Wooden Artifacts Group: Thursday, May 13 Morning Session

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Wooden Artifacts Morning Session, 8:30am – 10:00am

The 1855 Restoration of a 16th Century French Dressoir

Joseph Godla, Conservator, The Frick Collection

Better late than never. At least that’s what I’m hoping for, as I post this one week after the talks were given. And I was almost 10 minutes late to this first talk of the morning wooden artifacts session on Thursday, May 13. In my defense, a lack of laptop/internet and Milwaukee traffic are to blame, in that order. And perhaps a deficiency of coffee…

But, I digress. The first talk that morning was given by Joseph Godla and was entitled “The 1855 Restoration of a 16th Century French Dressoir.” When I arrived, Mr. Godla was discussing the history of a French Dressoir belonging to the Frick collection. It was clear that the piece was popular as it had been published at least a dozen times in the last hundred years. The dressoir was last owned by Mr. Henry Clay Frick and is now a part of the Frick Collection. An interesting historical side note was that the dealer who sold Mr. Frick the piece actually sold it before the dealer himself had purchased the piece.

An early restoration campaign dated to 1855 is known from documents accompanying the piece. At that time losses were infilled; however, these were kept to a minimum and replacements to the piece were very conservative. Mr. Godla went on to discuss a letter he had received during his research from someone who stated they “had one just like it.” After Mr. Godla went to see this piece he concluded that it was fairly similar in style, but the dimensions were unique in that they were identical. This led Mr. Godla to believe that the maker of this piece had the Frick piece in their possession.

An additional interesting bit of information was presented as Mr. Godla showed an image of an inscription that was found in the dressoir. It is obscured by pressure points and a scuff mark, but it gives a date of 1574 and a yet unidentified signature.

An informative question and answer session followed which gave the audience some insight into how the dressoir was taken apart – including the back, which Mr. Godla stated was digitally removed.


The Treatment of a Carved and Painted Buffet by Paul Gauguin and Emile Bernard

Julie Simek, Associate Paintings Conservator, Kuniej Berry Associates

As a fan of Paul Gauguin, I was very excited to see the title of this talk and intrigued to find out more about the buffet. I had never previously heard about Gauguin or Bernard creating furniture and I was interested to see if the two-dimensional style they are known for would translate into a furniture piece, or if it would be completely different from anything I’ve seen by them.

The first part of Ms. Simek’s talk covered the history of Bernard and Gauguin’s partnership. It was a well matched pairing as both were interested in broad areas of color and they heavily influenced each other, as is evident in their paintings. Gauguin is credited with teaching Bernard how to carve. Both artists signed and dated the buffet; however, there are questions as to the attribution of individual panels. To help in this identification, panels were compared by Simek to the paintings of each of artist.

The condition of the buffet included lifting paint and losses. The losses allowed an ink underdrawing to show through in some areas. There were also coatings present on the surface; however, it needed to be determined if these were artist applied before any removal could be considered.

Analysis included a cross-section sample, which revealed that there was no ground present beneath the paint. Additionally, FTIR analysis identified the top layer as a wax, which is interesting because it is known that Gauguin preferred wax to varnish on his paintings.

For treatment, solutions and cleaning techniques were adjusted as needed in each area of the buffet to preserve layers original to the artists. A varnish layer was used over the existing paint to protect the layers and as a barrier for further in-painting. This restored continuity and depth to the piece and helped to bring the buffet out from relative obscurity to an important piece in the museum’s exhibit.


A Conservation Collaboration: The James Monroe Gilded Ceremonial Armchair

Rick Vogt, Conservator, F.C. Vogt Company

The order of the morning session talks was switched around and Rick Vogt was moved up to the 9:30 time slot. I found Mr. Vogt’s talk to be very engaging and well organized, though I will admit to a slight bias. I was fortunate to have gained my first conservation experiences while working for Mr. Vogt at the F.C. Vogt company a mere five years ago!

