AIC's 41st Annual Meeting-Workshop, May 29, "Plastics Last Longer if Treated with Intelligent Conservation", by Yvonne Shashoua and Thea van Oosten

I have a fascination with plastics, I guess it’s partly because the array of materials that can be chemically engineered seems to have infinite possibilities. Objects of many textures, shapes, colors and applications exist because of plastics. Unfortunately, their existence creates challenges to both preservation and sustainability. As works of art or material culture, conservators want to make them last for as long as possible, but the most long-lived plastics also pose the problem of disposal. The types of plastics that are most likely to break down in the environment are also crumbling to bits on the shelves of collectors and institutions.
This year’s AIC meeting featured a workshop presented by Yvonne Shashoua and Thea van Oosten, two well-known experts in the field of plastics in museums. Shashoua’s book, Conservation of Plastics: Materials Science, Degradation and Preservation, is a good reference. Both Shashoua and van Oosten were part of the 2008 European POPART initiative, (Preservation of Plastic Artifacts in museum collections), which selected a few types of plastics used in artwork, studied their deterioration pathways, and possible methods for their preservation, cleaning and repair.
To begin the workshop, we were presented with a historic overview of many types of plastic materials encountered in collections. From gutta percha to polyester we learned of the properties and uses of different polymers. Van Oosten had an entertaining way of categorizing plastic types by their properties into three snack food groups; gummy worm, chocolate bar, or cookie. Gummy worm plastics are in the elastomer category, which includes both natural and polyurethane rubber.  These materials are stretchy and flexible at room temperature. Chocolate plastics are the thermoplastic category, which includes polyethylene. These materials polymerize through addition and can be melted and reformed into new shapes. Cookie plastics are in the thermosetting category, which includes Bakelite (phenol formaldehyde), melamine formaldehyde and Vulcanite. These plastics are formed by condensation reaction with water being lost, and they cannot be reformed into new shapes with heat.
We learned that it is important to know what type of plastic you have before you attempt any repairs, because an adhesive that might work with one polymer will dissolve another. To help determine the appropriate adhesive, one should consult the Hansen or Hildebrand solubility parameter for the given plastic.  The strength of bond needed, the viscosity of the adhesive and the elasticity of the plastic are other factors to consider. For lightweight polyurethane foam, water based adhesives commonly used in conservation are often adequate. Clear plastics, like polystyrene or polyester may require consideration of the refractive index of the adhesive in order to make an invisible joint.
In the afternoon we split into two groups. We had time to experiment with adhering and mending a variety of plastics, and test cleaning cloths, pads and swabs for cleaning plastics.  According to results obtained from the POPART study, it is important to clean plastics as soon as possible when they become soiled, since particles may migrate into the plastics and become impossible to remove in a few short weeks. At the same time a soft cleaning cloth must be used that won’t cause abrasion to the plastic being cleaned. My experiences in this workshop highlighted the importance of testing on mock-ups!
The four plastics at greatest risk of deterioration are cellulose nitrate, cellulose acetate, plasticized (flexible) polyvinyl chloride, rubbers, and foams. Cold storage is typically recommended for these materials. The leaders of this workshop also recommended use of an oxygen scavenger in encapsulated packaging for preservation of rubber. Rubber in collections is rapidly deteriorating by oxidation, which causes it to turn yellow and brittle.
Along with POPART a number of research projects have brought the needs of plastics collections into the spotlight in recent years; however, it is clear that more research on active conservation methods is necessary. There is so much more to learn about fascinating plastics!


Last week, PMG members were challenged to participate in the rescue effort called T-160K Timbuktu Libraries in Exile and help raise fund to protect 300,000 precious manuscripts that were evacuated last year from Timbuktu in the midst of a civil war.
Our goal was to help raise $1500 for the preservation of 50 manuscripts; it was met a few days ago. To this day PMG members have contributed enough funds to preserve more than 60 manuscripts.
I am now challenging you, Facebook Friends of AIC, to join the fundraising effort. If each of you contributes just $1 to the campaign, you could help preserve 231 additional manuscripts!
 Hurry up, there are only a few hours left to contribute and join this great learning adventure of the Timbuktu Libraries. To show your support, make your donation directly at and “like” this posting.
How your contribution makes a difference:
All of the funding raised through the Indiegogo campaign will serve a single purpose: better accommodate the manuscripts (individual boxing, buffering and humidity control while maintaining mobility so that the manuscripts can be moved in the case of an escalation of socio-political strife in Mali) to lessen the risk of deformation and arrest microbial infestation that are imminent and will lead to very significant loss of substance.
Many thanks,
Sylvie Pénichon
Chair, Photographic Materials Group
American Institute for Conservation

