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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Scott M. Haskins

Fine Art Conservation Laboratories (FACL, Inc.)



(805) 564 3438



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

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


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


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


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

Portrait by Marie Benoist
The "Iconic French Portrait"


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


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


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


Scott M. Haskins

Fine Art Conservation Laboratories (FACL, Inc.)



(805) 564 3438


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

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

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

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

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

“Interventions are ethics in practice”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AIC’s 39th Annual Meeting – Links to photos

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

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


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


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

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

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


Annual Meeting CHART!

We are pleased to inform AIC members that PSG and OSG officers, in collaboration with the AIC Office, have created a color-coded, hourly, cross-reference-capable daily schedule for this year’s annual AIC meeting. The PDF file can be found at this link: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/2891921/2011AICmeetingCHART.pdf

The link will open up the file directly. You can then save it to your computer, mobile device, or tablet (it would look great on an iPad!).

For best results, the chart should be printed on 11×17 paper. Don’t have 11×17 paper on hand? Have your printer tile it onto multiple pages and piece it together with tape. Tiling is often an option in your printer’s “Page Scaling” dropdown menu.

This schedule chart is not intended to replace the final program booklet distributed by AIC at the meeting, but simply to offer a graphic layout of events.  We hope you enjoy this great annual meeting tool!


A Shortcut to Philadelphia

By now you’ve registered for the annual meeting in Philadelphia, booked your hotel room at the Marriott Downtown, and bought your plane ticket to PHL. All that’s left to do is pack your suitcase, then you’re set to go. But what about when you get to Philadelphia? Does the thought of researching your trip seem daunting? Look no further, I did the research for you and came up with what I believe to be the most important tips for navigating Philly:


By plane: The easiest way to get to the conference hotel from the airport is to take the Regional Rail train; it picks up in four different locations within the airport every 30 minutes between 5 am-midnight. You can buy your ticket from a conductor on the train for $7 to center city. That price includes your ride to 30th St. Station and a transfer to the Market-Frankford subway line, which will take you to the Market East Station, about a block east of the hotel.

By train: From 30th St. Station, you can either catch the subway to the hotel (see above) for a $4 fare, taxi for ~$10, or bus. For $2 one way, bus #44 picks up at the station, and stops at almost every block of Market St., including 12th St., just in front of the hotel.

By car: Having booked your hotel room, you probably already know the rate to park your car at the Marriott—$41 a day! You may consider renting a car—if you prefer to drive to Philadelphia—then drop it off when you get to town.

Otherwise, there are a few parking options outside the hotel, such as a parking garage. Parking garages appear on every other block in center city, and run from $19-$25 for 24 hrs. Street parking is available at $2/hr., but you will have to return to the kiosk every 1-2 hrs. to purchase another ticket.

If you have the energy, you can do a combination of garage parking during the day, for about $16, then street parking at night. Whatever you do, I recommend checking on your car at least once a day, just to make sure it’s safe and you haven’t started accumulating tickets…you never know with the Philadelphia Parking Authority!


At the hotel: There are two restaurants and a Starbucks in the hotel for your convenience, but the area is full of great restaurants, at a variety of price levels. Your best bet is the Reading Terminal Market, which offers a market to buy fresh produce and other groceries as well as over 30 vendors with every type of food imaginable. On weekdays, the market is open 8 am -6 pm, but many shops begin to close at 5.

For a taste of Philly’s finest, try these other restaurants nearby:

Comforts of Home

The conference is only 3-4 days, but it may be nice to know that there are some standard amenities around just in case.

Pharmacy: CVS, 1046 Market Street

Grocery store: Trader Joe’s, 2121 Market Street

Office supply: Staples, 1044 Market Street

Walking/jogging trail: Schuylkill (pronounced skoo-gull) River Trail, entrance steps on Market Street, west of 23rd Street

Scenic hiding place: Rittenhouse Square, Walnut Street between 18th and 19th

Vacation time

If you plan to come to town early, or stay on after the conference, be sure to take advantage of these special events happening in and around Philadelphia:

First Friday, June 3: Monthly open house for galleries in the Old City art district

Rittenhouse Square Fine Art Show, June 3-5: Fine art will “circle the square” at this unique outdoor art show

Fireworks & Fountains, May 29: Longwood Gardens presents spectacular fireworks and fountains shows guaranteed to make your summer memorable

Wine & Jazz Festival, June 4: A weekend of great blues and good wine at Longwood Gardens

Miscellaneous information

Weather: 80s, possibly humid

Sales tax: 8%

Price of gas: ~$4 per gallon

If you’re interested in learning even more about Philadelphia, the visitphilly website contains everything you could possible want to know about tourist attractions, museum exhibitions, and more.

Have a wonderful trip, and I’ll see you in Philadelphia!

Check back soon for blog posts from AIC’s 39th Annual Meeting

Over 50 AIC members have generously volunteered their time and energy to blog about talks, workshops and tours from the 39th Annual Meeting of the American Institute for Conservation.  We hope that these posts will allow colleagues near and far who are unable to attend the conference a chance to learn a bit about the papers, understand the context in which they were given and taste the flavor of the meeting.

AIC members have repeatedly asked for a platform in which they can discuss issues and topics in common – beyond the divisions of our specializations.  The new AIC blog is just one of the new tools we are rolling out to facilitate these conversations – hence the blog title – Conservators Converse.  We hope that the migration to this new, more user-friendly WordPress platform will also encourage discussion on the posts.  It is easy to comment and we look forward to hearing from you.

Volunteers needed to blog at the AIC’s 39th Annual Meeting.

AIC is continually striving to expand access to the stimulating and important content that is presented at our annual meeting. Last year, at the 2010 meeting, we initiated two new “firsts “:

    we had members blogging about talks and workshops (click on the Annual Meeting category on this blog page’s left hand navigation menu

    we hosted all available <a target=_blank class=ftalternatingbarlinklarge href="http://(poster presentations )”>http://www.conservation-us.org…e.ViewPage&PageID=1204 online

We received a lot of feedback that this extra information was extremely useful to those who were unable to attend, as well as those who were there, but unable to see everything that they had hoped. We are planning on continuing these services again this year in Philadelphia but we need your help!

If you are attending the upcoming AIC annual meeting in Philadelphia I hope that you will volunteer to blog from the conference on AIC’s soon to be newly relaunched blog. You need not be an experienced blogger nor particularly tech savvy. The WordPress blog format is extremely easy to use and any necessary hand-holding will happily be provided to make you feel comfortable online. There also is no pressure to be particularly witty. Although active tense, first-person and personal style are all encouraged in blog posts (this is a chance to free yourself from the writing constraints of condition reports!), the writing is expected to be more like reporting and professional in tone overall. The goal is for readers to learn more about the talk than they would gain from the abstract. More guidelines and training will be provided for all volunteers.

I am looking for 2-4 people for each specialty group session and general session and 1-2 people per workshop. If you will be attending one of the conference tours we’d love to hear from you too.

Last year our blog saw a huge increase in traffic due to annual meeting posts. We know that many colleagues are looking forward to hearing more about the conference and hope that some of you will volunteer, share your thoughts from the meeting, and take the opportunity to become more comfortable with some of the social networking tools of our present and future! If you are interested in volunteering or hearing more, please contact the e-Editor.