Poster Session-AIC Annual Meeting, May 13-14, 2010

The poster session can sometimes be thought of as the underdog of sessions in the larger scheme of the AIC conference. These unassuming presentations are hidden in the Exhibit Hall behind all the booths of various conservation products, books, high tech analytical equipment and long lines of conservators getting their morning or afternoon coffee fix during breaks in the conference. But if you make your way to the back half of the room, you’ll see rows and rows of boards where authors present their work on a wide range of topics, covering the gambit of everything “conservation”. The nice things about the poster session are that you can view the posters at your own pace and talk to the authors’ one on one about their work making it a more intimate conference experience. You are also able to take in posters on a very broad range of topics. This year posters covered subjects such as nanoparticles, contemporary art, new applications of analytical techniques, conservation in the field and even a mammoth!

At first, walking to the back part of the Exhibit Hall and coming upon all the posters can seem a little daunting, but with a coffee and snack in hand provided during the session breaks, you are ready to tackle the poster session and read about all this amazing work presented to you in a very visual and succinct way. We were really happy to cover this session because it is one we enjoy going to most, especially when the poster authors are available to answer questions or discuss their projects. There were many posters we thought were really interesting and had a hard time choosing which ones to write about, but we focused on these 6 for the post. Vanessa looked at posters from US institutions (#19, 28, 44) and Molly was the correspondent covering posters from international participants, many of whom were from Central and South America (#21, 31, 37). Summaries of these posters and our thoughts are below.

You can find the list of all the posters from this year’s conference on the AIC website. And if you missed this year’s conference or didn’t have a chance to check out all the posters while you were there, AIC has plans to archive the posters on their website so you can check them out there.

Molly Gleeson & Vanessa Muros

19. Failure to Bind: A Re-examination of the Ageing of Hook and Loop Fasteners

Joy Gardiner, Textile Conservator/Assistant Director of Conservation, Winterthur Museum & Country Estate and Winterthur Assistant Professor in Art Conservation, and Joseph Weber, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Conservation Science, University of Delaware in the Winterthur/University of Delaware Art Conservation Program

This poster caught my eye because I recently had been reading about ways to mount textiles for display. One method I read about was the use of hook and loop fasteners (illustrated here by The Textile Museum), or Velcro as many of us refer to these fasteners, as a less invasive method to mount textiles. In this poster, the authors looked at the failure of 2 mounted window hangings where hook and loop fasteners were used to attach the textile. They found that over time the fasteners suffer from mechanical deterioration and the loops have a tendency to stretch and break. Images of the hook and loop surfaces taken using the SEM really illustrated this type of degradation and damage to the fasteners.

Other tests were conducted, in addition to the SEM examination, to understand why the fasteners failed. The authors conducted XRF analysis on some older fasteners and found titanium. This is thought to be due to the addition of titanium dioxide (TiO2) to the fibers which can photo-oxidize if unprotected. Tensile testing was also conducted on new and old fasteners to look at shear strength. The authors saw that on the old fasteners, even though there was degradation to the hook side where the material had softened, mechanical failure of the fastener actually occurred on the loop side. To let people understand what the degradation of hook and loop fasteners looks like, samples of the old failed fastener and a new fastener were attached to the board. This allowed viewers to see the differences in the texture of the two fasteners and to attach and pull them to feel the differences. This was a really nice and visual way to understand what mechanical degradation does to these materials since the old fastener was really easy to pull apart and didn’t make the usual “ripping” sound that these fasteners make. Hopefully the authors will continue to research the degradation of these materials so that conservators can better understand the limitations of these materials and the performance of older hook and loop fasteners that have already been used to mount textiles in collections.

21. Ceramics Affected by Salts: A Comparative Study of Treatment Methodologies in Chile and at the Arizona State Museum

Francisca Gili and Ester Echenique, Conservators, Universidad de Chile

I was really drawn to this poster since I worked on an archaeological project in the north of Chile a few summers ago but the issues of salts in the burial environment and their impact on the excavated ceramics was not something that we were able to investigate. This poster describes a joint project between two Chilean conservators – one working in Chile and the other working in Arizona. Representing the project at the poster session, all the way from Santiago, Chile, was Francisca Gili. When I asked her how this project started, she explained to me that she was talking to Ester Echenique, her friend/colleague working in Arizona, about the issues of salty archaeological ceramics in collections. As they were discussing this topic, they realized that there were several major differences in the identification and treatment of salt-contaminated ceramics in Chile vs. the U.S. (and Arizona in particular, as both regions recover ceramics from similarly arid and salt-laden burial environments). Two of the biggest differences were that in Chile, chemical spot testing is not widely being used to characterize the types of salts present in ceramics, while spot-testing is regularly carried out in the US, and also that desalination is rarely used to treat salty ceramics in Chile while it is commonly used treatment in the US. In Chile, Francisca found that many conservators and archaeologists are resistant to desalination treatments due to the concern that this treatment will remove important contextual information from the objects – many of the ceramics in the collections examined do not have good accompanying documentation.

From these observations, Francisca and Ester decided to examine the approaches to the care of salty ceramics used at six different institutions in Chile and at the Arizona State Museum. This project is seen as the start of a dialog between conservators in Chile and the US regarding treatment approaches and issues. Francisca was very excited by the possibilities of this type of exchange and she had some really great ideas, including interest in bringing Nancy Odegaard and Scott Carrlee’s spot testing course to Chile for training conservators working there.

