39th Annual Meeting – Electronic Media Afternoon Session 6/3/11, Equipment Obsolescence, The Preservation of Display and Playback Equipment for Audiovisual Art, Emanuel Lorraine

Emanuel LoRraine, PACKED, Brussels
Joint project with Netherlands Institute for Media Art, supported by the Ministry of the Flemish Community.

Goals of this project include the identification of people who could help with the equipment, find spare equipment, create inventory of people who could transfer old media, collect guidelines and make a useful model for dealing with electronic equipment in art collections.  Interviewed manufacturers, technicians and transfer services, AV archives, TV channels, conservators, media art centers, and computer gaming associations.  Found that literature was limited and hard to access.  Gathered a lot of info from the interviews, found an overall importance placed on common sense.

The most important first step is to achieve the best possible storage conditions.  Storage should have good piping and controlled atmosphere, and protection against fire and theft.  These points may seem elementary, but they are the first defense in avoidable damage.  Generally found that the professionals interviewed recommend 0-40 degree temperature (Celsius) for storage, and they often recommended different temperatures for storage than for exhibition.  Some said store below 18 degrees to slow chemical deterioration.  If the temp is over 40ish deterioration will accelerate, weaken spot welds, and deform many plastics.  Humidity is also a factor in these processes.  20-80% RH is the range recommended by the people interviewed, but best if below 45%.  If the humidity is low it can also encourage static discharge in the equipment.  Cabinets can be used to control the RH.  Sunlight should be strictly limited because it effects temperature, and fading and yellowing of plastic parts.  Storage space should be regularly cleaned because dust and dirt will clog equipment.  Smoke also has an adverse effect.  Equipment should not be stored on the ground, but on raised shelves.  Metal shelves are better than wood, and they should be quite stable.  Equipment should not be stacked on shelves, not left plugged in, cables should be properly wound and stored.  Batteries should be removed because they can leak acids and bases into the rest of the equipment.  Batteries have about a one year life, any equipment that requires batteries and stores information should have the info backed up before the batteries are removed.  Metal and plastic boxes are a good solution for storage.  Sealing in a plastic bag is also an option.  Dormancy is a problem so techs recommend turning the equipment on regularly to prevent breakdown.  Range from once a month to once a year for about an hour, depending on the machine.  Once a year or once every six months seems acceptable.

Misuse of equipment can be a serious problem, such a wrong voltage, dust exposure, use of spoiled cables, etc., and can ead to serious damage.  Angle of tilt is also an important factor to be aware of.  Strong contrast should not be used in CRT technology because it can cause image burn in.  CRT monitors usually have failure of the tube, which can be replaced but replacement supplies are decreasing quickly.

The results of these interviews will be published in a forthcoming publication.

Questions: one useful source is the standards on the care of large and industrial collections written in 1994

39th Annual Meeting – Electronic Media Afternoon Session 6/3/11, Equipment Obsolescence, Collection Complexities of the Goodwill Computer Museum, Virginia Luerhsen

Karen Pavelka (lecturer, University of Texas at Austin, School of Information)
Virginia Luehrsen (phD student, University of Texas at Austin, School of Information) *presenter
Collection Complexities of the Goodwill Computer Museum

The Goodwill Computer Museum in Austin, TX, was opened in 2005 and presents educational exhibits in computer technology.  The museum also provides information and support on the appropriate disposal and recycling of computers.  The museum is staffed by a director and twelve volunteers from UTexas, a collaboration that started in 2009, which now supports students doing surveys, creating databases, restoration, and cataloging.  Trying to gain better intellectual control over materials.  Challenges include building and facilities at the GCM.  The museum is split into four main areas, with an additional resale shop.  Computers in the museum are not kept plugged in and running because of the cost.  The archive contains manuals, documentation, and relative software.  Computer materials are processed in the same space as the rest of goodwill donations, which causes problems.  Moving between the four storage areas is difficult, which is an issue they are trying to address in grant applications.  Major donations have come in but space for storage is limited.  Light is fluorescent so visible and UV light levels are high.  Biggest problem is the generation of dust that accumulates on al, the equipment.  Loading bays introduce a high RH, pests, and dirt into the space.  There are no clear guidelines yet for storage and handling of the electronics, implementation is problematic, staff is inadequate, and there is yet to be a clear development plan.

