ECPN Interviews: Electronic Media Conservation with Christine Frohnert

To promote awareness and a clearer understanding of different pathways into specializations that require particular training, The Emerging Conservation Professionals Network (ECPN) is conducting a series of interviews with conservation professionals in these specialties. We kicked off the series with Chinese and Japanese Painting conservation, and now we are focusing on Electronic Media Conservation (EMG). These conservators work with time-based media, which is characterized by artwork with durational elements, such as slide, film, and video, analog or born-digital materials, performance, light or kinetic art, sound or software-based art. We’ve asked our interviewees to share some thoughts about their career paths, which we hope will inspire new conservation professionals and provide valuable insight into these areas of our professional field.

In the first interviews for this series, we spoke with emerging conservators starting in the early stages of their careers working in time-based media, which included Alexandra Nichols, Nicholas Kaplan, Brian Castriota and Yasmin Desssem. In this interview, we hear from Christine Frohnert, a conservator who graduated in 2003 from the University of Arts in Berne, Switzerland, where she majored in the Conservation of Modern Materials and Media. Prior to establishing a private practice for Time-based Media (TBM) with colleague Reinhard Bek, Christine served as chief conservator at the Museum Ludwig in Cologne, Germany for twelve years and as chair of the AIC Electronic Media Group from 2008-2012. In 2012, she was named the inaugural Judith Praska Distinguished Visiting Professor in Conservation and Technical Studies at the Conservation Center at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University (CC/IFA/NYU), where she now serves as the Time-based Media Art Conservation Curriculum Development Program Coordinator.


Christine Frohnert and Reinhard Bek [Photo: Reinhard Bek]
Christine Frohnert and Reinhard Bek [Photo: Reinhard Bek]
ECPN: Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your current position.

Christine Frohnert (CF): I am a conservator of contemporary art with a specific focus on technology-based art. Reinhard Bek and I founded Bek & Frohnert LLC in NYC in 2012- a conservation studio in private practice specializing in the conservation of time-based media (TBM). We are both German, have been trained in Europe, worked in leading positions in museums, and have been involved in international research projects.

Bek and I focus on the conservation of artworks with a durational element in our practice—such as sound, moving image, performance, light, or movement, that unfolds to the viewer over time via slide, film, video, software, or the internet. Since the studio’s inauguration, we have responded to individual needs for both TBM conservation treatments and consulting requests. However, over the last several years, we have experienced a rising demand to serve as consultants for different U.S. institutions without time-based media conservators on staff, as well as for collectors and artists. As many TBM art collecting institutions are facing rapidly increasing needs to adequately acquire, preserve, exhibit and store TBM works, we are responding to this development and our work is more geared towards long-term collection care and the development of preservation plans, as well as education.

ECPN: How were you first introduced to conservation, what contributed to your decision to specialize in time-based media, and why has been your training pathway?

CF: As with most of my colleagues, I started conservation being exposed to more traditional media such as paintings and sculpture. About 20 years ago, I realized that technology-based artworks can be seriously harmed or lost without a new conservation specialty being established. I became fascinated with TBM, and I learned about the newly established program ‘Conservation of Modern Materials and Media’ at the University of Arts, Berne, Switzerland. I graduated from there in 2003.

ECPN: Are there any particular skills that you feel are important or unique to your discipline?

Christine Frohnert [Photo: Marlies Peller]
Christine Frohnert [Photo: Marlies Peller]
CF: A complex range of skill sets are needed, which should be solidly grounded in the conceptual framework of contemporary art conservation as a whole. It requires knowledge in electrics/electronics and programming, and an in-depth understanding of each media category, technology and its preservation, documentation and digital preservation needs. As our profession is highly collaborative by nature, soft skills are equally important to collaborate with all the stakeholders in the institutions involved, as well as with affiliated external professionals such as engineers, computer scientists, and technicians. This is important when defining, communicating, and verifying goals with vendors.

As many museums recently formed or are currently forming ‘Media Teams’ in their respective institutions to tackle their individual TBM collections needs, we have witnessed a rapidly increasing need for skilled labor, dedicated TBM lab space, equipment, and the trustworthy storage and management of huge amounts of born-digital or digitized artworks.

