41st Annual Meeting, Discussion Session, June 1st, 2013: Engaging with Allied Fields: Teaching Conservation in Allied Academic Departments and Degree Programs

If you missed this engaging session, you probably have no idea that it included 11 different talks, presented “lightning-round” style, and 2 lively discussion sessions (in fact, the session was so engaging that I neglected to take photos, which I had very good intentions of doing!).
Organized by Suzanne Davis and Emily Williams, the idea for this session came through their discussions with colleagues and their realization that those engaged in teaching conservation to non-conservation students in academic settings are not currently sharing resources, goals and feelings about this work. Their goal was to begin a dialogue about these topics between those involved with and interested in this topic. To provide a foundation for their session, they recently conducted an online survey entitled “Teaching Conservation in Allied Degree Programs”. To read more about this and to access the initial survey report, follow this link to Suzanne’s blogpost.
The first round of speakers included Gregory Dale Smith, Renee Stein, Cathleen Baker, Heather Galloway, and Emily Williams. I’m including a brief summary of each of their talks, with links as possible, below. Each of the talks was 5 minutes, and both the speakers and the organizers did a terrific job keeping their talks within this brief time frame!
Gregory Dale Smith is the Otto N. Frenzel III Senior Conservation Scientist at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. He unfortunately could not attend the session, so Suzanne presented his slides on his behalf. His presentation focused on a project for a course for graduate students in Indiana University-Purdue University (IUPUI)’s Chemistry and Biological Chemistry Department and the Forensic and Investigative Sciences program entitled “CSI: Conservation Science Indianapolis.” In this course, he had students carry out a technical examination of a purported 1874 Alfred Sisley painting. The museum had suspicions about its authenticity, so the project benefitted not only the students but also the museum. The project included provenance research, analysis, imaging, and a final report, and there are blogposts on the topic on the IMA website. Through this course, Greg hoped to transmit to students the interplay of connoisseurship, conservation and science. While they did not come to a definite conclusion in the end, the students were particularly engaged due to the fact that it was a real object and a real issue for the museum.
Renee Stein is the Chief Conservator at the Michael C. Carlos Museum and is also Adjunct Faculty in the Department of Art History at Emory University. Conservators at the Carlos have always been involved in teaching, and the course that Renee is teaching is now an issue-based and topical seminar. The course attracts mostly art history majors, and the goal of the course is to introduce them to issues in conservation-to the why, not the how. Renee also mentioned that the Carlos Museum is also exploring how the museum can help to teach science, and they are now doing this through a course focusing on the analysis of ancient art course, which is very forensic and analytical, and geared toward undergrad chemistry majors. Two other courses that are being taught on conservation include an imaging course and a freshman seminar on art and nature. A list of these courses and other conservation opportunities for students at Emory are listed here. Also of note are the podcasts that have been developed by the Carlos and are available on their website by following this link.
Cathleen Baker is a Conservation Librarian and Exhibits Conservator at the University of Michigan Library and Adjunct Lecturer in the School of Information. Cathleen discussed one course that she taught with the goal of to introducing students to the concepts of conservation. She achieves this through lectures and supplements them with hands-on activities with books, and instructs students on the uses of adhesives, cleaning and repairs. She expressed that she has been surprised and encouraged that her students are fascinated by materials and objects in today’s very digital/virtual world.
Heather Galloway is a Conservator at the Intermuseum Conservation Association (ICA). She is currently preparing to teach a course in the joint PhD program between Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Museum of Art. She has taught several other courses, and she described one which was geared toward upper level students and taught completely based in the museum galleries. This was not a practical course, and all of the written work required of the students was based on observations and research. She wanted them to focus on what they might learn if they had the opportunity to examine an object firsthand. In this course Heather also removed paintings from the gallery walls and had students examine them out of their frames and under different light sources. The ultimate goal of this course was to introduce students to the complexity of judgments and collaboration necessary for conservators to make decisions, and to build a more sympathetic audience among our future allied professionals.
Emily Williams is the Conservator of Archaeological Materials at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, and she discussed a course she has been teaching at the University of Mary Washington, entitled “Introduction to Conservation.” Because of Emily’s specialty, she imparts a heavy emphasis on archaeological materials but also tries to incorporate information about other materials as possible. Her goal in this course is to lay the foundation for future collaborations rather than train conservators. Due to Emily’s experience that many archaeologists in the Mid-Atlantic region think of conservation as all hands-on and something that they can do with just a little bit of training, she discussed the challenge that she sees in teaching this course, between balancing hands-on, practical work with other activities. She explained that her students always want to do more practical work, and this may be because she teaches this course as a 3-hour class. In addition to including hands-on activities, Emily incorporates debates and discussions into her classes. At the end of her presentation, she posed the question that she is pondering herself-through this course, is she achieving her goal of creating well-informed future collaborators or is she reinforcing the notion that the best and most important parts of conservation are hands-on?
Following this round of talks, Suzanne and Emily posed 2 sets of 2 questions or ideas each to the audience. Some of these were created from comments pulled directly from the survey recently conducted. We were seated in groups at round tables, each assigned with a letter A or B-the letters designated which questions we were to discuss.  I’ll write more about this, and the second discussion session, after summarizing the second round of speakers.
The second round of speakers included Richard McCoy, Erich Uffelman, Ian McClure, Sanchita Balachandran, Karen Pavelka, and Suzanne Davis.