The museum is a functioning museum, conservation is important and has been incorporated from the beginning.  Conservation at the GCM is about preserving the artifact, and the experience of using the machine.  The current museum director is an important resource to the museum, and has a background in software engineering.  Cleaning of the electronics is performed but mainly concerns dusting exteriors.

The preservation team is developing a machine called the “ditto”, which saves information from discs on bit stream.  They are also recreating an early computer.

The paper collection has conservation needs mainly in the area of rehousing, but in some cases greater intervention is needed.  They are currently using distance education tools to learn about appropriate conservation practices, often using Skype in a setup time frame for each project.  They were surprised by how effective the Skpye system is, and how much time is saved.  The technicians are working on site at the GCM, and Skyping with conservator Karen Pavelka at UT, which about 10 miles away.  They are exploring the applications of this remote training technique for situations such as emergency response after disasters.  Considering use of telephone lines rather than wifi in areas where that service is more reliable (ie Haiti).  Also transferring images via smart phones.  Looking forward to developing these projects with the UT partnership.

Questions: has Skype technique gone to CERT?  Yes, in coordination.  How do you get people interested in the collection if the machines don’t run?  Do scheduled demonstrations now, in the future want to employ docents to monitor the systems so people can use the machines.  Did have a problem with vandalism, so require more employees.  Suggestion to set up a calendar for different days spent on particular and popular technology, which may help draw interest and visitors.  Suggestion about dust accumulation to tent the area with plastic and pressurize it.  How is the software being dealt with?  One problem is law against retaining machines with personal information, which includes systems that have been modified.  Have a store of software they can reinstall on good machines, but most info is on the original carrier.  What would the ideal storage conditions be?  Address biggest concerns such as dust, reallocating space, increasing security in the galleries, possibly move to a new space.  Ideal would be 45-50% RH and 65 degrees.  Hard to define ideal because so many different media, so really need separate storage spaces.  What is the community around the museum?  Lots of retired engineers and currently working engineers, recent engineering and IT grads, and current students in the same disciplines.

39th Annual Meeting – Textiles Afternoon Session, Wednesday, June 1, A Versatile Mannequin Design, Gwen Spicer, Spicer Art Conservation, LLC

Gwen presented a step-by-step instructional guide to a mannequin design she created with the help of Small Corp Inc.  Small Corp created custom internal metal armatures onto which Gwen built custom Ethafoam torsos. The “sideways ladder” design of the armature ensures straightness of form on the base.

This mannequin design was initially created for the exhibit America by Air at the National Air and Space Museum but Gwen has since used the design for several other diverse projects.  Gwen illustrated the adaptability and versatility by showing images of the design being employed for clothing from various fashion periods and ethnic groups. You can also view some of these images on the Spicer Art Conservation Website.

Gwen’s presentation was clear and comprehensive with discussion of each step of the process including measurement taking (a measurement sheet is available), tools and materials used. Discussion afterward clarified the approximate cost of armature for a mannequin (about $600 though it probably varies depending on amount ordered) and approximate time estimate for creating the Ethafoam torso (about 4 hours with experience). As the metal armature components can be mixed and matched and potentially re-used with a new Ethafoam torso, this mannequin design seems like a viable option for mannequin display system that could be adapted for multiple uses over time.



39th Annual Meeting – Paintings Session, June 2, 2011, “Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio’s Madonna and Child in the context of Leonardo da Vinci’s Studio Practice” by Sue Ann Chui

Ms. Chui presented a truly gorgeous Renaissance painting that came from the Budapest Museum of Fine Arts to the J. Paul Getty Museum for a collaborative research and conservation project. Immediately it was clear that the style was recognizable as influenced by Leonardo da Vinci. This was probably the reason for the misattribution in the 18th century and earlier. With an array of beautiful photography comparing various paintings art historically, the very convincing case was made for the current attribution to Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio, a student of Leonardo in his workshop in Milan at the turn of the 16th century.


