ECPN Interviews: Wooden Artifacts Conservation with Caite Sofield

To promote awareness and a clearer understanding of different pathways into specializations that require particular training, the Emerging Conservation Professionals Network (ECPN) has been conducting a series of interviews with conservation professionals in various specialties. We began the series with Chinese and Japanese painting conservation and continued the series by focusing on practitioners working with Electronic Media. Now, we are interviewing conservation professionals working in AIC’s Wooden Artifact Group (WAG). These conservators work with various wooden objects, which can range from furniture, musical instruments, waterlogged wood, frames, and more! We’ve asked our interviewees to share some thoughts about their career paths, hoping to inspire new conservation professionals and provide valuable insight into these areas of our professional field.

In our first interview from the WAG series, we spoke with Caite Sofield, a third year fellow in the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation (WUDPAC). Caite is specializing in Furniture Conservation, and she is also a graduate intern in Furniture Conservation at The Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA). She received a Bachelor of Art in Italian Studies from Ithaca College, with a double minor in Art History and Classical Studies.

ECPN: Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

Caite Sofield (CS):  I am a third year graduate fellow in the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation (WUDPAC), specializing in Furniture Conservation. I am completing my internship year in Furniture Conservation at The Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA).  I graduated from Ithaca with a B.A. in Italian Studies, and a double minor in Art History and Classical Studies. I grew up in New Hampshire and did much of my pre-program work in the New England area.

ECPN: How were you first introduced to conservation, and why did you decide to pursue conservation?

CS: My first introduction to conservation was during an undergraduate internship in London at the Leighton House Museum. Organized through the Art History Department of Ithaca College, my internship was divided between assisting the Curator of Collections and Research and working with a Conservation Cleaner in the Linley Sanbourne House, a historic property also managed by LHM.  I found this work dynamic and compelling, and was surprised to discover that I learned as much (if not more) about history from working in the house and on the objects than I did in my associated art history course. I was so excited to connect with history in this tangible way, and I knew that I wanted to seek similar experiences in the future.

ECPN: Of all specializations, what contributed to your decision to pursue furniture conservation?

CS: Furniture conservation appealed to me because furniture, as a subsection of decorative arts, can include a wide variety of materials, and there is a wonderful overlap between architecture, textiles, and objects. I love seeing the way the intended function of an object affects its design and how that changes over time. I am particularly fond of the forms that are highly specific and representative of a small window in time, like the voyeuse of the 18th century and the telephone table of the 20th century.

ECPN: What has been your training pathway?  Please list any universities, apprenticeships, technical experience, and any related jobs or hobbies.

CS: After my introduction to conservation in my junior year at Ithaca College, I began researching conservation programs and the prerequisites. I was only one course away from completing my degree requirements in Italian Studies at the time, so I used my available electives to start checking off the required courses I hadn’t taken yet, including the studio art and chemistry courses.  In my senior year, the heads of the Chemistry and Art History departments teamed up to teach a course called Chemistry and Art. This was a great overview of how much science affects art and gave me great perspective on why I needed to take chemistry courses to continue in the conservation field.

I continued working through the pre-reqs by completing non-degree coursework at St. Anselm College and the University of New Hampshire, near my hometown, while working as a veterinary assistant part-full time. Because I knew I was interested in furniture conservation, I sought out woodworking courses to fill the 3-dimensional design requirements. I did weekend and evening workshops, and a 10-week Furniture Making Intensive at the Homestead Woodworking School in Newmarket, NH.  Later in my pre-program path, I took the 12-week Furniture Intensive at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Rockport, ME.

My first pre-program internship was in the furniture lab at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. After that, I worked on an Asian lacquer project and outdoor sculpture at the Preservation Society of Newport County.  I volunteered at the New Hampshire Historical Society for a few months, documenting and re-housing embroidery samplers.  I returned to Newport for another six months to continue work on the outdoor sculpture project. My final pre-program internship was at the Collections Conservation Branch of the National Park Service.

While in the WUDPAC program, I have interned at the Furniture/Wooden Artifacts Lab of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and worked on archaeological documentation of furniture and architectural fragments of the Swedish battleship, Vasa, at the Vasa Museum in Stockholm.

ECPN: Are there any particular skills that you feel are important or unique to your discipline? Can one solely be a ‘wooden artifact conservator,’ or is knowledge of composites and how to treat other materials inherent to the work?

CS: Knowledge of wood science and woodworking skills are hugely important to furniture conservation, as wood is the predominant material you will come across on a day-to-day basis.  I suppose one could solely be a ‘wooden artifact conservator’ if the collection needs supported it, but I am really interested in furniture more broadly, and for that, you need to have a working knowledge of other materials and surface techniques (ie: gilding, metals, leather and other organics, and stone). Because of the diverse materials a furniture conservator can encounter, I have actively sought out institutions with encyclopedic collections or projects that may indirectly relate to furniture to broaden my exposure.

ECPN: What are some of your current projects, research, or interests?

CS: I am working on two painted architectural panels from a period room at the PMA, which comprises painted wall paneling from a 17th century Parisian house.  They were removed from exhibition so that we could replace degrading 1950’s era silk wall coverings. Upon deinstallation, we discovered that one panel had structural damage from weakened wood around an undocumented repair. In addition to the treatment, the curator would also like to have some technical analysis completed to begin the process of researching all of the painted paneling in the room.  One of my favorite parts of working in an active lab in a very busy museum is that there are always new and interesting projects coming through or unexpectedly popping up!

One wall of the gallery with the degrading silk (left). The same wall with the new fabric and trim. (right). [Photos: Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art by Jason Wierzbicki.]
One wall of the gallery with the degrading silk (left). The same wall with the new fabric and trim. (right). [Photos: Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art by Jason Wierzbicki.]

ECPN: In your opinion, what is an important research area or need in your specialization?

CS: As I mentioned before, I am fascinated by the way that function affects design in the furniture field but also how changes in technology influenced changes in design.  I love how the use of tubular steel in the Bauhaus movement revolutionized furniture production and how the development of foam technologies all but eliminated tradition horsehair and sprung upholstery. There has been plenty of research into the care and treatment of these materials, but it’s an area that I personally would like to explore further.

One of the small panels taken down for treatment and technical examination. [Photo: Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art by Jason Wierzbicki.]
One of the small panels taken down for treatment and technical examination. [Photo: Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art by Jason Wierzbicki.]
ECPN: Do you have any advice for prospective emerging conservators who would like to pursue this specialization?

CS: That is a tough question. In most regards furniture conservation is like any other specialty, but I think one thing I’ve learned is the value of trying other things and all specialties.  As I reflect on my pre-program experience and approach the end of my graduate program, I am struck by how each of my classmates thrive in their respective specialties; what seems routine for them is awe-inspiring for me, and vice versa.  By exploring other specialties (and other career paths) I have found an area that fits.  I love historic costumes, but thread counts and invisible stitches make my head hurt. I had a blast working on outdoor sculpture, but the science of stone is really confusing to me.  When I talk about a structural repair, or I am dealing with tented veneers, my classmates are overwhelmed.  But, by working in different specialties and learning as much as I can within the field, I can appreciate the skill and knowledge of others and know where to look, or to whom to turn, when I run into a material with which I am less familiar.

ECPN: Please share any last thoughts or reflections.

CS: I found it very useful to have woodworking experience before I started the WUDPAC program.  It is no longer a requirement of admission as a furniture major, nor do you have to declare a major at the time of admission; however, if it something you are drawn to, having some of those skills in hand will be advantageous down the line. One doesn’t have to be a master craftsman to conserve objects, but a working knowledge of techniques and troubleshooting will only help in care and treatment decisions.


