41st Annual Meeting, Object Session, May 30th, 2013. “Metal Health and Weld Being: Conservation Strategies for a Collection of Sculpture by John Chamberlain.” Shelley Smith, Objects Conservator, Menil Collection, and Catherine Williams, Objects Conservator, Silver Lining Art Conservation, LLC

John Chamberlain, American Tableau

Presented by Catherine Williams, the talk started with a warning for more sensitive viewers – alluding to forthcoming descriptions of welding, an uncomfortable proposition for many conservators.  The Menil Collection in Houston, Texas conserved a collection of sculpture by John Chamberlain in preparation for the museum’s 25th anniversary in 2012.  Ranging from 8 to 22 feet in height, Chamberlain’s sculptures are composed of multiple pieces of salvaged sheet metal covered with layers of original automotive and applied artists paint, joined by mechanical fasteners and tack welds.   Several sculptures were structurally unstable due to the spontaneous nature of their assemblage, with poorly prepared surfaces and poorly executed oxyacetylene welds. (The authors observed that the quality of welds improved after around 1981, when Chamberlain’s assistants executed more of the welding.)  Paint (both the artist’s and original automotive) was lifting and flaking, and the sculptures were dirty.
Chamberlain’s studio was consulted over the course of treatment planning, but played a limited role in part due to the artist’s death in 2011.  An interview with Chamberlain archived through the Artists Documentation Program offered guidance in terms of the artist’s priorities, especially in terms of aesthetic reintegration. In the end, it was determined that adhesives would not be sufficient to stabilize failed joins, and Chamberlain’s studio concurred with the conservators that welding would be an appropriate solution.  The conservators contacted Guido Schindler of Schindler Metalworks in Houston to execute TIG weld repairs.  It was emphasized by both the authors and responding audience members how much the eventual success of these treatments depended on the expertise of this highly skilled craftsman.
In executing the welds on four sculptures, Schindler added welding rod only where necessary, working around existing slag on surface and retaining the original welds’ “messy look.”   In response to priorities expressed by the Chamberlain in an interview, artist’s paint was given priority in reintegration, though both the artist’s and automotive paint layers were stabilized.  Balanced cleaning of the pastiche sculptures with so many contrasting surfaces proved a challenge.  Careful documentation of each sculpture included painstaking numbered mapping and description of each intervention.  In all, 20 sculptures were documented, 12 were cleaned, and 4 were structurally stabilized in preparation for exhibition.

41st Annual Meeting – Paintings Session, Thursday May 30, "Traditional Artist Materials in Early Paintings by Andy Warhol" by Christopher A. Maines

Photo of Christopher A. Maines of National Gallery of Art giving his presentation at AIC 2013: Traditional Artist Materials in Early Paintings by Andy Warhol
Photo of Christopher A. Maines of National Gallery of Art giving his presentation at AIC 2013: Traditional Artist Materials in Early Paintings by Andy Warhol

I was looking forward to hearing this talk by Christopher Maines, Conservation Scientist from the National Gallery of Art, on artist materials used by Andy Warhol in his earlier artworks, especially since it mentioned the possibility of traditional materials. Maines began his talk with a brief summary on Warhol’s early techniques as a commercial artist between 1949-1960, specifically the blotted-line technique. Warhol’s first pop paintings during 1960 and 1962 consisted of acrylic paints on primed, stretched canvas which he hand-painted, such as 1962’s A Boy for Meg. The end of the 1960s, Warhol moved into using hand-cut silk screens with synthetic polymer paints, such as 1962’s Green Marilyn. Warhol continued to use these silk screens and synthetic polymers into the 1980s, before dying in 1987. In summary, Warhol chose to use these particular materials because they were quick drying, offered a thrill or chancy nature,  and  Warhol was accepting of any imperfections which occurred during the creative process, such as drips.
A Boy for Meg. Andy Warhol 1962 (left). 129 DIE IN JET!. Andy Warhol 1962 (right).
A Boy for Meg. Andy Warhol 1962 (left). 129 DIE IN JET!. Andy Warhol 1962 (right).

Maines continued to discuss synthetic polymer paints and thoughts when they were originally introduced. The NGA began analysis of Warhol’s A Boy for Meg in preparation for an upcoming exhibition to determine it’s material composition. The artwork was sampled in four places and GC-MS analysis revealed Warhol was using drying oil and egg when he was transitioning from his commercial work into his pop paintings. It was likely that Warhol was using egg as a material because he was already familiar with its behavior. NGA was fortunate enough to be granted the opportunity to sample from two other artworks from this time period owned by museums in Germany: 129 DIE IN JET! and DAILY NEWS. Both revealed drying oil and egg in these samples, as acrylic paints over a ground layer consisting of drying oil and egg.
I found this talk very interesting, especially to know that Andy Warhol was using a mixture of traditional and modern materials in his artworks. Scientific analysis can provide such fantastic insight to the working materials and methods of artists and I am very glad NGA shared their findings for this time period of Warhol’s career at this year’s AIC Annual Meeting.
Any there any other Warhol fans out there? What are some of your favorites of Warhol works? If you could read the scientific analysis report for any famous artwork to find out exactly what the artist used, what would it be? Please share any thoughts or comments!
NOTE: Other authors on lecture are Suzanne Q. Lomax, Organic Chemist and Jay Krueger, Senior Conservator of Modern Paintings, both at the National Gallery of Art.