ECPN: What are some of your current projects, research, or interests?

CF: Currently our recent projects include consultation with several institutions to analyze their TBM collections and develop custom-designed conservation strategies according to their individual collections needs and skill sets of staff. These consultations may include surveys, assistance with media acquisitions, exhibitions and artwork documentation, storage, and migration. Bringing in external expertise often provides the bridge that many museums and their TBM stakeholders do not find in-house or do not have the capacity to coordinate. This work helps to identify and structure these needs more clearly and often provides the basis for institutional development and the implementation of larger collection care projects.

Recent and current treatment-based activities range from analyzing the ‘mechanical’ programming of a light-based work, the conservation of a seven channel-video wall from 1998 consisting of 207 Cathode Ray Tube monitors, digitization of analog video, and  the reverse engineering of custom-designed large format slide projectors, to name a few.

Cathode Ray Tube monitor [Photo: Marlies Peller
Cathode Ray Tube monitor [Photo: Marlies Peller]
ECPN: In your opinion, what is an important need in your specialization?

CF: the most pressing need is education. Technology-based art is considered to be very sensitive to damage, loss, misinterpretation, and incorrect installation, due to its very specific and sensitive relationship to time, space, and concept. Damage or loss of a TBM work cannot be seen by simply examining the physical material and may not be immediately apparent unless the individual has received specialized training.

TBM conservation has been identified as a priority by many museums, collectors, and funding agencies. However, the educational opportunities are still limited, and there is currently no U.S. graduate program offering a degree in this specialty (but this will change soon!). As a result, a huge amount of our most recent cultural heritage is at risk, in an unknown condition, and/or not sufficiently integrated into museums’ missions of collecting, exhibition, conservation, research, and education.

However, thanks to the generous funding provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Conservation Center at the Institute of Fine Arts, NYU, started the TBM art conservation curriculum planning project in 2016.The new TBM specialization will be integrated within its current curriculum starting in fall 2018. This will be the first conservation program offering this specialty in the U.S. and the graduates will receive a dual degree: an MS in the Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works and an MA in the History of Art and Archaeology.

ECPN: Have you been involved in any advocacy, outreach, teaching or professional service roles in your specialization?

CF: During my time as EMG (Electronic Media Group) board Chair from 2008-2012, we received numerous request from the membership to offer continuing education opportunities, and in response EMG launched the conference series entitled TechFocus in 2010. The series is designed to provide hands-on guidance and systematic education on different media categories (TechFocus I: Caring for Video Art, Guggenheim Museum, NY, in 2010; TechFocus II: Caring for Film and Slide Art, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC, 2012; TechFocus III: Caring for Software-based Art, Guggenheim Museum, NY, in 2015). In addition, the first periodical worldwide that focuses on TBM art conservation was launched by the EMG in 2012, The Electronic Media Review.

At the (CC/IFA/NYU) I have offered instruction in TBM conservation art in different capacities, including the course Art With A Plug: The Conservation of Artwork Containing Motion, Sound, Light, Moving Images and Interactivity (Fall 2012 and Spring 2015).

Several professional organizations and initiatives have created additional targeted educational opportunities and collaborations. However, despite all these good developments, further training is needed at the graduate level, as well as in continuing education for professionals, to address the fast-increasing demands of TBM conservation.

Under the leadership of Dr. Hannelore Roemich, Professor of Conservation Science and TBM program Director, I have also served as TBM Program Coordinator to assist in identifying skill sets and core competencies of TBM conservators that translate into the educational needs to develop a TBM curriculum. In the fall of 2016 the Conservation Center offered the course and public lecture series Topics in Time-based Media Art Conservation, which included ten lectures by leading art historians, artists, computer scientists, and conservators. These events were an important outreach component of the curriculum development project, and they created the opportunity to promote the field, foster the dialogue between TBM professionals, and build a community.

We are now organizing the upcoming symposium It’s About Time! Building a New Discipline: Time-based Media Art Conservation to be held in May 2018. The two-day symposium will provide a forum for educators, artists, art historians, museum curators and directors, collectors, gallerists, engineers, computer scientists, and conservators to promote TBM art conservation as a discipline on an international level and will conclude the TBM curriculum planning phase.