Richard McCoy is former Conservator at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and he has taught at IUPUI and recently was asked to create a course for Johns Hopkins online. Richard’s first course at IUPUI was project-based, focused on collections care and on documenting all of the public artworks on the university campus. To do this, he co-founded the WikiProject Public Art for his students to document the sculptures, and used Flickr for the photo management. He found that using Wikipedia and Flickr also worked as an advocacy tool for the artwork. In a second course, Richard had his students document all of the public art in the  Indiana State House. In his last course, he focused on survey and research, and had his students research the historic Madame Walker Theater, create an excel database of their survey, and reorganized the theater’s museum. Richard is now creating a course for Johns Hopkins online in museum studies. This course will be entitled “Core aspects of conservation- a 21st century approach” and will have a goal of teaching students how to look at art, and also have students gather more resources for sharing with others on this topic.
Erich Uffelman is faculty at Washington and Lee University in the Department of Chemistry. Erich presented a record number of slides in 5 minutes, illustrating his course “Science In Art:  Technical Analysis of 17th Century Dutch Paintings.” This is a 2-part course that is conducted over a year, ending with a trip to the Netherlands. This course covers both the art historical aspects as well as the scientific and analytical work that is involved in conservation. Erich has been publishing about this course since 2007, and his publications include resources as well as the strengths and limitations of the approaches used in teaching this course. Erich ended his presentation by mentioning the Chemistry in Art workshops offered through the National Science Foundation, taught by Dr. Pat Hill. These workshops are geared toward university faculty and other educators and focus on how to integrate chemistry and art into a curriculum.
Ian McClure is the Director of the Center for Conservation and Preservation, Yale West Campus and Susan Morse Hilles Chief Conservator at the Yale University Art Gallery. He discussed several ways in which his department is involved in teaching, including an undergraduate course focused on the technical examination of art. The goal of this course is to teach students about various methods of investigation and to help them understand how to interpret their observations. In addition to this course, they also work with postdoctoral students in computer science. One of their recent initiatives is teaching teachers in the Summer Teachers Institute in Technical Art History (STITAH). This project is supported by the Kress Foundation.
Sanchita Balachandran is a Conservator and Curator at the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum and is a Lecturer in Near Eastern Studies at the university. Sanchita explained that the museum is used frequently for teaching, and a majority of her time is devoted this work, as she teaches one course per semester. She is teaching a seminar “Examining Archaeological Objects”more regularly, and she also teaches in other departments. Sanchita shared some of her main goals in her courses, which include: sharing excitement about objects with students, teaching students how to look at objects and make original observations, and instilling a sense of wonder in her students. Sanchita mentioned that one of the challenges that she has faced in teaching in this capacity is that not having a PhD is difficult in an academic environment, and makes it more difficult to apply for research funding. She ended her presentation with the idea of the “conservator identity crisis”. She explained that now that only 10% of her time is dedicated to treatment, she thinks a lot about what defines a conservator–someone who does treatment regularly and thus practices what he/she teaches, or someone who is able to teach about these issues but in some ways is far removed from the hands on aspect?
Karen Pavelka is a Conservator and Lecturer in the School of Information at UT Austin. As a full-time faculty member, she teaches 2 courses per semester. Courses that she teaches integrate conservation into the I-school curriculum, and include a paper lab course and classes that focus on disaster salvage, risk management, and preservation management. Karen pointed out that her classes are popular (they fill up within the first minute of being offered!) and often have waiting lists. Her courses are mainly geared to grad students focusing on library and museum studies. Karen stated that her goal in these courses is to integrate conservation into these students’ worlds, and impart the idea that everyone is responsible for preservation, but also to help them understand when to call a conservator-essentially, to help educate these students so that they become valuable and well-informed colleagues. Karen described one project that she has created for her students called the “annoying object exercise”. She created fragile, oddly shaped objects and then asks students to design and build a support for these objects which can be produced quickly, cheaply, and easily.
Suzanne Davis is Head Conservator at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology at the University of Michigan. Suzanne gave an abbreviated version of her presentation so that the rest of the session could be used for discussion. Just briefly, Suzanne discussed that she teaches a conservation unit in a theory-based, graduate-level museum studies course at the university. She posed the question, WTH (what the heck) should she be doing with these students? Should she be teaching them to think about conservation in a critical way, which is what she has been doing, or should she be giving them practical advice/tips so that they can make more informed decisions about using conservation services and resources in their future careers?
On that note, Suzanne and Emily moved everyone into the second period of discussion, again with 2 sets of questions for the audience to ponder.
Discussions topics included (but were not limited to):
–       What are the costs and benefits of adjunct teaching?
–       How do you see the role of conservation and conservation science in education for allied professionals? Do you see it as providing enrichment and/or as an aid in developing critical thinking skills? Do you want to produce more educated consumers of conservation resources and services? What are your personal end-result goals for the classes you teach?
–       Salvador Munos-Vinas and other scholars have argued the need for more theory in conservation and conservation education. What is your opinion? Does a lack of theory in conservation affect conservators’ ability to engage with education in theory-rich fields such as archaeology, art history, and museum studies?
After discussions amongst our groups, Emily and Suzanne opened the session up for some quick discussion at the end.
Some of the points that came out of this discussion included:
–       there is a need for conservation specific teaching resources
–       those who are teaching would find it helpful to look at other syllabi
–       in general the audience was interested in more teaching instruction and strategies in the form of a webinar or workshop – the workshop idea was more popular
–       there are a lot of guest lecturers not full time teaching – people would like more information about how to convey a single talk or 2 in a larger course
–       resources that do exist include:

  • an email listserv for conservation educators, which has been fairly dormant but you can contact Rachael Arenstein or Emily Williams if you’d like to join – the pre-requisite for joining is that you must be teaching in an academic setting
  • AIC’s YouTube channel-this is also a place for those making videos to share them
  • AIC’s Facebook page and AIC wiki
  • Coursera, Khan academy, Stanford Teaching Commons 

Suzanne and Emily promised that they will eventually publish the discussion from this session, so stay tuned for that!

41st Annual Meeting – Book and Paper Session, May 30, "The Materials, Techniques, and Conservation Challenges of Richard Serra’s Oil Stick Prints" by Im Chan

oil stick print

I knew very little about Richard Serra’s works on paper prior to Im Chan’s interesting presentation.  She had the challenge of examining and housing a collection of Serra’s enormous oil stick prints at the National Gallery of Art.

oil stick texture
Texture of the print surface

First she explained how the prints were made using a combination of screen printing and oil stick.  The oil stick itself was actually an adaptation of proprietary paint sticks that Serra would melt down, adding linseed oil and wax to make a large soft brick that could be drawn across the paper or pushed through a silkscreen, giving the print surface a thick  texture.  Im recreated the mixture and described it as being like butter.  As an amateur artist, the idea intrigues me, but as a paper conservator, it sounds a bit horrifying!  But I was impressed to learn that Richard Serra actually prepared his papers with a coating of Golden acrylic gel medium to protect the paper from oil penetration, and some prints even have acrylic gel between layers of ink.  Naturally, however, there is some yellowing of the paper, and the media itself is also tacky.
oil stick layers
Cross section in visible and UV light

The scientific analysis of her presentation dealt with the problem of the oils.  She explained that oleic acid usually oxidizes to azelaic acid as it ages, but if it does not then the media will remain tacky and malleable, vulnerable to indentations and dust.  The free fatty acids in the oils can migrate to the surface of the image and appear as cloudy efflorescence, marring the visual uniformity of the black ink field.  She mentioned that when stored with cover sheets, many of the prints had transferred media and efflorescence to those cover sheets as well.  Framed prints did not have glazing, and thus they were vulnerable to dust.
Im Chan’s work involved identifying and analyzing the problem, not actively treating all of the prints, and I could sympathize when she said it was difficult to resist getting her tweezers out to pick off all the dust and stray fibers stuck to the ink surfaces.  She and her colleagues planned storage systems that would allow the prints to breathe, such as a box made of honeycomb board that had a sheet of microchamber paper across an opening in the lid to allow the exchange of air but to trap offgassing elements, having mentioned earlier that the prints had a strong smell of linseed oil, as I can well imagine!
Incidentally, the next day Joan Weir presented a talk on displaying another Richard Serra work on paper with some similar problems.  It was quite interesting to hear her talk after Im Chan’s scientific presentation, so I already had a good understanding of what the artwork was like.   That talk was:
(Contemporary Art Session 1) “When Conservation Means Stapling: Touring an Unsupported, Unglazed, 9ft x 21ft, oil paint stick on Paper to Three Venues” by Joan Weir.

41st Annual Meeting – Wooden Artifacts Session, May 31st, “The Gordion Table Circa 2011” by Rick Parker

The Gordion table is one a multitude of artifacts, including more than fifty pieces of furniture, excavated from Phrygian tumuli in the 1950’s. The wooden objects were almost immediately warped and damaged by a large influx of moisture within the tomb. In the 1980’s a large scale conservation project began in Ankara to rescue the table and associated objects. The first time I read about the Gordion Table, and saw images of it conserved and reconstructed, I began to wonder how it might have looked when first entombed in the Phrygian Kingdom 2,700 years ago.

The original Gordion table after conservation and reconstruction. Reproduced with permission from Elizabeth Simpson.
The original Gordion table after conservation and reconstruction. Reproduced with permission from Elizabeth Simpson.

Luckily for me, Rick Parker has taken it upon himself to replicate the table based on original drawings and literature. A number of difficulties were encountered along the way and occasionally artistic and creative liberties were taken, for both technical and aesthetic reasons. The wood, for example, was sourced from Kauri logs from New Zealand which were 40,000-60,000 years old. He later used resin from this wood to varnish the table. This decision seems to relate more to personal taste as the original table was carved from  boxwood, juniper and walnut. Additionally, while doing the work he found modern era power tools to be virtually useless and had to fabricate more appropriate tools. The way the table was constructed meant it was very difficult to join the components and get them all to stay in plane. Interestingly, the original table has a hole in one of the legs that has been drilled and then plugged above another hole where the strut is attached. Rick found, when making the table, that his original measurements led him to attach the strut higher on one leg which then kept the table top from being able to sit flat on the legs. Like the original maker, he also had to fill this hole, drill another, and move the strut down.

Based on his own knowledge of ancient craftsmanship Rick believes the original makers must have had more skill, and more complex tools, than are currently attributed to them. To him, Simpson’s assertion that an adze was used to carve the legs is a point of contention. He also debates the idea that the table would have been portable, his reconstructed version being very awkward to move. In some ways the ability to handle this modern replica is one of it’s greatest assets. It also stands alone as a unique and beautiful object. Rick thinks of the original table as a work of art and while his version may not be an exact replica it lends a sense of reality to an otherwise mysterious object.

The replicated table. Photo courtesy Rick Parker.

For more information about the conservation of the original table see:
Payton, R. (1984) ‘The Conservation of an Eigth Century BC Table from Gordion’, in N. Brommelle, E. Pye, P. Smith, and G. Thomson, (eds.), Adhesives and Consolidants: Preprints of the Contributions to the Paris Congress, 2-8 September 1984, pp. 133-137
Simpson, E. (1983) “Reconstructing an Ancient Table: The ‘Pagoda’ Table from Tumulus MM at Gordion.” Expedition25, no. 4: 11 26.
Spirydowicz, K. (1996) ‘The Conservation of Ancient Phrygian Furniture from Gordion, Turkey’ in A. Roy and P. Smith (eds.), Archaeological Conservation and its Consequences: Preprints of the Contributions to the Copenhagen Congress, 26-30 August 1996. London: IIC. pp. 166-171
For information on the Gordion site and the artifacts in general see the wikipedia page which has excellent references:
The University of Pennsylvania also has a very in depth website detailing the site, the furniture, the tumuli and their associations with the historical King Midas:

41st Annual Meeting – Research and Technical Studies Session, May 31, “Examination, Technical Study, and Treatment of Funerary Stelae from the Roman-Egyptian Site of Ternouthis” by Caroline Roberts, LeeAnn Barnes Gordon, and Cathy Selvius DeRoo

