual Systems
Kara Van Malssen, Adjunct Professor, NYU MIAP, Senior Consultant, AudioVisual Preservation Solutions (AVPreserve)
This informative and engaging panel session provided an overview of The Museum of Modern Art’s development of a digital repository for their museum collections (DRMC) and gave attendees a sneak peak at the beta version of the system. The project is nearing the end of the second phase of development and the DRMC will be released later this summer. The panelists did an excellent job outlining the successes and challenges of their process and offered practical suggestions for institutions considering a similar approach. They emphasized the importance of collaboration, communication, and flexibility at every stage of the process, and as Kara Van Malssen stated towards the end of the session, “there is no ‘done’ in digital preservation” — it requires an inherently sustainable approach to be successful.
This presentation was chock-full of good information and insight, most of which I’ve just barely touched on in this post (especially the more technical bits), so I encourage the panelists and my fellow luncheon attendees to contribute to the conversation with additions and corrections in the comments section.
Jim Coddington began with a brief origin story of the digital repository, citing MoMA’s involvement with the Matters in Media Art project and Glenn Wharton’s brainstorming sessions with the museum’s media working group. Kara, who began working with Glenn in 2010 on early prototyping of the repository, offered a more detailed history of the process and walked through considerations of some of the pre-software development steps of the process.
Develop your business case: In order to make the case for creating a digital repository, they calculated the total GB the museum was acquiring annually. With large and ever-growing quantities of data, it was necessary to design a system in which many of the processes – like ingest, fixity checks, migration, etc.- could be automated. They used the OAIS (open archival information system) reference model (ISO 14721:2012), adapting it for a fine art museum environment.
Involve all stakeholders: Team members had initial conversations with five museum departments: conservation, collections technologies, imaging, IT applications and infrastructure, and AV. Kara referenced the opening session talk on LEED certification, in which we were admonished from choosing an architect based on their reputation or how their other buildings look. The same goes for choosing software and/or a software developer for your repository project – what works for another museum won’t necessarily work for you, so it’s critical to articulate your institution’s specific needs and find or develop a system that will best serve those needs.
Determine system scope: Stakeholder conversations helped the MoMA DRMC team determine both the content scope – will the repository include just fine arts or also archival materials? – and the system scope – what should it do and how will it work with other systems already in place?
Define your requirements: Specifically, functional requirements. The DRMC team worked through scenarios representing a variety of different stages of the process in order to determine all of the functions the system is required to perform. A few of these functions include: staging, ingest, storage, description & access, conservation, and administration.
Articulate your use cases: Use cases describe interactions and help to outline the steps you might take in using a repository. The DRMC team worked through 22 different use cases, including search & browse, adding versions, and risk assessment. By defining their requirements and articulating use cases, the team was able to assess what systems they already had in place and what gaps would need to be filled with the new system.
At this point, Kara turned the mic over to Ben Fino-Radin, who was brought on as project manager for the development phase in mid-2012.
RFPs were issued for the project in April 2013; three drastically different vendors responded – the large vendor (LV), the small vendor (SV), and the very small vendor (VSV).
Vetting the vendors: The conversation about choosing the right vendor was, in this blogger’s opinion, one of the most important and interesting parts of the session. The LV, with an international team of thousands and extremely polished project management skills, was appealing in many ways. MoMA had worked with this particular vendor before, though not extensively on preservation or archives projects. The SV and VSV, on the other hand, did have preservation and archives domain expertise, which the DRMC team ultimately decided was one of the most important factors in choosing a vendor. So, in the end, MoMA, a very big institution, hired Artefactual Systems, the very small vendor. Ben acknowledged that this choice seemed risky at first, since the small, relatively new vendor was unproven in this particular kind of project, but the pitch meeting sold MoMA on the idea the Artefactual Systems would be a good fit. Reiterating Kara’s point from earlier, that you have to choose a software product/developer based on your own specific project needs, Ben pointed out that choosing a good software vendor wasn’t enough; choosing a vendor with domain expertise allowed for a shared vocabulary and more nimble process and design.
Dan Gillean spoke next, offering background on Artefactual Systems and their approach to developing the DRMC.
Know your vendor: Artefactual Systems, which was founded in 2001 and employs 17 staff members, has two core products: AtoM and Archivematica. In addition to domain expertise in preservation and archives, Artefactual is committed to standards-based solutions and open source development. Dan highlighted the team’s use of agile development methodology, which involves a series of short term goals and concrete deliverables; agile development requires constant assessment, allowing for ongoing change and improvement.
Expect to be involved: One of the advantages of an agile approach, with its constant testing, feedback, and evolution, is that there are daily discussions among developers as well as frequent check-ins with the user/client. This was the first truly agile project Artefactual has done, so the process has been beneficial to them as well as to MoMA. As development progressed, the team conducted usability testing and convened various advisory groups; in late 2013 and early 2014, members of cultural heritage institutions and digital preservation experts were brought in to test and provide feedback on the DRMC.
Prepare for challenges: One challenge the team faced was learning how to avoid “scope creep.” They spent a lot of time developing one of the central features of the site – the context browser – but recognized that not every feature could go through so many iterations before the final project deadline. They had to keep their focus on the big picture, developing the building blocks now and allowing refinement to happen later.
At this point in the luncheon, the DRMC had it’s first public demo. Ben walked us through the various widgets on the dashboard as well as the context browser feature, highlighting the variety and depth of information available and the user-friendly interface.
Know your standards: Kara wrapped up the panel with a discussion of ‘trustworthiness’ and noted some tools available for assessment and auditing digital repositories, including the NDSA Levels of Digital Preservation and the Audit and Certification of Trustworthy Digital Repositories (ISO 16263:2010). MoMA is using these assessment tools as planning tools for next the phases of the DRMC project, which may include more software development as well as policy development.
Development of the DRMC is scheduled to be complete in June of this year and an open source version of the code will be available after July.