28. Examining Conservation Techniques Using Microscopy: A Comparison of Wheat Starch Paste Preparation Methods

Crystal Maitland, Paper Conservator, Johns Hopkins University Sheridan Libraries

Having just participated in a session on making wheat starch paste, both in the microwave and the stove top, I was really interested in looking at this poster and talking to Crystal about her findings in comparing the two preparation methods. As an objects conservator, I occasionally use wheat starch paste, but obviously not to the extent paper conservators do. I felt that because of my limited experience in making and using starch paste, I couldn’t discern the differences in preparation techniques or other factors that can influence how your paste behaves. So I decided to try check out this poster and try to talk to the author about it.

Crystal’s poster was divided into sections that brought up a question, what the general thinking is, how she set out to double check that line of thought, and what the results were. The types of questions she asked were: do you have to soak your wheat starch paste before cooking and do the starch particles actually swell?, how does the cooking and texture of starch paste made using a double boiler compare to that made in the microwave?, and how does storing your starch paste in the fridge compared to a cool dark place affect it?. The investigations into finding the answers to these questions involved examining samples of wheat starch paste under the microscope and these photomicrographs were included in her poster.

I won’t give away all the answers in the post, since you can access her poster online and see all her work there, but I will say I was glad to learn that although wheat starch paste in the microwave looks a bit more granular than that made in the stove top, after straining and kneading, both pastes look the same under the microscope. This means no more long days spent hand mixing paste on a hot plate anymore! The report Crystal wrote up on her project is also available online and she mentioned continuing her research to look at how preparation methods and other factors can affect tack. So keep your eyes open for more investigations into wheat starch paste from her.

31. Weavers Look for a Way to Preserve Their Heritage

Hector Meneses, Textile Conservator, Museo Textil de Oaxaca, Mexico

Conservator Hector Meneses was at the poster session to discuss another equally inspiring collaborative project taking place between the Museo Textil de Oaxaca (MTO) and the Community Museum of Teotitlán del Valle (MCTV) in Oaxaca, Mexico. Teotitlán del Valle is a Zapotec community just outside of Oaxaca known worldwide for the production of beautiful textiles, and almost everyone in the community is involved in weaving. Traditionally, as I only recently learned, men were the weavers in Teotitlán, but now most people in the community are involved.

MCTV was established in 1993 and the textiles on display have been on permanent exhibition since then – they now suffer from dust accumulation, infestation and improper support. Last year, the museum board contacted MTO for advice on care, display and storage of their collection, which led to the formation of a joint project between the 2 institutions. Hector Meneses is a textile conservator at the MTO, who is now working with the MCTV staff to establish a preventive conservation program, and to help assess condition, storage and display of the textiles. This summer (2010) he is helping to bring students from the National School of Conservation, Restoration and Museum Studies (Manuel del Castillo Negrete) in Mexico City to Teotitlán for a three week internship to carry out treatments on some of the textiles. In the past, students have come to the MTO for internships, but this summer the museum didn’t have the funds for student internships. Fortunately, Hector was able to arrange with the community in Teotitlán to help provide food and lodging for the students to allow them to do this work for their internships. In addition, the community weavers will be involved in this work – the weavers are preparing materials for the treatments that the students will carry out. Hector is hoping that it will be possible to bring students back next summer to continue working with the textiles and the community.

37. Restoration of an Historical Object

Catalina Rivera, Textile conservator in private practice, Chile

This poster describes the treatment of a Chilean national treasure–the flag that was presented in honor of the 1818 Oath of Chilean Independence. As Catalina Rivera explained to me, the flag is particularly important to Chilean people because the physical document of the Oath of Independence has been lost. In addition to being present for this historic event, the flag was also part of more recent historical events – while on exhibit in 1980, it was stolen by members of the Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR) in protest of the military dictatorship in Chile. It was returned 23 years later as part of a demand for the release of information regarding detainees of the Movement who disappeared during that time. Amazingly, according to Catalina, the flag was not damaged while it was held “hostage” – based on the presence of creases, it appears that it was folded for storage during this time, but otherwise its condition was unchanged.

In 1975, prior to its theft, it was restored by Poor Clare nuns, and this restoration subsequently caused wrinkling and distortions in the fabric. The flag was also soiled, stained, faded, and had numerous losses and tears. So after it was returned, conservation was seen as a priority. Treatment was carried out last year and included cleaning, removal of old repairs, reduction of creases and stabilization. This work was funded by then-President Michelle Bachelet, who was also present when the flag was finally reinstalled in the exhibition in the Museo Histórico Nacional in 2009. It was evident that Catalina was honored to have the opportunity to work on this object, and that it was really an emotional experience for her – this project also received a lot of publicity in Chile, and parts of the treatment were filmed and showed on the national news.