Caroline (Carrie) Roberts presented an interesting talk about a multi-year collaborative project that demonstrates the real impact that surveys and technical studies can have on collections. In less than two years, the authors were able to survey a collection of 200 limestone stelae, assign treatment priorities, identify the agents of deterioration, suggest environmental guidelines, carry out treatments, and develop an informed treatment protocol.
The project began with the survey of the collection of limestone stelae by then 3rd year intern LeeAnn Barnes Gordon and continued as part of Carrie Roberts’ fellowship project at the Kelsey Museum. LeeAnn and Carrie collaborated with scientists in analytical laboratories at the University of Michigan and at the Detroit institute of Arts, including co-author Cathy Selvius DeRoo. Through their hard work and successful collaborations, the authors were able to accomplish an impressive amount and significantly improve the condition and long-term preservation of this invaluable collection.
Carrie first introduced the history of this collection of funerary stelae excavated in 1935 from the Roman-Egyptian site of Terenouthis. You can find some of this info on the Kelsey website here… and here:

KM 21069: Limestone Stele of Sarapous Terenouthis, Egypt (http://www.umich.edu/~kelseydb/Exhibits/Death_on_Display/Text/stele.html)

She then spoke about the condition issues identified during the survey, which included stone delamination, surface powdering, biological staining, and peeling, darkened coatings. There were several types of salt efflorescence present including spiky salt crystals and more round gypsum like-salts. Spot tests identified chlorides and sulfates. Interestingly, research conducted into the archival holdings of the museum produced some incredibly relevant information regarding the past treatment of the pieces. A transcribed 1941 lecture by the archaeologist indicated that Duco cement was used to stabilize the stelae as they were excavated. The presence of cellulose nitrate was later confirmed using FTIR on samples of the darkened and peeling coatings.
As a result of the survey, approximately ¼ of the collection was determined to be high priority for treatment. These stelae received further study to characterize the deterioration and identify a treatment protocol. Testing was carried out using a barrage of analytical techniques including FTIR, XRF, XRD, specimen culturing and DNA analysis. The results allowed identification of soluble salts (calclacite- a calcium chloride acetate salt produced from interactions with offgasing materials + halide salts), characterization of stone properties (clay component within limestone- possibly responsible for delamination), and ID of the biological growth (black staining identified by DNA as Epicoccum nigrum of the class dothideomycetes, lichen not identified- no DNA present).
The treatment protocol that was developed through testing included:
-Consolidation of the limestone with CaLoSil (150nm particles of lime hydrate Ca(OH)2) in n-propanol. Testing was conducted using CaLoSil, Paraloid B-72, and Conservare (Ethyl silicate) consolidants. CaLoSil was most successful as it reduced powdering after 1 application without darkening stone. It is presumed to penetrate deep into the stone due to the small (nano) particle size.
-Structural stabilization using Paraloid B-72 (in 85:15 ethanol/acetone) injected into delaminating cracks. Not many of the stelae had extensive delamination but Paraloid B-72 was found to successfully stabilize cracks and areas beginning to delaminate.
-Desalination by poulticing with Arbocel paper pulp. This method was considered challenging/problematic and so the environmental controls were considered the best method of preventing future problems from soluble salts
-Coating reduction was accomplished by applying acetone followed by blotting.
-Biological staining was reduced by swabbing with ethanol; however, this was not found to be fully effective.
-Environmental parameters were set based on the equilibrium RH of the identified salts. The recommendation was to stay below 75% humidity, which is the equilibrium of halide salt and below that of calclacite (79%).
Carrie finished with some questions for future research, including: how is the CaLoSil distributed in the limestone after consolidation? What is the nature of the clay component in the limestone? What are the possibilities for reduction of the biological staining? And what is the best method for treating the stelae that had been stabilized with cyclododecane in 2009 when the collection was relocated to the current storage area.
Overall a very informative talk that hopefully will inspire similar in-depth survey and treatment projects!

41st Annual Meeting – Book & Paper Session, May 29, "Flip, Flap, and Crack: The Conservation of 400 Years of Anatomical Flap Books by Meg Brown”

Meg Brown gave an engaging talk about a 2011 exhibition at Duke University that showcased the flap anatomies in their collection.
Though there is no standardized terminology for these works (“moveable books”, “anatomical atlases” and “fugitive sheets” numbering among their aliases), Meg defined flap anatomies as “paper based, printed images with more than one layer illustrating an aspect of human anatomy” for the purposes of her talk. She discussed the history of flap anatomies, spoke to the common conservation problems of these unique materials, and gave tips on exhibiting them.
**I have included images of some of the works Meg spoke about (or similar works).  I will give the same warning that she did – many of these images depict the naked human form.  If that is not something you wish to see, do not keep reading**
Flap anatomies began in the 16th century, and were primarily printed in Germany. It is thought that they were used by barbers and surgeons as reference guides, for dissection was rare even where it was not outright illegal.

Vogtherr, Heinrich (1539)
Vogtherr, Heinrich (1539)

The first known flap anatomy (then known as a fugitive sheet) was printed in 1538 by Vogtherr, Heinrich.  Duke University holds a 1539 copy of one of his works.  The illustrations were hand-colored.  Copies of this work are generally in good condition for a number of reasons:

The paper stock is high-quality
The top layer, which shows the skin level of human anatomy, is large enough to protect the smaller layers.
The top layer is well adhered.

Johann Remmelin (c. 1618)
Remmelin, Johann (c. 1618)

Johann Remmelin (c. 1613) produced highly technical flap anatomies that were believed to have been created for students and professionals.  His images were highly valued, and they were republished and stolen for many centuries.
Remmelin’s works also owe their survival to high quality paper and a large/well-adhered top layer.  The top flap layer is a full printed sheet with the flap area hand cut before adhesion.  Interior pieces were adhered by tabs or even left loose within the protective covering of the surface sheet so that they could be removed and inspected.  Instructions to the binders for this practice survive to this day.
Tuson, Edward (1828)
Tuson, Edward (1828)

In the mid-1800s, Edward Tuson produced his Myology.  The flap anatomies in this volume are produced with multi-directional tabs that provide resistance against lifting it.  Meg described the sensation of lifting the flaps as akin to muscle tension!
Myology was a lithographic print, which was hand coloured.
Myology displayed small bits, such as veins and muscles in addition to organs.
Spratt, G. (1847)
Spratt, G. (1847)