41st Annual Meeting-Book and Paper Session, May 30, "Treatment and Housing Techniques for Pastel Paintings on Paper-Case Studies" by Soyeon Choi and Jessica Makin

Soyeon Choi, Senior Paper Conservator, and Jessica Makin, Manager of Housing and Framing Services, divided their presentation into two parts: first they addressed the treatment of one individual pastel portrait, then they described a variety of housing options used at the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts, a regional conservation center in Philadelphia. The treatment and rehousing protocols were all intended to reduce the loss of friable pastel image material and to protect the weak (often brittle) paper support.  All of the examples were originally mounted onto wooden stretchers or strainers, further complicating treatment and rehousing efforts. Most of the items also retained original frames or period frames.
Soyeon Choi began by describing the work of folk artist Micah Williams (1782-1837), who was active in the early 19th century.  He created 274 known portraits, and he tended to line them with newspaper, a fact that has provided valuable provenance and date information.  The first case study portrait was mounted onto a white pine stretcher, and treatment was performed in situ.
Micah Williams pastel  2
Soyeon Choi showed how she used a mockup of  a complex, sprung tear to devise a sympathetic repair for one of the portraits.  Repair adhesives were determined by the location of the tears. In general, Klucel G was strong enough to hold most tears, yet weak enough that it didn’t place too much stress on the fragile paper support. Klucel was applied to thin kozo in advance, and individual  repair strips were reactivated with ethanol when needed.  More traditional wheat starch paste repairs were possible on the edges where the paper was in contact with the strainer and more pressure could be applied safely. Lascaux 498 HV was also used for some pastels, but I didn’t hear exactly what mix was used or how it was activated.  Choi also explained how she used ground pastels, powdered colored pencils, and dry pigments with ethanol to inpaint losses in the portraits.
Micah Williams pastel 1
In the second half of the presentation, Jessica Makin showed photographs and diagrams of different spacer configurations and frame profiles. The spacers were wrapped with toned, 1-ply Bainbridge matboard that was attached to the lignin-free, corrugated board with 3M 415 tape. Most of the frames were altered by building up the backs to accommodate the additional thickness of the spacers and glazing. In the case of a pastel by Mary Cassat, the frame could not be altered, so Makin constructed a tray with thin sides to contain the pastel and the glazing, while also supporting the glazing away from the media surface.
I feel that this  presentation loses a lot without the photographs and diagrams, so I will ask the authors to share a link to images of at least one example to better illustrate their work.

41st Annual Meeting – General Session, May 30, "Contemporary Colorant Change: Assessing Changes in the Herblock Collection Due to Exhibition and Storage of Fugitive Media, Part II," by Fenella G. France

Caveat: This review presents very little of the data from this study, but is instead a quick overview so that you know what the Herblock team is working on and what to look forward to in the published study.
This presentation addresses a looming problem in the conservation of 20th century material culture – the color change of ubiquitous late twentieth century drawing and writing materials. Fenella G. France’s talk is the second AIC presentation of an ongoing ambitious study at the Library of Congress on the aging of drawing materials used by the editorial cartoonist Herbert L. Block (Herblock). Although this study looks at the materials of a single artist, it has applications for both late 20th century and contemporary archives and for contemporary fine art on paper. France reminded the audience that the Library of Congress is the depository for the Members of Congress’s papers, which often contain the same materials Herblock was using, including White-Out, Avery Labels, and paper with optical brighteners. In short, this Library of Congress team is looking at the future of paper conservation.
When the Library acquired the Herblock collection, which spans 72 years and includes 14,400 drawings and 50,000 rough sketches on newsprint, Holly Krueger, Head of the Paper Conservation Section at the Library of Congress, had the foresight to gather some of the artist’s materials. (Collecting contemporary artist’s materials turned out to be a theme at the 2013 meeting, with Michelle Barger’s “Artist Materials Collection at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art” presentation, Tiarna Doherty’s passing reference to a few spare television sets acquired to replace sets as they broke, as well as the acquisition of an entire inspirational archivein “Nam June Paik: Global Visionary: from the Archive to the Exhibition,” and on a more conceptual level, the acquisition of people with specialized knowledge for the conservation of performance art in Dr. Pip Laurenson’s “Collecting the Performative: the Role of the Conservator in the Conservation of Performance-Based Art.”) In the future the Library is hoping to work with the U.S. Secret Service, which has its own collection of modern ink and fugitive materials.
In the 1970s, Herblock made the transition from India ink and graphite (which are relatively permanent, and have a long history of use) to modern materials that he bought at the corner store, including porous-point (felt-tip) pens, white correction fluid (White-out), pressure-sensitive labels (Avery brand) and coquille board, a textured drawing board with optical brighteners.
The ongoing study of composition and aging characteristics has been conducted with 23 of Herblock’s drawing materials on both Whatman paper and on samples of Herblock’s favored coquille drawing board, all exposed to 5 different conditions. The discovery that some of the pen components fade even in the dark has added cold storage as another variable for future study.
The study is further complicated by Herblock’s use of several different porous-point black pens that are indistinguishable in normal light but that have different formulations and fading characteristics. The team used a progressive LED illumination sequence (hyperspectral imaging) to allow them to distinguish between individual blacks.
The team used a range of techniques to investigate both the samples and a selection of Herblock drawings, including hyperspectral imaging, UV-VIS colorimetry, micro-fade-ometer, and micro-sampling (of the sample sheets) for scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and energy dispersive x-ray spectroscopy (EDS). The sample media that showed change were also subjected to thin-layer chromatography (TLC) to separate out the components, and analyzed with Direct-Analysis in Real Time (DART) Time-of-Flight Mass Spectrometry.
I will not attempt to present the team’s results, but a very quick and general summary would be that many of the inks are highly light sensitive, so far there is no dependency on substrate (Whatman vs. coquille board) for the color change of the media, and certain elements of the porous-point pens fade rapidly, even in the dark. France shared a before and after picture of one TLC plate that had been kept for 8 months and several of the porous-point pen ink components had already noticeably changed color within that time frame.
This study provides a unique chance to delve into the wide array of proprietary formulations of drawing and writing implements from the late 20th century and to look into the implications for their long-term preservation. I am sure I am not the only one eagerly awaiting the publication of the study to get a glimpse of what we will face as the century continues.

