41st Annual Meeting – General Session – “Collecting the Performative: The Role of the Conservator in the Conservation of Performance-Based Art” Dr. Pip Laurenson

As Principal Investigator for Collecting the Performative: A Research Network Examining Emerging Practice for the Collection and Conservation of Performance Based Artworks, Dr. Pip Laurenson (Head of Collection Care Research, Tate) has lead a two-year investigation of the issues surrounding the collection of performance works within the disciplines of dance, activism and theater. Participants in the interdisciplinary Network include artists, curators, academics, conservators, archivists, transmitters of dance, and registrars.
Dr. Laurenson introduced performance-based artwork as a novel and still somewhat controversial activity within art museums. She notes that performance, or “live art,” works have long been regarded as profoundly ephemeral, non-reproduceable, and therefore—by definition—uncollectable. Until very recently, museums might acquire the remains or documents of performance works (e.g., slides, recordings, etc.), but never the performance work itself.
Meanwhile, some ever-innovating artists have moved away from this strictly one-off concept of performance where the artist’s presence is essential, toward an idea of performance as something that may be enacted over time independent of the artist. In response, museums have recently begun to acquire “live art,” including the rights to re-perform works via “delegated performance.” In 2005 Tate acquired two such live art works: Roman Ondák’s Good Feelings in Good Times (2003) and Tino Sehgal’s This is Propaganda (2002).
Ondák’s “Good Feelings in Good Times” involves a queue of people forming in a location within the museum. The work explores the idea of how time is experienced differently—more slowly—when one waits in line. This work has been reproduced at the Tate using volunteers and individuals hired by the museum. Sehgal’s “This is Propaganda” involves an individual singing inside the gallery’s entrance as guests arrive. A particular challenge the Tate faced when acquiring Sehgal’s work was the artist’s requirement that the work not be documented in any way. This prohibition was intended not only to insure that the work would not be replaced by a photograph or video, but also to challenge the fundamental material object bias of museums. As a result of the artist’s requirements, the conservation of this work depends entirely on memory. Initially concerned that she might forget the lyrics, it soon became clear to Dr. Laurenson that a good memory would not suffice as one needs to be schooled in a particular performance medium in order to fully recognize what one is seeing and committing to memory. Owing to such complexities, the conservation of such works (i.e., the ability re-perform) has become the joint responsibility of conservation and curatorial staff, sometimes with further engagement from the artist or other expert consultants.
Dr. Laurenson spoke of the many challenges, with examples from her experiences as conservator, returning to her fundamental question: should the discipline of art conservation expand to incorporate time-based media? She cites Salvator Munoz-Vinas’ Contemporary Theory of Conservation (2005), which draws one sensible conclusion: “conservators work on tangible objects.” While Munoz-Vinas acknowledges that intangible “artifacts” can indeed hold value, he sets limits on the expertise of conservation—limiting the scope of conservation to material artifacts—so as not to dilute the effectiveness of conservators. Acknowledging that a conservtor’s expertise is not capable of infinite expansion, Dr. Laurenson reminds us that fine arts conservation has expanded to incorporate new media again and again, and that to exclude certain forms of art would be to skew history. What to do?
Dr. Laurenson draws on the literature of expertise, which differentiates between interactional and contributory expertise: interactional expertise is the expertise needed to interact with those possessing contributory expertise (i.e., expert doers, such as scientists, plumbers, and dancers). She notes that the literature also contains helpful information on building communication skills for those seeking to expand their ability to leverage the expertise of others. Ultimately, she concludes that the field of conservation ought to address time based media, employing a distributed model that identifies and taps an external network of people who can support the works.
Dr. Laurenson concluded with a broader look at how museum acquisitions practices continue to evolve. Museums are seeing works that change their form over time, and require maintenance. Museums are engaging more in this process, often meeting increasing demands of artists, but at the same time learning that it is appropriate and necessary to establish parameters for what they can and cannot do to support such works. There is a limit to the skills that conservators can acquire, but where resources permit, Dr. Laurenson contends, we can acquire the interactional expertise needed to work with others to conserve such works.