Two decades later, George Spratt published a flap anatomy that served as an instructional for midwives.  Like the Remmelin volumes, Sprat used the sandwiching effect of full pages for both his base and surface sheets.  Spratt’s base page was blank, and the surface sheet was slit – allowing the layered tabs to be adhered in between the two, sandwiched sheets.
Hollick, Frederick (c.1902)
Hollick, Frederick (1902)

Beginning around the same time that Spratt was educating midwives, Frederick Hollick  created the first mass-market flap anatomies.  He continued to publish into the early 1900s.  His volumes were intended to educate the public at large.  As you can see, the surface layers became quite a bit more demure once the flap anatomies were marketed for public consumption.
Quality of paper and construction went swiftly downhill, as publishers sought to make economical mass-market flap anatomies.  As a result, the flap anatomies of Hollick and his successors are in much worse condition than earlier works.
Witkowski,Gustave (c.1880)
Witkowski,Gustave (c.1880)

Gustave Witkowski followed in Hollick’s footsteps.  His flap anatomies were part of a larger trend of popularized science.  New technologies like die cutting and double-sided color printing helped economize Witkowski’s editions.  Minimal adhesive was used, because die-cutting allowed many diagrams to be cut from one sheet.  Unfortunately, the new technology of wood-pulp paper also insured that his editions are extremely brittle and fragile today.
Flap Anatomy Exhibition Support
Flap Anatomy Exhibition Support

Exhibiting such fragile, three dimensional works is difficult proposition.  How does one best display the intricate layers while providing gentle support?  Meg’s answer came from a colleague – and thus her talk came with handouts!  Meg used small rolls of a light-weight mylar to support the flaps.  The mylar was flexible enough that the flaps could determine their own angle of open-ability and clear enough to be no detriment to the layers beneath.
To accompany Duke University’s exhibition, Meg  prepared a Flap Book Biography, a supplemental online exhibition and a video as well!
Thanks to Meg for a fantastic talk.
P.S. Marieka Kaye of the Huntington Library gave a talk on their use of facsimile flap anatomies for their Beautiful Science exhibition.  Long story short?  Make your facsimiles STURDY.  Laminate the pieces.  Use elastic thread.  Make multiple copies for replacement parts.  (You can imagine which pieces go missing most often).  The blogpost on her discussion group talk can be found here.

41st Annual Meeting – Objects Session, May 31, “Intersecting Conservation Approaches to Ethnographic and Contemporary Art: Ephemeral Art at the National Museum of African Art” by Stephanie E. Hornbeck

In this paper, Stephanie discusses similarities between conserving ethnographic and contemporary works of art. She includes previous discussions about the two types of conservation and the variety of viewpoints associated with them, demonstrated, visually, through case studies of treatments of both traditional and contemporary art.
Stephanie briefly discussed her training, which began at the Guggenheim before working at more focused ethnographic collections. She has worked for several years for the National Museum of African Art (NMAA). This museum originally housed just traditional arts, but, in the 1990’s, also began collecting contemporary art. They now have a collection of over 600 contemporary works of art, and I believe she said this is the largest collection of contemporary African art in the United States (or the world?). She and her colleagues Steve Mellor and Dana Moffett have found that these contemporary works, while using materials common to non-African contemporary art, also draw upon materials from traditional African arts.
Both traditional arts and contemporary art are often composed of ephemeral material (sometimes by design, sometimes not) – composite media, repurposed materials, and inherently fragile materials. Conservation is often directly opposed to ephemeral art. While Stephanie proposed that this statement has been addressed many times previously, there are as many different opinions on how to deal with contemporary art and ephemeral materials. The opinions posed in this paper are Stephanie’s own.
Stephanie presented a number of case studies to discuss their approach to ephemeral materials as well as to highlight similarities between traditional and contemporary art. The first examples were of a traditional, wooden artifact by Olówè of Isè, and a contemporary ceramic piece, Untitled 1, by Magdelene Odundo, in 1994. In the former, there was a darkening of the surface of the bowl, which conservators thought might be a resin applied later in its life and might be inappropriate to the artifact. Analysis showed that the dark material was in fact a gum-carbohydrate mixture – one that could have been historic. The artist, Olówè, died in 1938, however, and could not be interviewed about it.
Magdelene Odundo’s Untitled 1 is a beautiful, pristine ceramic vessel with a rich, earthy-red and smooth surface. What soon became apparent, were areas of lime within the clay body that would swell and cause the ceramic above to pop off, resulting in a pit with a white dot in the middle (the lime). [This is exactly what occurs in pottery from Southwest United States.] These areas mar the pristine surface intended by the artist. In this case, as opposed to the wooden figurine, the artist could be interviewed. Popping from lime inclusions can be avoided by different firing conditions and temperatures, but with these different techniques the shape and color of her pieces would change. This was unacceptable to the artist, who decided to accept the consequences of the lime popping in exchange for the color and shape she desired in her works.
In documentation, there are surveys for living artists: Maters in Media Art (Tate Modern), the Guggenheim Museum’s Variable Media Approach, and those available through INCAA. In these surveys, there is an anthropological aspect. For instance, inherent vice (present in both traditional and contemporary arts) can be intentional – or not. In Ghada Amer’s Hunger, from the “Earth Matters” exhibit currently on display until January 2014, “HUNGER” is spelled out on using seeds and plants in the grounds of the NMAA. The letters will change with different plants in different seasons, and will naturally decay.
Artist-Conservator interactions are possible perhaps more easily with contemporary pieces, though the inherent vice can be the same. In Henreique Oliveira’s Bololo from 1991 was destroyed after the exhibit (it was a huge piece(s) of brazilwood installed to appear as if it were growing out of a wall, filling the gallery in serpentine forms). Willem Boshoff’s Writing in Sand from 2005 consisted of white sand spread over the floor with black sand letters forming a text. The public was able to touch the piece, and the artist liked that the public could damage it; still, the meaning of the piece was intent on its words, so they had to be restored. This occurred about once/week, and by the end of the exhibit, the sand was mostly gray.
In the conservation of ethnographic objects, treatments are often conservative, though problems many be similar to those encountered in contemporary works. Berni Seale’s (Searle?) To Hold in the Palm of the Hand is a 2006 installation, and incorporated powdered henna on its surface. Stephanie had to replace this henna (after finding an appropriate source) while on display. Conversely, Powdered pigment would not be replaced on a traditional object, such as a Zulu hat that also had a powdery, red pigmented surface.
Regarding artist intent and conservation treatment, sometimes contemporary materials require more immediate conservation. 1997’s amendment to AIC’s Code of Ethics/Guidelines for Practice were amended with Commentary 23, paragraph D, to provide rationale for greater intervention. Stephanie Hornbeck, however, fells the commentary is too vague and broad, and can be contrary to conservation principles. (Louise Nevelson’s Dreamhouse XLIII, 1993, at the Miami Art Museum is a dilemma for Stephanie.) For contemporary art, how far into the past and future do invasive treatments, such as repainting, apply?
The Getty has a publication entitled The Object in Transition, which is available online for the public and discusses specific examples. Pretty much, pieces must be evaluated on a case by case basis, but the outcomes are truly variable. There is a dilemma between accepted standards and “case by case” bases for treatment, and this is a really interesting point that I think conservators should consider more deeply.
The VARA act came into being in 1990. This discusses copyright law and ownership. VARA 106 A (c) (2) is an important paragraph. In Europe, the future of a given piece is guided by the artist; in the United States, it is guided by the owner. This has a great influence on the direction for conservation in the two continents.