*Featured image: Caite during the installation of new fabric in the gallery. [Photo: Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art by Jason Wierzbicki.]




ECPN Interviews: Electronic Media Conservation with Christine Frohnert

To promote awareness and a clearer understanding of different pathways into specializations that require particular training, The Emerging Conservation Professionals Network (ECPN) is conducting a series of interviews with conservation professionals in these specialties. We kicked off the series with Chinese and Japanese Painting conservation, and now we are focusing on Electronic Media Conservation (EMG). These conservators work with time-based media, which is characterized by artwork with durational elements, such as slide, film, and video, analog or born-digital materials, performance, light or kinetic art, sound or software-based art. We’ve asked our interviewees to share some thoughts about their career paths, which we hope will inspire new conservation professionals and provide valuable insight into these areas of our professional field.

In the first interviews for this series, we spoke with emerging conservators starting in the early stages of their careers working in time-based media, which included Alexandra Nichols, Nicholas Kaplan, Brian Castriota and Yasmin Desssem. In this interview, we hear from Christine Frohnert, a conservator who graduated in 2003 from the University of Arts in Berne, Switzerland, where she majored in the Conservation of Modern Materials and Media. Prior to establishing a private practice for Time-based Media (TBM) with colleague Reinhard Bek, Christine served as chief conservator at the Museum Ludwig in Cologne, Germany for twelve years and as chair of the AIC Electronic Media Group from 2008-2012. In 2012, she was named the inaugural Judith Praska Distinguished Visiting Professor in Conservation and Technical Studies at the Conservation Center at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University (CC/IFA/NYU), where she now serves as the Time-based Media Art Conservation Curriculum Development Program Coordinator.


Christine Frohnert and Reinhard Bek [Photo: Reinhard Bek]
Christine Frohnert and Reinhard Bek [Photo: Reinhard Bek]
ECPN: Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your current position.

Christine Frohnert (CF): I am a conservator of contemporary art with a specific focus on technology-based art. Reinhard Bek and I founded Bek & Frohnert LLC in NYC in 2012- a conservation studio in private practice specializing in the conservation of time-based media (TBM). We are both German, have been trained in Europe, worked in leading positions in museums, and have been involved in international research projects.

Bek and I focus on the conservation of artworks with a durational element in our practice—such as sound, moving image, performance, light, or movement, that unfolds to the viewer over time via slide, film, video, software, or the internet. Since the studio’s inauguration, we have responded to individual needs for both TBM conservation treatments and consulting requests. However, over the last several years, we have experienced a rising demand to serve as consultants for different U.S. institutions without time-based media conservators on staff, as well as for collectors and artists. As many TBM art collecting institutions are facing rapidly increasing needs to adequately acquire, preserve, exhibit and store TBM works, we are responding to this development and our work is more geared towards long-term collection care and the development of preservation plans, as well as education.

ECPN: How were you first introduced to conservation, what contributed to your decision to specialize in time-based media, and why has been your training pathway?

CF: As with most of my colleagues, I started conservation being exposed to more traditional media such as paintings and sculpture. About 20 years ago, I realized that technology-based artworks can be seriously harmed or lost without a new conservation specialty being established. I became fascinated with TBM, and I learned about the newly established program ‘Conservation of Modern Materials and Media’ at the University of Arts, Berne, Switzerland. I graduated from there in 2003.

ECPN: Are there any particular skills that you feel are important or unique to your discipline?

Christine Frohnert [Photo: Marlies Peller]
Christine Frohnert [Photo: Marlies Peller]
CF: A complex range of skill sets are needed, which should be solidly grounded in the conceptual framework of contemporary art conservation as a whole. It requires knowledge in electrics/electronics and programming, and an in-depth understanding of each media category, technology and its preservation, documentation and digital preservation needs. As our profession is highly collaborative by nature, soft skills are equally important to collaborate with all the stakeholders in the institutions involved, as well as with affiliated external professionals such as engineers, computer scientists, and technicians. This is important when defining, communicating, and verifying goals with vendors.

As many museums recently formed or are currently forming ‘Media Teams’ in their respective institutions to tackle their individual TBM collections needs, we have witnessed a rapidly increasing need for skilled labor, dedicated TBM lab space, equipment, and the trustworthy storage and management of huge amounts of born-digital or digitized artworks.

ECPN: What are some of your current projects, research, or interests?

CF: Currently our recent projects include consultation with several institutions to analyze their TBM collections and develop custom-designed conservation strategies according to their individual collections needs and skill sets of staff. These consultations may include surveys, assistance with media acquisitions, exhibitions and artwork documentation, storage, and migration. Bringing in external expertise often provides the bridge that many museums and their TBM stakeholders do not find in-house or do not have the capacity to coordinate. This work helps to identify and structure these needs more clearly and often provides the basis for institutional development and the implementation of larger collection care projects.

Recent and current treatment-based activities range from analyzing the ‘mechanical’ programming of a light-based work, the conservation of a seven channel-video wall from 1998 consisting of 207 Cathode Ray Tube monitors, digitization of analog video, and  the reverse engineering of custom-designed large format slide projectors, to name a few.

Cathode Ray Tube monitor [Photo: Marlies Peller
Cathode Ray Tube monitor [Photo: Marlies Peller]
ECPN: In your opinion, what is an important need in your specialization?

CF: the most pressing need is education. Technology-based art is considered to be very sensitive to damage, loss, misinterpretation, and incorrect installation, due to its very specific and sensitive relationship to time, space, and concept. Damage or loss of a TBM work cannot be seen by simply examining the physical material and may not be immediately apparent unless the individual has received specialized training.

TBM conservation has been identified as a priority by many museums, collectors, and funding agencies. However, the educational opportunities are still limited, and there is currently no U.S. graduate program offering a degree in this specialty (but this will change soon!). As a result, a huge amount of our most recent cultural heritage is at risk, in an unknown condition, and/or not sufficiently integrated into museums’ missions of collecting, exhibition, conservation, research, and education.

However, thanks to the generous funding provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Conservation Center at the Institute of Fine Arts, NYU, started the TBM art conservation curriculum planning project in 2016.The new TBM specialization will be integrated within its current curriculum starting in fall 2018. This will be the first conservation program offering this specialty in the U.S. and the graduates will receive a dual degree: an MS in the Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works and an MA in the History of Art and Archaeology.

ECPN: Have you been involved in any advocacy, outreach, teaching or professional service roles in your specialization?

CF: During my time as EMG (Electronic Media Group) board Chair from 2008-2012, we received numerous request from the membership to offer continuing education opportunities, and in response EMG launched the conference series entitled TechFocus in 2010. The series is designed to provide hands-on guidance and systematic education on different media categories (TechFocus I: Caring for Video Art, Guggenheim Museum, NY, in 2010; TechFocus II: Caring for Film and Slide Art, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC, 2012; TechFocus III: Caring for Software-based Art, Guggenheim Museum, NY, in 2015). In addition, the first periodical worldwide that focuses on TBM art conservation was launched by the EMG in 2012, The Electronic Media Review.

At the (CC/IFA/NYU) I have offered instruction in TBM conservation art in different capacities, including the course Art With A Plug: The Conservation of Artwork Containing Motion, Sound, Light, Moving Images and Interactivity (Fall 2012 and Spring 2015).

Several professional organizations and initiatives have created additional targeted educational opportunities and collaborations. However, despite all these good developments, further training is needed at the graduate level, as well as in continuing education for professionals, to address the fast-increasing demands of TBM conservation.