The James Monroe gilded ceremonial armchair comes from the James Monroe Law Library and Museum in Fredericksburg, Virginia. When assessing the chair for treatment, Mr. Vogt immediately recognized the need for research and collaboration to successfully address the needs of the piece. He quoted Barbara Applebaum’s text, Conservation Treatment Methodology, in explaining his concerns for the piece: “Unless sufficient attention is paid to the object’s non-material aspects, we may end up preserving the material but not the object’s meaning.”

The collaboration was large in scope, comprising 12 people with varying degrees of involvement. It included conservators from various areas of specialty, White House staff who provided documents about the chair; and curators with information on the Monroe family history. A specific time frame guided the project and required a good amount of organization to get the project done on time and to standard.

The first step of the project was information gathering and two types of data were needed:

. Non-material information –> Style characteristics, Specific history of the object

. Material information –> Visual analysis, Microscopic analysis

After discussing the history of the armchair, Mr. Vogt gave an overview of the condition assessment which included some insect damage, a twisted seat, losses of fabric and other issues affecting the overall stability of the piece. He also noted there were variations in the surface coatings on the wood which indicated multiple gilding and coating campaigns.

To treat the piece, Mr. Vogt created a new seat frame which was fit over the original. Araldite was used to replace toes that were lost on the feet. Insect borings were consolidated during the gilding conservation campaign and the wood was re-gilded and coated at that time. The chair was then sent out for upholstery conservation. Fragments of the original fabric covering were discovered under the existing upholstery, so a fabric was selected that was believed to closely match the original in both color and style.

Throughout his discussion, Mr. Vogt stressed the importance of collaboration to conservators in private practice and smaller institutions. These professionals may not have access to the same resources that those in larger institutions do. Recognizing one’s own capabilities and utilizing others with different abilities and specializations is important for a successful collaboration and helps to ensure every aspect of an object is conserved for future generations.

Mr. Vogt stated at the beginning of the talk that he is willing to share slides and/or text of his research. He can be reached at fcvco@verizon.net.

AIC Annual Meeting – CIPP Workshop Tuesday, May 11

The Conservator Behind the Curtain

This workshop was presented by Conservators in Private Practice. Because of our diversity and wide range of professional experience, there is always something to be learned from these CIPP workshops. This year’s participants were asked to bring in a “homework assignment” before attending, namely to describe what it is that we do as conservators. Led by Susan Lunas of Many Moons Book Conservation in Eugene, OR, we broke into groups of three to brainstorm about how best to describe ourselves

to a potential new client.

My group included Jill Hari and Matthew Brack, who are both on ten month fellowships at the Straus Center, Harvard Art Museums in Boston, MA. We talked about how to tailor descriptions toward the individual client, and agreed that the first step in contact with new clients is simply listening in order to determine who they are and what they need. Conversely, we can’t just assume the new client knows who we are and what we do.

Five guest speakers gave informal talks on the subject of building a private practice. Scott Haskins and Rick Vogt shared the opinion that marketing through print advertising had been expensive and brought little or no response. Scott is a big advocate for social networking and maintains a blog about conservation projects in his Santa Barbara, CA studio. He also started a website to promote his book, Save Your Stuff.

Rick Vogt, of FC Vogt Co in Richmond, VA, talked about the importance of building company values and local relationships. He stressed presenting ourselves in a

compelling manner, following up after treatment and keeping track of clients. According to Rick, the biggest reason a client leaves is not unhappiness with a treatment, but because the client doesn’t feel “valued.” Rick recommends being sure to complete work on time, have good communication, and remain accessible to our clients.

Jeanne Martinez-Kilgore, a book and paper conservator in New Mexico, shared her experience with volunteerism as both a way to share expertise and to develop a client list. Unfortunately, over time, her volunteer activities escalated to a point where she had to step back and reassess the types of services she could afford to provide at no charge. As noted recently on the CIPP dist list, she recommends presenting short topics to small community groups such as schools or churches as a form of public outreach with a minimal investment of time.