Q&A: there was an interesting discussion about when treatments on ethnographic collections became more restrained. Sanchita Balachandran offered an interesting insight, stating that some of that restraint occurred when museums changed from being “owners” of the collections to “stewards” of the collections.

41st Annual Meeting, Contemporary Art Session 2. Film: Conserving Calder's Circus, with commentary by Eleonora Nagy, Whitney Museum of Art

For me, one of the many highlights of this meeting was seeing the wonderful film produced by the Whitney Museum of Art about the work to conserve Alexander Calder’s Circus, (1926-1931). If you missed the session, the 10 minute film is available on the Whitney’s website.
Though the film includes a lot of contextualizing information about the work and the circus in America, Eleonora Nagy expanded on a number of thoughts within the video which I found quite interesting. I wasn’t planning on writing this post when I sat down in the session so I didn’t take notes at the time, but I wanted to share my thoughts and provide a place for others to share their’s.
During her remarks, Nagy related Calder’s Circus to the the Humpty Dumpty Circus toys made by  the Schoenhut Company of Philadelphia over the first half of 20th century which allowed children to create their own circuses.

Schoenhut Humpty Dumpty Circus at Shelburne Museum
Part of the Shelburne Museum’s Schoenhut Humpty Dumpty Circus, c. 1903-1926.

The other miniature circus from Shelburne’s collection that came to my mind is by Edgar Decker Kirk, made 1910-1956 in Harrisburg, PA, though I’d imagine that its unlikely that Calder knew of it. Kirk, a brakesman on the Pennsylvania railroad, made the 3,500 pieces using a penknife and a foot-powered jigsaw and occasionally set up his circus, complete with a tent, in his backyard for the enjoyment of the neighborhood kids.
Kirk Circus from the Shelburne Museum collection
Edgar Decker Kirk (1891-1956), Kirk Circus, 1910-1956. Image courtesy Shelburne Museum.

Calder’s figures were based on actual circus performers of the time, and  included side show performers as well as main circus performers, unlike the Schoenhut and Kirk circuses which do not depict the side show. And unlike real life circus performances, Calder interspersed the side show acts with the main circus acts during the performance of his circus.
Apparently, there’s more footage that was made but not included in this video. I hope the Whitney considers releasing that material in the future.

41st Annual Meeting, Book and Paper Session, Archives Conservation Discussion Group (ACDG), May 31, “Is it real?: The value and ethics of using surrogates,” co-chairs Cher Schneider and Tonia Grafakos