Under the leadership of Dr. Hannelore Roemich, Professor of Conservation Science and TBM program Director, I have also served as TBM Program Coordinator to assist in identifying skill sets and core competencies of TBM conservators that translate into the educational needs to develop a TBM curriculum. In the fall of 2016 the Conservation Center offered the course and public lecture series Topics in Time-based Media Art Conservation, which included ten lectures by leading art historians, artists, computer scientists, and conservators. These events were an important outreach component of the curriculum development project, and they created the opportunity to promote the field, foster the dialogue between TBM professionals, and build a community.

We are now organizing the upcoming symposium It’s About Time! Building a New Discipline: Time-based Media Art Conservation to be held in May 2018. The two-day symposium will provide a forum for educators, artists, art historians, museum curators and directors, collectors, gallerists, engineers, computer scientists, and conservators to promote TBM art conservation as a discipline on an international level and will conclude the TBM curriculum planning phase.

ECPN: Do you have any advice for prospective emerging conservators who would like to pursue this specialization?

Cathode Ray Tube monitor [Photo: Christine Frohnert]
Cathode Ray Tube monitor [Photo: Christine Frohnert]
CF: While I am not comfortable issuing general advice, I can say that I personally appreciate working with students and colleagues in our field, and that this has shaped and enriched my professional life. If you are a strong communicator who is interested in the intersection of art and technology, art conservation, and art history– and maybe you even have a background in one or more of the related media fields–why don’t you join the EMG sessions at the AIC annual meetings and/or attend the upcoming NYU symposium to engage with the TBM community and find out if this specialty may be just the right fit for you?

ECPN:  Please share any last thoughts or reflections.

CF: We currently see an extremely high demand for trained TBM conservators. This can be measured by the exponentially increasing job offers worldwide and the challenges many institutions face to find qualified candidates. So, it is safe to say that this is the best moment in time for becoming a TBM conservator in this country. If you are interested in pursuing a career in TBM conservation- check out the new TBM curriculum page at the Conservation Center, Institute of Fine Arts at NYU.



ECPN Interviews: Electronic Media Conservation with Yasmin Dessem

To promote awareness and a clearer understanding of different pathways into specializations that require particular training, the Emerging Conservation Professionals Network (ECPN) is conducting a series of interviews with conservation professionals in these specialties. We kicked off the series with Chinese and Japanese painting conservation, and now we are focusing on practitioners in AIC’s Electronic Media Group (EMG). These conservators work with time-based media, which can include moving components, performance, light or sound elements, film and video, analog or born-digital materials. We’ve asked our interviewees to share some thoughts about their career paths, which we hope will inspire new conservation professionals and provide valuable insight into these areas of our professional field.

This is the third post from ECPN’s EMG blog series, for which we first interview Nick Kaplan and more recently, Alex Nichols. For our third interview from the EMG series, we spoke with Yasmin Dessem, currently Head of the Audiovisual Preservation Studio at UCLA Library where she serves as the technical lead as the library continues to develop its program of preservation, digitization and access of its moving image and sound holdings. Previously she managed archive deliverables for new feature releases at Paramount Pictures. She has experience working with a wide variety of moving image and sound formats, as well as pre-film animation devices, silent-era cameras, costumes and paper collections. Yasmin holds Master’s degrees in Art History and Moving Image Archive Studies from UCLA.

Yasmin Dessem (left) and Allie Whalen (right) cleaning and relubricating a Betacam deck. [Photo: Walter Urie]
Yasmin Dessem (left) and Allie Whalen (right) cleaning and relubricating a Betacam deck. [Photo: Walter Urie]
ECPN: Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your current position.

Yasmin Dessem (YD): I oversee the preservation of moving image and recorded sound materials at the UCLA Library’s Preservation Department. For nearly 90 years, the UCLA Library has collected audiovisual materials with content such as home movies, oral histories, and radio broadcasts. Examples are home movies of Susan Sontag’s parents sailing to China in the 1920s and field interviews with Watts residents after the 1965 riots. Audiovisual preservation (AV) at the library is a relatively young unit—a dedicated AV preservationist first came on board in 2011. We offer a number of in-house digitization and preservation services and are currently focusing on increasing our capacity and launching a survey.

ECPN: How were you first introduced to conservation, and why did you decide to pursue conservation?

YD: The 1996 re-release of the restored version of Vertigo first made me aware of film restoration and preservation as an actual practice. Later, as I was finishing my Masters in Art History at UCLA, I took a wonderful class on restoration, preservation, and conservation with Professor David A. Scott. The course covered the material care issues and decision-making ethics for a wide breadth of cultural heritage materials. The class struck a deep chord with me, but I was eager to graduate and start working. After graduation, I ended up working in the film industry for about six years. I was tracking down historic stock footage at one job when my mind circled back to the preservation field as I considered how the films were stored and made available. I had entertained the idea of potentially returning to graduate school to study art conservation some day, but around that time the idea of film preservation as a possible career path began to fully materialize for me. As a result, I began exploring potential graduate programs.

ECPN: Of all specializations, what contributed to your decision to pursue electronic media conservation?

YD: My longtime love for film and music intersected with my curiosity for all things historical and technology-related. These were topics that in one form or another always interested me, but I don’t think I had a full grasp on how to combine them meaningfully into a profession. Preservation was the missing key. My exposure to preservation and conservation while studying art history and my later experience working at film studios both helped direct me towards the specialization.

ECPN: What has been your training pathway?  Please list any universities, apprenticeships, technical experience, and any related jobs or hobbies.

YD: I pursued my studies in the Moving Image Archive Studies (MIAS) Program at UCLA—which persists today as a Master of Library and Information Science (M.L.I.S.) with a Media Archival Studies specialization. While in the program, I completed internships with Universal Pictures and the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, and volunteered at the Hugh Hefner Moving Image Archive at the University of Southern California. Throughout the two-year MIAS program, I also worked as a fellow at the Center for Primary Research and Training program at UCLA Library Special Collections, where I learned archival processing. My experiences weren’t limited to preserving moving image and sound media, but included paper-based collections, costumes, and film technology. After graduating I attended the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF) Film Restoration Summer School hosted by the Cineteca di Bologna and L’Immagine Ritrovata.

ECPN: Are there any particular skills that you feel are important or unique to your discipline?

YD: Digital preservation will continue to be a key area of expertise that’s needed in museums and archives. Preserving the original source material and digitizing content is not enough. There are more resources than ever for strategies and tools for digital preservation, and it’s important to seek them out. Another valuable skill is developing a level of comfort with handling and understanding the unique characteristics of a wide variety of physical analog formats  such as film, videotape, audiotape, and grooved media (LP, 78s, lacquer discs, wax cylinders, etc.). Similarly, it’s helpful to have a familiarity with playback devices for these obsolete media formats (equipment like open-reel decks or video decks.) Lastly, metadata can be an unsung hero in media preservation. Often, we’re the first to see or hear a recording in decades, so capturing metadata around the point of transfer is critical. Metadata standards can be a rabbit hole of complexities, especially when it comes to describing audiovisual media, but understanding their application is an essential skill.

Lacquer disc cleaning and transfer workshop at the Instituto de Historia de Cuba in Havana, Cuba [Photo: Yasmin Dessem]
Lacquer disc cleaning and transfer workshop at the Instituto de Historia de Cuba in Havana, Cuba [Photo: Yasmin Dessem]
ECPN: What are some of your current projects, research, or interests?