41st Annual Meeting, Book and Paper Session, May 30, “Conservation of Dieter Roth’s Snow,” by Brenna Campbell, Scott Gerson, and Erika Mosier

[a conservation conundrum: “wait, later this will be nothing”]

Erika Mosier, Paper Conservator at The Museum of Modern Art, presenting on behalf of co-authors Brenna Campbell (Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in Conservation, MoMA) and Scott Gerson (Associate Paper Conservator, MoMA), highlighted some of the conservation and exhibition challenges presented by Snow, a major book project by Swiss-German artist Dieter Roth. Snow is the centerpiece of the MoMA’s current exhibition [February 17 – June 24, 2013] “Wait, Later This Will Be Nothing: Editions by Dieter Roth.”

Snow represents a transitional moment in Roth’s career, a movement away from his earlier Constructivist works towards more experimental book forms and explorations of entropy and decay. The treatment and exhibition of Snow not only posed an array of physical and material challenges but also raised questions about the biases, values, and long term considerations of our work as conservators. These considerations, as well as attempts to balance a respect for the integrity of the object with the artist’s intent, were further complicated by the fact that this particular artist was especially interested in material decay and viewed museums as “funeral parlors.”

Roth was commissioned make an artist book in 1964; over the course of three months, he produced thousands of drawings, prints, and notes in preparation, tacking them to the walls of his studio. Though the book was never published as originally conceived, Roth compiled a few hundred of the notes and drawings into a cardboard album and titled it Snow. In the late 1960s he fabricated a table and chairs to house and display Snow; the book was exhibited open on the table with a selection of pages removed and hung on the wall.

[Roth’s definition of a book: “a community of like-minded things”]

The mixed media nature of Snow posed a variety of conservation challenges. In addition to tracing papers, diazo types, printing proofs, plastic sleeves, and pressure sensitive tapes, the book includes a small wax still-life, paper cups, plastic tubing, and is housed in what is essentially a cardboard suitcase. Roth’s abundant use of pressure sensitive tape resulted in extensive damage, especially at the edges of the plastic sleeves where the deteriorating adhesive caused them to stick together. Sticky residue leaching from the PVC sleeves has made it difficult to remove items. A previous stabilization effort (initiated by Roth) involved adhering the tracing papers to cellulose acetate film, leading to structural and chemical damage.