Maria Valentina Sheets shared the story of how her disaster response to an electrical fire at the Biblical Museum in Houston, TX grew into a highly publicised long term angel project for treating the museum’s collection. She eventually created a long range plan for the collection and set up an on site conservation studio which enjoys broad support from the community.

John Crowe calls himself a “successfully recovering conservator.” After a stint in Colonial Williamsburg, he became the Director of the Chipstone Foundation, a private organization in Milwaukee that is dedicated to showing its late founders’ Decorative Arts collection. Under his direction, Chipstone has partnered with the Milwaukee Art Museum in an innovative collaboration. John has also created an online Decorative Arts Library which went digital with 700 visits in 2001 and currently boasts 1.8 million users.

On that note, this technophobe is attempting my first blog…

Daisy Craddock


3rd IIC Roundtable on Environmental Guidelines

3rd IIC Roundtable

“The Plus/Minus Dilemma: The Way Forward in Environmental Guidelines”

Thurs., May 13, 2010, 4:30-6:00 p.m.

This panel discussion was blogged live for the IIC News blog. The session’s transcript will be made available through the IIC and AIC website, and video will be made available on the Indianapolis Museum of Art website.

Maxwell Anderson (moderator), the Melvin & Bren Simon Director and CEO of Indianapolis Museum of Art

Anderson started the discussion by asking the question whether the 70F and 50% rH, plus or minus a few degrees/percentage points is reasonable or fully understood. Three areas of discussion are needed, longevity of cultural heritage, financial impact, and the carbon footprint that maintaining this standard requires. Anderson urged candor in describing our environments, flexibility with each other’s communities (engineers, administrators, scientists, conservators, etc.), and the realization that the technical capacity of many museums is not adequate to maintain this standard. Many museums were built at a time when human comfort, not longevity of collections, was primarily important.

Nancy Bell, Head of Conservation Services, National Archives, London, and Principle Investigator of the Environments, Guidelines, Opportunities and Risks (EGOR) Initiative.

Recent regulations for carbon reduction targets prompted the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC) sponsored Science and Heritage program Research Cluster, EGOR: Environmental Guidelines Opportunities and Risks initiative. The group reviewed the environmental standards and served as a catalyst for change. The group identified and prioritized research gaps in order to better understand the relationship of damage to the environmental standards. They hope to develop a new, risk-based standard that looks at light, humidity, temperature and pollutants.

Karen Colby Stothart, Deputy Director, Exhibitions and Installations, National Gallery of Canada

Stothart talked on the environmental issues as they pertain to exhibit and lending programs. Her institution has adopted a more flexible approach that balances preservation and use. They have chosen a winter setback to 44% rH plus or minus 3% in winter, which is down from their summer set point of 50% rH. The shift occurs over three months. The temperature is set at a constant 71F plus or minus 2 degrees except in their cold storage areas. Traveling exhibits and loans have shaped their thinking on this issue, they circulate 20-25 exhibits each year and their guidelines contain set points depending on the media being exhibited. She urged that a less rigid standard can give an institution flexibility in what they can exhibit.

Cecily Grzywacz, Conservation Scientist, Chair of ASHRAE committee on museums, galleries, archives and libraries

Grzywacz stated that no true standard exists for temperature and relative humidity and no one set point fits all collections. [blogger’s note: there is an <a target=_blank class=ftalternatingbarlinklarge href="http://www.niso.org/kst/reports/standards/kfile_download?id%3Austring%3Aiso-8859-1=Z39-79-2001.pdf&pt=RkGKiXzW643YeUaYUqZ1BFwDhIG4-24RJbcZBWg8uE4vWdpZsJDs4RjLz0t90_d5_ymGsj_IKVa86hjP37r_hKQ00ioOP35Wl5gNMun0zdCStKIwLCgDUOXaOYMJLIaF

“>ANSI/NISO standard for exhibiting library and archival material, but this was not discussed.] Many people within an institution decide on set points and we must include them all in the discussion and communicate effectively with each other. She also feels that a lending organization should not require more strict environmental control that what they have at their home institution.