YD: We’re just wrapping up digitization of materials from the Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company (GSM), an African American-owned and operated insurance firm established in Los Angeles in 1925 in response to discriminatory practices that restricted the ability of African American residents to purchase insurance. GSM operated for 85 years and their collection is a vibrant resource documenting Los Angeles and the empowerment of a community. We received grants from the National Film Preservation Foundation and the John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation to support this work. The digitized collection is now available on Calisphere. We’ve just started a crowd sourcing project working with former GSM staffers to describe any unidentified content. It’s been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career, hearing everyone’s stories and seeing how much it means to everyone involved to have this collection preserved and made available.

We’ve also been in preparation to launch a large-scale survey that will help us gather data on the Library’s audiovisual collections that can be used for long term-planning. Outside of UCLA, we’ve been involved with ongoing work with cultural heritage institutions in Cuba. Last February, I set up equipment and held a workshop on the digitization of radio transcription discs held at the Instituto de Historia de Cuba (IHC) in Havana. I’m heading back there next week to begin a project to transfer IHC’s open reel audio collections.

ECPN: In your opinion, what is an important research area or need in your specialization?

YD: It’s crucial to preserve the expertise related to the operation and repair of playback equipment. Playback equipment will become more and more difficult to source in the future. Engineers, whose entire careers are dedicated to the use and care of this equipment, are some of the best resources for this knowledge. Their knowledge is shared through conversation, YouTube videos, social media, and professional workshops. Documenting the skills required to handle, maintain, calibrate, and service this equipment in a more formalized way and sharing that knowledge widely will ensure that the preservationists can keep their equipment viable for longer.

ECPN: Do you have any advice for prospective emerging conservators who would like to pursue this specialization?

YD: Try everything. Media preservation requires a wide variety of skills from computer coding to soldering decades-old circuit boards. Depending on where your career takes you, it’s good to have at least a passing familiarity with the full range of skills you may need to call upon. Apply for internships or fellowships with organizations, like the National Digital Stewardship Residency. Volunteer at community-based archives that need help getting their collections in order. Join professional organizations, like the Association of Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC) or the Association of Moving Image Archivists. Attend conferences like code4lib, the Preservation and Archiving Special Interest Group (PASIG), or the Digital Asset Symposium (DAS). Network with engineers or preservation professionals to continue to grow your own expertise, but also share your own skills when you can. Collaboration and knowledge-sharing are a fundamental part of the profession.

Perforation repair of 16 mm film [Photo: Yasmin Dessem]
Perforation repair of 16 mm film [Photo: Yasmin Dessem]
ECPN: Please share any last thoughts or reflections.

YD: One thing to be aware of, if you’re a woman in the field of audiovisual preservation, is that you may occasionally run into people who are surprised to see a woman working with technology (much less wielding a screwdriver!). This response persists to some degree despite the presence of many successful female professionals in the field. What’s encouraging, however, is seeing the growth of groups like the Women in Recorded Sound collective at ARSC providing support.

Audiovisual preservation is such a gratifying profession. Having the opportunity to make historic content available is incredibly meaningful work that I feel lucky to be a part of everyday. On an even more basic level, figuring out a new workflow or getting a piece of equipment to finally work is just so viscerally satisfying. I’m part of an amazing team whose passion, humor and willingness to try out new things inspires me every day and makes me feel so lucky to be doing this work.

ECPN Interviews: Electronic Media Conservation with Alexandra Nichols

To promote awareness and a clearer understanding of different pathways into specializations that require particular training, the Emerging Conservation Professionals Network (ECPN) is conducting a series of interviews with conservation professionals in these specialties. We kicked off the series with Chinese and Japanese painting conservation, and now we are focusing on practitioners in AIC’s Electronic Media Group (EMG). These conservators work with time-based media, which can include moving components, performance, light or sound elements, film and video, analog or born-digital materials. We’ve asked our interviewees to share some thoughts about their career paths, which we hope will inspire new conservation professionals and provide valuable insight into these areas of our professional field.

In our first EMG interview, we spoke with Nick Kaplan. Now for our second interview from the EMG series, we turn to with Alexandra Nichols, currently a Sherman Fairchild Foundation Fellow in the conservation of time-based media and installation art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. From 2016-2017, she was a Samuel H. Kress Foundation Fellow in Time-based Media Conservation at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. She earned her Master’s of Art Conservation from the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation (2016) where she concentrated on the conservation of modern and contemporary objects.

ECPN: Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

Alexandra Nichols (AN): I received my Master’s of Conservation from Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation in 2016, where I concentrated on the conservation of modern and contemporary objects. I recently completed a one-year fellowship as a Samuel H. Kress Foundation Fellow in Time-based Media Conservation at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, where I was working under Joanna Phillips, the Guggenheim’s Senior Conservator of Time-based Media. Just a few weeks ago, I joined the Metropolitan Museum of Art as a Sherman Fairchild Foundation Conservation Fellow, where I’ll be working with the Met’s collection of time-based media and installation art.  

ECPN: How were you first introduced to conservation, and why did you decide to pursue conservation?

AN: After obtaining my undergraduate degree in art history, I moved to London and landed a job as an executive assistant at the British Museum. While there, I visited the Hirayama Studio, the British Museum’s conservation lab dedicated to the care and treatment of East Asian paintings and works on paper. It’s a beautiful, peaceful room, with tatami mats and walls lined with brushes and different types of paper. I loved how the conservators could develop such a close, tactile relationship with the artworks, and how the treatments were carried out with respect for the cultures that created the works. This led me to seek out internships where I could gain experience in conservation.

ECPN: Of all specializations, what contributed to your decision to pursue electronic or time-based media conservation?

AN: I’m really fascinated by the wide range of materials and methods utilized by contemporary artists. Something I love about time-based media art is its complexity and variability. An artwork may have multiple channels of video, require a very specific placement in the gallery, or be shown differently based on the size or shape of the room.

My training is in objects conservation, focusing on the conservation of contemporary art. During the course of my graduate studies, none of the North American programs offered coursework in time-based media*. Thus, I was able to explore working with time-based media during my graduate internships at the Hirshhorn and the Museum of Modern Art. I’ve been pleasantly surprised that many of the time-based media pieces I’ve worked on incorporate sculptural elements, so my graduate training has been helpful in ways I didn’t expect. Learning how these objects should be placed in an installation and their relationship to electronic and audiovisual elements is really intriguing.

*The Institute of Fine Arts (IFA) at New York University is implementing a curriculum geared towards the conservation of time-based media, and is accepting applications this this year for Fall 2018 matriculation.

Alexandra and Contract Video Engineer Maurice Schechter conduct a quality check (QC) on a video file. [Photo: Joanna Phillips]
Alexandra and Contract Video Engineer Maurice Schechter conduct a quality check (QC) on a video file. [Photo: Joanna Phillips]
ECPN: What has been your training pathway?  Please list any universities, apprenticeships, technical experience, and any related jobs or hobbies.

AN: I’ve always had an interest in computers and electronics. In middle school and high school, I learned the programming language C, built computers as a hobby, and took courses in video editing and digital photography as part of my undergraduate degree.

I’m originally from the Washington, DC area, and after deciding to pursue conservation, I completed pre-program internships and contracts at various museums in the Smithsonian system, including the Freer and Sackler Galleries, the Museum Conservation Institute, and the National Museum of African-American History and Culture.

In 2013, I began my graduate studies at the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation, where I specialized in the conservation of modern and contemporary objects. As a graduate student, I completed a summer internship at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, preparing time-based media works in their collection for the 2014 exhibition Days of Endless Time. During my third-year internship at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, I collaborated with Kate Lewis and Amy Brost to treat a pearlescent bead-adorned cathode ray tube television set by Nam June Paik and Otto Piene.