41st Annual Meeting – Electronic Media Session – June 1st – “The Role of the Technical Narrative for Preserving New Media Art” by Mark Hellar

Mark Hellar used the example of the website artwork “Agent Ruby“, acquired by SFMoMA in 2008, and how the use of a technical narrative has helped with the continued preservation of this evolving work of art.
The “Agent Ruby” work was interactive, so it required many components that worked together.  The technical narrative had 4 parts:
1.  A high level functional description of the artwork
2.  Modular examination of components and how they work as a system
3. Detailed description of the artwork as it exists on acquisition, and how the components serve the operation.
4.  Analysis of current technology and longevity
“Agent Ruby” is an avatar made up of 22,000 entries that create Ruby’s personality.  Visitors interact with Ruby online in a chat setting. The archive of the work from 2001-2009 of visitor interactions was an 80 GB text file. There were some non-essential components that were archived like the original interface and a 3-D model and Hellar discussed how these types of artworks have many components and how the obsolescence of one component (like Flash which is now unsupported on an iPhone) will require creative solutions to allow the work to continue to function.
A migration plan was discussed with the artist, and it was interesting to note that the artist did not want the AIML Interpreter to be updated, even though when Ruby is asked “Who is the President of the United States” she answers “George Bush” the artist said about this, “Ruby will learn”.

41st Annual Meeting – Electronic Media Session – June 1st – "A hands-off approach to controlling media-based artworks" by Brad Dilger and Richard McCoy

Brad Dilger showed how the IMA has transitioned from manually controlling all media-based artworks (meaning that someone had to physically turn on every artwork at the power source each day) to the current system that can be controlled remotely. He walked us through the process of choosing different systems, the museum began using a server which crashed when devices were added or taken away and a programmer had to redo the whole system each time which was expensive.  The second version of the system was a stable integrated control system, they had 3 manufacturers to choose between: Cresteron, Exteron, and AMX.  Exteron was the only system that had an open source, free configuration and wouldn’t require a certified technician for maintenance.  The Exteron processor was made to function as a network or a stand alone device with serial communication and/or a remote power control unit (RPC) power strip.
The Exteron setup has a software configuration is straightforward to use, and the user can set up a schedule, and set notifications by e-mail, for example, for projectors it is possible to set up an e-mail notification when the lamp bulb nears 2,000 hours so the bulb can be changed. The system prevents circuits from overloading if the artwork requires a high draw (13 amps).
He showed 2 case studies: Julianne Swartz’s 2008 “Terrain” and Will Lamson’s 2010 “A line describing the sun” and how those two works functioned using the Exteron system.  The presentation offered many solutions to the issues surrounding the display and maintenance of electronic artworks.

41st Annual Meeting – General Session, May 31. Conservation Treatment Documentation Databases panel discussion; Jay Hoffman, Linda Hohneke, Sarah Norris (moderator), and Mervin Richard

Though the use of a database as part of a conservation treatment documentation work flow has been presented in the past at AIC at least once in my memory and has been the subject of presentations at the Museum Computer Network’s annual meetings in 2008, 2010 and 2011, as a field, we don’t often talk about this aspect of our work.
There were a couple of reasons why I was looking forward to this session before the meeting. Firstly, I was eager to hear how other institutions make use of databases in their documentation. And having followed some of  the progress of the Mellon Foundation funded project ConservationSpace through their various sites, I wanted to learn more about it too. At the end of this well attended session, not only were both of these satisfied, I also came away with some thoughts about how to improve my current work flow, even though the system used by the institution I work for wasn’t addressed directly. And I felt more convinced that we need to have more opportunities to discuss issues like this one that impact conservators across specializations.
Sarah Norris, a conservator at the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, had worked with a contract MySQL developer to create a treatment documentation database for her institution. In addition to serving as a panelist, Sarah also served as moderator for the discussion.  Linda Hohneke is the senior book conservator at the Folger Shakespeare Library and one of the co-creators of the Filemaker Pro-based documentation database used at the library. Jay Hoffman is founder and CEO of Gallery Systems, a company that produces collections, exhibitions, and conservation management software, notably TMS. Mervin Richard is chief conservator at the National Gallery, Washington and co-director of the ConservationSpace project. Each of these systems has a varying level of complexity and requirements for support, but each has been created with the input of conservators.
Sarah began the session by asking each panelist to speak for 10 minutes about their databases. Helpfully, she provided a handout with possible discussion topics to help the session “stay out of the weeds”. These topics included:

  • the basic structure of the databases,
  • how they manage photographic and written documentation,
  • how they address the needs of libraries, archives, and museums,
  • how they facilitate workflow within the institution,
  • how do they ensure data security,
  • what level of IT support is required for these systems, and
  • what are user costs?