41st Annual Meeting-Tours, May 29, "Indiana Historical Society"

A slight communications glitch caused the group from the Indiana State Museum Tour to start without the group that was only doing the Indiana Historical Society tour; we knew that they were supposed to rendesvous with us, but they didn’t know that we existed.
We finally caught up with the other half of our tour group in the Isolation Area of the Indiana Historical Society building, where Paper Conservator Ramona Duncan-Huse was explaining how they set aside a purpose-built space to quarantine, inspect, and treat incoming collections. Because the Historical Society actively acquires entire pallets of archive boxes, staff cannot examine every single item as it enters the collection. This holding room gives the Conservation Department the opportunity to detect insect evidence or mold and prevent cross-contamination with other collections. The room was the envy of many on the tour who could only dream about a room with such great features: negative pressure, floor drains, industrial freezers, etc. The Historical Society’s mold treatment room was a smaller room contained within the Isolation Area that had polyethylene sheeting over its entrance, easily-cleaned tile walls, and its own negative pressure air handler, designed to prevent the outflow of airborne particles through doorways.
After being “wowed” by both the size and quality of the contaminated holding area, the tour moved on to the conservation exhibit.  The “History Lab” is a delightful, interactive, kid-friendly installation in a second-floor gallery adjacent to the conservation lab. The exhibits’ objective is to explain what conservation is and what conservators do. The exhibit has been popular with audiences and funders, so the Conservation Department will be undertaking a renovation and expansion of the exhibit and the Conservation Lab. Facilitator Nancy Thomas oversees the hands-on paper mending practice area in the current exhibit. There are also computer-based interactive exercises.
Romona Duncan-Huse turned over the next part of the tour to Sarah Anderson, the designer who is helping to transform the History Lab in its next phase, scheduled to open in September. She showed storyboards for the new exhibit and explained its objectives. The current exhibit is very popular with school groups and families, but some visitors see it as a children’s exhibit and walk right past it. There will be “before and after” objects, and lots of touchable materials, as well as touchscreen computer-based items. Duncan-Huse maintains a conservation Pinterest page, so they plan to incorporate that into the new exhibit. The new exhibit will explore more of the “why” and “how” of conservation treatment decisions, and it will be a lighter, more open design (think Brookstone or Sharper Image meets Apple Store meets Williams-Sonoma); it still incorporates hands-on interactive activities, but with a more sophisticated feel than the old exhibit.
With the new gallery construction slated to begin in June, the impending removal of some walls of the conservation lab meant  that there were no treatments in progress during our visit. Conservation staff were happy to describe some of their recent activities to us.  Tamara Hemerlein, the Local History Services Officer, explained the IMLS Statewide Connecting the Collections (C2C) project, which includes a traveling conservation panel exhibit, “Endangered Heritage.” The project also includes training for volunteers and museum boards around the state, and she has done 85 site visits to collecting institutions.  In late August, they plan to release Deterioria and the Agents of Destruction, a conservation graphic novel. They let us see advance proofs, and it is AWESOME! Several members of the tour (including me) were involved with C2C, so we were all jealous. I asked if they had plans for conservator action figures.
After the lab tour, we had the opportunity to visit the galleries on our own. I went back to the conservation exhibit to get a closer look and to take a few pictures. I want to thank Ramona Duncan-Huse and everyone at the Indiana Historical Society for such an interesting tour.