44. Donato Bastiani and the Oriental Institute Museum

Alison Whyte, Assistant Conservator, Oriental Institute Museum

Having worked at the Oriental Institute (OI) Museum, I was of course drawn to this particular poster (sorry for my blatant bias) because I was always fascinated by the images in the OI archives of Mr. Donato Bastiani, the first “conservator” (or really restorer) there, working on these amazing monumental artifacts in the collection. Mr. Bastiani (this is how we always referred to him in some kind of deference to his amazing skills as an artist and restorer) came to Chicago from Italy to work for the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893 to make plaster decorative figures for the buildings that would house the art and scientific wonders of the age. In the 30’s he began working as the chief restorer for the OI Museum and worked on monumental pieces in that collection such as the colossal stone bull head from Persepolis, the reliefs from Khorsabad and the colossal statue of King Tut. Though not much documentation accompanies his early work, or that of the many other people who did early conservation work at the museum, this poster highlights the strides the Oriental Institute made early on to have their collection preserved and presented to the public so that everyone could experience these amazing objects from abroad. Not only do the photos serve as a record for what was done to artifacts in the past and shows what condition they were in, but they are really cool to look at too!

Friday Morning Paintings Session held on May 14th

The morning session was opened by Bart J.C. Devolder Assistant Conservator of Paintings at the Kimbell Art Museum & Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth.

Patricia M. Dillion the President of Putnam Art Advisors & Consultants in Greenwich Connecticut began the talks with a discussion of The Conservator As An Expert Witness, Witness, or Party in Litigation. This talk presented a series of cautionary tales or case studies about the many roles a conservator may play when brought into or involoved in litigation. Dillion discussed instances of when a conservator might find themselves in the unexpected position of an Expert Witness, a Fact Witness, or the Party (either planitff or defendant). She mentioned that conservators’ unique specialties often make them excellent Expert Witnesses with instances of fakes and forgeries. In addition you might find yourself called to testify in support of or against a treatment done by another conservator (malpractice). She went on to stress that you need to have every essential document, communicate with your attorney, and understand your role.

She went on to emphasize that when you step out of your specialty you may be opening yourself up to litigation where you might find yourself the defendant. Dillion stressed that there is a whole industry whose purpose is to simply create litigation, where lawyers will hunt for reasons to sue. She cautioned about working from a studio in an apartment building when you may have chemicals on site. I don’t think she meant it was necessarily a real safety issue (if you are taking proper/legal precautions), but rather you may have one nosey neighbor who may find an opportunity to exploit you. She emphasized that conservation is a business where you may have employees and people coming in off the street who could one day present you with a suit. While this sounded like a bit much, I think her message was well understood in that you simply need to be proactive to protect yourself.

Dillion stated that, “if you find yourself in a courtroom being held liable it is because your work was not up to the standard of a reasonable conservator”. In any case it is essential to thoroughly educate your attorney about conservation so that they can articulate their ideas. I think a major overall theme was as a conservator be abreast of current literature and bring your lawyer up to speed as much as possible.

The second talk was eloquently delivered by Laszlo Cser of Resotart Inc., Toronto, Canada on Reflections On The Primacy Of The Image in Connoisseurship and Conservation. Cser opened by discussing the meaning of language and emphasized that looking at art was highly subjective experience. He mentioned the role of the collector as one who appreciates the work of an artist and we are here to help preserve objects on their march through time. Cser’s talk highlighted the 23 year relationship between himself and art connoisseur Ken Thomson. Upon Ken Thomson’s death in 2006, his son David called Cser and asked him if he would have time to prepare his father’s collection in time for the opening of the new Art Gallery of Ontario in 2008. Ken Thomson had left his collection of some 700 objects to the gallery. Working with 2 colleagues between 60 and 80 hours a week, Cser set out to prepare the collection.

Thomson had sent Cser many objects over the years and was committed to their material survival and had immense respect for every artist’s work. Examples of the kinds of objects treated where shown, from a prayer bead the size of a golf ball to a 12th c. gilt bronze sculpture. He also discussed paintings treatments including works by Lawren S. Harris and Cornelius Krieghoff. These were complimented by gallery images after installation at the AGO. The show was personally curated by Ken Thomson’s son David who made an innovative decision and removed all current frames and reframed works with identical frames. The author and this blogger feel that this exhibition at the Art gallery of Ontario should not be missed.

A late post on Thursday’s morning paintings sessions

Program Chair Bart Devolder put a lot of thought into grouping talks by topic, and before the morning break we were treated to three that spoke to the present, past, and future of conservation.

First, we had a taste of the past–Erica James presented on her experience with Anselm Kiefer’s works. Erica divided her talk into two parts. In the first, she described the treatment and study of Anselm Kiefer’s beautiful mixed media work, “Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom.” The piece, like much of Kiefer’s oeuvre, is made of inherently unstable materials Through conversations with the artist, James was able to tap into his philosophies about his work and degradation and she raises the question, “Are these condition issues or creation issues?” The ultimate treatment was minimal and preventive in nature, and was a collaborative process among many conservators. This led to the second half of the talk, which explored the question of how conservation, and conservation training, has changed and perhaps has moved away from the emphasis on hand skills. “Are we training to treat paintings, study paintings, or both?”

Pam Betts of the Shelburne Museum then spoke to the past of paintings conservation in a look at the work and thoughts of Alice Dibble, a restorer who treated many of the Shelburne’s paintings in the 60’s and 70’s. Pam Betts shared the story of Dibble through archival research and the examination of the works that Dibble treated. We were treated to several sound bites of the charming Dibble discussing her work on a radio program. At times, Dibble brought a minimal and modern approach to her work, avoiding lining when possible, retaining original stretchers when they were replaced, and gently if unevenly cleaning paintings. However, Betts also showed examples of harsher treatments, particularly on panel paintings, which were aggressively flattened. Betts left us with the excellent question of how our own generation’s work will be viewed.

