A somewhat late report on the talks at the Wednesday morning General Sessions

[I apologize that the reports on the individual General Session talks are not longer and in greater depth. At the Wednesday morning sessions I had the dual role of blogger and time keeper for the speakers so my attention was split. I am delighted that another blogger has posted detailed reports on the talks by George Wheeler and Steven Weintraub. ]

George Wheeler opened the meeting with his talk, “Identity Crisis– Critical Identity: The Future of Conservation and the Role of AIC in its Development”. Wheeler’s premise was that conservation is an act of criticism and interpretation. Conservators must think about how they think and must make a connection between thought and action. He suggested that conservators look to other fields like literary criticism for models on how to do this. He spoke about four books and one journal that have helped him advance his theoretical thinking. The books are Cesare Brandi’s “Theory of Restoration (Enligh trans, 2005), Salvador Munoz-Vinas’ “Contemporary Conservation Theory” (2005), Paul Eggert’s “Securing the Past” (2009), and Alison Richmond and Alison Bracker’s “Conservation Principles, Dilemmas and Uncomfortable Truths” (2010), and the journal is “Future Anterior”.

Shelly Smith, the second speaker of the morning followed Wheeler with a very animated talk, “With Patience and Fortitude: Keeping Conservation Relevant in a Changing Institution”. Smith is Head of Conservation at the New York Public Library, an institution with a permanent collection comprised of enormous numbers of objects housed in multiple branches. In 2008, the Library changed its mission statement dropping conservation from its mission at the same time that it made plans to move its conservation department to a new, much larger custom designed laboratory offsite, and that it transferred the department from its technical services division (where it was sometimes looked at as a high end book repair shop) to the collection strategy department where the curatorial department resides. Confused by the mixed messages it had been given about its importance to the institution, the conservation department decided to become proactive rather than wait to be told what it should be in the new scheme of things. It has encouraged the Library think about the transportation of collection materials now that all items must be moved offsite for treatment. It is working to show how stewardship of the collection serves the Library’s new mission “to inspire lifelong learning, advance knowledge and strengthen communities”. One of its the first initiatives in that regard was the production of a five minute video, geared to school children, on the treatment of library materials which was incorporated into a recent Library exhibition.

Patricia Silence, speaking on behalf of the AIC Green Task Force (GTF) presented the last paper before the coffee break– “Challenges of Sustainable Conservation in the 21st Century”. The information she presented will be available in greater depth on the AIC website. Silence stated that the GTF’s aim is provide a methodology for reducing the individual conservator’s impact on the environment. It does not presume to tell anyone how he or she must work. Among the areas Silence spoke about were solvents, water purification systems, treatment options requiring less water, the use of reusable rather than disposable materials, recycling of materials, and travel. She discussed how the AIC itself is working to be more environmentally conscious including choosing meeting tote bags that were made from recycled materials. The GTF is collecting ideas on how to make conservation practice more sustainable. Silence asked that ideas and tips be sent to green@conservation-us.org

The first presentation in the second of the Wednesday morning sessions was Steven Weintruab’s “The Evolution of Environmental Standards: The Struggle to Quantify and Simplify Risk in a Complex World”. Weintraub dedicated his talk to Carolyn Rose and Toby Raphael. Weintraub’s premise was that environmental control is a complex issue and there is a danger when it is simplified to a list of specificiations. He noted that when Garry Thomson first published “The Museum Environment” he did not include a list of environmental specifications. Rather he gave explanations for why certain numbers or ranges of numbers made sense. Weintraub also noted that today conservation is one of a number of fields– the construction industry being another– that are tring to establish performance guidelines rather than prescriptive guidelines. Weintraub said that environmental control can be seen as a matter of risk and cost benefit analysis–i.e., what is the level of risk that an institution will tolerate and what will it cost to prevent a certain amount of damage. Weintraub spoke at length about lighting. He noted that in the old days lighting was simple– one used just enough light to see the object and no more– but that lighting has become more complex as we have come to understand that 50 lux of light directed at an object 8 hours a day for 90 days has a very different effect than 150 lux directed at an object 8 hours a day for 30 days. Weintraub ended his presentation with the reminder that we should be thinking about problem solving rather than about applying standards.

The next presentation, “p3: Pen, Preservation, Political– Establishing a Longitudinal Study for the Exhibition and Storage of Herblock Drawings”, was divided between Holly Huston Krueger and Fenella G. France, with Krueger providing background ablut the collection and France describing the longitudinal study of seven drawings from the collection. Krueger noted that when Herbert Block, the Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Herblock, died in 2001, he left his entire archive of 14,460 finished drawings and 50,000 rough sketches to the Library of Congress with the stipulation that some part of the collection be on display at all times. While Herblock was fairly consistent in his choice of materials throughout his career (1941- 2001)– graphite and India ink– in the 1960s, he did begin to try a variety of other materials of varying stabilities. The Library of Congress’s curators were concerned about how exhibition and storage conditions would affect the works, so Krueger and France developed a study that used selected drawings to provide baseline data on this. The works chosen for study were examined with hyperspectral imaging before, during, and after they went on display and will be studied while in storage. In addition, sample sheets were made using drawing materials taken from Herblock’s studio. They will be used in natural and accelerated aging tests.

