Heritage Preservation publishes a new manual addressing emergency Incident Command Systems for cultural repositories

News release from allied organization, Heritage Preservation:

WASHINGTON DC – Heritage Preservation announces the publication of Implementing the Incident Command System at the Institutional Level: A Handbook for Libraries, Archives, Museums, and Other Cultural Repositories. The book is written by David Carmicheal, Director of the Georgia Division of Archives and History, and published in cooperation with RescuingRecords.com.

When rainwater flooded the Alaska State Archives in 2009, conservator Ellen Carrlee began blogging about the trials and triumphs of rescuing a priceless cultural collection. Ellen’s daily journal struck a chord with author David Carmicheal. “This institution was isolated, trying to address a disaster internally, without the resources that FEMA and other agencies bring to the table when a disaster is widespread.” He recognized that the Incident Command System (ICS) could provide a powerful tool within a single institution.

Implementing the Incident Command System at the Institutional Level explains how libraries, archives, and museums can adopt the ICS as a temporary management structure whenever “business as usual” won’t get the job done. The manual, written in a clear and conversational style, describes staff roles and includes charts, duty statements, sample forms, and a step-by-step incident description. Whether preparing for fires and floods – or even planning a major public event – the Incident Command System is a proven management tool that safeguards lives, property, and collections.

Since its development in the early 1970s, ICS has been used to tackle a vast array of incidents, including fires, floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes. “The system has demonstrated that it can scale up to handle disasters that mushroom over large areas and even multiple states,” says Carmicheal, “but the ICS was designed to scale down as well as up.”

Jane Long, Vice President for Emergency Programs at Heritage Preservation, believes the Incident Command System has particular value for libraries, archives, and museums. “Even small disasters can have big consequences for cultural institutions. ICS provides a structured and effective response and ensures that every responder involved is on the same page.”

The 208-page book is available in two formats: Perfect Bound ($47.00) or Coil Bound ($47.00), plus postage and handling. For further information, visit www.RescuingRecords.com/ics.html. RescuingRecords.com is a website dedicated to protecting essential records during times of crisis.

Link directly to the Heritage Preservation news release.

WUDPAC students work on objects in the Penn Museum of Archaeology and Anthropolgy

The Philadelphia Inquirer had only compliments about the yearly WUDPAC/Penn 2nd year objects students collaboration. I think the mutually beneficial collaboration was originally started over a decade ago by Ginny Greene and Bruno Pouliot.

The rare stringed instrument – a sarangi, made of dark tropical hardwood in colonial India – was falling apart. The rawhide sounding board was starting to separate. Only one of the instrument’s four strings was attached to the bridge. The item was covered in grime.

Enter LeeAnn Barnes Gordon.

A graduate student at the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation, she spent more than 50 hours cleaning, repairing, and stabilizing the object.

She was one of three students from the program this year who worked on objects from the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Gordon, Rose Daly and Carrie Roberts delivered their findings last week at the Penn Museum.

The partnership between the museum and the Delaware program has been around for years. Each year, students get to borrow a few objects and practice the skills of their newly acquired trade; the museum benefits from the painstaking care given to a few of its one million artifacts.

Besides the sarangi, this year’s items included an early-20th-century woven hat from the Pacific Northwest; two bronze Etruscan vessels more than 2,300 years old; and a ceremonial model of a boat from the Mesopotamian city of Ur, dated to about 2,500 B.C. and made of a tarry substance called bitumen.

The gentle cleanings and other treatments were done in consultation with museum conservators and the students’ professor. One part of the sarangi’s care involved reshaping a loose section of bone trim with the help of a humidification chamber; the trim was then reattached with resin.

The exchange can result in a learning experience for the museum staff as well. They get to hear about the latest forms of spectroscopy and other high-tech imaging used to study the items’ conditions. After hearing the students’ earlier presentation in May, the museum’s head conservator, Lynn Grant, recalled: “I felt like Galileo at NASA.”

Read more: http://www.philly.com/inquirer/magazine/20101108_A_high-tech_tune-up.html#ixzz14nyqQowL

The Boston Globe features Northeast Document Conservation Center

Northeast Document Conservation Center is featured in the science section of the Boston Globe. The article features book conservator MP Bogan and a recent treatment of Robert Frost’s attendance register.

Here is an excerpt:

To properly treat the Frost register, a conservator first surface-cleaned the pages and unbound the book. The pages were alkalized for protection, and tears were carefully mended using a special Japanese tissue and wheat starch paste. Next, digital photos were taken of each page. The pages were then reassembled, sewn with linen thread, and rebound in a cloth binding.