The next talk focused on the future of conservation. Kathleen Martin and Bonnie Rimer tackled the problem of the treatment fatty acid crystals on the surface of modern oil paintings. She outlined desired qualities of a successful treatment – permanence, no affect on the aesthetic, inert, reversible, non-toxic, and readily available. She proposes a 2-step process. In the first, excess fatty acid crystals would be removed, possibly with a mild solvent. After, the crystals would be dissolved, disrupted, and/or dispersed. On paint-outs and mock-ups, she tested approximately 6 different solutions, including several components of oil paint itself, glycerol and oleic acid. She has experienced some success with both of these products, but the research is preliminary. It will be very interesting to hear how the project progresses. In the question and answer session, several people expressed a strong desire to know more about the mechanism of formation of the fatty acids.

After the morning break was Bart’s “Romantic Session,” featuring works that had been separated and reunited. All three talks also happened to focus on Italian art. Jean Dommermuth presented “Two portraits by Giacomo Ceruti, An Examination.” NYU’s Villa La Pietra owns 2 beautiful large portraits by the 18th century artist Giacomo Ceruti, a horseman and a hunter. Using the bare minimal examination equipment – only those available to them at Villa Pietra – Dommermuth extracted an amazing amount of information about the paintings. Through examination of the condition, materials, and compositions, Dommermuth made a compelling argument that the pair represents two of perhaps 8 paintings from a decorative interior scheme. One very interesting point of her talk examined the fact that the paintings are not — and never have been — varnished. Dommermuth described Ceruti’s practice as a fresco painter and a painter of reverse paintings on glass. He would have, she argues, had a very keen sense of how gloss affects the viewing of an artwork. As these paintings are large and were likely hung high, the low gloss would have aided in a clear viewing.

Stephen Gritt then presented, “Approaches to Reconstruction and Presentation of Veronese’s ‘Butchered’ Petrobelli Altarpiece.” The Petrobelli altarpiece was cut up by a dealer in the late 1780’s. the incomplete pieces of the altarpiece have been altered and have ended up scattered across the world. The National Gallery of Canada owns the upper portion, which was heavily damaged in the 1920’s. Another fragment from a collection in Texas has only recently been identified as the head of the central figure. Each of the [pieces has been treated slightly differently in their respective collections, so the conservators faced quite a challenge in the reintegration of the extensive losses. Non-mimetic inpainting was used.

Finally, Serena Urry presented on the “Technical Examination And Treatment Of Three Panels Of A Predella By Sassetta.” Urry was able to aid in the reconstruction of an altarpiece by careful examination and measuring of the evidence in the x-rays and paintings themselves. Existing nails, the grain of the wood, and evidence of old nails all aided in this project.

Archaeological Discussion Group Meeting Agenda Friday, May 14 co-chaired by Claudia Chemello and Susanne Grieve

The Archaeological Discussion Group met the second time at this year with participation of more than 50 conservators in a small meeting room at the Hyatt Hotel’s Crystal room on the last day of the conference. The meeting is carried out with co-chairs Claudia Chemello and Susanne Grieve who are working with Emily Williams, the previous chair of the ADG. Claudia, who is the Senior Conservator at Kelsey Museum of Archaeology circulated and talked about the results of the survey that was distributed on the OSG-L. These survey responses are to be posted online in the future. The survey reflected conservators’ opinion on various kinds of aspects of archaeological conservation from finding an archaeological site to compensation issues. Majority of the survey responses showed that conservators preferred the discussion of the group continue on the OSG-L, but Claudia mentioned that the ADG listserv archives would still exist.

The agenda of the meeting included the identification of the group, how we get support, how we connect with archaeologists and promote conservation in archaeology. As for the financial support, there seemed to be no budget allocated to perform some of the tasks the group needed to do. Some of the outreach was carried out by group participants’ individual efforts. It was agreed that there was a need to have a booth in various archaeological conferences, print brochures to be distributed among archaeologists and their meetings, organize workshops geared towards archaeologists. All agreed that it would be good to learn individual conservator efforts to connect with archaeologists. One particular effort was Suzanne Davis’s work from the University of Michigan, who, with Claudia talked to archaeologists and conservators to design a survey in order to map out what archaeological conservators do in excavations and to understand what archaeologists need in terms of conservation. This survey is still in its design stage and will include two parts: one for conservators and the other for archaeologists. Another one is Julie Unruh’s work in which she organized a workshop session at AIA. Molly Gleeson chaired a conservation session at the Society for California Archaeology meeting, where she brought together conservators in that region to meet with archaeologists, an effort that is well received by some archaeologists and Native American tribal communities. In an attempt to understand some of the conservation issues faced by archaeologists, tribal members and other individuals working with California sites and artifacts, a conservation questionnaire was created.

The co-chair Susanne Grieve, who is a conservator and instructor for the Program in Maritime Studies at East Carolina University, mentioned the Internet as a tool for outreach. Rachael Arenstein, the AIC e-editor, and Vanessa Muros from the AIC publications committee supported the ADG’s intent of electronic publishing. Suggested electronic media included Wikipedia, facebook, and a blog presence on web.