Mother and Child by Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio
BC: Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio (Italian, 1467 - 1516) Madonna and Child, about 1508 Italian Oil on panel Szépmüvészeti Múzeum
Previous restoration of cradling
Before Conservation: Back of Panel, Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio (Italian, 1467 - 1516), Madonna and Child, about 1508 Italian Oil on panel, Szépmüvészeti Múzeum


Extensively but not expertly previously restored, Ms. Chui unraveled the condition of the panel painting layer by layer with excellent documentation from the international team that worked on this project. Each layer of discovery added further proof to Boltraffio’s authorship.


In fact, it seemed to me that the research and documentation discovery process on this painting must add to the collective knowledge on Leonardo’s techniques and teachings. Adding to that body of knowledge is always an exciting prospect. It was wonderful to see the evidence that Ms. Chui presented of the master’s hand in the manufacturing process and the design work. Specifically, I found the discussion on original fingerprints left behind in the imprimatura layers interesting, though no conclusion was insinuated that they were definitely by Leonardo.


While none of the conservation treatments were innovative, they were most interesting, well photographed and pleasantly presented. As you might expect, the quality of the conservation work resulted in maximizing the original beauty of a truly unique and beautiful image of this holy mother and child. It made for excellent technical entertainment much the way I found myself eagerly awaiting, back in the day, the arrival of the latest National Gallery Bulletin. Detailed, colorful cross sections, exceptional and easy to understand diagrams to clarify, photographic references and ties to other works of art and the fluid manner of Ms. Chui made this a 1st class presentation.


After Conservation, Mother and Child, Boltraffio
After Conservation: Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio (Italian, 1467 - 1516), Madonna and Child, about 1508 Italian Oil on panel, Szépmüvészeti Múzeum
After conservation, verso, Boltraffio
After Conservation: Checkerboard pattern "stains" from removed cradling, note interesting support system, Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio (Italian, 1467 - 1516), Madonna and Child, about 1508 Italian Oil on panel, Szépmüvészeti Múzeum


If you missed this presentation, then I’m sorry but it is impossible to do the material presented justice in this blog post. We can only hope that Ms. Chui publishes her material accompanied by all of the slides of her powerpoint (doubtful). Visually, it’s a great presentation but, in addition, the info needs to be searchable and referenced by others.


Contact Ms. Sue Ann Chui at schui@getty.edu and (310) 440 7023


Express yourself and reach out: “Like” this article by clicking on the thumbs up below, refer this posting to others you connect with via Facebook, Twitter etc.


Scott M. Haskins

Fine Art Conservation Laboratories (FACL, Inc.)



(805) 564 3438



39th Annual Meeting – Paintings Session, June 2, 2011, “A Neoclassical Mystery: The Technical Study and Treatment of an Iconic French Portrait” by Kristin deGhetaldi

There were three very interesting aspects of this presentation if you love the quality of high society French painting between 1775 – 1825… or there abouts:


First, Kristin gave a very nice art historical review of Jacques Louis David’s studio culture and influence, which included more than 400 students that studied directly with the master. She gave some really interesting comparisons between the styles of some of the students and David but ended up focusing on the work of a female student, Marie Benoist.


Second, Kristin focused on Marie Benoist as she presented the very interesting technical and historical study of a very intriguing “iconic” female portrait that was previously misattributed/unattributed and is logically attributable to Benoist, according to deGhetaldi’s research. Actually, I personally liked the portrait better than the David and other portraits that were shown for it’s interesting positioning and thoughtful mood. Flat out, it’s a great picture.


Third, the thorough conservation treatments of the portrait were interesting but not unusual. At the beginning of Kristin’s presentation of the portrait, I was hoping that she was going to let us see the differences through cleaning. I was not disappointed as the final conservation presentation and aesthetics were wonderful.

Portrait by Marie Benoist
The "Iconic French Portrait"


The plentiful photographs, of course, made Kristin’s presentation that much more enjoyable. And the thorough technical analysis with documentary microscopic studies of greens particular to that time period and location that will aid future researchers in authentication clues.


Contact Ms. Kirstin deGhetaldi at k-deghetaldi@nga.gov


Express yourself and reach out: “Like” this article by clicking on the thumbs up below, refer this posting to others you connect with via Facebook, Twitter etc.