Additionally, the chance to work with Joanna Phillips at the Guggenheim has been thrilling—there aren’t many opportunities to learn about time-based media conservation in the American graduate conservation programs, so emerging conservators must gain expertise through internships and fellowships. However, this is changing soon — The Institute of Fine Arts (IFA) at New York University is implementing a curriculum geared towards the conservation of time-based media, and is accepting applications this year for Fall 2018 matriculation (link: I’ll be utilizing the skills I’ve developed over the past year at my current fellowship working with the time-based media art collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

ECPN: Are there any particular skills that you feel are important or unique to your discipline?

AN: Strong documentation skills are important in any specialization, but this is especially true for time-based media. The inherent variability of time-based media requires extensive research and documentation to ensure that it can be installed correctly in the future. It’s also important to know about the history of video production, including film history and the development of various formats. Foundational knowledge of video and other technologies is also crucial and has to be updated continuously, since technology is always evolving. Without this knowledge, media conservators cannot seek out and engage external specialists and vendors who can provide specific technical expertise

ECPN: What are some of your current projects, research, or interests?

AN: I am just getting started at The Met, but I am currently working with Nora Kennedy and Meredith Reiss to help document the 250 time-based media artworks in The Met’s collection. This includes updating questionnaires that are sent to artists during the acquisition process, which help us learn more about the production history and intended exhibition of the artwork, and researching past exhibitions to create retroactive iteration reports. The Met has had a Time-based Media Working Group for many years now, and I am looking forward to collaborating with its members as I conduct my research.

Image of a Skype interview with an artist, in which Alexandra and Contract Video Engineer Maurice Schechter discuss the audio channels of an artist-provided video file. [Photo: Alexandra Nichols]
Image of a Skype interview with an artist, in which Alexandra and Contract Video Engineer Maurice Schechter discuss the audio channels of an artist-provided video file. [Photo: Alexandra Nichols]
ECPN: In your opinion, what is an important research area or need in your specialization?

AN: I think the acquisition and display of virtual reality (VR) will pose a number of challenges for conservators in the coming years. Artists are increasingly experimenting with these types of works—Jordan Wolfson exhibited a VR work in the Whitney Biennial this year, for example—but as far as I know, no museums have acquired a VR piece yet. This technology is so new and is still being developed, and as a result, there’s so much potential for the obsolescence of file formats and hardware.

ECPN: Do you have any advice for prospective emerging conservators who would like to pursue this specialization?

AN: Try playing around with how to shoot and edit your own video in Final Cut Pro or Premiere! It will teach you about digital video formats and give you some insight into the artist’s process. And, don’t be afraid to reach out to conservators you admire to learn more about what they do!

ECPN: Please share any last thoughts or reflections.

AN: Supervised training under established media conservators is essential to the development of one’s skills as an emerging time-based media conservator. Fellowships and internships provide practical experience with real-life museum scenarios that is not possible to gain through readings or coursework. I am extremely grateful to the Samuel H. Kress Foundation and the Sherman Fairchild Foundation for providing me with opportunities to hone my expertise at the Guggenheim and The Met.


*Featured photograph: Alexandra examines a MiniDV tape containing an artwork while working at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. [Photo: Kris Mckay]


44th Annual Meeting, Photographic Materials, Tuesday, May 17, Separation Anxiety: Kiss Your Acetate Goodbye! – by Nicole Christie and Cindy Colford.

In a presentation related to the Disaster theme of the conference, speakers Colford and Christie spoke of the recovery of flood damaged photographic collections of the Peterboro Municipal Archives, in Ontario in 2004. The area wide disaster created such demands on affected infrastructure that the response began two weeks after the peak flood, which led to a decision to freeze all the of works, including glass plates and film negatives as other methods of drying had not been possible. The PMA participated in a CCI risk assessment which reported back with recommendations to keep all film stabilized in freezers for continued cold storage, and to identify cellulose acetate negatives as a specific priority for treatment due to their autocatalytic behavior, leading to eventual change and loss of values.
The authors, looking to Pavelka & Naipavel-Heidushke’s paper on successful treatment and separation of gelatin image layer from acetate support, called out Pavelka’s suggestion that insurance companies might provide financial assistance for treatment in their coverage. Following the protocol suggested in the article, the authors proceeded and achieved inconsistent results. They noted the process per negative could take up to ninety minutes, resulting in only four negatives treated over two days, They cited concerns of prolonged exposure of the negative to solvents, yet found it hard to keep solvent from evaporating, which could induce curl and tensions while drying. A new question developed, what was the difference between the article’s case studies vs. theirs? An obvious variable was the fact that these items had been frozen. Whether or not this actually factored into the negatives’ behavior. Consulting further with Greg Hill (currently of the Canadian Conservation Institute) & Gayle McIntyre (Sir Sandford Fleming College), the protocol was revised to include the following steps, which helped increase the reliability of the method across different negatives:

Silver gelatin pellicle being separated from acetate support
Silver gelatin pellicle being separated from acetate support

1. Remove material by cutting away some of the lip/edge of the negative to allow ingress of solvent
2. Prewet the negative using sequential solvents
3. Use visual and tactile clues to determine the moment of separation (need slide 3.1, 3.2.) not a fixed amount of time
4. If the gelatin is still disrupted, reshape while it is still wetted using gentle prodding (with  brushes on silicon release Mylar*) to lay flat before drying completely.  The unsupported pellicle, thin as tissue, can be left to release final residues of solvent in a non-stick drying pack in fume hood to offgas.
(More images of these steps available in the downloadable Kiss Your Acetate Goodbye images of layer separation, pdf file kindly provided by the speakers.)
The images, now supported on Mylar sheets, were digitized, and the storage solution after treatment includes use of polypropylene sleeves in a clamshell binder. In an added benefit, the items are no longer taking up space in cold storage. The authors report that after eight years, the images appear unchanged in these conditions. While having a positive outcome, the speakers note that is still a lengthy process involving time and material costs, requiring trained professionals. This technique may not be a catchall for all collections, but for prioritized ones, it can be effective management tool for severely decaying negatives.
*Additional note: Silicon tip tools may also be useful here. See related content from 2016 BPG Tips Session on Silicon Shapers, as found in art supply stores today among the brush selections for working thick paints, in the BPG wiki.

Joint 44th AIC Annual Meeting and 42nd CAC-ACCR Conference – Pre-session, May 13, “Share the Care: Collaborative Preservation Approaches, a Joint AIC /IAMFA Meeting” by Priscilla Anderson, Dawn Walus, and Patricia Miller.