41st Annual Meeting – Book and Paper Session, May 30, "A Technical Study and Conservation Project of Roy Lichtenstein's Screenprint on Plastic 'Sandwich and Soda', 1964," by Marion Verborg

The fourth presentation of the Book and Paper Group session examined neither a book nor an object on paper, but instead a print on plastic: Roy Lichtenstein’s 1964 Sandwich and Soda, a screenprint in red and blue ink on plastic. The object occupies a sort of conservation no-man’s-land: it’s a print, so it’s not something an objects conservator would normally deal with, but it’s on plastic, which is not a paper conservator’s area of expertise. Marion Verborg, Craigen W. Bowen Paper Conservation Fellow at the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies at Harvard Art Museum, jumped into the void with this print on plastic, part of the portfolio X + X (Ten Works by Ten Painters), published as an edition of 500 by the Wadsworth Athenaeum in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1964.
Verborg’s problem was typical for a paper conservator—removing degrading pressure-sensitive tape that someone had once used to hinge the object. The Harvard Art Museum has more than one copy of the work. One print had an office-type pressure-sensitive tape, and the other had a Filmoplast-like tape. Both supports showed a small amount of planar distortion. There were already dark stains around the pressure-sensitive tape areas, causing concern that the adhesive would continue to sink into the media. The problem was complicated by the adhesive’s being directly adhered to the ink of the object, and by the plastic support, which would probably react poorly to heat application.
Verborg viewed other copies of the print in other institutions, and had access to the records of the print shop where they were made, as well as to recorded interviews with the artist and the opportunity to get information from Lichtenstein’s wife and a printer’s assistant from the print shop.
One interesting question arising from Lichtenstein’s use of a transparent support is which side is the recto? Lichtenstein, when asked many years later, said that the print should be ink-side up, which is reasonable for a print. However, both the printer’s assistant and Mrs. Lichtenstein remember that the ink should be on the verso, so that you have the glossy effect as well as the extra depth from looking through the support to the image. This is further supported by having the drinking glass in the composition on the right, where a right-handed person would normally place it.
Verborg had the materials tested with GCMS, FTIR, Raman Spectrometry, and LDI-MS (Laser Desorption Ionization Mass Spectrometry).  The original printer’s invoice called the plastic “acetate,” but this seems to be a generic term for any clear sheet plastic.  Analysis revealed it to be polystyrene, which is no longer available in clear sheets like this, and today we are more familiar with it in products like Styrofoam. The inks used a polystyrene binder as well, with PB 15 (phthalocyanine blue) as the colorant in the blue ink, and chrome red and some barium sulfate in the red ink. The paper-type tape was made of cellulosic material and the clear tape used PVA for both carrier and adhesive.
No one seems to sell clear polystyrene sheets anymore, so Verborg had to make do with other plastics for her mock-ups.  As expected, heat caused the sheets to warp, making a heat treatment unwise. After removing the carrier, Verborg was left with sticky adhesive. Finding the right solvent for aged PVA adhesive that wouldn’t affect polystyrene would be difficult, as demonstrated by evidence of previous solvent tests on the ink layer, so she had to get creative, especially without the ability to make exact mock-ups. She finally tried sprinkling cellulose powder on the adhesive and then using a silicon color shaper to move the cellulose powder around, allowing her to remove the adhesive in small cellulose-powder/adhesive balls, leaving a clean surface.
This research has not only provided better insight into the working process of Roy Lichtenstein and his transition into experimenting with unusual print supports (one of the great advantages of screen printing) but also addresses other more universal problems such as the artist’s memory versus the artist’s probable intention, the unreliability of the labels people give to the materials they use, and how to remove sticky adhesive residue from a delicate surface.

41st Annual Meeting – Book and Paper Session, Thursday May 30, “Splintered: The History, Structure, and Conservation of American Scaleboard Bindings” by Renée Wolcott