Perhaps the simplest of the four systems presented was the Folger Library’s FilmakerPro-based system, but, really, it is far from simple. They began using this system at the Folger Library in 1997, and a number of people were involved in its creation. The system allows the entry of simple and complex information in a consistent, controlled manner so that the department could track a variety of statistics. The conservators have the ability to add options to multiple choice questions, and they can choose to enter their descriptions in a fielded form or as prose. They are able to upload images into the system, saving the images as NEF and JPG formats. Typically the curatorial department adds requests to a queue to form a request list, and approval for a proposed treatment is done within this system.  The IT department installs the software, keeps it backed up on the server nightly, and troubleshoots.
In commissioning the MySQL-based content management system for the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, Sarah Norris had a number of requirements. The system needed to allow her to:

  • track requests
  • search systems
  • generate documents in PDF format and create a printable photo
  • help her with photo management
  • automatically generate lower resolution photographs
  • have user management features with regard to who gets to see what fields and the ability to add fields.

The resulting system has different views for different staff roles. Staff members who are not conservators can request treatment through the system, see the status of their requests, and the treatment history of objects. Conservators have access to more information within the system. They can see what’s scheduled for evaluation, and can add background information and estimated treatment time.  Examination and treatment reports are created from forms consisting of drop down boxes (to ensure the use of controlled vocabulary), check boxes, and radio buttons. Note fields are included on these forms to allow for the addition of free-form information.  Values can be entered in some fields to indicate the scale of work required. Photodocumentation is undertaken outside the system and photos are linked from that external drive. When a report is closed, the system creates a PDF and then moves it to a separate, institutional server with the associated image TIFF files where they are then managed by the state. This system is also capable of generating statistics about treatments, the types of treatments being undertaken, and for which departments, allowing treatment documentation to work in a number of different ways.
Jay Hoffman indicated that TMS is going through a major update in which the conservation activity areas of that database are being improved. This process began in 2009 with the formation of a Conservation Working Group consisting of 50 stakeholders. This group work to define work flows, terminology, and general practices. A starter set of templates has been developed for standard data entry, and two sets of wire frames (sketches of what the data entry forms will look like) have been created. These new conservation activity areas respond to a number of needs:

  • to manage projects which may be worked on by several people (projects may mean multiple objects for an exhibition or it may mean a complex object)
  • to create custom templates for different kinds of objects and provide flexibility for different kinds of institutions
  • to output traditional forms (I assume he meant PDF versions of treatment reports created via fielded forms)
  • to link to annotated images
  • to see information from different perspectives

Later during the session, Jay noted that for institutions already using TMS, Gallery Systems is committed to migrating conservation content into this new system which will be rolled out with TMS 2014.
Merv Richard described ConservationSpace as an open source system to manage conservation documentation, manage reports, correspondence, and images. He reviewed the history of the project which began with a pair of meetings in 2006 and 2007 to assess the current state of conservation documentation. Summaries of the findings of the 2006 meeting were disseminated in the GCI Newsletter and Studies in Conservation. The Design Phase, run by Ken Hamma, began in 2009.
The Planning Phase, which ran from 2010-2011, consisted of community design workshops which looked at the kinds of activities defined particular tasks; common types of documentation and events; specific documents created; and functionality wish lists.
Bert Marshall is the project manager for the Build Phase, which has consisted of clarifying work flows. The resulting system must simplify task work flows, allow for discoverability, assist with documentation and allow for collaboration. ConservationSpace is also working to ensure that ResearchSpace and other Mellon-funded database systems work seamlessly with it. The system will be open source and web based to allow for flexibility. It also needs to include imaging tools which would permit the addition of high resolution images, the ability to annotate images and conduct basic editing.
It is envisioned that ConservationSpace will be available either as an enterprise or hosted application. The enterprise system could be integrated with an institution’s Digital Asset Management System, allowing ConservationSpace to pull information from a collections management systems, and would require IT support. The hosted system would provide support and data storage. Both systems would require a maintenance fee, however the details of how much that will be have not been worked out yet.
Release 1, described as functional, allowing for documentation but will have a  limited number work flows, will come out in early 2014. More information about ConservationSpace is available at ConservationSpace.org and sites.google.com/site/conservationspace.
One topic that generated a fair amount of commentary from the participants and the audience was the need to generate statistics about our work and to get some assistance in prioritizing treatment needs. Most systems discussed allow or will allow for establishing treatment priorities, though Sarah indicated that she preferred to make this part of a discussion to be had with various stakeholders so that the treatment queue could be managed more effectively.  A number of library preservation labs are looking at interoperability with various other  database systems, such as those that deal with circulation, as a means of informing prioritization.
On the topic of migrating conservation data from one system to another, it was noted that all data migration requires work, and you have to be careful about how its set up.  Though different from data interchange, the need to import and export information in and out of these systems is required no matter what. Standards and controlled vocabulary are required for these various schemes so that we can share and collaborate no matter what system a conservator uses.