ECPN: Do you have any advice for prospective emerging conservators who would like to pursue this specialization?

Cathode Ray Tube monitor [Photo: Christine Frohnert]
Cathode Ray Tube monitor [Photo: Christine Frohnert]
CF: While I am not comfortable issuing general advice, I can say that I personally appreciate working with students and colleagues in our field, and that this has shaped and enriched my professional life. If you are a strong communicator who is interested in the intersection of art and technology, art conservation, and art history– and maybe you even have a background in one or more of the related media fields–why don’t you join the EMG sessions at the AIC annual meetings and/or attend the upcoming NYU symposium to engage with the TBM community and find out if this specialty may be just the right fit for you?

ECPN:  Please share any last thoughts or reflections.

CF: We currently see an extremely high demand for trained TBM conservators. This can be measured by the exponentially increasing job offers worldwide and the challenges many institutions face to find qualified candidates. So, it is safe to say that this is the best moment in time for becoming a TBM conservator in this country. If you are interested in pursuing a career in TBM conservation- check out the new TBM curriculum page at the Conservation Center, Institute of Fine Arts at NYU.



ECPN Interviews: Electronic Media Conservation with Yasmin Dessem

To promote awareness and a clearer understanding of different pathways into specializations that require particular training, the Emerging Conservation Professionals Network (ECPN) is conducting a series of interviews with conservation professionals in these specialties. We kicked off the series with Chinese and Japanese painting conservation, and now we are focusing on practitioners in AIC’s Electronic Media Group (EMG). These conservators work with time-based media, which can include moving components, performance, light or sound elements, film and video, analog or born-digital materials. We’ve asked our interviewees to share some thoughts about their career paths, which we hope will inspire new conservation professionals and provide valuable insight into these areas of our professional field.

This is the third post from ECPN’s EMG blog series, for which we first interview Nick Kaplan and more recently, Alex Nichols. For our third interview from the EMG series, we spoke with Yasmin Dessem, currently Head of the Audiovisual Preservation Studio at UCLA Library where she serves as the technical lead as the library continues to develop its program of preservation, digitization and access of its moving image and sound holdings. Previously she managed archive deliverables for new feature releases at Paramount Pictures. She has experience working with a wide variety of moving image and sound formats, as well as pre-film animation devices, silent-era cameras, costumes and paper collections. Yasmin holds Master’s degrees in Art History and Moving Image Archive Studies from UCLA.

Yasmin Dessem (left) and Allie Whalen (right) cleaning and relubricating a Betacam deck. [Photo: Walter Urie]
Yasmin Dessem (left) and Allie Whalen (right) cleaning and relubricating a Betacam deck. [Photo: Walter Urie]
ECPN: Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your current position.

Yasmin Dessem (YD): I oversee the preservation of moving image and recorded sound materials at the UCLA Library’s Preservation Department. For nearly 90 years, the UCLA Library has collected audiovisual materials with content such as home movies, oral histories, and radio broadcasts. Examples are home movies of Susan Sontag’s parents sailing to China in the 1920s and field interviews with Watts residents after the 1965 riots. Audiovisual preservation (AV) at the library is a relatively young unit—a dedicated AV preservationist first came on board in 2011. We offer a number of in-house digitization and preservation services and are currently focusing on increasing our capacity and launching a survey.

ECPN: How were you first introduced to conservation, and why did you decide to pursue conservation?

YD: The 1996 re-release of the restored version of Vertigo first made me aware of film restoration and preservation as an actual practice. Later, as I was finishing my Masters in Art History at UCLA, I took a wonderful class on restoration, preservation, and conservation with Professor David A. Scott. The course covered the material care issues and decision-making ethics for a wide breadth of cultural heritage materials. The class struck a deep chord with me, but I was eager to graduate and start working. After graduation, I ended up working in the film industry for about six years. I was tracking down historic stock footage at one job when my mind circled back to the preservation field as I considered how the films were stored and made available. I had entertained the idea of potentially returning to graduate school to study art conservation some day, but around that time the idea of film preservation as a possible career path began to fully materialize for me. As a result, I began exploring potential graduate programs.