After long, long neglect, the humble American scaleboard binding has seen a surge of interest in the last few years. Two articles feature scaleboard bindings in the recently published compilation Suave Mechanicals, Volume 1, edited by Julia Miller (Suave Mechanicals: Essays on the History of Bookbinding, volume 1. ed. Julia Miller. Ann Arbor: The Legacy Press, 2013. http://www.legacy-press.com). Miller herself presents the results of her survey of 858 scaleboard bindings in North American collections. John Townsend reports on a study of six copies of the same 1715 prayer book in scaleboard bindings.
Wolcott’s investigation neatly dovetails with and enriches those studies. Like Miller, and following methodology made popular by Nickolas Pickwoad, the basis of her work is a minute examination and recording of material and structural details. She examined 85 scaleboard bindings in the Library Company of Philadelphia, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and the Winterthur library.
Scaleboard is a thin (as little at one millimeter thick) planed wood used as the boards on popular American colonial publications from around the mid seventeenth to the early nineteenth centuries. These bindings, says Wolcott, are the product of a four hundred years of streamlining, simplifying, and cost reduction in bookbinding. Although the roots of this binding tradition can be traced to the European origins of the Colonists, the scaleboard binding is singularly American.
The texts so bound are usually popular subjects: sermons, religious tracts, pamphlets, hymns or songbooks, and especially in the later end of their popularity, primers and other basic textbooks. The audience for these books are churchgoers, parents, schoolchildren—these were the books, Wolcott explained, for the 99 per cent. These bindings have not been collected or treasured; the fact that they exist in library collections is because someone selected the text as worth keeping.
In addition to the eponymous scaleboard, the bindings are characterized by cheap sewing—typically stabbed with tawed, leather, or cloth thongs, or sewn on sunk cords—with very little fit and finish. The slips from the thongs attach to the boards by the simple expedient of pasting them down on the outside (under the leather) or the inside of the boards (under the pastedown—if there is one).  The scaleboard binding is to the binding tradition, Wolcott asserts, what the Yugo is to the history of the automobile: basic, affordable, stripped down function—although not particularly durable function.
When looking for scaleboard bindings, first think small. Rarely are these bindings larger than octavo size. Gary Frost, commenting after Wolcott’s talk, suspects the size limit is related to the limitations of the tools used to make the boards—but the manufacture and production of scaleboard is a topic for further investigation. (Frost also mentioned observing scaleboards cut with hand shears, not with boardsheers or similar machines or jigs.) Scaleboard bindings are highly prone to damage—and that can make them easy to identify. Often the wood is visible through worn cover material. These books tend to be lighter weight than books made with pasteboard or fiberboard, and a gentle tap gives a hollow wood tone instead of a dull thud.
Most of the early imprints in scaleboard bindings before 1760 are from Boston. Over time the place of publication spreads out along the Eastern seaboard as far as Vermont in the north and Pennsylvania in the south. At least one binding Wolcott reviewed gives the place of publication simply as “New England.”
Of the 85 bindings Wolcott recorded, 55% were stabbed with two strips of tawed skin or leather; 44% were sewn through the fold, on recessed cords. She showed some fascinating images of books that had been notched for sewing on recessed cords, whether they eventually were sewn that way or not. Some books were notched but the leaf attachment was stabbed thongs, others were sewn on sunk cords using some but not all the notches. Yet another had evidence of temporary side stitching—and the notches. The evidence suggests that the text blocks were printed, folded, and sold pre-notched to others who might or might not use the notching for their binding. A minority, 13 bindings, were sewn on raised cords.
Endsheets for these bindings tend to the minimalist. Some books have none. Some, usually earlier books, use printer’s waste to form a simple pastedown that may be just a flange of a couple inches or may extend across the width of the board.  Later books were more likely to have blank paper for endsheets.
The boards on all but five examples in Wolcott’s study have the grain running horizontally. Where the grain is vertical, it has a strong tendency to split with use.  Wolcott looked carefully at the wood, where it was exposed, for evidence of where on the tree truck it was cut from. Most of the boards—71 bindings—were from logs that were split and radially cut. Others were cut tangential to the wood grain; boards cut this way tend to warp. (Trust me—what you really need here are to see Wolcott’s diagrams; look for them in the BPG Annual postprint.) The variation suggests a trade and working techniques that were not standardized.
There has been some speculation about the types of wood used for scaleboard and assumptions that the usual suspects—oak, beech, and the like—were used. Wolcott partnered with a botanist at Winterthur, Henry Alden, who analyzed the wood on some of the examples she identified. They were surprised to find nine examples of ash boards. Ash is a hardwood that we currently associate with baseball bats; in colonial times it would be used for furniture and such like, but it is not normally associated with bookbinding.
The earlier bindings, up to around 1790, tend to be covered in full leather. Later bindings typically have a quarter-leather spine and paper sides. Wolcott showed several typical examples and variations. The leather is often thick and crude, with knife gouges on the flesh side that have not been smoothed out and turn-ins that are rough and uneven. Decoration, if there is any, is usually limited to some simple blind-tooled single or double fillet lines. One Germantown binding with greater pretentions to its medieval wooden-board predecessors had straps and clasps on the fore edge.
After 1790 the books examined are quarter-bound leather. Many have sides of blue paper. A few have decorated (stencil, marbled, or Dutch-gilt) paper; one has paper printed with the title page. Wolcott showed an example of a full-paper binding with a quarter-leather spine evident under the paper. Another example was covered over in coarse canvas. Music books, printed landscape, usually had a thick leather over wrapper, probably added by the owner for extra protection.
The combination of inherent weakness of structure and popular, frequently used texts means that repairs abound on these bindings. Often the thongs attaching the text block breaks. Wolcott showed examples of repairs involving straight pins, whip stitching of leaves or sections, and oversewing that encompassed both text and cover. The boards are highly prone to split and break. The might be repaired with thread, with cartridge paper glued down, even with strawboard glued over a stitched mend.
Wolcott concluded her presentation with some examples of conservation treatment. One was a full treatment of a 1787 German text she performed at the Center for the Conservation of Art and Historic Artifacts. She disbound the text, repaired the split board with a 25% gelatin solution, resewed, lined, and fitted the text back into the binding.
Generally, however, Wolcott does not advocate such invasive treatment of these bindings.  Repairs, if performed at all, should be minimal. She showed an example treated by Stephanie Wolff at Dartmouth, where a ramie band was threaded through the book to replace a missing thong.
Scaleboard bindings are sufficiently rare that Wolcott recommends for most simply improved housing that is sturdy enough to support the fragile boards. She showed examples of tuxedo boxes build out with extra sheets of corrugated board to provide rigidity to the structure and to give the small book some presence on the shelf. An alternative structures adheres the tuxedo box into a hard-shell binder that can defend itself on the shelf.
In the question period Gary Frost speculated that the boards were made as veneer (cut with a veneer knife) instead of sawn wood, but also doubted that the early colonials would have had easy access to veneer knives. What tools would have been used? Wolcott agreed that there is much still to be researched and explored on these bindings.