Senior book conservator M.P. Bogan put 22 hours into the project, which was – as with all preservation work at the center – done completely by hand. Bogan says items such as the Frost register hold a particular interest for her.

“What I like about working on projects like this is that it’s a working, one-of-a-kind document,” she says. “There’s only one in existence.”

Bogan and her fellow conservators work in the paper lab section of the center, which resembles an art studio. Some of the hand tools look as old as the documents on which they are used. Across the hall is the more modern digital lab, where photographic images are captured of the often centuries-old items. The process requires knowledge in several areas.

“The staff who work in the lab are not only conservators, but also artists and chemists,” says [Julie] Martin. “They need all of that background in addition to the skills to do the job.”

With its preservation process complete, the Frost register will return to Methuen in a custom-fit box for extra protection. The conservators will already be hard at work on other projects, and a piece of local history will be saved for generations to come.

A tale with a happy ending

The mounting of a Faith Ringgold exhibit at the Neuberger Museum (September 11- December 19, 2010) was the occasion for the recounting of a conservation tale with a happy ending. In 1970, Ringgold was commisioned to paint a large work in oils for the Women’s House of Detention on Rikers Island. In 1999, when that facility was housing men, inmates removed the painting from the wall and painted it over with white acrylic paint. Forunately, the painting was able to be restored and is now on view to the general public for the first time in the Neuberger show. The story in greater detail is available in The New Yorker piece, “The Artistic Life Behind Bars”.


Materials Scientists and Conservators Join Forces to Preserve Silver Artifacts and Art

Where there’s silver, there’s tarnish. While getting the tarnish off your flatware might be an occasional inconvenience, to museum curators and conservators, it’s a threat to irreplaceable works of art.

To protect these objects for generations to come, scientists from the A. James Clark School of Engineering at the University of Maryland, College Park, have teamed up with conservators from the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Md., to develop and test a new, high-tech way to protect silver art objects and artifacts, using coatings that are mere nanometers thick.

The technique, called atomic layer deposition (ALD), will be used to create nanometer-thick, metal oxide films which, when applied to an artifact, are both transparent and optimized to reduce the rate of silver corrosion. The films are created when an object is exposed to two or more gases that react with its surface.

Read the rest of the press release here.

Mount Vernon Behind the Scenes

American History TV visited Mount Vernon to take a close look at objects used by George Washington including a blue wool coat, a shaving kit, a leather canteen, fire buckets, and some Mount Vernon China. Learn how curators and conservators care for historic items and prepare them for display.

The show will air on American History TV (C-SPAN3)

Saturday, October 30


Sunday, October 31

2am, 8am, 7pm, 10pm

Watch the preview on the C-SPAN website.

Summary of OSG-list discussion about Wall Street Journal Article

The sculpture and court case featured in a Wall Street Journal article, was followed by blog posts by dalyconservation, the 1709 blog, Bloomberg.com, and the AIC blog. It also began a discussion on the Objects Specialty Group (OSG) distribution e-mail list. A representative of AIC wrote a follow-up letter to the Wall Street Journal, after consulting with other board members and AIC’s legal counsel, a statement has also been sent to the Wall Street Journal and The Art Newspaper about this article.

The discussion began by asking what response, if any, would be forthcoming from AIC about this article. The “restoration” removed original materials, replaced them with unsuitable materials, removed an original signature, and replaced it with the signature of the restorer and the restoration committee.

Mark Rabinowitz approached the issue playing the devil’s advocate and said “Conservation ethics leaves no question as to what is appropriate for the preservation of the artist’s original intent but it presupposes that this goal is consistent with the owner’s intentions. The owners, accepting that the changes they wished will interfere with the artist’s rights, specifically removed his association from the work, including erasing his name, and notified him to no longer consider this his art. This seems to be a case where the best intentions of the law have caused exactly the opposite result. Are we going to claim that owners have no rights to the objects they own and must only conserve them forever? If an owner knowingly destroys (or even improves!) a work of art with an understanding that by doing so he risks losing the association with the original artist, isn’t that a decision that their ownership entitles them to make?” He followed with another e-mail saying “Moral rights that are recognized after the sale entail destruction or modification that damages the reputation of the artist. Again, I believe the owners acted knowingly in order to protect themselves from such a charge by removing the artist’s name and notifying him that this is no longer considered a work of his.”

Linda Roundhill (with a nod to Vizzini the Sicilian) noted, “This was no innocent gaff due to ignorance. The artist offered to do the maintenance to preserve its [the sculpture’s] meaning, but the Federation completely shut him out of the process and deliberately (with intent) hi-jacked the artist’s work. ‘Inconceivable!'”