41st Annual Meeting – Book and Paper Session, June 1, "Conservation and Encasement: 1297 Magna Carta" by Morgan Zinsmeister and Terry Boone

In 2011, senior conservators Morgan Zinsmeister and Terry Boone of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), thoroughly documented, conserved, and encased a copy of Magna Carta that dates to 1297.  During his presentation at AIC’s 41st Annual Meeting in Indianapolis, Zinsmeister recounted the project.  His presentation, which I’ve summarized in this post, beautifully illustrated the measures taken by NARA conservators to preserve documents and artifacts so essential to the history of our nation.
First drafted by a gang of rebellious barons in 1215, Magna Carta asserted the individual and property rights of its authors in opposition to the tyranny of King John of England (1166-1216).  This document also addressed the fundamental principles of majority rule and due process that would prove essential to later charters.  Magna Carta served as a precedent to the British Constitution, the Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence, and U.S. Constitution.

Magna Carta Front 1297 Old Military and Civil Records
Magna Carta, 1297 after treatment

Between 1216 and 1297, Magna Carta was reissued four times and copied many more.  Today, 17 extant copies are known: 15 in the United Kingdom, one in Australia, and one in the United States, that is the copy conserved and exhibited at NARA courtesy of its current owner, David M. Rubenstein.
Magna Carta, 1297 is written Latin with iron gall ink and metal-point ruling on parchment.  A sur double queue wax seal with parchment tag served as a closure.  When the document was removed from its previous encasement–an anoxic acrylic case designed by Dr. Nathan Stolow at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin–it was closely monitored for change as parchment is extremely sensitive to moisture and fluctuations in relative humidity.  Once removed, Magna Carta was examined closely and its condition documented.  It was during this examination period that conservators made the happy discovery that a portion of the text previously obliterated by water damage was made legible again through photography using ultraviolet radiation.  To learn more about this discovery, see a past blog post by AIC’s own E-editor Rachael Perkins Arenstein.
Following thorough examination and documentation, a three-step treatment was devised that included removal of previous mends, reduction of adhesive residues, and humidification and flattening of the document in preparation for re-encasement.  Magna Carta was first selectively surface cleaned.  Next, adhesive residues were carefully reduced, old repairs removed, and acrylic-toned, handmade kozo (long-fibered mulberry paper) used to create new fills and repair tears.  Prior to humidification and flattening, transparent polyester film was used to make outline tracings of Magna Carta to document any dimensional changes that might occur during treatment.  Humidification was carried out using the damp-pack method and the document was dried under tension for several months to allow the moisture content of the parchment to reach equilibrium.
The tight environmental control required to preserve Magna Carta lead NARA staff to partner with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in designing the new encasement.  Together, NARA and NIST developed an anoxic (without oxygen) display that inhibits oxidative degradation to preserve the document as long as possible.  A perfect collaboration!

Installation of Magna Carta, 1297 in its new encasement at NARA

To create the new encasement, NARA drew upon past experiences housing important documents and applied lessons learned from encasement of the Charters of Freedom: the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, and the U.S. Constitution.  Magna Carta was scanned and its exact profile obtained to produce a custom support that would eliminate any strain to the document and protect it from damaging vibrations.  A special paper with high alpha-cellulose content created by Timothy Barrett was used as a barrier between the document and the encasement’s metal support.  Ultimately, this paper serves two functions: it works as a buffer to help maintain the desired relative humidity within the encasement and as a sort of non-invasive optical brightener.  The whiteness of the paper barrier combined with the parchment’s translucency actually caused the document appear more luminous!  Polyester film tabs with rounded edges hold the document in place.  The encasement is fitted with o-rings to create a tight seal and a leak-detection system.  Once sealed, the air trapped inside the case was flushed out using the inert, humidified argon gas to create an oxygen-free environment.
In March 2012, Magna Carta, 1297 was re-installed in NARA’s West Rotunda where it remains on view.  When we take a moment to reflect upon the important role that historic documents like Magna Carta play in telling the story of a nation, their preservation becomes unquestionable and the essential nature of the conservator’s work is underscored.  Thanks to the amazing work of NARA conservators Morgan Zinsmeister and Terry Boone, their collaborators at NIST, and David M. Rubenstein who brought the document to NARA and underwrote its treatment and encasement, the Magna Carta will be preserved for the education and enjoyment of many generations of visitors to come.
To learn more about the exciting story of Magna Carta’s preservation, visit NARA’s website or YouTube channel to view videos on the treatment and the encasement.