Scott M. Haskins

Fine Art Conservation Laboratories (FACL, Inc.)



(805) 564 3438


39th Annual Meeting – Textiles Session: “Retaining the Unknown: Ethical Considerations and Treatment of a South African Beaded Textile”, Sarah Owens, 11:30AM – Noon

This was a final student project by Sarah Owens, who had returned to school to study textile conservation.

The textile had been donated in 1908 to the Bristol City Museums and Art Gallery, United Kingdom. It was now being prepared for storage and/or long-term display.

The artifact was assumed to be a wrap skirt, but in fact this is part of the unknown: over the years it had been modified in such a way, by the addition of a large tear and a slit in the “waistband”, that it was unclear as to how it had been worn previously.  It was entirely possible that this piece could have been a head wrap, a bodice-wrap, or even a baby-sling.  Sarah showed a key photograph of 2 women from South Africa, which indicated very clearly that each of these other possibilities was indeed viable.  After a very clear, step-by-step description of condition and treatment, the post-treatment photos showed that the decision had been made to leave the later alterations in place, because it was possible that these alterations were in fact made by the original wearer. Leaving them in place allowed for multiple interpretations of this piece, and asks us to avoid pre-judgments as to its use.

This was a reminder to me of something Frances Lennard had said, in her introduction to the panel discussion on “Why We Do What We Do”.   She had said, and I think it is worthy of being engraved somewhere:

“Interventions are ethics in practice”.

Although this was a student project, it was very important as an example of a very advanced thought-process:

The decision NOT to intervene by removing the alterations in this piece was itself an example of ethics in practice.

By retaining the unknown part of the history of this piece, it reminded me of the practice of “proving the null” – something I used to think was impossible!   Thank you, Sarah!

39th Annual Meeting – Textiles Session: “Why We Do What We Do: Ethics and Decision-Making” Panel Discussion, Thursday, June 2, 10:30-11:30AM

This panel featured 4 textile conservators, 2 in private practice (Julia Brennan and Mary Wasserman) and 2 working for large museums (Susan Heald and Christine Giuntini).  All have written a chapter in the forthcoming book by Patricia Ewer and Frances Lennard,  on the topic of textile conservation.

Julia Brennan started off, with a description of how she conducts herself on her many overseas conservation projects, many times working in less-developed countries. She made the point that ethics to her means having a sensitivity and understanding of another set of values.  It requires having respect  for, and developing trust with other parties, in order to create a partnership, which leads to progress and thus accomplishment of the objective. For her, it is helpful to remember that each artifact is more than that – it can also be a living relic.  She referred back to something that was said  during the workshop on Tuesday, regarding Best Practices for CAP surveys: “Don’t let ‘perfect’ get in the way of ‘good’, and finds that this helps her when she finds herself often working with less-than-ideal circumstances.  She also mentioned that she is often bound by unwritten agreements of confidentiality, which, if she were to break them, would be a severe ethical infraction.  It was a nice discussion, where the sensitive nature of her work was apparent.

Next, Christine Giuntini spoke mostly about her experiences at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, wherer she works with curators and designers almost exclusively.  Their collaboration guides her decision-making, and affects why she does what she does.  She also illustrated her comments using several slides from work from the early 1980s.  Exhibits of ethnographic pieces were presented then as pieces of fine art, a different approach than is usually taken today. As she said,  “you do the best you can, based on the information that you have”, and that we use information to change and inform the decisions we make as conservators.  Context is key, and this idea kept coming up over and over again, with each of the 4 speakers.  Christine asked us all to remember – especially the yonger conservators – that there was a time, pre-Ethafoam, when we were all using blue-board on wooden frames to make supports, and this was common practice.  Our decisions and practices were shaped by the availability of  materials, some of which  were not even invented then!