Conservators also faced the challenge of attempting to determine the original order of the pages. Some elements appear to be missing and the conservators and curators had to guess at Roth’s original order, using clues such as evidence of stubs, lining up holes on the pages that were shot through with a BB gun, and comparing stains from failed adhesives.  Roth was making changes to Snow into the late 1960s. For example, neither the plastic sleeves nor the cellulose acetate sheets were present in the 1964 version of Snow; these were added later at Roth’s request in order to stabilize the pages for exhibition. Though the artist added these elements, curators determined that they were not part of his original concept for the piece and since they had already caused irreversible damage, it would be acceptable to remove them in the course of conservation treatment.

Treatment goals for Snow included stabilization for handling and display, identification of materials used, and treating individual components for imaging. Removing the acetate linings allowed the tracing paper pages to move and drape more naturally. Torn tracing paper was then repaired with a 1:1 Lascaux:water heat set tissue. Acetone and xylene were used to reduce the staining and stickiness of remaining adhesive residues, and a water/ethanol mix was used to reduce stickiness on the PVC sleeves. Failing pressure-sensitive tapes were either removed or re-attached with PVA.

Snow is now displayed open on the table with many more elements displayed on the walls. Digital images of all pages can be viewed on a display screen in the gallery.  In its current iteration, Snow does not function as a book but could technically be returned to book format if requested for use by a researcher.

AIC’s 40th Annual Meeting, Book and Paper Session, May 10, “True Love Forever: Preserving the Legacy of Norman ‘Sailor Jerry’ Collins”

Presented by Samantha Sheesley, Paper Conservator at the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts

“Good work ain’t cheap and cheap work ain’t good.” This is one of many pearls of wisdom from Norman “Sailor Jerry” Collins, a colorful man and visionary artist whose unique style (a hybrid of American design and Japanese colors) and innovation (he developed the first non-fugitive purple tattoo ink and designed the magnum needle) made him the most important figure in American tattoo art. The CCAHA recently undertook conservation treatment on Collins’ flash art, acetate stencils, and preliminary drawings, which are currently on exhibition in London.

Collins was a sailor in the Navy and it was while he was stationed in the Pacific that he befriended Japanese tattoo masters and developed his love of tattooing, sailing history, and Asian philosophy. A feature documentary about Sailor Jerry was produced in 2007; Sheesley played the documentary’s trailer as part of her presentation, which I really enjoyed – it was nice to hear Collins speaking in his own voice about his work and to see more images of his art.

Collins longed for the day when tattooing would be respected as art and he was committed to using high-quality materials. His flash art, the drawings posted on the wall of tattoo parlors for customers to choose from, were done with fine inks and watercolors on cotton wove paper; the colors on these drawings remain vibrant and the flash art required little treatment beyond removal of pressure sensitive tape from the back. The acetate stencils, which were used to transfer designs onto the customer’s body, are artifacts of a lost practice, since these stencils are created digitally now. Creating acetate stencils was typically the first task of a tattoo apprentice.  Treatment of the stencils included surface cleaning and mechanical removal of adhesive residue. The preliminary drawings, custom designs, and sketches are crayon and charcoal rubbings and drawings on thin tracing paper.  These were quite fragile and required extensive mending. All of the art was housed in sealed packages for safe travel, storage, and display in preparation for worldwide exhibition.

This project provided many opportunities for outreach, including news articles, exhibitions, presentations, and videos, that connect with a wide range of audiences.  For conservators, Sheesley’s talk was an opportunity to learn more about the art of tattooing – it’s history, technique, and materials. She has also had the chance to speak with tattoo enthusiasts, who are very interested in and knowledgeable about the art, and teach them about conservation treatment and how to care for their designs.