Reading on the roof of Djingareyber mosque
Reading on the roof of Djingareyber mosque

41st Annual Meeting – Contemporary Art Session, May 31, “Automating Classification of Historic Photographic Paper from Surface Texture Images,” by Paul Messier

Screen shot 2013-06-08 at 9.55.59 AMFor over ten years, Photograph Conservator Paul Messier has been researching the physical properties of historic photographic papers—fibers, thickness, optical brighteners, and manufacturer markings.  Most recently, Messier and co-authors* have been working to objectively characterize the surface texture of papers as a means to classify individual photographs as well as collections.
Using his personal collection of over 5,000 historic paper samples along with photographs from the Thomas Walther collection at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, photomicrographs of each surface were captured using a “texture-scope” available only at the Library of Congress and the National Gallery of Art. The images were then processed to abstract the features of the paper and allow for easier measurement of the distance between each vector height (i.e. texture peak). The data were sent out to various engineering teams with the goal of creating affinity diagrams that reveal patterns of paper matches. Although each team came up with a different methodology for matching samples, they all achieved results very similar to human detection showing a spectrum of matches from the same sheet of paper, same package, or same manufacturer.
With these successful results, Messier hopes to continue collecting images to be stored on an open-access database. Eventually, institutions and collectors should be able to upload their own photomicrographs and search within the system to discover affinities across a collection. This information about the paper’s manufacture can then be applied to connoisseurship and conservation purposes.
*This project was a collaboration between Paul Messier, Richard Johnson, James Coddington, Patrice Abry, Philip Klausmeyer, Andrew G. Klein, Eric Postma, William A. Sethares, Sally L. Wood, and Lee Ann Daffner. To read more, please see the studies listed on the Paul Messier website.

41st Annual Meeting – Photographic Materials Business Meeting and Luncheon, May 30, “Conservators as Diplomats,” by Mary-Jo Adams

FincaVigiaThe PMG luncheon was business as usual, with an approval of the minutes and budget, and a welcoming of the new committee, but we also had the privilege of hearing from Mary-Jo Adams, Executive Director of the Finca Vigía Foundation.
Founded in 2003, the Finca Vigía Foundation is an American organization developed to preserve Ernest Hemingway’s house and property in San Francisco de Paula, Cuba, about 12 miles outside of Havana. Hemingway lived in the house from 1939-1960 and it was opened to the public by the Cuban government after Hemingway’s death. In 2005, Finca Vigía (“Lookout Farm”) was deemed one of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 11 Most Endangered Places, and in 2006 it was added to the World Monument Fund’s 100 Most Endangered Sites. The house itself is still filled with original furniture, artwork, and other objects, including Hemingway’s car and personal library. During Adams’s talk, she detailed the work that has been done up to this point to restore the site to its original appearance.
The majority of funding for the Foundation’s preservation efforts comes from corporations, as donations to Cuba can be a bit tricky for the private sector. With that money, Adams and her team have been able to bring in specialists in architecture, engineering, and conservation to begin the process of repairing the estate and the collection. NEDCC has partnered with the foundation to consult on the conservation of archival materials, and photograph conservator Monique Fischer traveled to Cuba in 2012 to contribute to the efforts. All of the necessary materials were brought from the U.S. to treat, digitize, and re-house the books, papers, and photographs in the library collection.
Another part of the initiative includes the training of Cuban volunteers on site and in preservation classes and workshops held in Havana. As Adams described, the greatest challenge has been to collaborate with the Cuban people through their many cultural and language differences. For instance, the Spanish word for “endangered” roughly translates to “neglected,” so it is Adams’s job to explain the ongoing risks to the estate and best practices for its preservation. The title to the talk, “Conservators as Diplomats” refers to the need for cultural heritage professionals to work at gaining the trust of their foreign colleagues before trying to force help upon them…It also doesn’t hurt to have the assistance of international celebrities like Cuban-American home improvement guru Bob Villa, who not only advised on areas of the building repair, but has advocated for site’s preservation.
Adams expects that active restoration efforts of Finca Vigía should be complete by 2017. For more information, please visit the Foundation’s website.