AIC 41st Annual Meeting – Objects Session, Friday, May 31, 2013. Preserving an Aesthetic of Decay: Living Artists and the Conservation of Contemporary Objects by John T. Campbell.

Disclaimer: I am not the fastest note-taker, and may have misspelled some names or gotten some of the concepts a bit wrong.  If something I say is critical for you, please check directly with the presenter(s) for corroboration. 

The purpose of this presentation was to present a framework for collaboration between the artist and the conservator.  Of course, this is only possible with living and still-cognitive artists.  If you are working with such an individual, do not delay as the opportunity may close at any time without warning.

The presenter broke the process into two main areas.  The first is artist education – enhancing the likelihood of a favorable outcome.  The second is documentation – facilitated through an artist interview.  The anecdote presented was the work The Hill near El Paso, TX by artist Jim Magee.

Decay happens to all object with only a very few exceptions, especially those exhibited outdoors.  Complicating this fact is that some artists intentionally use decay (or “patination”) as part of their art.  What is intended, and what is not, that is the question.  And then there is the million dollar question, if decay is intended to be arrested at a certain point, can that be done, and how?

In order to even get to the artist documentation stage, it is necessary to foster a level of cooperation with the artist.  In some instances, this will be easy.  They will know about deterioration, conservation, maintenance needs, and so forth.  In other cases, they will be oblivious, or even worse, will have had a bad experience with conservation/conservators.  This requires diplomatic skills to foster a common ground that allows effective communication to occur.  At this point of common listening, it is possible to educate the artist, and of course the conservator as well.  The interview becomes possible.

Ideally, the interview will be in person.  Long-distance interviews are very difficult, especially if the object has not been examined in person by the conservator.  First, determine the artist’s expectations, then help manage their expectations.  Ask questions such as is deterioration wanted or not?  Entropic art desires deterioration as part of its evolution.  Is dirt/dust considered part of the object or an unwanted intrusion?  Is maintenance intended/desired or not? 

If time allows, create a manual of care for the object.  This will incorporate and memorialize in writing the intent and desires of the artist, as well as the recommendations of the conservator.  Of course, as with any written document, its presence must be kept in the consciousness of the responsible entity, or it essentially does not exist.  This is a HUGE problem.  How many of us have done CAPs for an organization, and five years later, no one there knows it exists, much less is following its recommendations?  It has happened to me probably a dozen times.  This problem alone could be the subject of a future AIC conference.

What was not discussed was how to affect arrested decay.  If layered on top of this is that the artist states they do not want any changes or alterations in appearance, the conservator is in an impossible position with our current technology.  Perhaps deaccessioning/selling is the best ethical solution? 😉

In my own practice, I did treatments for a California State Park where their park ethic and even motto was “arrested decay.”  Literally!  They were a mining-era ghost town supposedly left the way it was when abandoned.  In reality, a good deal of “interior decorating” was done in the 1940s and 1950s before it became a park, including cutesy furnishings of rooms, and decrepit horse-drawn vehicles in the fields.  But they wanted arrested decay, so they did not fix the holes in the roofs.  Not that long afterwards, the roofs began to collapse.  But they did not want to repair or fix anything, and no modern materials were supposed to be visible.  That had to change, obviously.  Now, they repair roof and other leaks, but still do not treat the exterior siding of the buildings.  I am sure their policy will have to change again.  Decay can be “arrested” perhaps for the memory of an individual, but not for centuries or millennia, at least for outdoor objects. 

My project at the park was to preserve several of the horse-drawn vehicles with minimal effect on their appearances.  The park staff wanted them to be continued to be exhibited in the fields, which was actively contributing to their deterioration.  But they did not want anything to change in their appearance.  The compromise reached was that some of them got moved to interior spaces in barns and sheds and their stabilization could be less invasive, but some were kept outside and had more aggressive treatments that altered their appearance a bit (but much less than what had happened because they had previously had no treatment).  But this treatment is destined to fail in a relatively few years, and hopefully the park will have awakened to a painful reality.  Arrested decay outdoors currently is not possible.

AIC 41st Annual Meeting – Discussion Session, Friday, May 31, 2013. Then vs, Now: Fundraising for Conservation Isn’t What It Used to Be by Susan Mathisen.