41st Annual Meeting – Objects Session May 31, “Bringing History to Life: Reproducing a Worthington Steam Pump from the USS Monitor” by William Hoffman, The Mariners’ Museum

Pump (2)
One of the most remarkable things about the field of Conservation is its ability to bring together art and science, cutting edge technology and time-honored skills to preserve original historic or artistic works while gaining new insights into how they were produced and making them more accessible to everyone.
These aims seem very much at the heart of the remarkable project presented by William Hoffman in his paper which described the process of studying the manufacturing techniques of a Worthington steam pump excavated from the shipwreck of the historic ironclad USS Monitor which sank in 1862 and building a full scale working replica.
The two original Worthington steam powered water pumps from the Monitor, the earliest known examples of their type, are in remarkable condition considering the nearly 140 years spent in a marine archaeological context before their recovery in 2001. The pumps are nearly finished conservation and will be placed on display at the Mariners’ Museum USS Monitor Center, but the extensive corrosion of the cast iron and copper alloy parts has left them in a fragile condition.   The project began to take shape out of the desire to convey the original movement and function of the object to the public in a way which was far more immediate than a computer simulation could achieve alone.   I thought this seemed intriguing, and particularly poignant in a digital age when high quality digital renderings have become omnipresent.
Hoffman explained that by conserving, studying and documenting the evidence of the original materials and the molding, metal casting, fabrication, and machining processes used, an approach to making the replica was formulated, using a combination of traditional technical and art metal casting techniques, and the use of modern 3D scanning, CAD, and 3D FDM (force deposition modelling) printing techniques to aid in the pattern and mold making.  No less important is the final machining of the parts, made easier by the use of modern computer driven CNC tooling.  The resulting replica is well underway and it’s hoped that the fully working replica will be operational in the near future.
Hoffman’s talk was very engaging and made use of digital drawings, animations, and video footage of the replication process, all of which helped to relate a detailed process in a way which was easy for the audience to follow.  The enthusiasm of the author and the team of conservators, museum staff, volunteer researchers, 3D scanning and printing specialists, metal casters, machinists, and industry representatives who had helped to make the project a reality came through clearly, as did the high level of interest in the use of the replica pump for multiple educational programs, highlighting the need for conservation of our shared heritage and the information and experiences it can bring to light.

41st Annual Meeting – Joint Textiles and Wooden Artifacts Session, June 1, “Challenges and Compromise: Preserving the Miller House Textiles, by Kathleen Kiefer”

Kathleen Kiefer, who was until recently Senior Conservator of Textiles at the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA), gave the final talk of the joint Textiles and Wooden Artifacts session on upholstery. The talk, “Challenges and Compromise: Preserving the Miller House Textiles,” was written with IMA Director of Historic Resources, Bradley Brooks, and IMA Scholar in Textile Conservation, Wendy Richards, was a fitting end both to the session and to Kathleen’s time with IMA, as it brought together many strands of conservation, preservation, and presentation.
The Miller House in Columbus, IN was designed in 1957 by Eero Saarinen and Alexander Girard (who did the interiors) for J. Irwin Miller and his family. Mrs. Miller lived in the house until her death in 2008. In 2009 the house was acquired by the IMA. IMA administration decided that the house should be opened to the public by 2011, which gave the conservation/curatorial team a huge challenge.
Kathleen reviewed the design of the house, showing how the architects (and landscape architect Dan Kiley) connected the interior, exterior and landscape design, partly through the use of natural light through large windows and skylights. She pointed out, of particular interest to this audience, that the house is believed to have the first designed conversation pit. She also talked about how Girard’s fondness for textiles and folk art were an important part of the design of the house.
The IMA team began by deciding on their conservation philosophy for the house. Should they interpret it to 1957? Would it be better to interpret it as it exists today? In part because of the limited time in which to prepare the house for the public, they decided to show it as it is today, taking a conservative approach and not doing anything irreversible. Kathleen noted that the public seems pleased with this approach. She mentioned one scholar who said he was pleased to see original, if worn, Eames chairs, because if he wanted to see new ones, he could go to a Herman Miller showroom!
Among the issues they have addressed so far are access and light levels. Public access, in the broadest sense, was an issue for the surrounding community, as the house is in a neighborhood. The neighbors did not want an increase in traffic and parking problems. As a result, all tours of the house begin from the town’s Visitor Center; visitors are taken by small buses to the house. On the more local level, the IMA team decided to create a “tour path” through the house, using new runners. They chose a light color for the runners and created some wider areas as “gathering areas,” where visitors would stand to look and listen to the docent. In a creative, but extremely practical way, they used craft paper to make mock ups of where the runners would go and how they would be sized.
To reduce light levels, they have added uv-filtering and light-reducing film to the windows. They have begun to monitor the environment using PEM dataloggers.
Before the house went to the IMA, the Miller family took or sold some of the furnishings and sold the art work. Thus, the house was somewhat bare when it was acquired. To rectify this, IMA has been purchasing similar pieces.
On the other hand, the family did leave quite a few pieces that they had no longer been using in the garage/barn. Kathleen described a project in which they removed carpets from the barn, documented and accessioned them, vacuumed them, and re-rolled them properly. For the time being, they had to return these pieces to the barn, but are working to find a better long term solution for their storage.
IMA Textile Conservation Scholar Wendy Richards has worked as a woven fabric designer and weaver. As part of her work, she produced graphs of the weave structures of some of the fabrics. She also helped with commissioning some reproduction carpets from Edward Field. This aspect of the project was particularly intriguing to me.
Many in the audience had been to the Miller House as part of the AIC tour to Columbus earlier in the week. I was not among them and, after hearing and seeing this talk, regret that I was not. I will look forward to learning more about how IMA preserves and interprets this house, as well as to seeing how this work relates to preservation/interpretation work being done on other modern houses, such as the Eames House in Los Angeles.