Preservation EXPOsed!

National Archives and Records Administration presents Preservation EXPOsed!
March 14, 2013
11:00 a.m to 2:00 p.m.
William G. McGowan Theater and Lobby
National Archives Building
7th Street and Constitution Avenue, N.W. Washington, DC
Learn about preservation and caring for your personal treasures at the 2013 Preservation EXPO. Hear preservation lectures and bring in a document, book, photograph, artifact, motion picture, photographic film or audio recording for a consultation with a NARA Conservator on how to preserve it. Appointments are required for individual consultations. Please contact Preservation by email at or call Preservation Programs Officer, Allison Olson at 301-837-0678 to schedule one.
Attendees should enter the National Archives Building through the Special Events Entrance on Constitution Avenue between 7th and 9th Streets, NW.

AIC-PMG & ICOM-CC PMWG Photographs Conservators Joint Meeting 2013

This is a reminder that registration is open for the February 2013 AIC PMG Joint Meeting with the ICOM-CC Photographic Materials Working Group (PMWG) in Wellington, New Zealand.  The early registration rate is still available through November 30. Details on the meeting schedule, workshops, hotels, tours, travel, registration and more can be found on the meeting website:

The impressive roster of speakers and their topics is now on the website as well. We had a great response to the call for posters, so this first poster session for each group promises to be successful. This meeting will be the first time either group has met in the southern hemisphere.

The meeting will be held 11-15 February 2013 at the Te Papa Museum of New Zealand.

We hope to see you in Wellington!

Warm regards,

Marc Harnly
ICOM-CC PMWG Coordinator

Barbara Brown
PMG Chair


Job Posting: Conservator of Photographs, Williamstown Art Conservation Center

The Williamstown Art Conservation Center is seeking a full-time, photograph conservator to manage and run the photograph conservation division within the paper conservation department. The conservator will participate in all departmental activities including documentation, analysis and treatment for the photograph collections of the WACC’s and the AACC’s (Atlanta Art Conservation Center) member institutions and will assist with projects in the paper conservation lab as work load and deadlines fluctuate.

The candidate should have a degree in graduate-level studies with a specialization in photographic materials or equivalent education and work/life experience demonstrating expertise in the analysis, documentation, conservation treatment and preventive care for all types of photographic materials. The conservator should demonstrate knowledge of the history of photography, the evolution of historic and contemporary photographic techniques and skill in the use of non-destructive analytical examination techniques for photographs.

Excellent oral, written and interpersonal communication skills, computer proficiency and strong organizational abilities will be required. The candidate should be willing to travel periodically to carry out site work for member institutions.

The WACC offers a full benefits package including an annual research stipend. Title and salary will be commensurate with the successful applicant’s qualifications and experience.

For further information contact: Leslie Paisley, Paper Conservator/Department Head at lpaisley [at] williamstownart__org.  To apply, please submit a cover letter and contact information for three references to

Thomas Branchick
Director, Williamstown Art Conservation Center
227 South Street
Williamstown MA 01267

AIC’s 40th Annual Meeting – Photographic Materials Session, May 11, “The Photograph Information Record” by Erin Murphy and Nora Kennedy

At last month’s AIC meeting, I had the pleasure of attending several of the PMG sessions, including this one on the Photograph Information Record, or “PIR” for short.  The form was introduced in 2009 following several years of collaboration between the Photographic Materials Research Group, photograph conservators, and colleagues in conservation science, collections management, and curatorial.  The goal was to create an international standard for an artist’s questionnaire, to collect essential information to aid in preservation efforts. The result was a concise, two-page form.  A completed PIR covers the history and context of creation, ownership, exhibition, conservation, and publication of a photograph, and provides information about the tools and processes of image creation, printing, and finishing.  It asks artists to discuss what aspects of the work they consider integral, and gives them an opportunity to provide a statement about the creation and preservation of the work.