Susan Heald spoke next,  and she referred to both the tangible and intangible aspects of Cultural Heritage.  She specifically referenced the UNESCO convention of 2003, which  specifically talks about the need to safeguard both tangible and intangible aspects of culture.   At NMAI, where she works, they see themselves as the custodians of heritage, not the owner.  She also compared the CCI 1986 Conference on the Care and Preservation of Ethnographic materials, where very few native people were in attendance, with the 2007 Symposium on the same topic, which featured a much larger number of presenters being native people.    She closed by referencing the AIC Code of Ethics from 1994, which talks about the necesity of having an informed respect for  property, and also the 2004 ICOM Code of Ethics, which states the need to take into account the interests and beliefs of the community – the source of the heritage.  It was a good reminder that we really do have a concrete basis for the belief system that we all should hold, if we consider ourselves to be professional conservators.  Some pretty serious people have given these concepts serious thought, and have produced documents upon which we base our actions as professionals.

Finally, Mary Wasserman spoke of her experience in Florence, Italy, where she has been practicing textile conservation for a very long time (that’s what she said!)  The case study that she wrote about for the new book took place in a historic house over a period of 10 years.  It included the need to replace a collection of silk banners which had been hung from the ceiling, but which were returned to their place of origin, thus necessitating the creation of reproductions.  Photographic reproductions were made and printed on new silk fabric, which were then fabricated into banners and re-hung on the ceiling, where the originals had been originally. Mary stressed that this was a collaborative effort between 2 teams of conservators, and this collaboration guided the decision-making throughout this very long project.  Being well informed of the topic before even starting the work was key to her work, which echoed what Christine had just said: you do the best job that you can, with the information that you have.

In the ensuing general discussion from the floor, various comments were made – it’s difficult to repeat them all, but here are some snippets:  Context trumps all in decision-making….. it all comes down to the availability of materials…..sometimes you find yourself deviating from your training, depending on the audience you are working with and their level of sophistication and differing values….. it’s not YOUR collection, it’s THEIR collection……There is no right or wrong,  it’s what’s best in the context of the present ?…. this attitude extends to working with very small museums, without any paid staff (this echoes what was said during the CAP workshop:  the worst thing you can do is to come into an all volunteer situation, and tell them everything they have been doing is wrong!!!)…the success of our outreach depends on a change in attitude, and the development of respect for local context and resources….. question: is it ethical for an institution to hold collections when they don’t have the staff to care for them?…..conservators have to be flexible, in order  to work with all kinds of situations, and to develop achievable goals wherever they find themselves (another echo from the CAP workshop!) Final question: is it ever ethical to leave out the words when writing a condition report – and just rely on photographs?

This panel discussion was time well spent, and everyone was sorry to hear that time was UP!!!

39th Annual Meeting – Workshop, May 31, “AIC Workshop: Museum Mannequins” by Helen Alten

The workshop began on time. We were provided an advance copy of the general workshop notes with advice to skim or read prior to the workshop. Very helpful! There was a large amount of material covered. The workshop was a survey of many different techniques used in exhibitions from many locations. The PowerPoint presentation was full of images, bullet points, along with references to additional handouts provided during the workshop. Showcased what works well and what does not work.

The presenter, Helen Alten, used a combination of lecture and hands-on-activities to give participants a clearer idea of the techniques being discussed. Most helpful, as we moved through a variety of techniques. The presenter also invited participants to discuss their experiences, questions, and mount solutions in the workshop.

Participants had varying levels of experience, training, and areas of specialty. Group work during these activities was encouraged and added additional brainpower to working through what were new techniques for many of the participants.

Wide range of information covered from anatomy, mount making decision process, nice bibliography, Patterns of History, and research. Additive and subtractive constructions, as well as other rigid subforms, finishing techniques, plus, hands, legs, and stands, hair, and mount attachment methods were discussed.

There are times when the literature and the lecture becomes significantly clearer after hands-on opportunities are completed. Participants were asked to bring a garment to use for a hands-on session. Hands-on sessions were possible thanks to tool kits provided which eliminated the need for participants to bring sharp, cutting, heating, and large sized tools that may have been very difficult for travel. Hands-on sessions included: Measuring Costumes, Flat Form Mannequin, and Ethafoam Mannequin via LaRouche/Peacock Combination Method.

An extra bonus included a history of undergarments. With time running out Helen encouraged those of us still to stay for a quick casting and molding exercise using alginate and plaster.