ECPN: Of all specializations, what contributed to your decision to pursue electronic media conservation?

YD: My longtime love for film and music intersected with my curiosity for all things historical and technology-related. These were topics that in one form or another always interested me, but I don’t think I had a full grasp on how to combine them meaningfully into a profession. Preservation was the missing key. My exposure to preservation and conservation while studying art history and my later experience working at film studios both helped direct me towards the specialization.

ECPN: What has been your training pathway?  Please list any universities, apprenticeships, technical experience, and any related jobs or hobbies.

YD: I pursued my studies in the Moving Image Archive Studies (MIAS) Program at UCLA—which persists today as a Master of Library and Information Science (M.L.I.S.) with a Media Archival Studies specialization. While in the program, I completed internships with Universal Pictures and the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, and volunteered at the Hugh Hefner Moving Image Archive at the University of Southern California. Throughout the two-year MIAS program, I also worked as a fellow at the Center for Primary Research and Training program at UCLA Library Special Collections, where I learned archival processing. My experiences weren’t limited to preserving moving image and sound media, but included paper-based collections, costumes, and film technology. After graduating I attended the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF) Film Restoration Summer School hosted by the Cineteca di Bologna and L’Immagine Ritrovata.

ECPN: Are there any particular skills that you feel are important or unique to your discipline?

YD: Digital preservation will continue to be a key area of expertise that’s needed in museums and archives. Preserving the original source material and digitizing content is not enough. There are more resources than ever for strategies and tools for digital preservation, and it’s important to seek them out. Another valuable skill is developing a level of comfort with handling and understanding the unique characteristics of a wide variety of physical analog formats  such as film, videotape, audiotape, and grooved media (LP, 78s, lacquer discs, wax cylinders, etc.). Similarly, it’s helpful to have a familiarity with playback devices for these obsolete media formats (equipment like open-reel decks or video decks.) Lastly, metadata can be an unsung hero in media preservation. Often, we’re the first to see or hear a recording in decades, so capturing metadata around the point of transfer is critical. Metadata standards can be a rabbit hole of complexities, especially when it comes to describing audiovisual media, but understanding their application is an essential skill.

Lacquer disc cleaning and transfer workshop at the Instituto de Historia de Cuba in Havana, Cuba [Photo: Yasmin Dessem]
Lacquer disc cleaning and transfer workshop at the Instituto de Historia de Cuba in Havana, Cuba [Photo: Yasmin Dessem]
ECPN: What are some of your current projects, research, or interests?

YD: We’re just wrapping up digitization of materials from the Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company (GSM), an African American-owned and operated insurance firm established in Los Angeles in 1925 in response to discriminatory practices that restricted the ability of African American residents to purchase insurance. GSM operated for 85 years and their collection is a vibrant resource documenting Los Angeles and the empowerment of a community. We received grants from the National Film Preservation Foundation and the John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation to support this work. The digitized collection is now available on Calisphere. We’ve just started a crowd sourcing project working with former GSM staffers to describe any unidentified content. It’s been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career, hearing everyone’s stories and seeing how much it means to everyone involved to have this collection preserved and made available.

We’ve also been in preparation to launch a large-scale survey that will help us gather data on the Library’s audiovisual collections that can be used for long term-planning. Outside of UCLA, we’ve been involved with ongoing work with cultural heritage institutions in Cuba. Last February, I set up equipment and held a workshop on the digitization of radio transcription discs held at the Instituto de Historia de Cuba (IHC) in Havana. I’m heading back there next week to begin a project to transfer IHC’s open reel audio collections.

ECPN: In your opinion, what is an important research area or need in your specialization?

YD: It’s crucial to preserve the expertise related to the operation and repair of playback equipment. Playback equipment will become more and more difficult to source in the future. Engineers, whose entire careers are dedicated to the use and care of this equipment, are some of the best resources for this knowledge. Their knowledge is shared through conversation, YouTube videos, social media, and professional workshops. Documenting the skills required to handle, maintain, calibrate, and service this equipment in a more formalized way and sharing that knowledge widely will ensure that the preservationists can keep their equipment viable for longer.