Disclaimer: I am not the fastest note-taker, and may have misspelled some names or gotten some of the concepts a bit wrong.  If something I say is critical for you, please check directly with the presenter(s) for corroboration. 

While this presentation concerned itself with changes to fundraising needs in the conservation and preservation arena, it is simply a small subset of changes that have occurred in the much larger global non-profit funding mentality.  The old model of funding that we as conservators were trained to do is object-centric.  We write reports on the existing condition of the object and its treatment needs.  Funding requests are centered on the individual object(s) and the benefits of funding to it/them.  There may be some small discussion of how the better preserved object will benefit museum visitors.  But the general approach is introspective – how the museum would be better served.  This approach is comfortable for many older conservators and funders.

The new model is about personal connections.  It is about stories.  It is about community engagement.  It is about meeting the needs of constituents in the society.  The general approach is extrospective – how the outer world can benefit.  This is a comfortable view for many younger conservators and funders.

The challenge is not only how conservators can begin to think in this more extrospective manner about their treatments, but how conservation in general can be viewed by funders as benefiting society outside of usual museum visitors.  The presentation offered some suggestions, but also made it clear that much further reflection and brain-storming is necessary for designing conservation projects that meet the requirements of the increasing numbers of funders that have implemented the new model.

Several additional presenters offered anecdotal projects in which they had been involved.  These were interspersed with the main presentation.  Following are some more specific points brought up by the presenters.

Funding by individuals has advantages.  They are not under funding restrictions, many do not have caps on the amount they can give, and during the downturn of the last several years, their level of funding has been the most stable.  There are two general reasons why individuals give – for personal benefit, such as name recognition or for a tax deduction – or for altruism, they want to see effects or results.  Generally, individual donors to museums are interested in the art.  They are not interested in conservation or preservation.  We as conservators need to tell our stories about the art, not the care of the art, in order to engage them.  Most have personal connections or stories that motivate them, and we need to tap into these.  We need to engage them in a two-way dialog to let THEIR story come out.  Along with this, we need to focus on individual objects, not large numbers of objects, as in general funders find big groups hard to grasp and relate to personally.

There are a number of different approaches to crowd funding, which is an emerging and highly effective method of fundraising.  These are discussed in many places in books and the web, and can be explored individually.  A general concept is to empower your supporters – get them excited and wanting to spread the word about your campaign.  Have the full message of your campaign written in advance and ready to go before launching it.  Send frequent information/reminders/updates – it is recommended weekly.

One presented fundraising option that is very interesting is to create a mechanism to give money electronically right in the exhibition gallery.  This can be facilitated with information placed right at the object, or in place of the object if it is too unstable to exhibit. The visitor can give their $1 or $5 or more live on the spot through a card swipe or text.

The key to fundraising is engagement, which is a mission strategy.  Engagement with the community is essential.  Activities grow out of this relationship, articulating the values of the community, rather than out of the needs of the objects.

A growing interest with funders it collaboration between organizations.  This is not just between museums within an area, but between diverse organizations in different sectors, sometimes spread throughout the world.  Such projects have a collective impact and give the funders more reach for the same amount of funds.  It also reduces the funders’ costs, since they have to administer only one grant/project rather than possibly a dozen of them. 

Collaboration on a large scale is reflected by creative placemaking, a term with which many conservators may not be familiar.  Essentially, it is planning a geographical area around a mix of artistic, cultural, residential, and business functions designed to be symbiotic with one another.  In my opinion, good examples of this are the River Walk in San Antonio, and the Guggenheim Bilbao, Spain (if you want instant creative placemaking, simply have Frank Geary design you a building, and you will put millions of tourism dollars into your local economy).

This last sort of tongue and cheek comment is actually very important in project design with funders – the economic impact of the project.  According to the presenter, Stephen Shepherd wrote an interesting paper on the Economic Impact of Museums that had some interesting findings (the specific citation was not provided, so do your homework).  Economic impacts may be job creation, increased tourism, reduced utility expenses, increased tax revenue, greening of the environment, or many other outcomes. 

The following are tips for foundation and government grants.  Understand the funder’s mission.  Read the guidelines – give them their own language.  Pick up the phone and call – the representatives are there to assist YOU in meeting THEIR mission.  As mentioned, collaboration is desirable.  IMLS has an online course “Shaping Outcomes” that can be very helpful in transitioning to the new approach to funding.  Debbie Hess Norris mentioned a web site designed for a worldwide photograph preservation project but also helpful for general fundraising and partnership education: www.academia.edu/ .

It is a real challenge for me to transition my conservation thinking to this social engagement and emotional connection model.  I am not a fan of social media, at least not in my personal life.  I do not want everyone to know what I am up to, and I believe that social media is making life more complicated instead of more simple (KISS).  However, from a marketing/fundraising perspective I can see how bigger organizational objectives can be met through little contributions of individuals.  Howard Dean showed this to be effective a number of years ago.  The trick for me in private practice is how to make this new approach work to bring conservation projects into my door.  My business is designed around working exclusively for museums, and I can’t see that social media will have a significant influence on their decision-makers coming to me.  Heck, it is really difficult for ANYTHING other than word-of-mouth to be effective.  However, I certainly can see how I can work with museums to help fit the conservation projects they need to be done into the new model of thinking, and then THEY can fundraise with social media or any other method they wish.  The bottom line is that without collections, museums would not have an audience and they could not offer social value to meet their constituents’ needs.  They would not exist.  WE as conservators have done a poor job of making that emotional connection with our museum communities.