41st Annual Meeting, Textile and Wooden Artifacts Session, June 1. "Treatment of a Suite of Baroque Revival Style Seating Furniture by Genevieve Bienisoek, Biltmore

There’s a growing body of publications which detail the features of well-provenanced period upholstery. Such case studies are extraordinarily important for comparison when one is examining upholstery layers on historic seating furniture. In this presentation, Genivieve Bienisoek walked us through her examination and treatment, working together with Anne Battram and Nancy Rosebrock, of a chair and settee from a suite of 12 chairs and 2 settees.
This was one of a number suites which were purchased or produced to furnish Biltmore, a 250 room house built by George Washington Vanderbilt III, completed 1895, and opened to the public in 1930. The pieces in this group of seating are ornately carved, in the style of  Italian sculptor Andrea Brustolon (1662-1732), and covered with an embossed velvet, referred to as gauffrage. This particular fabric has a linen ground with a wool pile, and was fairly coarsely woven. The design in the velvet was created with a hot roller pressed into the nap. Apparently this was a popular pattern which was once quite common and produced in France, Great Britain and the United States by a number of companies. Though the fabric had originally been bright gold in color, it looked grey-green due to fading and color shift. Genivieve took note of a second fabric – an unstamped wool plush which was used in less visible places, such as under the arms. This fabric was also gold in color but had a thicker pile and a tighter weave. Both fabrics appeared to have been used originally on the chair and settee as no extra nail holes were noted during de-upholstery of the seating furniture.
More than half of this suite had been re-upholstered in 1976, according to the records, when they were placed in Biltmore’s Music Room.  One chair has been left untreated for future reference and research.The aim of this treatment was to return the chair and settee to return them to a nearly new appearance.
Genevieve also made mention of some other features of the chair and settee. Removable pieces of the chair were held with spring clips and slots and screws. The entire back panel of the settee is removable, held in place with turn buckles. The mortises for the arms were slightly larger than necessary to allow for shimming to adjust the level of the ams, ensuring they were horizontal.
After documenting the various upholstery layers and fasteners, she used chalk to track where nails had been removed, and compared it to the show cover, to ensure there had been no empty nail holes. She filled flight holes and other losses in the frames, and inpainted scratches. Re-using existing tack holes, a new linen layer was applied over the exposed original upholstery layers, to a act as an isolating layer against the new show cover and to act as a sewing base.
To ensure that new holes won’t need to be added in future campaigns, she added staples around the spring clip plate to provide a stronger means of attachment of this linen cover. Future campaigns are sure to happen sooner than they might otherwise since Biltmore has no climate control and it is not uncommon for windows to be opened in the house. Everything gets handled and cleaned regularly.
Polyester batting was added to the front of the seat to re-establish the proper shape.
The reproduction show cover was woven by the French firm Prelle. They had the pattern for the gauffrage in their archive. On seeing the reproduction fabric, Genvienve noted that there are actually three levels of stamping in the fabric, adding detail and depth to the design. These details were also in the original fabric, but were difficult to see because of the dirt.
The show cover was stitched to the linen isolating layer with curved needles. Though the trim was originally applied with hide glue, Genievieve used a hot melt adhesive to adhere the reproduction trim, obtained from Heritage Trimmings in the United Kingdom.
If you’re like me, you’re looking forward to the published version of this presentation, which, I’m sure, will be complete with images of the hardware and schematics of the various upholstery layers.