Stefan Michalski, Senior Conservation Scientist, Conservation Research, Canadian Conservation Institute

Michalski outlined the four main issues the environment causes, biological (mold, etc), mechanical (cracks, etc.), chemical (rates of decay) and physics (the current model assumes multi-layered materials). The truth is that this model is not representative of all objects, it over estimates damage to some materials, and underestimates damage to others. Environmental damage reports are largely anecdotal and he feels that most collections can handle a wider range of fluctuations in humidity.

Terry Drayman-Weisser, Director of Conservation and Technical Research, Walters Art Museum

Drayman-Weisser asks whether U.S. conservators are stubbornly sticking to outdated standards when some research has shown no damage when wider shifts in rH do not harm materials? She would like to see us re-evaluate our standards for environmental and economic reasons. More research is needed because the empirical evidence does not comport to scientific conclusions. All objects do not need the same environmental controls and should be divided by material type. We need to advocate for judicious use of wider rH parameters and seasonal settings when possible and practical based on reliable and reasonable data.

Book and Paper Group: Wednesday, May 12, 2010, afternoon sessions

“13 Years Later: Looking Back at a Bound-Pamphlet Conservation and Cataloging Project”, Chela Metzger, Lecturer, School of Information, The University of Texas at Austin

In 1994 the Huntington Library began a two-year, NEH funded project to review, catalog and conserve 6,000 16th – 18th Century pamphlet titles that were bound into 587 volumes. Metzger participated in this project and was interested to see how the repairs held up over the past thirteen years.

Binding multiple pamphlets of varying subjects and sizes together used to be a common practice in libraries. Policies on reviewing the condition of bound pamphlets and treating damaged volumes differ by institution, as do opinions about what effect on the ‘authenticity’ that binding may have on a publication that was meant to be a single object.

That said, the bound volumes in this project were considered to be important to researchers as objects and therefore were not considered for disbinding. Metzger found that the majority of condition problems were structural and devised a treatment plan that included Japanese tissue hinge repairs and re-backing with leather or cloth. Original sewing and bindings were kept when possible.

Metzger returned to review the materials that were repaired in 1994-1996 during the NEH project. She examined 134 of the treatments and found that 2% (3 volumes) had complete failure of the board attachment. 18% of the paper hinges were lifting at the tail, and there were other problems with lifting of the inner paper hinges. She theorizes that this may be due to error when applying the tissue hinge.

The other issue here is use. Every institution defines “heavy use” in special collections differently. She looked at the use statistics from before the original project. Between 1917-1996 the median use was less than one use per year. Microfilming and duplicate removal projects may have contributed to some of the damage as well. Between 1996-2009 statistics were slightly higher in this collection but not significantly. When I talked with her afterwards, Metzger said she would like to continue checking in on the collection to see how the repairs hold up over time and with more use.

“A Survey of Leather Conservation Practices”, Jennifer Hain Teper, Head, Conservation, University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign, Melissa Straw, Director of Library Preservation, Goucher College Library

The authors developed their survey to supplement a chapter of the AIC Book Conservation Catalog. They not only collected data on the types of treatments that conservators are doing, but they cross compared the treatment data with the demographic data to see if certain types of conservators tend to favor certain treatments.

Some of the preliminary findings include:

Lots of use of tissue hinges and cloth hinges as board attachment methods.

Common materials used for hinge repair and rebacking include Japanese paper, leather, book cloth, linen and linen lined with Japanese paper (solvent set).

A variety of adhesives are being used: PVA, wheat starch paste, methyl cellulose, gelatin, pva/paste mix, pva/methyl cellulose mix, pva/klucel g mix.

Although there is a strong preference for not dying leather, some conservators use aniline, acrylics, and watercolors to do so.

Like dying leather, there is a strong preference for not applying surface treatments. However, when they were used, conservators are using Klucel G, SC6000, and the “red rot cocktail“.