ECPN: Do you have any advice for prospective emerging conservators who would like to pursue this specialization?

YD: Try everything. Media preservation requires a wide variety of skills from computer coding to soldering decades-old circuit boards. Depending on where your career takes you, it’s good to have at least a passing familiarity with the full range of skills you may need to call upon. Apply for internships or fellowships with organizations, like the National Digital Stewardship Residency. Volunteer at community-based archives that need help getting their collections in order. Join professional organizations, like the Association of Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC) or the Association of Moving Image Archivists. Attend conferences like code4lib, the Preservation and Archiving Special Interest Group (PASIG), or the Digital Asset Symposium (DAS). Network with engineers or preservation professionals to continue to grow your own expertise, but also share your own skills when you can. Collaboration and knowledge-sharing are a fundamental part of the profession.

Perforation repair of 16 mm film [Photo: Yasmin Dessem]
Perforation repair of 16 mm film [Photo: Yasmin Dessem]
ECPN: Please share any last thoughts or reflections.

YD: One thing to be aware of, if you’re a woman in the field of audiovisual preservation, is that you may occasionally run into people who are surprised to see a woman working with technology (much less wielding a screwdriver!). This response persists to some degree despite the presence of many successful female professionals in the field. What’s encouraging, however, is seeing the growth of groups like the Women in Recorded Sound collective at ARSC providing support.

Audiovisual preservation is such a gratifying profession. Having the opportunity to make historic content available is incredibly meaningful work that I feel lucky to be a part of everyday. On an even more basic level, figuring out a new workflow or getting a piece of equipment to finally work is just so viscerally satisfying. I’m part of an amazing team whose passion, humor and willingness to try out new things inspires me every day and makes me feel so lucky to be doing this work.

43rd Annual Meeting, General Session, May 15, “The Best Laid Plans: Investigation, Application and Failure of the Finishes on the Sherman Monument", by Michael Kramer

In his presentation, Michael Kramer from the Gilder’s Studio discussed the treatment of the William Tecumseh Sherman Monument, a gilded bronze statue created by Augustus St. Gauden that currently resides in Central Park, New York. Kramer provided a detailed history of the monument, which was installed in 1903, and a candid explanation of the failures seen on its most recent regilding campaign.
During the life of the statue, the object underwent several campaigns of gilding and toning, often met with disapproval by the public as the resulting appearance was considered too bright and garish.   In a 1990 campaign, the monument was regilded and later toned with wax and gelatin.  Failures in this coating were noted in 2005 and attributed, by Kramer, to years of collected pigeon excrement that had eaten into the surface.
At that point, Kramer was commissioned by the Central Park Conservancy to regild and investigate stable coating systems that would also provide protection from pigeon infestation.  Tests of four different systems were applied to coupons and affixed to the sculpture for a year. The coupons were subjected to real life scenarios to measure performance and assessed using hydraulic adhesion tests.  Results showed that while two coats of Butcher’s White Diamond wax with colors in oil proved most visually appealing, its ability to withstand pigeon infestations was questioned.   The three coat aliphatic urethane Ronan Aquathane system using a glaze over Japanese colors was aesthetically the second best alternative and performed better than the wax when subjected to the hydraulic adhesion tests.
In 2013, the sculpture was stripped and regilded by Kramer.  After curing for two weeks, the toning system was applied. Unfortunately, cracks were noticed in the gilding after only two months.  It was discovered that the flaws penetrated beyond the coating system and went as deep as the size layer.  Extensive analysis revealed that the formula of the size that was tested five years earlier had changed and was likely the cause of the failures.  Kramer emphasized that sometimes, despite efforts to replicate the use of the products and methodology used during the testing phase, things may not work out when in the field, He ended his presentation by sharing useful lessons he had learned:  First, lab testing may not translate to real world situations, second, know your product- manufacturers are not obligated to inform users of any formulaic changes and finally, artisans need to ensure the product they tested is the exact one they are using in situ.