Image of powerpoint slide with text "Collaboration is not about gluing together existing egos. It's about the ideas that never existed until after everyone entered the room."
Credit: Sarah Stauderman

This pre-session was a joint meeting between conservation professionals and facilities engineers, architects, and administrators who belong to the International Association of Museum Facility Administrators. The topic of the day was how to foster a collegial and collaborative working relationship between conservation and facilities staff so together we can preserve collections with well-managed storage and exhibition facilities. The day was structured in three sections, each with a panel of experts and a tabletop exercise. The three of us attended, and agreed to blog together as the day was jam-packed with inspiration and useful tips. We were hoping to learn strategies for building relationships with our facilities managers, including developing common language, shared understanding of goals, and respecting each other’s areas of expertise.
The first session, Share the Risk: Collaborative approaches to facilities construction, renovation, and operation was moderated by Joelle Wickens, (Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library). Key takeaways from this session were that no one person owns a facilities problem, and monthly meetings, meaningful and well-planned monthly meetings, are a good strategy for building relationships that successfully address the inevitable problems. Out of work time is also important…sharing a beer with each other was mentioned throughout the day as a way to break down those silo walls.
Image of workshop participants witting around a round table talking and laughing
Image courtesy of P. Anderson

Panelists included Jack Plumb (National Library of Scotland), John Castle and Lois Price (Winterthur), Rob Waller (Protect Heritage Corp), and Deborah Potter (Tate). One of Jack’s tips was to build in an orientation for new contractors with collections care to explain the local policies and behavior expectations that might be different from one jobsite to another. Jack also has a very interesting program for doing temperature and humidity mapping research using students from Heriot Watt University doing their dissertations. I wanted to know more about this program, and how to find students that are interested in this work!
Lois Price and John Castle got an NEH Sustaining Cultural Heritage Collections grant to improve their wireless building management system, and in the process, found that the working relationships between conservation and facilities staff, and each assumptions made about each other, were not so productive. So they set about doing a qualitative survey of their peers across the world, and they reported the results to us. The data set is rich, with lots of variable possible including institutional budget, frequency of joint meetings, rate of success, and decision-making rights. Their conclusions, while not statistical, point toward the fact that nothing can substitute for a good team, and the meeting more frequently can cure a number of long-standing challenges. For the skeptic who says “More meetings? I ain’t going to no more stinkin’ meetings” one merely has to say, “Let’s get you into the right meetings!”
Rob Waller talked about prioritizing different risks to collections, focusing on clearly defined goals. He explained the importance of filtering what falls under facilities managers’ ability to control. He reiterated that in many cases, the 80/20 rule applies: 20% of the risks contribute to 80% or more of the total risk, so these should be prioritized if at all possible.
Deborah Potter shared Tate’s collaborative approach to facilities planning for six sites, 72,000 works of art and a million library and archive materials. In debriefs from system failures, they discuss the impact on the collection, and approach how to prevent it from happening again, also taking a risk-based approach to collections care. Their team includes registrars, collections,, communications, and facilities staff. With a “green vision” aiming to reduce carbon emissions by 15%, they are embarking on an ambitious but doable program including energy plant and HVAC controls replacement, LED lighting, solar panels. Other sustainability initiatives include waste management, recycling, up-cycling, a flower meadow, and beekeeping! They’re not the only ones keeping bees…we found these on the roof just outside the door of the pre-session room!
Image of beehive and hexagonal wooden honeycomb sculpture on a roof
Image courtesy of P. Anderson

This first session ended with a tabletop exercise in which temperature and humidity parameters for an incoming loan challenge our fictitious small institution, stemming from poorly written loan agreement, lack of historical data, and lack of communication between the director and the staff. Of course we sorted it all out in 15 minutes, but with the understanding that these problems are ongoing and are exacerbated by the fact that we have no industry standards for libraries, museums and archives. One group noted that such agreements can be used as leverage to make needed upgrades.
The second session, Share the Planning: Collaborative approaches to emergency management, was moderated by Rebecca Fifield, Chair, AIC Collections Care Network, and Head of Collection Management, Special Collections at New York Public Library
Image of workshop participants seated around a round table smiling and talking
Image courtesy of P. Anderson

Collection Emergency Plans at Museum Victoria
Maryanne McCubbin, head of Strategic Collection Management for the Museum Victoria, presented the approach they have to managing risks in the multiple museum buildings and storage facilities where they house over 17 million state collection items. Citing recent floods that have tested their plan and preparedness, she emphasized how crucial it is for collections staff to communicate accurately and often with facilities and provide a liaison with facilities as well as emergency (first) responders (fire, police, authorities). She also commented on an often overlooked approach to managing risks, or inherent dangers, within a collection, such as hazardous substances in collections.
She stressed that a plan should be thorough yet brief. It can have appendices that provide more specific and detailed outlined activities for departments. However the plan should be developed through extensive negotiations with facilities, conservation and security. She cited a couple pitfalls for any great plan: failure to regularly induct new hires to the plan, especially in departments with high-turnover such as facilities and security; keeping contact information for key personnel up to date; reviewing incident reports to improve your plan; and practice!
The Lone Responder: Building an Emergency team with limited resources
Laura Hortz Stanton, Executive director of Conservation Center for Art & Historic Artifacts (CCAHA), discussed how crucial it is for small historic house museum, societies and municipal museums with limited staff and resources to connect with their local emergency management personnel. Reaching out to your local fire or police is important so they can become familiar with the building(s) as well as the contents, and key staff members. They can even review your emergency response plans and provide recommendations. Another key point was the importance of being prepared for the recovery after a disaster. “Who you gonna call?” A small museum that does not have a conservation and/or collections staff needs to keep an up-to-date contact list for local or regional collections professionals that can respond quickly to a call for assistance after a disaster of any size. She pointed out resources available online to help develop plans, including online templates and training, opportunities to benefit from mutual aid memberships in your state, local assistance networks, as well as AIC’s National Heritage Responders (NHR, formerly AIC-CERT). The majority of these links can be found on AIC’s website.
NFPA Codes for Cultural Heritage Institutions
Nick Artim of Heritage Protection Group was not able to attend the session as scheduled. He did participate in the half day pre-conference session on Saturday titled Choosing and Implementing a Fire Suppression System for a Collecting Institution. (AIC Blog Link For more information regarding Codes and Standards for the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) see links provided at the end of this blog post.
The session concluded with a tabletop exercise titled An 88-year old dam and a hurricane on the way! Teams were tasked with emergency planning for the fictional Decoy Museum, a small museum located on the coast of Maryland with a history of flooding. The museum is down river from an 88 year old dam and a hurricane is quickly approaching. Teams were shown a photograph of the exterior of the building and it’s proximity to the water, history of the site as it has fared in previous storms, images of the interior and a description of the collection. We were also told that our emergency plan is out of date and the only copy stored on a computer. Using the expertise at our individual tables we were asked to review our emergency preparedness and how we would respond in our respective roles. As the clock counted down we were provided with updates on storm progress, a status report on rising flood waters, and given a 24 hour evacuation notice to see how circumstances would affect our strategies.
Although initial discussions were focused on collections, most teams concluded that the safety of the public and staff came first, followed by securing collection data (hard drives/ records), securing the building, and initiating organization for return and recovery. Two key takeaways from the exercise included a discussion around FEMA’s Incident Command Structure and the concept of “dead” building. ICS is a standardized approach to the command, control, and coordination of emergency response. ICS offers flexibility to respond to small to large incidents, defining key roles to be filled rather than strictly identifying individuals. “Dead” building is a term used by facilities professionals to describe a full building shutdown and disconnection from utilities. As part of your plan it is important to know how long it will take to shut down your building as well as bring it back online.
The third session, Share the Responsibility: Collaborative approaches to selecting appropriate environmental guidelines, was moderated by Patricia Silence, Director of Preventive Conservation, Colonial Williamsburg.
Image of four speakers seated at the podium table talking and laughing
Image courtesy of P. Anderson

Select Guidelines and Standards
Selecting guidelines and standards can’t be boiled down to just a number because it depends on factors such as the building envelope, outside air temperatures, HVAC equipment, climate, etc. and how well their interaction matches capability of building and environment. The speakers discussed using guidelines and not standards as a basis for procedures and policies, and how to maintain the notion that the indoor environment is a fundamental component to preservation of collection. Other key points made by this panel included:

  • Consistent monitoring leads to meaningful conversations
  • Environmental control includes lighting, ventilation, and pest control in addition to temperature and RH
  • Customized specifications should be developed for each institution and collection, looking for “parameters in lieu of more science” and reinforcing the point that “70/50 is no longer an appropriate, practical, sustainable, or useful set-point.”