The meeting participants asked questions and made comments about Claudia and Susanne’s efforts. One of the suggestions was to publish in archaeological literatures to get the conservation name out there. However, the most interesting suggestion, at least according to me was one question came from the audience about why we do not invite archaeologists to co-present a session at AIC. I recently watched the movie Invictus on my flight back to LA and intrigued by Madiba (as Nelson Mandela is called) who said “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”

Wooden Artifacts Group-Friday afternoon session

Constructing Time: The Neuroaesthetics of Art as Experience

Peter Muldoon, Conservator, Smithsonian Castle

The Friday afternoon WAG session was kicked off by furniture conservator and former WAG chair Peter Muldoon’s theoretical paper, exploring questions like where does conservation come from? and why are we compelled to conserve art? He began by remarking that George Wheeler gave a talk that touched on similar issues earlier this week in the general session, but Muldoon’s presentation was much more about where to place conservation in the human experience, rather than exploring conservation theory and the identity of conservation as a profession.

Muldoon stated that his thinking on this topic has been influenced by readings in evolutionary psychology. Taking part of his title from the 1934 book Art as Experience by John Dewey, which discusses art as a social, community process, Muldoon declares that art, unlike language, is not part of human instincts, but it is part of adaptive human behavior. Muldoon explored terms such as ‘aesthetics’ and a new term, ‘neuroaesthetics’ – (he mentioned that there was a conference on this topic at UC Berkeley last year).

He reminded us that we bring our aesthetic judgment to every object we touch – we cannot marginalize aesthetics in our work. He then asked the question, what is artistic ability linked to? and answered by saying that our curiosity helps us make sense of our world and that we create meaning by creating art and narrative. Conservation helps us create meaning now.

While I found parts of this presentation a little hard to follow, I really liked these theoretical, philosophical contributions to AIC this year and how they infiltrated the specialty group sessions – I think that we should be pushing to see more of these reflective papers that directly tie into the conference theme.

Changing requirements for the museum environment: Baldachin Altar for the Holy Trinity

Aranzazu Hopkins-Barriga, Restorer, National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico

Aranzazu Hopkins-Barriga is a conservator in the ethnographic/folk art section of the National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico. Her talk really just covered the treatment of the Baldachin Holy Trinity altar, which she said is an important object in that collection, both for its materials and its history. A four-part lacquered wood object, it was made in Olinalá, a center of lacquered objects production in Mexico. It was made in 1962, and has been part of the collection since 1982.

The cracking and loss of lacquer on this object was due to several causes – apparently the wood was not completely dry when the altar was painted, and also it had been displayed for many years in a case with mixed media objects.

For treatment, the pieces of the altar were dissembled, fragments of detached lacquer were collected, and after solvent testing, water was used to clean the surface. Cracks in the wood were filled and then the lacquer fragments were readhered. Other areas were consolidated and the fills were inpainted. Finally the pieces were reunited.

Interestingly, this was the first ethnographic object from this collection to be conserved entirely – this is particularly important for carrying out the museum’s mission, which is to support Mexican artwork and cultures. The altar will be exhibited for one year and then be returned to storage.

An Experimental and Practical Study of Some Consolidation and Coating Materials for Wood and Wooden Objects

Dr. Hany Hanna Aziz Hanna, Senior Conservator, Supreme Council of Antiquities, Egypt

In this talk, Dr. Hany Hanna Aziz Hanna described tests and treatments he carried out for consolidating/coating severely deteriorated wood objects.

Using a variety of wood types, he evaluated four different coatings:

. Shellac in alcohol, 10%, 15% 20% (called gamma lac in Egypt?)

. B72 in toluene 5, 10, 15%

. PVA 5, 10, 15%–which he said is often used in the wrong way in Egypt

. 10% shellac in alcohol followed by 5% B72 in toluene – which he said is often used in Egypt for consolidation and/or coating wood

And based his evaluations on the following criteria/examinations:

. How the coatings interact with the wood

. Ease of application

. Penetration and absorption

. Setting time (he made tables to show this but he was unable to display them)

. Appearance of the wood – color, luster, and composition of film

. Microscopic examination of wood cells and walls to see interaction at this level

. Accelerated heat aging and how consolidants protect wood after aging

. Tensile strength and hardness also studied before and after aging

In the end, he chose the 10% shellac followed by 5% B72 as a coating for the wood objects he was working on, as it combined the best of both material’s properties. He explained that shellac consolidates the wood cell walls well, has a fast drying rate, and combines hardness with elasticity. Isolating with B-72 helps to protect the wood from humidity (and can also be removed easily when there is a shellac barrier).

In the second part of his talk he showed some examples of treatments in which he used this coating. I believe he indicated that he has been using this coating since 1996 for wood objects in very poor condition. In 1996 he treated three sanctuary screens, and in 1999 he treated three turned wood objects. He showed many BT and AT images, as well as SEM images of insect damage seen in some of the objects. In the images, the BT surface of the wood appeared dry and grey in color, while the AT images showed the wood looking darker and more saturated. He has monitored these treatments and after over 10 years the objects appear to be stable and fairing well.