Next steps include more research on the use of cellulose ethers as many people raised concern about these.

Book and Paper Group: Archives Conservation Discussion Group

Thurs., May 13, 2010, 8:30-10:00 a.m.

ACDG invited several conservators and asked them to share their experiences working in the current economy in a session titled “Working in an Unstable Economy: Experiences and Insight on the Conservation of Paper-based Materials in the Private Sector.” The panelists all work in the private sector either in regional centers or as conservators in private practice.

First to speak was Michael Lee, Director of Conservation, Ethrington Conservation Center. His talk, titled “Operating a Regional Center in the Private Sector During and Economic Downturn,” focused on managing through difficult times. His advice, however, is not just for down times but is solid advice for all conservation managers.

Lee focused on the business aspects of managing, keeping employees happy, avoiding management pitfalls, and defining expectations. The bottom line is that a business must run efficiently and effectively and the decisions are not always easy to make, especially when it comes to managing people, but you must remain flexible.

His basic working principles as a business manager are:

    Treat everyone fairly and equally

    Fit the skill level with the project

    Set the billing rate for the level of skill required

    Assure the allocated time is correct for the project

    Define and meet your client’s needs

    Develop client profile

    Provide client value for products and services

    Make sure total expenses do not exceed earnings

    Properly manage cash flow

    Reinvest in your company

    Lee also outlined his principles for working with clients:

    Maintain your professionalism

    Do not compromise on quality

    Provide good advice to clients

    Give the client options

    Let the client make final fiscal decision

    Earn their trust

Susan Lunas, owner of Many Moons Book Conservation, presented a talk titled “Bound and Determined” that focused on keeping the business going during down times. She emphasized that conservators where many hats and they must be creative when setting up their workshops and finding customers. She showed pictures of her studio and explained how she used non-standard materials for her set up, such as a shower floor as a washing sink, and the shower door as a light table. She also spoke about marketing and how conservators in private practice need to take it seriously.

Wendy Bennett, owner of Wendy Bennett Fine Art Paper Conservation, presented “Conservator, Sell Thyself” which focused on ways to build a brand for your business. Her advice:

    Build a strong online presence and keep it up to date

    Develop print materials and use your logo to brand them

    Get your name out there, show your portfolio, get into the news

    Barter services to keep expenses down

    Make yourself visible, teach and attend classes

    Join preservation fairs (an “antiques road show” for conservation)

    Donate your services for silent auctions/fundraising efforts

    Seek out grants

Jim Pines talked about the “Conservation Treatment of the Assembly Collections,” work he did while contracting at the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts (CCAHA). The project was a joint project with CCAHA and the State Library of Pennsylvania and was funded by an IMLS State Libraries grant. CCAHA contributed content for the grant and when it was awarded, they were given the contract to do the conservation work. At the end of his talk he spoke briefly about how CCAHA markets themselves through their website and print materials.

Book and Paper Group: Library Collections Conservation Discussion Group

Thurs., May 13, 10:30 a.m. -12:00 p.m.

LLCDG’s session titled “Conservation in the 21st Century: Revisiting Past Practices and Their Evolution in Institutional Settings” had five presentations.

Eliza Gilligan, Conservator for University Library Collections, University of Virginia Library, presented “Shrinking Resources: Invest in the Decision-making Process.” This talk outlined how her department improved the workflow for items that needed bibliographic review prior to a decision to repair or replace. Eliza developed a plan wherein her staff would do the preliminary research for replacements, work that takes time and causes backlogs when the bibliographers don’t keep up with it. Eliza created a review form that was easy to use by both the conservation staff and the librarians, and her staff did the preliminary research. The new process shows cooperation between departments and demonstrates that conservation can be a cost effective alternative to replacement.

Fletcher Durant, Project Conservator, New York Public Library, presented “Digitization-driven Large-scale Conservation Projects.” His talk outlined the conservation he did on the Legge Collection. For this NEH funded grant, five of six titles from the Legge Collection (a total of 71 volumes with 12,000 pages) were chosen for digitization. Durant had to develop the workflow and fully treat these items over an 18 month period. During that time the NYPL conservation lab had to move to its new location, so there were many challenges to getting the project done on time.