This session ended with a table-top exercise involving an old swimming pool, a famous elephant, and a collection of ivories that need special environmental controls for exhibition. There was role-playing and even name-calling, and things got a little silly, but it was a great way to end the day.
A number of useful references were shared:
ASHRAE (American Society of Heating Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers). 2011. Chapter 23 of ASHRAE Handbook – Heating, Ventilating, and Air-Conditioning Applications.–publications/handbook
BSI (British Standards Institute)
PAS 197:2009 Code for Practice for Cultural Collections Management
PAS 198:2012 Specification for Managing Environmental Conditions for Cultural Collections
PD 5454:2012: Guide for the Storage and Exhibition of Archival Materials
CEN (European Committee for Standardization) BS EN 15757:2010: Conservation of Cultural Property-Specifications for Temperature and Relative Humidity to Limit Climate-Induced Mechanical Damage in Organic Hygroscopic Materials
IAMFA Cultural Institutions Benchmarking Exercise
ISO (international Organization of Standardization) ISO 11799:2015: Information and documentation – Document storage requirements for archive and library materials
National Archives and Records Administration – (US)– 2002. Archival Storage Standards, NARA Directive 1571
NFPA (National Fire Protection Association)
NFPA 909 : Code for the Protection of Cultural Resource Properties – Museums, Libraries, and Places of Worship, 2013.
NFPA 914: Code for the Fire Protection of Historic Structures, 2015
National Museum Directors’ Conference. Guiding Principles for Reducing Museums’ Carbon Footprint, 2008
Proceedings of the Smithsonian Institution Summit on the Museum Preservation Environment, 2016

44th Annual Meeting: General Session: GO – Emergency Response, Monday 16 May 2016, "Building a Foundation for Cultural Recovery, Resilience and Future Conservation Efforts in Haiti after the 2010 Earthquake" by Stephanie Hornbeck and Olsen Jean Julien

In the aftermath of the major earthquake that struck the Port-au-Prince region of Haiti in 2010, the Smithsonian Institutional Haiti Cultural Recovery Project was formed in partnership with the government of Haiti. The partnership was established to assist local professionals in the recovery of their cultural heritage. The 2010 earthquake was the most destructive event in Haiti’s history and resulted in the collapse of museums and historic structures.

Stephanie Hornbeck

The project was launched in 2010 and continues to be highly successful. The efforts began by defining a plan for the partnership, both within the Haitian government and the cultural sector. Funding, provided from both public and private donors including AIC, exceeded three million dollars and was used in finding a facility that would house the 100,000 objects endangered as well as hiring a staff that worked to rehouse, document, and treat this collection.
The Cultural Recovery Center staff included local and international conservators, 54 international conservators and collection managers, and local assistants including 13 full time students. Ideal volunteers came with an open-minded attitude and willingness to help wherever needed.
Conservation priorities were established for the endangered collection, which included West and Central African tradition, Historic Haitian Art, and Contemporary Haitian Art. Some of the artifacts recovered include broken panels and paintings, crumpled and torn paper, broken sculptures, and built heritage in total collapse. Conservation and preservation professionals faced numerous challenges including working in a tropical climate, lack of written and photographic inventories, and a general absence of basic collections care practices. The country has faced decades long problems with discontinuous electricity and many museums didn’t have covered windows. The presenters emphasized that their goal was not to establish priorities within the collection, but to aid in stabilizing and treating the collection items that locals deemed a priority. This commendable attitude proved to be quite difficult at times, as many museums did not have their collections prioritized prior to the earthquake.
Some of the conservation activities included assessing and improving facilities, providing guidance and support during the stabilization of damaged collections, training volunteers and staff to process and stabilize a high volume of damaged works, and treating a selection of culturally important and badly damaged works. The treatment stage included the stabilization of 35,000 works from 20 institutions.
The presenters gave reasons for why stages of the Haiti Cultural Recovery Project were successful or unsuccessful. Less successful situations arose when establishing an agreement with the National Bureau of Ethnology, negotiating with ISPAN for the construction of the conservation center on public property, and managing the transition from one government to another. In addition, the speakers stated that it was difficult to have the Haitian government to be proactive and take ownership of the project. Success was attributed to the core set of values shared between the six types of partners. When translated into the management of the situation, these principles lead to a mutually understanding, which ultimately lead to the success of the project.

44th Annual Meeting: Architecture and Objects Joint Session, Sunday 15 May 2016, "A Methodology for Documenting Preservation Issues Affecting Cultural Heritage in Syria and Iraq" by LeeAnn Barnes Gordon

Cultural Heritage Initiatives
Providing assistance in war-torn areas in Syria and Iraq is a complicated matter. The humanitarian crisis has resulted in protests in Syria against the government while a civil war led to the emergence of extremists groups, the most active threat being daesh (ISIS/ISIL). Collateral damage to the area has resulted in the militarization of archaeological sites and historic neighborhoods being obliterated. Organizations such as the ASOR Cultural Heritage Initiatives (CHI) are continually working on meeting the challenges of this cultural heritage crisis. Through diligent monitoring, CSI is able to assist the nations by documenting damage, promoting global awareness, and planning emergency and post-war responses.
LeaAnn Barnes Gordon gave an insightful presentation into the complications of providing international support to local residents and institutions. A highlight of Gordon’s presentation was showcasing CHI’s extensive digital mapping of over 7,800 cultural heritage sites. These maps help to assess the affects on cultural heritage by analyzing different types of damage as well as current and prospective threats. By utilizing satellite imagery, CHI can monitor changes over time in areas that have been damaged by military occupation or that have been illegally excavated. Information is compiled into reports using photographs and textual records of observations; some of these records are currently available online and others are being added regularly.
CHI is standardizing documents and terminology to avoid ambiguity during documentation (e.g. threats vs. disturbances). In the presentation, Gordon provided examples of types of documents utilized including field guide assessment forms, photo-documentation guides, and technical advice in Arabic to assist those currently living/working in Syria and Iraq. In addition, CHI is providing resources and funding for local institutions for efforts such as cleaning and removing debris and erecting temporary structures.
The presentation discussed ongoing CHI projects as well as general challenges faced when attempting to protect cultural heritage in conflict zones. Constant monitoring allows CHI to identify potential damages and share this information with conservation/preservation specialists in the area. These measures help prevent and decrease future damage to culturally rich sites and collections as well as helping to create standardized documents that can be used in other areas of conflict zones. CHI5
To learn more about CHI and the important work they are doing, please see:

44th Annual Meeting – Textile Session, May 15, “Inherent Vice in the Woven Structure of Northwest Coast Spruce Root Hats” by Sara Serban