Encapsulating an hour-and-a-half discussion into a blog post isn’t easy, but fortunately the speakers in the Book and Paper Group’s Archives Conservation Discussion Group, “Is it real?: The value and ethics of using surrogates,” riffed on a few common themes, namely: When is it appropriate to use surrogates in place of original materials? and What are some ethical considerations to take into account when doing so? While the discussion rarely focused on archives, as might be expected given the normal focus of the ACDG, the presentations nicely encompassed a wide range of book and paper scenarios.
The panel of speakers provided a wealth of experiences with and uses for surrogates including replacing originals (in total or in part) and utilizing copies in exhibits and in interactions with private collectors.
Jeanne Drewes (Chief, Binding and Collections Care Division  and Program Manager, Mass Deacidification, Library of Congress) presented “Replace, repair, remove or remake: Decision making for severely damaged items in general collections.” Drewes noted that because the Library of Congress (LC) is the library of record and often the “library of last resort” it is imperative that the general collections remain in usable condition. When Drewes came to LC she created workflows (provided as a handout) to guide decision making to more actively approach damaged or fragile materials, as opposed to just boxing and deferring treatment. Fragile items are assessed for physical condition, copyright restrictions, and replaceability. Whenever possible LC retains a physical copy. Options include creating an entire facsimile, replacing part of an item and/or retaining original colored plates or cloth cover with a facsimile copy of the textblock, providing a digital surrogate, withdrawing if multiple copies of an item are available, or going to extraordinary lengths to find a replacement. Drewes clearly explained how the use of surrogates plays a role in providing long-term access to mechanically sound general collections materials.
In his theoretical take on the question of surrogates, titled “DIORAMA,” Gary Frost (Conservator Emeritus, University of Iowa), discussed the interplay of originals and copies in exhibits, and the conceptual space–or “third thing”–between the two. Museums have always reinterpreted items, be it in diorama, a cabinet of curiosities, or a born-digital exhibit. Frost noted that until the turn of the 20th century exhibits rich in artifacts were the norm; since then there has been an increasing “pervasive displacement of physical artifacts.” Frost argued that in museum and library exhibits, no falsification is intended by composite displays of originals and copies; exhibits induce a suspension of disbelief. He referenced two books that may be of interest: Matthew Kirschenbaum’s Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination and Orhan Pamuk’s The Innocence of Objects.
Jane Klinger (Chief Conservator, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum) noted her museum’s strong commitment to authenticity. In order to remember victims, honor Holocaust survivors, and respond to Holocaust deniers, USHMM determined to display only original artifacts. Small nods could be made to preserving light-sensitive materials if a like item could be found to replace like or one copy to replace a second copy. The chronological nature of the Museum exhibits creates challenges for substituting items for each other; similar items must be the same size, format, and content. Occasionally USHMM has chosen to display surrogates and has opted to use artist-made facsimiles to achieve a similar look and feel to the original. In one example, two letters that belonged to another museum were reproduced by an artist using period typewriter, paper, and artist-made stamps. In another situation, an artist-made facsimile of a child’s watercolor owned by another museum stands in for the original. Where the presence of a copy might serve as fodder for Holocaust deniers to question the authenticity of historical events, USHMM has been careful to clearly label as a surrogate both the exhibit text and the item itself—and provide access to the original on a case-by-case basis. Based on the questions posed by the audience at the end of the session, the use of artist-made facsimiles may be a new idea to many.
Valerie Hotchkiss (Andrew S. G. Turyn Endowed Professor and Director of The Rare Book & Manuscript Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) provided a counterpoint to earlier discussion in “From physical artifacts to copies to super surrogates: The use (and abuse) of surrogates in special collections.” Hotchkiss noted that while there is a distinct place for surrogates, it’s generally not in exhibition cases. She pointed to the “thrill of the original”: students and faculty come to the rare book library to see the original, and we should not fool the public into thinking they are seeing something they are not. Hotchkiss provided the “Clooney Law of Exhibitions” that was so compelling that it was also quoted as a case in point by one debater during Saturday’s Great Debate, namely that seeing George Clooney in a film is not at all the same as sharing wine him in person. Much the same can be said of seeing a surrogate in place of an original. Hotchkiss promoted the use of facsimiles, however, when they augment the original, such as in a text panel with additional images of a book on display or in a digital display to flip through an entire book. Online exhibits are different in that everyone understands that they are not viewing the original. Newer “e-rare books” or “super-surrogates” contain value-added materials such as translations, transcriptions, and text introductions and can reach broader (and often younger) audiences.
Marieka Kaye (Exhibits Conservator, Huntington Library) presented a case study on the use of surrogates in interactive exhibits. The Huntington Library recently mounted an exhibit of anatomical books with moving flaps and parts. In order to provide the viewer the experience of handling and interacting with the books, full-size surrogates were printed, with parts laminated and sewn with clear elastic cord to open and close properly. Many copies were created as the surrogates wore out over the course of the exhibit. While digital exhibits—especially those allowing people to page through a digital copy of a book—are interactive, having physical copies of the books available allows visitors to come as close as possible to experiencing the books as they were intended to be enjoyed.
Meg Brown (Exhibits Librarian and Special Collections Conservator, Duke University Libraries) will soon become a full-time exhibits librarian. She provided many points to consider when using surrogates in exhibits. The first is that sometimes the curator may not need or want the original in an exhibit, and advised us to consider that “sometimes it is easy to say no to the original–but you have to ask!” In some cases, the “original” in our institutions is already a surrogate, such as a photocopy of a photocopy. In such situations, displaying a surrogate may seem less troubling. There are situations in which making a copy might allow the exhibit staff to enhance visibility or understanding of the item, such as in scanning, printing, and assembling a sheet of paper puppets that are decidedly one-dimensional in original form. Others situations in which surrogates may be warranted include when the original is too large to fit in an exhibition case, when the item is too valuable, too controversial, or brittle, or when the exhibit conditions are not safe to display originals. Brown has successfully used an item light-damaged after a few months on display in a sub-par space to lobby for improved exhibitions conditions in her institution. She urged the audience to share with one another examples of exhibition damage to help us all make positive changes.
“Conservation conversations: Surrogate creation and the private collector” was the topic of Anne Kearney’s presentation. Before becoming Collections Conservator at the University at Albany, the State University of New York, she worked for many years in private practice. She encouraged the audience to remember that collectors are also professionals who have collected for a reason. They may desire surrogates for display, research, and safety. They may not want to handle or display the real thing, but worry about the expense involved in creating a surrogate. Kearney encouraged us to consider user-centered business models and closely observe, listen to, and interact with collectors. Their goals and concerns can add knowledge to what we as conservators bring to the table. Kearney helpfully provided a handout with additional resources, both electronic and paper-based.
Questions from the audience and responses from the panel included a discussion of the lack of standard terminology for what constitutes a facsimile; how to describe or note the use of facsimiles in exhibit labels and text panels; how to ensure that facsimiles on “loan” to other institutions are clearly delineated as such in exhibit labels; and how to draw attention to the use of facsimiles in order to inform the public about conservation issues such as light damage.
The Archives Collections Discussion Group presenters were well chosen, focusing on varying aspects of the surrogate question. The panelists agreed that the use of surrogates should always be openly and honestly disclosed, and that surrogates do indeed, in some situations, play a role in exhibitions, repair, and private work.