W. Grant & Sons, the company that now owns the Sailor Jerry name (which is used to market a variety of products including a popular spiced rum), recently opened a venue in London called Hotel Street, named after the location of Collins’ tattoo parlor in Honolulu. The Sailor Jerry art is currently on exhibition at Hotel Street and Sheesely traveled to London to speak about the conservation treatment. W. Grant & Sons also has a collection of letters and manuscripts in the Sailor Jerry archives, which will soon make their way to the CCAHA for treatment.

AIC’s 40th Annual Meeting, Book and Paper Session, May 10, “The Populist Conservator: A Sticky Case Study”

Presented by Whitney Baker, Head, Conservation Services, University of Kansas Libraries

This talk was an excellent tie-in with the overall AIC theme of outreach & advocacy. Baker’s recent research into the history and preservation of bumper stickers challenged her views of the conservation profession and how we are perceived by the public; in addition to highlighting some of her research findings, Baker used this talk to challenge conservators to think more broadly about the work they do and the image they project and to encourage grassroots approaches to connecting with the public.

Baker embarked on this investigation after noticing a patron in the KU Library reading room looking at a collection of bumper stickers. Not finding anything in the conservation literature about bumper stickers, Baker took a 5 month sabbatical (many in the audience were envious of this!) to conduct research into their materials and production.  Though bumper stickers are not likely to find their way into a conservation lab for full treatment, they are important pieces of 20th century ephemera so Baker focused on proposing low-cost, practical storage options for these collections.

Baker surveyed over 2,000 bumper stickers from collections in Kansas, Texas, and Washington, D.C. Political bumper stickers are some of the most common found in collections and are useful because they’re easily datable. Baker was able to trace the origins of the bumper sticker back to Kansas; Forest P. Gill, a screen printer from Kansas City, printed the first bumper stickers onto canvas in the 1940s. Bumper stickers became an extremely popular form of advertising post-World War II. Experiments with war materials like vinyl, silicone, and Day-Glo inks made it possible to mass produce eye-catching, weather-resistant, (sometimes) easily removable stickers. An expanding highway system and increased leisure travel meant that these small “moving billboards” could be seen across the country.

Almost all bumper stickers are screen-printed. Early bumper stickers were printed on paper, but these were not weather-friendly and were difficult to remove cleanly. Vinyl was promoted as a body stock in the 1950s and caught on in the 1960s; it was much more durable and removeable than the paper stock and since the lifespan of a bumper sticker was really only intended to be 2-4 weeks, this removability became a selling point. The liners on the back of bumper stickers, intended to protect the adhesive until the sticker is used, are coated with silicone and often contain a wealth of information for researchers, including dates, location, manufacturing and patent information.

Preservation challenges posed by bumper stickers include off-gassing, discoloration, shrinkage, and adhesion to adjacent materials. Baker recommends that bumper stickers be stored individually in alkaline folders; for those that no longer have their liner attached or are especially sticky, interleaving with silicone release paper is a good option. Storing them in polyester film can be problematic; she noticed that some of the more recent stickers with polymer-based inks were blocked to the polyester film.

Baker encouraged her audience to take every opportunity for outreach. Though some in the profession warned her that she wouldn’t be taken seriously if she pursued her research into bumper stickers, the public was certainly interested in the topic and word about the project spread in a variety of outlets, including news articles and a YouTube video. She also has an article coming out in the most recent issue of Collections. [Full citation for the article, which will eventually be available online in the KU institutional repository: Baker, Whitney. 2011.  Soapbox for the automobile: Bumper sticker history, identification, and preservation.  Collections: A Journal for Museum and Archives Professionals 7(3): 251-270.]

Baker’s tips for successful outreach:

1. Know your collections and what people use. This project was sparked by observing patrons in the reading room.

2. Identify a need.

3. Control the message. In the blogosphere, it can be hard to control where the message ends up, but try to be consistent in what you’re saying.

4. Create soundbites.

5. Be accessible. Avoid jargon. Baker quoted her husband on this one: “Stop talking about off-gassing!”

6. Consider your audience.

Baker challenged us to take off our white lab coats for a while, use the fascinating parts of our profession (of which there are many!) to reach out to people, and become more populist conservators.