Frank Matero presented the final paper of Wednesday’s General Sessions, “Conservation as Revitalization of Cairo’s al Darb al Ahmar”. Matero

began his talk by proposing that conservation is creative, progressive, and subversive– the last because it goes against the trend to replace anything old with something new. The conservation plan for the Darb al Ahmar district of Cairo, a district that was listed as a World Heritage Site in 1983, gave that socially and environmentally fragile area a means of revitalizing itself and its economy. The restoration of the crumbling district wall, parts of which were buried under rubble, took what had been a dangerous structure and turned it into a unifying element of the district. So much material was required for the repair of the wall that quarries were reopened to fill the need. Local workmen were hired and taught historic construction techniques providing meaningful employment. The revitalized district has seen an influx of visitors who provide an additional boost to the local economy.

Architecture Specialty Group Session on Recent Student Research

In a new format, the Architecture Specialty Group (ASG) held a morning session devoted to presentations by students and recent graduates of architectural conservation programs. These papers presented recent research work carried out by the students on a variety of thesis topics.

Jennifer Schork, a recent graduate of Columbia University now working with Integrated Conservation Resources, presented “New Insights into Dolomitic Lime Mortar.” Ms. Schork carried out a laboratory testing and instrumental analysis program to better understand the constituents and properties of dolomitic lime mortars. Dolomitic lime dominates the North American market for repointing mortars, although some may not be aware that they are using it or the affects that it has on the mortar. Ms. Schork’s research showed that dolomitic lime mortars can be 45% stronger than high calcium lime mortars, with the uncarbonated material (brucite: Mg(OH)2) perhaps contributing to this strength.

Casey Gallagher, a recent graduate of The University of Texas at Austin now with the Texas Historical Commission, studied “Biological Growth on the Alamo.” Ms. Gallagher posed three crucial questions in her research: 1) what is the biogrowth? 2) is the biogrowth damaging to the stone? and 3) do cleaning treatments previously carried out affect the stone? Through lab cultures and DNA analysis, species of cyanobacteria were identified on the Alamo stone. This can be particularly damaging to the stone because they are endolithic, penetrating underneath the surface of the stone, and they secrete amino acids, leading to stone deterioration. In addition, cyanobacteria have a hard sheath that is difficult to remove and they can tolerate long periods of desiccation and extreme heat, leading to recolonization. One year after the application of in situ cleaning tests using D2 Biological Solution, BioWash and water, there are not signs of recolonization. However, photographic records show recolonization after previous cleaning of the stone, and recolonization has also occurred in laboratory culture samples.

A testing program to evaluate “Fatigue Behavior of Adhesives for the Repair of Marble” was presented by Laura Michela, a current student at Columbia University. Ms. Michela’s research compared thermoplastic adhesives (Paraloid B-72, Paraloid B-48N and a 3:1 blend of Paraloid B-72 to Paraloid B48N), thermosetting adhesives (Epo-Tek 301-2 and Akepox 2000) and a sandwich of Paraloid B-72 used as a barrier coat with Epo-Tek 301-2. The broken portions of cylindrical samples of Vermont marble were readhered using the different adhesives and then subjected to repeated vibration to simulate fatigue. Some samples broke during the vibration, but the remaining samples were tested in 4-point loading. Some of the observations from the testing program are that all samples subjected to the repeated vibration experienced loss of strength, the samples repaired using thermosetting adhesives had higher strengths than the thermoplastic adhesive samples, and that some samples broke at an area of the cylinder where the adhesive was not present. The research built on previous work carried out by Columbia University conservation students. Areas of further research include looking at different thermoplastic blends, different solvents with the thermoplastic resins, different marble types and different load testing mechanisms.

Alex Kim, a 2009 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania conservation program who now works in the programs Architectural Conservation Laboratory, presented “Soft Vegetative Capping of Architectural Masonry Walls.” Although “hard” mortar capping is often used on exposed masonry ruin walls, mortar capping is prone to cracking, which allows moisture and vegetation ingress, leading to further deterioration of the wall. Mr. Kim’s presentation examined another approach to protecting exposed masonry ruin walls. “Soft” vegetative capping uses geosynthetic membranes, soil and gravel and vegetation to prevent moisture infiltration. It has the benefits of low maintenance cost, improved aesthetics and legibility and retractability. In situ tests performed at semi-arid sites in the southwest United States and central Anatolia show that there is reduced temperature fluctuation with soft capping compared to hard mortar capping. However, moisture infiltration below the waterproofing membrane was noted at one test site, pointing to the need for improved design and installation procedures.

The final paper of the student session was given by Jessica Kottke, a recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania conservation program. Ms. Kottke presented “Three-Dimensional Laser Scanning for Imaging, Quantifying, and Monitoring Micro Stone Surface Deterioration at Heritage Sites.” Using the case study of work documenting two lion sculptures at the Merchant’s Exchange in Philadelphia, PA, Ms. Kottke showed that three-dimensional laser scanning was useful in creating a background image that could be annotated for condition surveying. However, given the limitations of resolution, it may be impractical to use the three-dimensional models created from laser scanning programs for monitoring changes over time.