Ann Carol Kearney, Collections Conservator, University of Albany, presented her survey findings in a paper titled “The Use of Japanese Paper in the Repair of Leather Volumes in ARL Libraries’ Preservation Departments Survey Results.” She found that board attachment and rebacking are the primary uses of Japanese paper described by survey participants.

Grace Owen and Sarah Reidell, Conservators at New York Public Library, spoke on “Synthetic Leather for Book Repair: Experimenting with Cast Composites.” They have developed a technique that utilizes a silicone-mold kit to create a mold of the texture of leather. A cast is then made from a composite mixture of acrylic gel medium and colorants that are then applied to a substrate. The synthetic leather composite can be used for hinge repairs and fills. It is a low cost, easy-to-use solution that complements current treatment practices.

Gary Frost, Conservator, University of Iowa, and author of the Future of the Book blog, presented “The Continuing Role of the Print Collections in the Context of Digital Delivery: Risks, Responses and Actions.” There is a growing link between the certification of digital reprography and the discard of the original materials. Frost proposes that there is an interdependence between the physical and the digital book collections. This interdependence is between the self-authenticating nature of a physical book and the self-indexing of a digital book.

Reasons for keeping physical books after digitization abound. Unlike the continuing costs for keeping digital collections, a physical book combines both storage and display for a single purchase costs. Preservation is a passive act (sort of) compared to the proactive preservation needs of a digital object over time. A physical book assures the ability to re-read over time without intervention and provides research validity (the physical book is unchanging whereas there are authenticity issues with a digital object over time).

Two upcoming events will tackle some of these issues. The ALA-RBMS/PARS sponsored Strategic Future of Print Collections on June 27, 2010, and the Future of the Book seminars in Iowa, August 31-October 5, 2010. Stay tuned to Gary’s blog for more information on the seminars.

Archaeological Discussion Group (ADG) Meeting, Outreach & Initiatives-AIC Annual Meeting, Friday, May 14, 2010

The Archaeological Discussion Group is a sub-group of the Objects Specialty Group (OSG) for those who are interested in or work with archaeological materials. Though the group has been around for a while meeting at each annual conference, the two new chairs, Claudia Chemello and Susanne Grieve, are working to make the group more visible and have more of a presence in AIC and the archaeological community. The ADG meeting at this year’s conference set out to describe Claudia and Susanne’s vision for the group and different projects and initiatives they’d like to get off the ground.

Some of the goals they envisioned for the group were to create a web presence for information on the group and archaeological conservation, to be more visible in archaeological conferences and liaise with archaeologists, and to create outreach projects such as providing resources on the web or other educational initiatives. As a staff member of a graduate conservation program and the chair of the OSG website committee, I was particularly interested in the creation of a web presence for outreach to both the public and other professionals that work with archaeological materials. The first step would be to create an ADG webpage, which would be part of the OSG website. Once the page is up, Claudia and Susanne had several ideas for content, partly based on what they would like to see on the site and also from the responses to a survey they sent out to ADG members.

Some of these suggestions included:

  • Having information on what is an archaeological conservator, what training is needed and available for this and perhaps have some profiles of members so that archaeologists and the public can get a better idea of what they do
  • Having educational and outreach information that can be downloadable such as creating a downloadable brochure on archaeological conservation, having course material or other educational information for schools and museums
  • Using it as a resource for those members who can’t attend the AIC conference by posting meeting minutes and other information
  • Posting fieldwork opportunities for members that are not field schools or internships. Since these opportunities are often spread by word of mouth, some conservators who wanted to work in the field were having trouble finding non-student opportunities and this could help remedy that.
  • Listing of archaeological conservators who work in the field as a resource for archaeologists who are looking for conservators for their site

    It seems like ADG’s co-chairs have a lot of energy and great ideas for the group in both completing projects initiated by previous chairs and starting new ones. Keep an eye out for ADG on the OSG website and for these new initiatives. And if you’re interested in participating in ADG, you can contact the co-chairs Claudia Chemello or Susanne Grieve for more information.