41st Annual Meeting – Contemporary Art Session, May 31, “Modern Ruins Restored: The Conservation of Monday, Wednesday, Saturday” by Tasia Bulger

Placed in a storage facility for 24 years and severely damaged, the polyurethane foam, wood, and pigmented plaster sculptures “Monday, Wednesday, Saturday” presented an excellent challenge for Tasia Bulger, Claudia de Hueck Fellow at the National Gallery of Canada in 2012.

Modern Ruins 1

Created by the Canadian artist collective General Idea, “Monday, Wednesday, Saturday” was one of General Idea’s works based on ruins or fragments “excavated” from a mythical pavilion.  The original three components traveled during the 80’s between Basel-Switzerland, Eindhoven-Netherlands, Toronto-Ontario, and Montreal-Quebec.  However were damaged during transit and the artists eventually chose to rebuild the sculptures in Toronto, leaving the original sculptures to be destroyed in Eindhoven. The rebuilt sculptures were composed of blocks of polyurethane foam on a wooden base, covered with multiple layers of pigmented plaster, and sanded down to resemble camouflage. The sculptures were shipped to the final venue by truck in skeleton crates with insufficient support, ultimately causing more damage.  They were exhibited in Montreal, placed in storage in 1986, and never shown again, however in 2010, were donated to the National Gallery of Canada (NGC).
During her fellowship, Tasia spent the year researching these pieces and possible treatment avenues, and then commencing treatment.  The sculptures had severe cracking propagating from their tops, delamination, and the visible foam was crumbling, friable, and discoloring.  The NGC team’s primary fear was that the entire interior of the sculpture was deteriorating in a similar manner. Initial analysis and examination lead the team to believe the foam was of an ester-type polyurethane foam, which degrades through hydrolysis and would lead to the plaster detaching from the foam.

Modern Ruins 2

 Additionally, the NGC team was left instructions from Felix Partz, the original member of General Idea credited with designing and building the sculptures, for how to repair Monday, Wednesday, Saturday.  The instructions, from 1994, stated that “Cornucopias: the large Cornucopias could be destroyed or else repaired with the repairs left visible in white or off-white plaster.”
Due to these initial considerations, and not wanting to destroy them, the team investigated the possibility of foam extraction, knowing that all research and testing leading up this treatment would provide lesser-invasive alternate possibilities, influence final treatment decisions, and provide information to the conservation community.  A mock-up was then used to test producing an exo-skeleton to provide support to the plaster surface if the foam was removed.  Cyclododecane (CDD) was found very useful isolation layer and temporary facing adhesive for this matte, uncoated multi-colored surface, where any solvent contact would have resulted with tidelines.  This would then be coated with a stronger facing adhesive.  During exoskeleton testing, Tasia actually found that the CDD, even with layers of butyl methacrylate and saran wrap on top, the CDD was sublimating directly into the plaster mockup, and determined it would not suffice as a long term solution for this type of object.
TIP: While CDD begins to cool and solidify once removed from the heat source, Tasia found that it was best applied with scraps of polyurethane packing foam and tongs, since polyurethane has excellent thermal insulation properties.  
 However, upon further investigation into the foam, the NGC conservation team found that the foam was actually an ether-type polyurethane, susceptible to photo-oxidation and thus was not degrading as rapidly as thought.  From this information and with further ethical consideration, it was determined not to extract the foam and chose the lesser invasive option within Felix’s parameters.
Modern Ruins 3
Final treatment consisted of consolidating the plaster surface with Aquazol 500, an isolation layer of B67, and filling the cracks with a mixture of Primal AC 35, hide glue, calcium carbonate, and fine glass beads.  This treatment is still in progress and future exhibition will be limited to the National Gallery of Canada.
One question requested more information about General Idea, which can be found in The Canadian Encyclopedia, who apparently also predicted reality TV and Facebook.  Another question was concerning health and safety of Cyclododecane, in regards to an image of Tasia applying CDD to the sculpture in which she was wearing gloves with a fume extractor over the sculpture.  Since there are no current published safety standards for exposure to the chemical, the inquirer suggested a look at an AIC news article, which the author believes may be the 2006 Health and Safety article “Some Chemical Things Considered: Cyclododecane”.
I, personally, thought it was an excellent and informative talk- and of course rather fun to hear about an artist collective that began their career by turning their home’s storefront window into fictitious locations as a joke   🙂