Mapping and Predicting the Action of Organic Solvents on Wood: Search for a Dimensional Neutral Effect

Wendy Baker, Fine Art Conservator, Canadian Conservation Institute; Dr. David Grattan, Manager of Conservation Research, Canadian Conservation Institute

Wendy Baker gave a very clear, informative presentation on her work testing the effects of organic solvents on wood. After successfully treating several badly damaged polychrome objects by bulk consolidation with B72 in specific combinations of solvents in the 1990s, she wanted to investigate how a range of solvents may cause dimensional changes in wood.

She showed images of the bulk consolidation treatments, which were carried out by brushing the consolidant onto object. When carrying out consolidation treatments, we often want to decrease the evaporation rate to ensure that the consolidant fully penetrates the object – this means that the object is exposed to solvent for a long time.

So she asked: what do we know and what don’t we know about solvents and wood? What we do know is that different types of wood will respond differently, and that swelling will be greatest in the tangential direction. However, to date, there has been no equation developed that can predict, across a range of solvents, how wood will respond to different solvent exposure.

I loved how simple her experimental design was-it consisted of taking tangential sections of air-dried wood – white oak and eastern white pine (2 samples each for each solvent tested), placing 2 dissecting pins in each and then placing them in different solvent baths and measuring the distance between the pins before, during and after exposure to measure dimensional change. For her experiments, she chose solvents typically used in wood treatments.

Both types of wood responded similarly to the solvents, and in the end, she found that the response of the wood to the solvents was related to three main factors: molecular weight, polarity and solubility in water. For instance, solvents with low molecular weight can pass through the wood cell walls and cause more swelling, while those with higher molecular weights cannot, so these solvents occupy other spaces in the wood and pull water out of the cell walls, causing shrinkage. She also concluded that shrinkage seems to be worse for objects than swelling, and that while hardwood responds more slowly than softwood, it also experiences greater dimensional change.

Adhesion Coercion: An Investigation into Potential Coatings for PEG Treated Wood

Lauren Paige Isaacs, Owner, Flying Pig Art Conservation

I never imagined that I’d be listening to a paper on PEG (polyethylene glycol) at AIC that wasn’t about waterlogged organic material. But my eyes were opened during Lauren Paige’s presentation, which was the last of the day (and of the conference for most people). This was a project on a contemporary wood object that Lauren encountered during her graduate internship at MOMA, and that was first investigated by Steven Pine and published in the 2006 WAG postprints.

Edward Moulthrop was an artist who made wood turned vessels, which he plasticized with PEG for the visual effects, apparently. He died in 2003, and his methods and materials are fairly well-documented – after turning the wood vessels, he would immerse them in a 30% solution of PEG 1000 for 1-3 months before finishing them and coating with epoxy.

In recent years, Steven Pine noticed that there were blisters on one of his bowls and also patches of delaminating epoxy, which once started, was exponential. There was interest in replacing the coating in the areas of loss. To address an approach to this treatment, Lauren carried out tests using birch tongue depressors (similar in color and structure to the tulip popular used by Moulthrop), which she immersed in water, then in a solution of 50% PEG 1500 at 140?F for 36 hours (to accelerate the impregnation of the PEG due to time constraints), and then air drying them and applying several different coatings to test their adhesion and appearance.

In the end, she found that water and ethanol-based coatings were not successful, as they never fully cured, and that low molecular weight resins were not much better. She liked Epotek 301 and acrylics, including B-72, B-67 and Golden MSA. The more successful coatings were those that could wet the surface of the PEG-treated wood and form a strong surface bond – both the solubility and the molecular weight of PEG and the coatings must be considered. PEG is soluble in polar solvents, and the more successful coatings were the ones delivered in a non-polar system. Other important factors to consider were the wood structure and relative humidity.

After these results, a second round of tests were carried out on birch wood spheres, also treated with PEG, and coated with the best performers from round one with the tongue depressors. In the end she preferred Golden MSA – not only did it form a good bond, but it has the properties of being hard yet flexible, it permits both the wood and the PEG to respond to RH fluctuations, and it also looked good. Lauren also suggested that the recent “hard” version of Golden may be a better possibility but she hasn’t looked into it.

**An Update on using Reproduction Finishes as Predicators by David Bayne was the last paper on the schedule for the day but it was not presented.

Research and Technical Studies Specialty Group Talks – Microfading

The RATS talks, organized by Stephanie Porto, included a morning session on microfading, as well as afternoon talks covering a range of topics. Chong Tao and Paul M. Whitmore presented work on developing a new microfading test instrument (MFT) for light exposures that includes near-UV wavelengths. The instrument takes advantage of the effect of chromatic aberration to tune relative intensity and incorporate the 300 – 400 nm range. Using various filters, the authors have successfully tested the new instrument with good correlation to the Suntester microfade instrument.

Jim Druzik and Christel Pesme presented research that characterized the performance characteristics associated with four different instrumental set-ups. They presented data collected from seven instruments where the lens design/light probe method was varied including three bench top instruments (planoconvex, achromat, lens-less) and two portable instruments (planoconvex and lens-less). These instruments test a range of spot-sizes during analysis (0.2 – 0.5 mm). Results were tabulated using three of the CIELAB equations used to calculate color space. Based on their results, the authors are satisfied that portable MFT will return similar results to bench top instruments. Future research will include testing prepared samples in a round robin, while also further altering experimental parameters to include other light sources, as well as testing samples in air/anoxic environments.