  • AIC Annual Meeting – Assessing Risks to Your Collection Workshop with Rob Waller

    I was familiar with Rob Waller’s writings and work in the area of Risk Assessment and was excited to have the opportunity at the 2010 AIC annual meeting to take his workshop and learn at the feet of the master! I have worked with colleagues at a large institution that did go through the process and it was interesting to see what was involved and learn a bit about their findings. My own private practice is heavy in preventive care and I think that familiarity with these kinds of risk management tools can be very useful for institutions. I hoped that by taking the workshop I would someday be able to offer this as a service for small or mid-size institutional clients. In short, I wanted to really learn how to “do” a risk assessment.

    After participant introductions and an overview of why an institution would do an assessment Rob introduced the basic elements of the program. We started first going over the ten agents of deterioration:

      Physical Forces






      Light and UV radiation

      Incorrect temperature

      Incorrect relative humidity

      Dissociation (sometimes also called custodial neglect)

    This breakdown is now well known in the field and many participants were comfortable with this.

    Most of these risks can then be divided into three types:

      Type 1 – rare in frequency and catastrophic in severity

      Type 2 – sporadic in frequency and intermediate in severity

      Type 3 – constant in frequency and gradual/mild in severity

    Groups of workshop participants brainstormed about specific risks, their potential outcomes and then categorized them by type which was a fun and dynamic exercise.

    Next we began to learn how to “do the math”. Assessing the risk for a collection is done with the following basic formula:

    The total magnitude of risk (MR) = the fraction of the collection susceptible (FS) x the loss in value (LV) if the risk should occur to its full extent x the Probability (P) of the event occurring x the Extent (E) of the event. Or, in short MR = FS x LV x P x E.

    Rob had participants work on short exercises that helped us understand how to calculate each of these elements of the formula. Assessing what portion of a collection is susceptible to a particular risk seems straightforward until you get to a material you aren’t really expert in. It forces you to confront the boundaries of your own expertise which is always troublesome and interesting! Understanding how to calculate the loss in value is a bit harder. What kind of value – display, research? If you aren’t an entomologist can you make the determination for a collection of natural history specimens? If you are the curator can you determine how much value is lost when a watercolor is faded? Understanding how to compose a team to actually answer these questions in important in getting the work done.

    There was an interesting discussion on what words mean when assessing the “P” probability of risk. What I mean when I say a specific risk is “rare, sporadic or constant” might be very different from my supervisor’s definition. When my supervisor presents my assessment that a certain risk might happen occasionally or sporadically to the Director did she mean the same thing? So Rob went over ways in which we can standardize our terminology when we talk about the frequency of occurrence of events. Finally Rob has us work on getting our heads around how to figure out “E” the extent of an occurrence.

    Groups of participants were each given a shop in the convention center’s adjacent mall for which we were to do a mini-assessment. This exercise forced us to work as a team to put our fresh understanding of these terms into practice. We were glad that we had a calculator with us, but doing the math in the end was the easy part – figuring out the values for each category was challenging but, presumably easier with experience.

    The workshop had a large number of Spanish and Portuguese participants and Amparro Rueda provided translation into Spanish. Clearly there is a good deal of interest in this topic in Central and South America. The need for translation slowed down the pace of the workshop but, in the end, that may have been an unexpected boon – allowing the English speaking participants time to take good notes and really absorb the content without being overwhelmed when too much is packed into too short a time.

    Each participant received a handbook from Rob (who is now retired from the Canadian Museum of Nature and works through his new company Protect Heritage Corp). Along with great notes and off-prints, the packet contains exercises that I hope that I can find time to do to reinforce this new knowledge.