41st Annual Meeting – Wooden Artifacts Session, May 31, “Schooner Virginia: Addressing Inherent Issues in Ship Restoration” by Nicole Wittig

As a furniture conservator who was fascinated by sailing ships in his childhood, and spent many hours carving and building ship models, I was eagerly awaiting Nicole Wittig’s presentation on the preservation efforts regarding the schooner Virginia, which is currently in a storage shed at the National Civil War Naval Museum in Columbus, Georgia.
Looking forward to the mechanics of a ship’s restoration, I soon realized that this talk was going to address a much more fundamental issue that conservators face on a near daily basis: what aspect of an objects history should be brought back, and how will that affect the viewer’s perception of the object. How should the Virginia, a vessel that was significantly altered over time, be restored and ultimately perceived?
Beginning her talk with a historic narrative, Ms. Wittig described Virginia as a sailing vessel built on the eastern shore of Mobile bay in 1865. Utilizing historical records, Ms. Wittig related how a series of ads appeared in 1866 in Mobile papers, mentioning ships of a very similar tonnage and description. She surmised that the Virginia was probably constructed not from plan, but by local master shipbuilders, and had been designed to service the region’s oyster fishing fleet. Decades later, in the 1930‘s, it was mentioned as one of four such vessels in the Historic American Merchant Marine Survey (HAMMS), and recorded as a fishing vessel now working the west coast of Florida. The Depression Era HAMMS endeavor was significant since it was designed to record the disappearing American wooden sailing fleet, before the such vessels would be replaced by ones built of metal with engine propulsion. As such, the survey went into great detail regarding Virginia’s physical description and included construction drawings and photographs. I was especially taken by a photograph of the schooner, which depict it with twin masts and sails. It immediately brought back memories of a challenging childhood project, to build an accurate wood model of a Gloucester schooner, and the many hours I lovingly spent carving masts and fitting thin cotton to simulate sails.
The Virginia continued its service as a fishing vessel in the Gulf of Mexico over the following years, and was discovered by the Coast Guard in 1967, naming it to be the oldest operating fishing vessel in continuous service. When retired in 1990, Virginia had achieved a remarkable 127 year operational career. It was then purchased by the National Civil War Naval Museum, in the desire to preserve the vessel as an example of a Civil War blockade runner. Ms. Wittig went on to mention that definitive documentation regarding this possible aspect of the vessel’s life has not yet been fully discovered.
The following portion of her talk was devoted to documenting Virginia’s overall and interior dimensions, which are a length of 55’, a breath of 14’, and a draught of 3’, considerably larger than any object this conservator has treated. One approach to this task involved the taking of hand measurements and producing Adobe Illustrator drawings. Another approach utilized Total Station, a terrestrial laser scanner, noting millions of exterior points, which then permitted one to create a 3D image of the vessel. Although this technique does not lend itself to measuring interiors, it was able to produce striking multidimensional images, as seen in Ms. Wittig’s Power Point presentation.
Virginia’s current condition was also noted. One of the major preservation issues that has developed since the vessel has been out of water since the year 2000 has been the drying out of the timbers. This has led to dimensional changes in the wood, such as the keel twisting, necessitating not only the vessel’s cradling, but also the drilling of holes through its breath, and the installation of long metal rods to stabilize the structure. Sections of wood exhibit splintering and dirt and debris are now found in the wood crevices, retaining moisture and leading to wood deterioration. Although Virginia is stored in a covered shed, metal components are degrading, such as the rudder, which exhibits gross corrosion, with the metal delaminating in sheet-like sections. What was immediately striking to this conservator was the apparent lack of an ongoing maintenance program for this vessel, permitting these conditions to fester.
The presentation closed with an outline of the various preservation choices and goals that will need to be decided upon. If Virginia is designated as a Civil War blockade runner, would that not disregard its long fishing history? Were it to be reconstructed to its sail configuration, would that not also negate its engine propulsion history? And if other choices are made, such as preserving it as the longest operationally running fishing vessel, where would the money for its preservation come from, if the Museum of Civil War Naval History decide to deaccession it? Noting these challenging issues, Ms. Wittig suggested basing any decision on the HAAMS survey, since it provided the most thorough and reliable documentation for the vessel.
The Q&A afterwards was lively, with questions regarding tracking the name of the vessel, Virginia’s possible Civil War involvement and conservation costs.
All in all, a welcome revisit to an aspect of my childhood!