We all love the topic of inherent vice. And in this talk, the topic is presented as it relates to basketry, hats, and an exhibition at a museum of Canadian social history.
Sara Serban, Objects Conservator at the Musée McCord in Montreal, spoke about painted and woven spruce root hats she prepared for “Wearing our Identity: The First Peoples Collection,” a ‘permanent’ exhibition planned to last five years (with rotations). The five hats selected for display were made between 1850 and 1920 by weavers from the Northwest coast of Canada, including the Haida and Kwakwaka’wakw cultural groups. In her talk, Sara discussed how the hats’ materials, complex woven structure, past storage and environmental conditions, and previous treatments relate to current condition issues and present treatment challenges.
Sara consulted with Isabel Rorick, a talented Haida weaver (see some of her work here), in order gain a better understanding of the materials and techniques used to make these types of hats. Sitka spruce roots are used for weaving because they grow in long straight lines. Roots are usually 3 to 20 feet in length, but can be as long as 50 feet. After harvesting, the outer layer of bark is removed from the roots by heating with hot coals, causing the bark to peel, and then pulling the roots through a split stick. The root is then split lengthwise one or more times. The interior pithy core is discarded, the inner layer is used for the warp of the hat, and the outer polished layer is used for the weft.
The processed roots are soaked in water and then woven from the top down using a combination of two-and three-strand twining techniques. Three-strand twining is almost always used for added strength at the crown of the hat, and twill twining is used to create geometric patterns at the brim. Continuous warps are used in the beginning, with additional warps added in as needed. A wooden disk form can aid in shaping the hat during weaving. An awl is often used to push the stitches together, and when complete, the hats are watertight.
Sara reviewed condition issues and previous treatments of the hats chosen for exhibition. As can be expected, the older hats are more fragile, and they all have experienced deterioration from low humidity. Darkening of spruce root, from cream-colored to dark brown, as a result of oxidation is a condition issue I was not aware of and seeing this contrast surprised me (compare the historic hat in the image above with the light color of this contemporary spruce root hat made by Rorick). Sara pointed out that while woven spruce root baskets are stored resting on their bottoms, hats are usually stored resting on their brims, and this positioning may cause additional stresses within the hat structure over time. She also noticed that certain areas, like the top disc, top edge (or turn), and crown, are more susceptible to breakage.
The majority of hats had undergone previous treatments (sometimes multiple campaigns), and many of these interventions caused further damage to the root fibers. For example, one hat had been repaired with a thick, raffia-like fiber that caused overall distortions in shape and breakage of adjacent root fibers. Sara questioned whether this type of mending was a traditional repair carried out when the hat was in its source community, or if it was later work. After a survey of spruce root hats in the museum’s collection, she found many had similar repairs, and because of this consistency, the repairs were likely carried out in the museum.
The museum’s conservation records indicate that treatments using methyl cellulose, wheat starch paste, and mixtures of Lascaux 360 HV and 498 HV were carried out in the 1980’s. Additionally, Paraloid B-72 in acetone was previously used to repair at least one hat because wheat starch paste was not found to be strong enough, although it was noted that acetone did affect the black paint on the surface. The common basketry repair technique using twists of Japanese tissue coated in adhesive was found not to be reliable, as these repairs often failed (e.g. the tissue lifted) not long after they were applied.
Examination of these past treatments helped Sara plan her treatment approach. Since the hats did not respond well to the adhesive mends of the past, she created mechanical mends using hair silk to hold the sides of the breaks together.  She used a pattern of stitching with horizontal stitches on the outside of the hat and vertical stitches bridging the split on the interior. Prior to mending, she humidified distorted hats in a chamber with water and ethanol and then reshaped the hats, with the aid of carbon rod clamps (one of my favorite conservation tools). Tinted Japanese tissue, with twists to imitate weft strands, was used to fill losses on the hat’s crown. For loss compensation at the top turn of the hat, Sara first made molds of the woven surface using dental molding putty and then cast paper pulp into them. The paper fills were cut to shape, toned, and adhered with wheat starch paste.
After the presentation, an audience member asked about storage recommendations for the hats. Sara responded that ideally each hat would have a custom form with some type of cover that would offer protection from dust but not touch the surface of the hat.
This was one of several talks in the Textile Session that discussed more 3-D textiles (or textile “objects”), which were of particular interest to me as an objects conservator (see Muppets, Egungun,and a Digitally Printed Reproduction Sleeve). Also check out this blogpost about a related talk in the Objects Session: “The Aftermath of Meds: Removing Historic Fabric Tape from Tlingit Basketry” by Caitlin Mahony.

44th Annual Meeting – Paintings Session, 16 May 2016, “Bocour paints and Barnett Newman paintings: context and correlations,” by Dr. Corina Rogge and Bradford Epley

Barnett Newman: The Late Work, The Menil Collection, March 27-August 2, 2015. Image found here.
Installation view of Barnett Newman: The Late Work, The Menil Collection, March 27-August 2, 2015. Image found here.

Barnett Newman was fairly private about his technique, and until recently, much less was known about his methods and materials than many other artists from the same era. Over the last few years, Dr. Corina Rogge and Bradford Epley have conducted an extensive study of Newman’s technique centered on the 2015 Menil Collection exhibit Barnett Newman: The Late Work, which included paintings drawn from the Menil and collections across the United States and Europe. By analyzing each of the paintings brought together for the show along with studio materials and Newman ephemera, the Menil team were able to learn a great deal about Newman’s working method, and Dr. Rogge’s presentation on the second day of the PSG sessions explored his loyal use of paints produced by Leonard Bocour.
Phillip Pearlstein, Leonard Bocour, 1966. Image from:
Phillip Pearlstein, Leonard Bocour, 1966. Image found here.

Bocour began producing paint in the early 1930s, opening a storefront in Manhattan which quickly became a hang-out spot for AbEx artists. In 1947, Bocour Artist Colors introduced the solvent-borne acrylic Magna, and in 1963, the water-borne acrylic Aqua-Tec, which was a favorite of Newman’s. In addition to these and other lines, Bocour often produced bespoke colors for his artists, and Newman himself often hand-mixed pigments and other additives into Bocour paints, complicating the issue when trying to understand which paints are present on Newman’s various works.
Dr. Rogge highlighted some of the idiosyncrasies of Bocour’s paints, such as the fact that the names of colors don’t necessarily correspond to the actual colorants in the paint. For instance, she found that Bocour Hand Ground Oil Ultramarine Red was colored with manganese violet pigment, while his Bellini Oil Colors Cobalt Blue was actually ultramarine. Generally, these misleading names aren’t too much of an issue, but in certain colors synthetic organic dyes – which Bocour referred to as “toners” – were added, and this is where things get dicey. His so-called cadmium colors like red and yellow contained a mixture of (not necessarily cadmium-based) inorganic pigments and organic dyes, which causes them to be light-sensitive and susceptible to fading or color shifts. She also found that the paint formulas went through changes in their colorants, binders, and additives over their years of production, and offered this handy tip: the address listed on the tube will indicate the period from which it originates – Bocour tubes initially listed simply “New York City,” and then, in 1943, there’s the addition of a two-letter postal zone, and the addition of the newly created five-digit zip code in 1963-64.
Hans Namuth, Barnett Newman in his studio, 1952. Image from:
Hans Namuth, Barnett Newman in his studio, 1952. Image found here.

The Menil team collaborated with the National Gallery to analyze the historic Bocour materials in their Art Materials Research and Study Center, and with Harvard Art Museum’s Center for the Technical Study of Modern Art to analyze the Newman studio paints in their collection. They also received a timely gift: sculptor Robert Murray, a friend and sometimes studio assistant of Newman’s, was an invited lecturer and guest at the Menil symposium accompanying the exhibition of Newman’s late works. Murray then donated to the Menil paints from Newman’s studio, including many Bocour products. By analyzing the pigment ratios of Newman’s hand-mixed additions to the standard Bocour colors, Dr. Rogge was able to group certain paintings together as having been created at the same time.
Rogge and Epley’s broad study of Barnett Newman’s work has benefitted from some excellent collaboration and has highlighted the great value of our national study centers for historic artists’ materials. Their study is allowing scholars to understand the chronology and evolution of his late works, many of which were simply found in his studio after his passing. Her presentation emphasized the fact that the apparent aesthetic simplicity of Newman’s canvases belies not only the surprising complexity of his working method but also his fervent commitment to technical excellence and the physical longevity of his work.