43rd Annual Meeting, May 15, 2015, “The How and Why of Reusing Earth Magnets”, with Gwen Spicer

As we approach another conference in which Gwen Spicer will share her vast knowledge in the workshop sessions Ferrous Attractions, the Science Behind the Magic (spots available as of this writing), we call attention to her 2015 session in which she explained attention that can be paid as to the sustainability of their use. This content has also been submitted to The Book and Paper Group Annual 34, but for those who are not BPG subscribers, is available on her website: The How and Why of Reusing Earth Magnets.
First she addressed what exactly are the “rare earths” from which these strong magnets are made. Chiefly, they appear among the lanthanide series of elements from the lower part of the periodic table – elements 57 through 71 and a few more. They are called rare because although they are naturally found intermingled, early on in industrial mining history, they were hard to separate due to their chemical similarities. (More information including a timeline of refining and increased production may be found on Spicer’s website and blog.)
Addressing the primary theme of the conference, Spicer asked “is it sustainable or not to use these elements, and if so, why?” Today, advanced industrial processes have made these rare earth elements easier and cheaper to separate, leading to their relative ubiquity, to a point that they are now are considered disposable. You may be surprised to learn that they make up components in so-called green technologies, such as hybrid cars and wind turbines. Because they make rapid electrical transmission in miniaturized components possible, they are one of the things that make inexpensive portable electronics possible, such as small appliances, earphone/buds, and mobile phones. While recycling/e-cycling the more expensive products such as phones is becoming more common and a cash value is placed on turn-in programs, those smaller items represent a non-recoverable portion of an ultimately finite resource.
To refine these rare earth elements, because they appear “rarely”, mining companies actually have to go through a very large amount of product to recover a small amount of valuable stock, resulting in industrial waste. As with any mining process, there are sad truths of waste management, such as polluted tailing ponds, release of atmospheric dusts, and junk metals discarded, all of which are potential contributors toward environmental pollution.
While there was production in the US, a highly visible mine incident in Mountain Pass, CA, led to closure based on EPA citations. Not surprisingly, much of the world’s production (95%) comes from China, where environmental standards are considerably more lax. To make the most profit, some countries will also offshore the labor intensive refining and processing of ore to poorer countries, leading to other uglier truths, such as the protection of the worker and environment coming down to an economic compromise, or conflict. Population studies in some countries show higher incidence of higher cancer rates and shorter life span for workers in these industries.
Spicer reported that economic and political tensions has caused Japan to invest in production of more efficient technologies and reexamining of older technologies, so as to use less material overall. As the trend shifts from the cheapening of the source material to what may eventually become more costly due to the consumer waste and reduced availability. (For further reading, Spicer goes into more detail on geo-economic and political tensions in the BPG article linked above.)
On a more positive note, Spicer turned back to what the conservator interested in using earth magnets can do; first she advises becoming a wiser and more informed consumer and user. (Just reading this article is a start!) Proper care and handling of earth magnets, chiefly the Niobium-Ferric-Bromide type, can reduce one’s overall impact by conserving the intensive material resources needed to make them. There is an excellent table of information in the article; as example, tips drawn from this session discussion include:
⁃ Earth magnets have sensitivities: protect them from extremes of heat, mechanical shock, moisture.
⁃ Use appropriate techniques to adhere or countersink them into substrates. For instance, use of hot melt glue can deactivate a magnet.
⁃ To ensure longevity during storage and use, separators are key, such as foam padding, or sinking them into other materials such as corrugated boards or foam.
⁃ Use smaller containers such as the ones they are shipped in, or pill separators, to keep them from banging into each other or ferromagnetic surfaces. Recycle other small containers, such as contact lens cases, to increase separation in small cubic space.
⁃ Keep like materials together and unlike apart – niobium apart from ferromagnetic surfaces to avoid demagnetization.
⁃ See further references in Spicer’s bibliography.
Lastly, as a watchword, Spicer leaves us with the mantra “let us be aware of best environmental practices just as we do in other areas of treatment…”
In the Q&A period, the following discussions arose:
Q: About suppliers: do any companies have more sustainable practices than others?
A: There are kind of two categories – some companies are affiliated with the mining sources, converting earths to magnets; and then there are those that just sell them. For instance, the Mountain Pass mine has started up again in US, under new restrictions, using previously gathered raw material to produce new product
Q: Are there any insights into how to dispose of or recycle earth magnets?
A: There are at least 12,000 e-cycling programs across the U.S., definitely contact them! Recycling can also a present a conflict for resources as trash picking and separation is an economic way of life for some. But for broken ones, sharp or deactivated, recycling companies are a good option to divert the unusable portion versus the municipal waste stream. Harvard University Libraries suggests contacting Terracycle of NJ, to take away waste stream that is disallowed from municipal collections.
Q: At a recent symposium, the personal safety issue came up. What are current safety recommendations for bulk storage of magnets or use for persons with pacemakers or other electronic medical devices?
A: From discussions Spicer has had, generally a magnet force field limited to three inches from the pacemaker (or other medical appliance), can be a distance of concern – this could take even place where dangling earbuds with embedded magnets are present (see the tiny print warning label on packaging of these). It is important to note that the force of the magnet is a factor of its size and any shielding around it or the object it may be attracted towards. Generally an artifact in exhibition which is mounted with magnets is very far from that distance, but it could be true for workers in a lab, or someone carrying an object enclosure with an embedded magnet.
Use of signage on enclosures or mounts indicate presence of covered magnets is a good common sense warning. As magnets are brittle, and can fly across a table at each other at great speed and shatter, safety goggles are highly recommended at all times. Hand protection may also be necessary for the worker, as pinching, splinters or nail breakage, can all be issues when separating magnets, or prying them out for reuse. If you maintain a private practice with a studio in your home, or have occasional younger visitors to your lab, be aware that swallowing by children or animals is an issue! See the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission warning that was issued for more information on magnet dangers for small children. (This author is currently working on a Job Hazard Analysis for work with magnets with the assistance of an industrial hygiene group; potentially this may become available through AIC Health & Safety group as well.)