How could this have been prevented? Gary McGowan noted that “It does seem evident from this discussion that this was one of the issues directly germane to our organization developing certification. The industry, as a whole, would then be regulated through the certification process and there would be a less likelihood of either ambiguity or confusion over individuals’ abilities or credentials. I would state that it was not confirmed that the client was not interested in retaining the services of a conservator; rather they may not have seen the difference within the two disciplines. Since we are not a certified profession, many individuals do not see the difference between the two divergent fields. Far too often I hear the discussion of the ‘conservationist’. These abstract terms of ‘conservation, restoration or restorer’ can, and often do, confuse and blur the lines. With certification, I believe we would be better prepared to clarify the profession for our clients.” This was disagreed to by some of the members of the OSG-list, since the owner did not seem interested in conservation and would not have sought out a conservator, certified or otherwise. Victoria Book suggested that more visibility for conservators among artists also may have avoided this situation, if the artist had recommended a conservator this may not have occurred. Jerry Podany asked whether the owner of the sculpture actually knew about AIC and its services.

Many conservators wrote in to say they thought there should be an official response from AIC. There appear to be no responses from conservators (AIC affiliated or not) on comments section of the article the WSJ webpage. David Harvey suggested that the AIC should have released a clear and concise statement and he also listed comments suggesting what the statement should have said. Richard McCoy pointed out that as members of AIC “You and I are ‘AIC’ and if a stand is to be made, or if a statement is to be made than it seems to me it would be just as effective (and perhaps more so) if dedicated conservators were to be the ones making the stand individually rather than only relying on the Director to take a complex and nuanced position”. It was mentioned that while comments to articles are helpful “That’s no substitute for influence during art care planning and implementation. We would like that to be virtually automatic” Robert Krueger questioned whether a response would be needed “Responding and pointing out that this is not an approach a conservator would take is not a good way to advertise our field.” Steven Pickman gave two views about whether AIC should be involved in a response, “Should an intentional act by the owner responding to a set of conditions both artistic and legal be under the purview of AIC? I don’t think so.” He goes on to quote the purpose of AIC and how this purpose includes public awareness, opposition to any influences that lower standards, and the fostering of communication with other professionals involved in the guardianship and preservation of cultural property.

What can we take from this moment?

Jerry Podany summed up his thoughts about what this means in the bigger picture, he recommended that conservators pass along this article to their associates in the law profession that are interested in arts law. This could be a great “Teaching and outreach moment for other artists, collectors, administrators, and public regarding the proper care of sculpture, aspects of artists’ rights and the role of the conservator, as well as the limitations imposed upon the conservator by ethical guidelines.” Another point about materials emphasized that artists’ original materials should be maintained or replaced with similar materials, even though they may be unstable and require more maintenance. It is not enough to say that conservators have ethical guidelines but we must get across why we follow these guidelines and how complex this can become. David Harvey gave a number of suggestions about how conservators can have more outreach with the public.

At this point the conversation turned into a discussion of semantics and we discussed: conservators, restorers, conservationists, etc. and other names we have been called over the years. Richard McCoy suggested that we contribute to the Wikipedia page about conservation-restoration if we are interested in continuing this dialogue about our definition amongst the public. Nancie Ravenel suggested we educate ourselves about outreach through some upcoming online seminars about outreach and connecting to the public, available for free from IMLS and Heritage Preservation.

Tony Sigel responded to a side discussion about whether we are conservators, restorers, conservinators, etc. to say that some of what we do is restoration but we refer to it with other terms, making it difficult “To have the larger community understand what conservation is, what conservators do, and the relationship of conservation and restoration. Most of what we say about ourselves seems to try to disown such an important part of our work, to cloak it in obscuring jargon. I understand how the emerging field of conservation has, perhaps needfully, defined itself in opposition to restorers and restoration. But I’m afraid we may have disowned something important in the process that needs to be reclaimed – the practice, the idea, of restoration – that is an important part of our activities and identity.”

The discussion was interesting and challenged me to think and seek out more opportunities for outreach about conservation.

This is my first post for the AIC blog. The summary took a lot of time because every person quoted was contacted, given a draft of the post, and asked for their approval, via e-mail, of their quote. It is worth noting that I could have taken quotes from the OSG-list archives and posted them or forwarded all of the e-mails in this discussion as I wished, without the approval of anyone. I hope that this post continues the discussion about owner’s, artist’s, and conservator’s rights, and I hope that the distribution e-mail lists come to an agreement about how public or private these lists are and how information posted to these lists can be shared.