    At the end of the day I asked Rob what an institution needs to have in place to make it a good candidate for doing a full collection risk assessment. He went over some of the attitudes, staffing and processes (e.g. like having a good collection inventory) that are basic requirements. At the end of the day I left thinking that many small institutions that I work with are far from needing a program like this, but that there should be a way to combine some of this more rigorous approach into simpler surveys. I may not be ready for conducting an assessment yet, but I look forward to gaining more experience and experimenting with some of the techniques in this important area of preventive care.

    Rachael Perkins Arenstein

    Objects Specialty Group – Wednesday, May 12, 2010

    2:30 – 3:00 p.m. Re-thinking the Cleaning of Claes Oldenburg’s Floor Cake

    Margo Delidow, Sculpture Research Fellow, The Museum of Modern Art; and Cynthia Albertson, Paintings Research Fellow, The Museum of Modern Art

    Just in time for dessert, this unique treatment of Oldenburg’s Floor Cake (Giant Piece of Cake) brought together objects and paintings conservators at the Museum of Modern Art to investigate the painted sculpture’s treatment history and develop methods for re-treatment.

    Well organized and clearly presented, the duo provided images of the artist with a number of his painted oversize food artworks, created for the Green Gallery, NYC show in 1962. Since acquisition by MoMA in 1975, Floor Cake has been heavily exhibited including extensive travel, and has undergone at least two treatments, one of which involved surface cleaning using chelating agents.

    The project was approached scientifically, using optical microscopy to reveal the artist’s technique, including changing the color/flavor of the cake ‘drop’ a number of times. FTIR was used to examine the original canvas fibers for evidence of cleaning residues from the previous treatment. The pH and conductivity of the surface dirt were measured in order to concoct the appropriate Modular Cleaning Program solution. Cleaning solutions were developed based on the results of considerable research done by Chris Stravroudis and others as presented at the Cleaning of Acrylic Painted Surfaces: Research into Practice (CAPS) colloquium held on July 7-11, 2009 at the Getty.

    The treatment of this object provided a useful practical application of this research, including the investigation into different solution delivery methods (PVOH sponge vs. cotton swab). It was particularly interesting to see this acrylic painting treatment in the OSG session, as these types of surfaces are going to become increasingly problematic for sculpture conservators.

    Additional information regarding this treatment, including future testing, can be found the the Museum of Modern Art conservation blog, INSIDE/OUT.

    Paintings Specialty Group – May 14th – Friday Morning Session Continued

    Education As The Basic Tool of Conservation in the 21st Century

    The third talk of the morning session was delivered by Paper Conservator Eugenia Guidobono of the National University Institute of Art in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Her talk titled, Education As The Basic Tool of Conservation in the 21st Century, grew out of the results of her Master’s thesis on improving collections through preventive conservation. She examined conservation in public museums via surveys and interviews. She briefly discussed the history of conservation in Argentina with the introduction of preventive ideas in the 1980s brought about by loan stipulations imposed by other institutions. In the 1990s the Smithsonian began to conduct courses in Argentina.

    Guidobono then went onto focus on her survey of museums within the Entre Ríos Province. She found that of the museums that responded 18% were art museums, 13% had general collections, 62% were history museums, and 6% solely museums of Anthropology. 94% of the museums listed for this one province were part of the Town Hall (run by the state). 81% of these museums do not operate with a fixed budget and have to rely on political affiliations to raise money.

    There are no regulations in place for professional training. She emphasized that local universities only have a few museum courses and that in general there is a total lack of conservation training available. Of some 133 employees interviewed, only 4% have a university education. 11% of those practicing conservation in museums in the Province of Entre Rios have conservation training, while 89% of those practicing do not. The author stressed that while there are national laws in place for heritage protection they are not regulated. The Town Hall authorities are neglecting the needs of the collections and she found that the human factor is the greatest detriment to the collections surveyed.

    She called for a change to the mindset of society, with preventive conservation becoming the concern of all museum staff members. She concluded with images of storage areas in shambles versus storage areas in institutions that have worked on maintaining preventive conditions.