43rd Annual Meeting – Textile Session, May 30, "A Turkish Kilim: Analysis, Stabilization, and Loss Compensation” by Cathleen Zaret.

Cathy Zaret presented on the techniques and challenges she encountered during the conservation treatment of a large Kilim. The Kilim was a 6 x 8 ft fragment from a private collection. After the completion of her treatment, the fragment would be returned to the private collector where it would be displayed over the back of their sofa.
Cathy’s introduction to Kilims provided helpful terminology and historical context. Kilims are woven tapestries, hangings, or rugs. They have non vertical panels with slits in the weave, but the design is such that the slits are small. Kilims formed part of the dowry of women in Anatolia and were made for personal use. Women wove many different designs and motifs into their Kilims and the choice of design does not appear to be geographically associated. Cathy searched through the literature to find a Kilim that appeared similar to hers and could only find one other similar example.
The Kilim fragment had a number of distinct manufacturing and condition features. The yarn in the fragment exhibited color variation and the condition of the yarn seemed to relate to the color. For example, the brown weft was most susceptible to loss, possibly because it had been dyed with iron oxide, rendering it vulnerable to additional damage. There had been many previous campaigns of restoration, all of which were documented as part of this treatment.
The goals for this treatment were to stabilize the Kilim and perform loss compensation on the largest areas of loss while being aware of the future use of the item. Since the prior repairs were in good condition and part of the history of the object, they were left intact.

  • Cathy lined the fragment with net for structural support during cleaning and removed it after cleaning.
  • The kilim was cleaned with a surfactant and then rinsed repeatedly before rolling it in towels and laying it out to dry. This successfully removed most of the soiling from the tapestry.
  • The kilim was mounted on a saw horse tensioning frame for treatment.
  • Used a whip stitch to stabilize the lower edge.
  • Repaired or replaced warp with handspun singles. Introduced the new warp into an undamaged area near the loss and wove it through the area of loss and then moved the yard to an adjacent warp and wove it back across the loss.

Cathy overcame many challenges during this treatment related to the size of the object and its context. To keep track of her treatment on a fragment of this size (6 x 8 ft), Cathy divided the kilim into six sections and worked on one section at a time. She also learned how to manage her treatment when the cost of conservation is higher than the perceived value of the textile.
I primarily work on objects but have occasionally had the opportunity to work with a textile conservator on something that crosses the line between textile and object. Cathy’s talk was comprehensible to conservators well versed in textiles and applicable for those of us who work on the fringes of textile conservation. I look forward to using her conservation techniques and well-organized approach in the future.