Dale Kronkright presented microfade research and a database template for archiving and organizing this information. All work results from microfade research associated with a group of Georgia O’Keeffe watercolors in the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum collections. This work was the result of collaborations with the Getty Conservation Institution and University of Texas El Paso. The selected watercolors were well-documented with limited exhibition histories. The research also tested similar/same artist’s materials found in the artist’s studio – also in the museum’s collections. The authors analyzed all objects to characterize chemical composition using portable XRF and FTIR. In an effort to improve the conservator’s voice and make microfade results useable for curatorial and collections management staff, Kronkright et al. developed an automated database platform in Microsoft Excel to aid curatorial decisions. The database tracks remaining exhibition weeks/loan time available using a graphical fuel gauge in terms of just noticeable difference (JND). Future research will correlate accelerated fade rates with those observed in real time in order to adjust exhibition strategies.

More microfading and other RATS talk summaries coming.

EMG Specialty Group Sessions, May 14: Adventures in digital archaeology

A pair of fascinating papers by Walter Forsberg and Elizabeth Seramur gave two views of just how much effort can be required to make sense of artist-created digital files – even files that are barely a decade old. The idea of “Digital Archaeology” – Seramur’s term – summed up the problem.

Seramur’s paper (Developing a Digital Archaeology for the Warren Spector Collection: A Case Study) traced a project that took her back to the pre-historic days of personal computing – the early 1980s, when there was no such thing as standardization of file formats, interfaces, cabling, or operating systems. The project involved recovery of word processing documents created by game designer Warren Spector, whose papers are part of the Video Game Archive at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. The media: 18 5.25 inch floppy discs – from the days when floppy discs really were floppy – containing files created on the Kaypro IV personal computer using WordStar or WordPerfect, and on an Apple IIc using Appleworks.

Key to her work was the discovery of Austin’s Goodwill Computer Museum, which was founded as an offshoot of Goodwill’s computer training program. Volunteers from the tech industries watched as a wide variety of early personal computers came into Goodwill as donations, and couldn’t bear to see these rare specimens recycled. The result was a collection holding nearly every model of early PC. The museum was able to provide a computer that could read the early files – though a great deal of trial and error was required. A lack of standardization meant incompatibility between ports, cables and drivers – even among PCs with the same make and model number. The smallest variation rendered files unreadable.

Walter Forsberg’s project had the advantage of both relatively recent files – the 1990s – and a living artist, Cory Arcangel, willing and able to consult. In this case, the subject of research was a collection of CD-Rs holding backup files made in the process of creating multiple computer works. The discs held more than 200 different file extensions, marking different file formats, many of which are tied to obscure, obsolete, or short-lived software. Frequently, the file names were obscure or meaningless, and Arcangel sometimes wasn’t able to tie the files to a project now more than a decade past. The takeaway: organize digital files and standardize file names!

Electronic Media Group Session, Determining the Status and Replaceability of Technical Equipment in Electronic Art

Joanna Phillips’ fascinating presentation explored the different ways in which museums must look at objects that have moved from being purely functional to being inherent parts of an artwork: electronic display equipment.

From the 1960s onward, artists created moving-image and sound works that were dependent on current technology for their display in the museum. Once that technology becomes obsolete, however, conservators face a choice: maintain old equipment of often-dubious functionality, or migrate the work to new technology that may not have been available to the artist at the time of creation. Critical to this decision: determining whether equipment is merely an accessory to the artwork – something akin to a pedastal or a vitrine – or an essential component of the work.

Phillip, conservator for time-based art at the Guggenheim Museum laid out the ways in which playback equipment can change over time from accessory to essential component. The Guggenheim, like many museums, maintains a pool of video playback and display equipment that can be used for multiple works: one DLP projector, for example, could be suitable for any number of projected video works. But as equipment becomes obsolete, what was once common and easily available technology becomes rare and difficult to obtain. When this happens, equipment that is critical to maintaining an artist’s vision of a work may be assigned to a specific artwork to insure that it will be available for that work’s display in the future.

The most striking example given by Phillips is a video installation by Marina Abramovic, Cleaning the Mirror I (1995). The piece consists of five video channels played back on a stack five color cathode ray tube (CRT) monitors. When the piece was created, CRT monitors were common and plentiful. The artist did not require specific sizes or models for the monitors, only describing their approximate size and appearance. The technology was so commonplace that further specificity didn’t seem important.

Within the last few years, however, CRTs have become almost completely obsolete, and are increasingly difficult to obtain. New monitors using LCD or plasma technology have a completely different aspect ratio – 16:9 vs. 4:3 – that would change completely the appearance of the work (anyone who has suffered through an old movie that has been “stretched” to fill a 16:9 monitor understands the damage this change could cause to a video artwork.)

Phillips laid out the detective work necessary to find five monitors suitable for installing Cleaning the Mirror I, and the complex technical process required to bring them up to optimum performance. These five monitors will now be dedicated to the work, insuring that it can be displayed according to the artist’s specifications – for now. But as Phillips pointed out, these monitors can only be maintained for so long.