I was reminded of a TED talk I heard a few weeks ago on NPR radio.  I don’t recall the speaker’s name, but he felt that the non-profit world had the wrong model of fundraising.  He did not like the model of granting agencies disdaining what they termed “overhead” costs and wanting to limit them to a very small part of the overall budget.  He felt the profit-making business model of marketing was more appropriate – you spend as much as you need to on marketing as long as each $1 of marketing cost generated more than $1 of net profit.  If it did, spend more until you reached the breakeven point, since you were still making more money even though you were spending more.  So, he went out and formed a company to fundraise for non-profits on this model.  His anecdotal client was breast cancer research.  They started a fundraising campaign that in something like it’s fifth year raised over a net $100 million that year alone, but spent something like $40 million to do so ($140 million total).  Some in the non-profit world, the funders’ world and the media began to complain and the noise became so loud that major donors began to back out.  He had to terminate his involvement with the campaign.  The next year, once the fundraising had been returned to the old model with limited “overhead,” net funds raised for breast cancer fell nearly in half.  They never returned to the previous level.  A challenge we have in the museum world is how to change the perceptions of the “old” limited-overhead funding believers into the “new” marketing-heavy realities.  This is a big a shift for them as for us conservators to move away from our object-centric view into the newer connections-centric view.  But it is at least as important, and possibly more important in terms of dollars that can be raised for conservation and museums in general.

The 2013 AIC Great Debate

At the 2012 AIC Annual Meeting we hosted the first ever AIC Great Debate. By all accounts, it was a rousing success. While last year’s debate was good, this year we’re hoping to make it better.
The 2013 Great Debate will take place on Saturday, June 1 from 4:00 to 5:00 pm as the final session in the General Session.  Now not only will  everyone have the opportunity to attend, but you’ll have a good reason to stay to the very end of the Annual Meeting!  And, as the ultimate way to promote dialogue, camaraderie, and, well, fun, we will have a cash bar in the room. Finally, I’m working on walk up music for the teams: hint all of the musicians were born in Indiana.
But, before I list this year’s debate topics and participants, I want to make a very important disclaimer: I created the AIC Great Debate as an intellectual exercise to demonstrate that conservators are clever enough to see a tough topic from both sides and discuss it openly.
With this in mind, in many cases I have personally invited participants to debate from a position that is contrary to their personal beliefs. This not only adds a fun twist it proves the point that the Debate is not meant to provide a forum so we can prove one side is right, but rather to engage in a public dialogue to surface all of this issues around difficult topics. And though I’m listing participant’s institutional affiliations (so you’ll get a chance to know them better), in no way am I suggesting that the participants are representing an institutional position in the Debate.

The greatest act of preservation for inherently fragile or fugitive cultural property is exhibition, even if the duration goes far beyond what is currently recommended.

Affirmative Team

2012 Great Debate
2012 Great Debate
    • Rosa Lowinger (Rosa Lowinger & Associates)
    • Patty Miller (2 Arts Conservation)
    • Jodie Utter (Amon Carter Museum of American Art)

Negative Team

    • John Campbell (Campbell Contemporary Sculpture Conservation)
    • Fletcher Durant (New York Public Library)
    • Jessica Ford (University of Delaware Art Conservation Graduate School)


While volunteers used on preservation projects often allow us to accomplish more work, they undermine our capacity to regularly employ conservation and collections care professionals.

Affirmative Team

    • Rose Cull (Kress Fellow in Sculpture Conservation at Tate)
    • Kelly Keegan (Art Institute of Chicago)
    • Dawn Walus (Boston Athenaeum)

Negative Team

    • Will Hoffman (Mariners Museum)
    • Michele Marincola (Conservation Center of the Institute of Fine Arts/Metropolitan Museum)
    • Beverly Perkins (Buffalo Bill Center of the West)

Like last year, I’d like to ask you for help to make the AIC Great Debate successful.  We need you!  We need you in the audience to be lively, interested, engaged, and fun.  And I don’t mean just to cheer on your favorite conservator or team; we need you to participate in the Great Debate at AIC!

There will be a significant amount of time in which the audience will get to ask each team questions to which they have to respond.
And, finally, we need you to decide who wins the debate.  The winning team for each topic will be the one who sways the most opinions in the audience.
If you’re interested in reading about how the AIC Great Debate went last year, there are reviews on this blog of each debate topic.
2012 TOPIC #1:  Publishing accurate and complete “how-to guides” for conservation and restoration treatments online is the best way for us to care for cultural heritage in the 21st century. Read the review here.
2012 TOPIC #2: Having conservators perform treatments in the gallery is the most successful way to generate funding for museums and raise awareness about the profession. Read the review here.