Dr. George Wheeler, Director of Conservation at Columbia University, Fran Gale, Senior Lecturer and Director of the Architectural Conservation Laboratory at The University of Texas at Austin, and Frank Matero, Professor of Architecture at The University of Pennsylvania, made several key points that put the student research presentations in context. The thesis research presented during the session is typically only one part of on-going research and is often followed by additional research by other students as part of their theses. The research also often depends on partnerships with organizations such as the National Park Service or academic departments outside of the preservation programs.

Following the presentations of recent student research and answering of technical questions posed to the presenters, there was a discussion on the possibility of developing an annual forum for student presentations. All present in the session seemed to agree on the usefulness of the presentations by students and recent graduates from architectural conservation training programs of their research. A forum for presenting the work of recent student research is valuable to the development of both the emerging professionals, who get feedback from their more established colleagues, and to the experienced practitioners, who learn about recent research that may affect their work.

Two points of inquiry on the organization of a session for recent student research were debated: what venue is appropriate for a presentation of recent student research and who should participate at presenters. On the first point, most people present for the discussion agreed that a half-day session or even full-day session of student presentations held in conjunction with the ASG session of the AIC Annual Meeting is an appropriate venue. This year, funding to cover all student costs to present at the session was provided through the George Stout Memorial Fund, and it is hoped that similar funding will be available in future years.

The question of what criteria should be used to select potential presenters is more contentious. As presented by Frank Matero in his introductory remarks to the session, there are 24 programs that lead to a Master’s degree in historic preservation, and another 20 or so graduate programs in related fields that award certificates in preservation or conservation. There are ten Master degree programs with one or more courses in architectural conservation, but only a handful of these have a full curriculum in architectural conservation. A number of questions were left undecided, such as whether the opportunity to present papers at a student and recent student session should be limited to just those trained in a program with a full architectural conservation curriculum or open to those doing architectural conservation research in other programs, and whether the universities should preselect the papers submitted for presentation or the papers should be submitted by the students to a ASG program committee. These questions will likely be revisited during the ASG business meeting on Friday, May 14, and in future discussion by ASG members.

“Identity Crisis Critical identity: the future of conservation and the role of AIC in its development”

It’s not often that conservators and conservation scientists have a chance to sit down and think about the theory behind our work. Usually the plethora of tasks we face each day gets in the way. Today, Dr. George Wheeler, Columbia University, treats us to a lively lecture on the theory of conservation.

He opens his discussion by talking about the growing pains of the profession. AIC has come through a difficult time with the recent unsuccessful efforts towards certification. He feels that there were lessons to be learned here as we attempt to define ourselves, now and in the future.

Wheeler structures his presentation around “four books and a journal” in a take-off of four weddings and a funeral. He began the discourse with the book, Theory of Restoration, (2005 English translation) by Cesare Branch. In the book, Branch states “restoration is carried out in order to reestablish the critical text of the work of art. . .” Thus all that we do should be defined by the need to reestablish the artwork. Wheeler feels that another important insight from this Italian scholar was the concept that the work of art is recognized as a physical object with dual historical and aesthetic value to be transmitted to the future. Wheeler also points out that only the material of a work of art is restored. We cannot restore a spirit of a work of art.

Next, Wheeler discusses issues in the definition of conservation, based on the work, Contemporary Theory of Conservation, by Salvador Munoz Vinas (2005). He contrasts the AIC definition of art conservation with one offered by Munoz Vinas. AIC’s definition of conservation is “The profession devoted to the preservation of cultural property for the future.” Munoz Vinas states that conservation as we know it today is a complex activity. Wheeler thinks conservation is about defining and developing our activities over and above the professionalism of the job. Another important point that is made is the uncomfortable relationship between conservators and conservation scientists. Conservators mustn’t look to scientists for validation in what they do. Instead, they should look within for authority to guide their actions.

The third book that Wheeler highlights is Securing the Past, by Paul Eggert. Eggert who is an English professor, explores underlying theories behind the different arts and practices of restoring historic objects and texts. Wheeler notes that a key issue addressed in the book is the subject-object relationship. Ultimately, we must define the boundary between who we are and what we work on.

Wheeler introduces us to the journal, FutureAnterior by way of shifting preservation and conservation away from nostalgic antiquarianism towards active involvement. Again, the emphasis is on our actions in relation to the artwork.

Conservation Principles, Dilemmas, and Uncomfortable Truths, a compilation by Alison Richmond, is the fourth book highlighted in the presentation. Within these pages, Wheeler chooses to quote Jonathan Ashley Smith, stating that conservation is in its adolescence. We can’t become a grown up profession simply by saying we are grown up. We cannot mature without the growing pains.

Wheeler concludes by telling us that we must mobilize the creative activity within this organization to determine where we are going in the future.