In this session Erin Murphy, photograph conservator at the New York Public Library, reviewed the history of the PIR and discussed its present stage of development.  Many institutions around the world have formally adopted the PIR, and now plans are underway to collect feedback from users in order to develop the next generation – a new and improved form.

French, Spanish, and Japanese versions are available, with more translations in the works.  For some committees working on translations, it poses a real challenge to agree on terminology or create terms in the language that didn’t exist before.  Some mentioned that those discussions may be suitable for the wiki, and for the glossary project.

Future goals include expanding the visibility and availability of the PIR on the web.  Right now, the form is available in several languages as a free download on the AIC website at  ICOM-CC-PM members can access it on the ICOM-CC website.  The form can also be found on a few other sites, such as a gallery or library here and there. A secondary PR campaign will also help raise awareness and encourage more institutions, galleries, and photographers themselves to adopt this valuable tool.  Some attendees suggested potential audiences, including photography curators, and the registrars’ groups of AAM and ICOM.

Another goal is to see if improvements can be made to the PDF format.  Form fields in the PDF make it easy to complete the form, but the information is not easy to import into museum databases.  The PIR’s creators would also like to see access to the PIR expand within institutions to reach more departments and researchers.

It’ll be exciting to see the new directions that the PIR form takes in the coming months.

FAIC Collaborative Workshop ‘The Treatment of Pressure-Sensitive Tapes and Tape Stains on Photographs’

In Nov/Dec 2011 I attended this 5-day workshop, held at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. The two main instructors, Elissa O’Loughlin and Linda Stiber Morenus, have an incredible wealth of knowledge, buoyed by their ongoing research and, it seems, genuine fascination for the topic. Barbara Lemmen and Douglas Nishimura were also on hand to provide the necessary expertise to give the paper-focussed workshop model a photographic slant. With only 14 participants and 4 instructors it was a fairly intimate group with plenty of opportunities for one-on-one or small group tuition which was really beneficial. We began by learning the basics of adhesion and then the specifics of rubber-based and synthetic polymer-based pressure-sensitive tapes, including their invention and evolution and the degradation of their components. By the end of the first day we were sorting through mounds of different tapes, trying to identify their type and degree of degradation (see Image 1). By the second day we had moved on to mechanical carrier and adhesive removal, focussing initially on heat and erasers, then on to Gore-Tex, poultices, solvent gels and immersion. The use of an eye dropper and micro-capillary tube for delivering solvent on the suction table was remarkably successful on albumen prints (see Image 2). Processes such as salted paper and albumen were found to be quite responsive to a variety of techniques for adhesive removal, such as poulticing with Fuller’s Earth and suction table work, however there was concern about the possible effects on a microscopic level. Naturally, problems were encountered with chromogenic prints, with colour shifts occurring beneath tape and the sensitivity of the dye layers being an issue.

I found the workshop worthwhile for a number of reasons. I learnt new techniques and about equipment and tools of which I’d never heard or thought to use in this way (a bassoon reed for lifting tape carriers was particularly novel). I think everyone appreciated the lecture on the Teas chart, which was a brief but effective introduction to the use of solvents as an aid to tape and tape stain removal. There was discussion about the lack of research into the effects of solvents and local treatment on photographic materials, with difficulties related to the reproducibility of manufactured objects and the compartmentalised and secretive nature of the photographic industry cited as huge obstacles.

The location of the workshop was superb. The area is beautiful and serene and the Center is equipped with excellent facilities (see Image 3). I found it the perfect setting for intensive learning. My attendance at the workshop was made possible by contributions from my employer, The Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation and University of Melbourne Commercial. I was also granted a scholarship from the FAIC/NEH. The support was much appreciated and I hope to make good use of the information and skills learnt.

FAIC Workshop on Tapes and Tape Stains removal in WV

Wonderful Workshop in a wonderful location. I have been honoured to have been among the partecipants of these Workshop. The group was very focused on the topic and lecturers were really specialized. The Workshop was very well scheduled and divided into theory and practice. I found great sharing treatments experiences through the partecipant presentations and I think that it should be done in every Workshops. Some more Photographic Samples to work on might help next time. Maybe participants can also prepare some samples on the workshop topics.

I found very exciting the International level FAIC Courses take place; I wouldn’t like to miss any of them, if it would just be possible.

Stefania Ruello