Fun Factor: (Scale 1-5; 1=zero fun through 5=best fun ever, involves good cake)

Fun Factor Rating: 4, even without cake! Met new people. Able to share potential mount techniques.

Recommendation: Sign-up if you have the opportunity. Go for a full workshop/course of longer duration (week or longer). It is worth the time.

Tip: Provide an experience gauge for participants in workshop announcement. Way too much info and hands-on activity to cram into 6 hours, make it 7 hours. We used the time to our best advantage but ran-over by 45 minutes and left out some hands-on activities.

AIC’s 39th Annual Meeting – Links to photos

Photos from AIC’s Annual Meeting are being uploaded to our Flicker site as time permits. Each photo below represents a set. So far I’ve posted photos from the reception at Philadelphia Museum of Art on Wednesday night, the Manikin workshop, and Thursday’s portfolio review session. There will be a lot more coming, so please check back regularly to this post or go directly to our Flicker site (at www.flicker.com/photos/aic-faic/) to view additional photos.

Museum Manikins Workshop (click on this photo to view the entire set)


The reception at Philadelphia Museum of Art, June 1 (click on this photo to view the entire set)


Portfolio Review Session (click on this photo below to view the entire set)

AIC-AM2011-020611-Portfolio Review-013-post

ECPN Officers (click on this photo below to view the entire set)


Tsunami Survivors Seek Japan’s Past, in Photos

Excerpt from an article in The Wall Street Journal that demonstrates just one example of the importance of things and why conservators are so passionate about their life’s work.


The March 11 tsunami that devastated Rikuzentakata, a small seaside city in northern Japan, wiped away thousands of homes and left 2,000 residents dead or missing. As it swept away a community, the tsunami surge also carried off its memories, stockpiled on photographic paper and catalogued in albums.

As search crews recovered bodies in the weeks following the disaster, they also collected what waterlogged family albums and muddy pictures they found scattered within the rubble. Volunteer groups have since embarked on the tedious tasks of drying, cleaning and organizing hundreds of thousands of photos.

“When they thought they had lost everything and something like an old picture reappears, we think it will give them strength to move forward,” said Tatsuya Hagiwara, a volunteer with the National Research Institute for Earth Science and Disaster Prevention.

In a scene resembling a flea market, organizers spread out albums, yearbooks, diplomas and other keepsakes across a parking lot on the edge of town. A crowd quickly gathered, many seeking pictures of family members and friends who numbered among the dead and missing.

A yelp rose from the crowd. “That’s me!” shouted Etsuko Kanno, showing a picture of a young woman in a wedding dress. The bride, laughing, covered her mouth with a white-gloved hand.

Ms. Kanno – now a 51-year-old grandmother, who arrived at the parking lot with her one-year-old granddaughter asleep on her back – said the picture was taken 26 years ago at a photo shop in neighboring Ofunato. The photographer, she recalled, snapped the picture without warning her.

“This was the happiest moment,” she said, gripping the picture. “But this is only a picture of me. I wanted a picture of my husband.”

The man she married a few days after that picture was taken died in the tsunami. The powerful waters swallowed their home, where he was spending a day off from work with his 83-year-old mother, who also died.

Pictures of her three daughters, grandchildren and husband were washed away with the rest of their possessions.

“I want something on paper that I can look at,” she said. “I looked around and found nothing.”

When volunteers began tackling the photo cleanup several weeks ago, they started with a wet clump of snapshots. They laid the pictures out to dry. They dusted dirt from individual photos with paint brushes, and wiped plastic album sheets clean with damp rags.

The process was time-consuming and imperfect. Only about 10% of the recovered photos, some still damp and covered in dirt, were displayed last week.

People who found photos belonging to them filled out a form and took the pictures. Organizers said they may take the rest of the photos by truck to the 65 different evacuation centers across the city.

For group photos, the National Research Institute for Earth Science and Disaster Prevention, one of the organizations leading the volunteering, plans to scan the pictures digitally and upload the images to the Internet. The group is working on a project to archive photos along with tsunami-related information from Rikuzentakata and nearby towns.