41st Annual Meeting-Electronic Media Session, May 31, "Technical Documentation of Source Code at the Museum of Modern Art" by Deena Engel and Glenn Wharton

Glenn Wharton began with an overview of the conservation of electronic media at the Museum of  Modern Art (MoMA). When he set up the Media Conservation program at MoMA in 2005, there were over 2,000 media objects, mostly analog video, and only 20 software objects. The main focus of the program was digitizing analog video and audio tapes. Wharton was a strong advocate for the involvement of IT experts from the very beginning of the process. Over time, they developed a working group representing all 7 curatorial departments, collaborating with IT and artists to assess, document, and manage electronic media collections.
Wharton described the risk assessment approach that MoMA has developed for stewardship of its collections, which includes evaluation of software dependency and operating system dependency for digital objects.  They have increased the involvement of technical experts, and they have collaborated with Howard Besser and moving image archivists.
The presenters chose to focus on project design and objectives; they plan to publish their findings in the near future. Glenn Wharton described the three case study artworks: Thinking Machine 4, Shadow Monsters, and 33 Questions per Minute. He explained how he collaborated with NYU computer science professor Deena Engel to harness the power of a group of college undergraduate students to provide basic research into source code documentation. Thinking Machine 4 and Shadow Monsters were both written in Processing, an open source programming language based on Java. On the other hand, 33 Questions per Minute was written in Delphi, derived from PASCAL; Delphi is not very popular in the US, so the students where challenged to learn an unfamiliar language.
Engel explained that source code can be understood by anyone who knows the language, just as one might read and comprehend a foreign language. She discussed the need for software maintenance that is common across various types of industries, not unique to software-based art projects. Software maintenance is needed when the hardware is altered,  the operating system is changed, or the programming language is updated. She also explained four types of code documentation: annotation (comments) in the source code, narratives, visuals, and Unified Modeling Language (UML) diagrams.
Engel discussed the ways that the source code affects the output or the user experience and the need to capture the essential elements of presentation in artwork, which are unique to artistic software. In 33 Questions per Minute, the system configuration includes a language setting with options for English, German, or Spanish. Some functions were operating system-specific, such as the Mac-Unix scripts that allow the interactive artwork Shadow Monsters to reboot if overloaded by a rambunctious school group flooding the gallery with lots of moving shadows. Source code specified aesthetic components such as color, speed, and randomization for all of the case study artworks.
One interesting discovery was the amount of code that was “commented out.” Similar to  studies, underdrawings, or early states of a print, there were areas of code that had been deactivated without being deleted, and these could be examined as evidence of the artist’s working methods.
Engel concluded by mentioning that the field of reproducibility in scientific research is also involved with documenting and preserving source code, in order to replicate data-heavy scientific experiments. Of course, they are more concerned with handling very large data sets, while museums are more concerned with replicating the look and feel of the user experience. Source code documentation will be one more tool to inform conservation decisions, complimenting the artist interview and other documentation of software-based art.
Audience members asked several questions regarding intellectual property issues, especially if the artists were using proprietary software rather than open-source software.   There were also questions raised about artists who were reluctant to share code. Glenn Wharton explained that MoMA is trying to acquire code at the same time that the artwork is acquired. They can offer the option of a sort of embargo or source code “escrow” where the source code would be preserved but not accessed until some time in the future.

41st Annual Meeting, Object Session, May 30th, 2013. “Three-Way Plug Three Ways: Conservation Treatments of Three Editions of Claes Oldenburg’s Cor-Ten Steel and Bronze Giant Three Way Plug.”

Claes Oldenburg, Three-Way Plug

Mark Erdmann, Conservator of Objects, ICA Art Conservation; Adam Jenkins, Conservator in Private Practice; Robert Marti, Co-Owner, and Marianne Russell Marti, President, Russell-Marti Conservation Services, Inc.
Presented by Mark Erdmann, this talk described the treatment of three versions of Claes Oldenburg’s Three-Way Plug sculpture by three separate conservators.  Erdmann treated the Allen Art Museum’s (AAM) version in Oberlin, Ohio; Jenkins treated Philadelphia Museum of Art’s (PMA) version; and Rusell and Russell Marti treated the Saint Louis Art Museum’s (SLAM) version. While working separately, the authors shared their experiences with each other, and seized a great opportunity by aggregating these experiences in one place to be referenced by others faced by similar challenges.
The outdoor sculptures consist of Cor-Ten steel and bronze plug prongs, assembled with no internal armature.  Uncoated at installation, the sculptures are sunk into the soil on gravel beds with no platforms, and contain drainage holes.  The authors’ research revealed interesting insights into Oldenburg’s intentions, both in installation and fate of the multiples; he wanted the Plugs to deteriorate in relation to the environment, and hoped they might end up in dramatically different environments that might shape their appearances.  This was not to be, and the sculptures experienced similar patterns of deterioration, primarily caused by accumulation of moisture and debris on the sculptures’ interiors.  Each Plug had been previously treated for corrosion at least once and given protective coatings.  Corrosion of the PMA and SLAM versions was most severe, with areas of localized steel collapse.   Galvanic corrosion also occurred at the interface of the bronze prongs and adjacent steel, and localized tarnishing was found on the prongs.
Treatment of all three Plugs involved removal of existing coating and corrosion, followed by coating reapplication.  The SLAM and PMA Plugs required partial replacement of the Core-10 body in areas of collapse, with patches welded in place following applicable ASTM standards and textured to match the original.  The AAM’s Plug was cleaned with glass bead peening, followed by coating with an epoxy coating.  The SLAM version was cleaned by sand blasting, followed by coating with a zinc primer and acrylic/polyester/polyurethane topcoat.  The PMA’s Plug was also abrasion-cleaned, followed by coating with a Tnemec Co. zinc urethane primer and epoxy topcoat.  The most notable difference in approach was that of treatment of the interior – while the interior of AAM’s Plug was coated overall with Ship-2- Shore marine coating containing corrosion inhibitor, the interior of the SLAM’s Plug was only locally coated, and the interior of the PMA’s plug was left uncoated in favor of ongoing maintenance and inspection.  It will be interesting to compare preservation outcome of the three in relation to this difference in approach.
To address deterioration due to galvanic corrosion at the prong’s bronze-steel interface of the AAM’s version, joins were strengthened via TIG welding.  The authors acknowledged this would not remediate the problem, but solutions involving disassembly and isolation of the metals were financially unfeasible.  Cathodic systems for overall corrosion protection were likewise financially out of reach, and difficult to monitor over the long term.  In each case the prongs were cleaned and re-coated, and drainage was improved.  Most importantly, each conservator recognized that frequent inspection and removal of debris from the interior was key to the preservation of the Plugs, and emphasized this to the owners.