She also described an early work by Korean-American artist Nam June Paik – Random Access (1963/1999) which consists of strips of ¼” analog audiotape glued to a wall. Nearby is a modified audiotape playback deck with a detachable head. Philips also described an early work by Korean-American artist Nam June Paik – Random Access, (1963/1999) which consists of strips of ¼” analog audiotape glued to a wall. Nearby is a modified audiotape playback deck with a detachable had. Viewers can run the playback head over the tape to hear what’s on it. As with Abramovic’s CRT monitors, Paik’s analog audiotapes were extremely common technology when the work was created. Today, however, the equipment is extremely difficult to come by.

Complicating the conservation history of the work is the fact that the modified deck that the Guggenheim acquired with the work was actually modified by Paik’s studio (as opposed to Abramovic’s monitors, with which the artist had had no direct content.) Phillips explained the categories that the Guggenheim assigns to its equipment: “Artist-provided,” “Artist-approved,” or “artist-specified.” Paik’s audiotape deck falls into the first category. Phillips highlighted the peculiarities of the deck in question: it had been crudely modified by the artist or his studio – at one point, when electronic circuitry needed to be replaced, rather than unscrew and open the deck, someone knocked a hole in the back and hot-glued in the required capacitors. The clear hand of the artist and his collaborators marks this particular piece of equipment as an essential part of the work.

Architecture Specialty Group Afternoon Session: Metals

The final three papers of the Architecture Specialty Group session focused on the conservation of metals. Andrzej Dajnowski, of Conservation of Sculpture and Objects Studio, discussed “Removal of Clear Coat Lacquers with Lasers.” Mr. Dajnowski used the case study of the Tadeusz Kosciuszko Monument in Chicago to show the laser cleaning process. The presentation also presented the interesting possibility that the ablation process that occurs with laser cleaning may reduce copper and tin corrosion products to their metallic states. Laser cleaning can be an effective way to remove coatings from bronze sculpture, with almost no risk of damaging the surface if properly applied.

Tami Lasseter Clare of Portland State University presented “Understanding Performance Properties and Limitations of Coatings for Metals.” Ms. Clare discussed a research project whose goal was to develop a clear coating for exterior metal surfaces with a 50 plus year expected lifetime. After reviewing traditional coatings and desired properties of durable coatings, polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF) was selected for testing and found to have promising durability performance. Durability of PVDF clear coatings can be further increased using a corrosion inhibitor such as benzotriazole (BTA) as a pretreatment and inorganic additives that reduce water permeability.

Bob Score of Harboe Architects gave the last presentation of the ASG session. His paper, “Historic Finish Analysis and Coatings Design,” presented the restoration of the cast iron storefront of the Sullivan Center, the former Carson Pirie Scott Building in Chicago. The finishes analysis was undertaken to identify the original color scheme on the cast iron storefront. A finish analysis from a previous restoration campaign was incorporated into the current study, as well as archival documentation. The challenges and considerations related to the painting work of the present restoration project included problems enforcing required curing and drying times, surpassing the 12-month maximum duration before recoating and routine quality testing conducted by the paint manufacturer to ensure coating thickness and adhesion.

Architecture Specialty Group Afternoon Session: Paint Research, Lead Silhouette Windows and Water Repellents

Following the Architecture Specialty Group Business Meeting, the afternoon session of presentations began with a paper by Mary Jablonski and Stephanie Hoagland of Jablonski Building Conservation on “Picking, Peering, and Peeling: The Evolving Field of Architectural Paint Research.” The presentation focused on lessons learned from paint studies of interior architectural spaces. Key points raised in the presentation are that paint research involves more than color matching using cross section samples. It should encompass ultraviolet light microscopy and staining, exposure windows and research on paint knowledge and decorative techniques. The Colonial Building in St. John’s, Newfoundland was used as a case study to demonstrate the importance of exposure windows and reveals. Exposure windows can reveal finishes that may be easily missed in cross section examination.

The afternoon’s second paper by Neal Vogel of Restoric LLC and artisan Andrew Delarosa was entitled “In Search of Diana & Endymion (and Walking in Edgar, Hester & Jesus’ Shoes): Researching & Restoring Lead Silhouette Windows.” Lead silhouette windows were popular in the United States between the 1920s and mid-1930s. In one case study, the McKinney Coach House in Buffalo, NY from 1927 with lead silhouette windows by the D’Ascenzo Studio of Philadelphia, Mr. Vogel discussed the challenges of restoring the windows that have missing artwork. In another case study, Mr. Delarosa described the process of recreating lead silhouette windows for the Walter Guest Apartments in Chicago to replace the windows originally designed by Edgar Miller in 1932. The recreation process included trying to recapture the hand of the original artist.

Patricia Miller’s presentation of “Identifying and Treating Aged Water Repellents on Historic Stone Structures” highlighted the point that treatments developed for specific conditions can be unsuccessful if those conditions are not well understood. Ms. Miller, of Conservation Solutions, Inc., discussed the development of film forming water repellents, primarily silicone resins, and penetrants, such as silanes and siloxanes. Two case studies, the World War I Memorial in Washington, DC and the Sutri Fountain at Vizcaya in Miami, FL were reviewed. In each case, previous water repellent treatments had to be considered when evaluating future treatments.