43rd Annual Meeting, Joint ECPN/ CPIP Panel Session, May 13 “ Emerging Conservators in Private Practice”

This session was one of the major reasons I chose to attend AIC 2015 annual meeting. Speaking to a conservator who started a private practice within five years of graduating from a conservation program planted a strong seed for me. Megan Salazar-Walsh, session moderator, launched the event tapping into panelists’ hindsight “What you wish you knew starting out that you know now as a conservator in private practice?
During the panel session, four conservators in private practice across the spectrum from the fledgling to established practices of five and ten years shared insights on a variety of topics from workspaces to work/life balance and the challenges of being a business owner. The panelists were: Anna Alba, a paintings conservator in the Pittsburgh area, and proprietress of established in 2014. Stephanie Hornbeck, a senior objects conservator who established Caryatid Conservation  in Miami in 2010. Lara Kaplan, founder of Lara Kaplan Conservation LLC, an objects conservation-focused firm in Baltimore in 2005. Cynthia Kuneij-Berry, senior paintings conservator in Chicago, who was in private practice for off and on for years and established her business in its current form, Kuneij-Berry Associates in 2005, and Emily MacDonald-Korth,a painting and architecture conservator with studios in Miami and Los Angeles for Longevity Art Preservation LLC and a second venture, Art Preservation Index.
The major benefits of private practice are the flexibility, whether in geography or time for raising children, and the independence combined with the satisfaction intrinsic to art conservation. The challenges of course are inherent to running any business such as marketing and educating clients and unpredictability in workload. After finishing her fellowship, unsolicited contract work started Laura Kaplan on the private practice path; after two years she wholeheartedly embraced private practice conservation.  Laura acknowledged and diffused some myths saying that going into private practice straight after training is completely doable. A conservator can have an equally rich and rewarding career in private practice as in a traditional museum position.
The panel overwhelmingly recommended interning in private practice during the pre-program and/or graduate school years to make a more informed decision. Anna Alba had worked with two private conservators before graduating and hence she had insight into the both the good and bad aspects of private practice life. One of the biggest challenges of private practice is that one never really gets to leave work at work. Also, as a business owner, a conservator is doing whatever needs to be done from being the cleaning lady to the accountant as well as scientists and art conservator. Other challenges cited by the panel included education clients, learning not to over-commit, and contact negotiations can drag on with institutions and approvals. Best summary quote about private practice from the panel was “No one thing is hard, but everything can be overwhelming.” The AIC online course for establishing a practice came highly recommended as a starting point for anyone considering private practice.
Collaboration Remains Key
 Collegiality and cooperation among conservators were mentioned repeatedly as essential to the successful private practice. When objects conservator Stephanie Hornbeck chose Miami to set up her conservation practice after leaving the Smithsonian, paintings conservator Rustin Levinson whohad  practiced in Florida for decades was extremely helpful in identifying people and organizations that could use object conservation services. Later, the two collaborated on the conservation of Louise Nevelson sculptures for the Perez Art Museum that was covered in a documentary. Laura Kaplan noted that the Baltimore area is a supportive and cooperative community despite hosting many objects conservators; often subcontracting for each other as needed on large contracts. Similarly, Emily MacDonald-Korth mentioned consulting with classmates and former supervisors when dealing with a technically challenging project.
Getting Started in Private Practice
The first step is speak to conservators in private practice and at institutions who are taking private work; it is an essential part of due diligence to understand how pricing is working in the regional market. The panelists also emphasized that being a good colleague also means charging fair market prices. The conservation field has problems with adequate compensation, so undercharging as a new conservator in private practice will exacerbate the issue, noted Laura Kaplan.  The rigorous experience and education associated with conservation graduate school means that a conservator fresh out of fellowship possesses the skills and professionalism to be a qualified, ethical conservator in private practice as well as at an institution, and to charge accordingly.
All the panelists had rented work spaces for their labs. Loft or converted industrial spaces that attract artists also work for conservators. Laura Kaplan noted it’s important to have a space that feels professional so clients can come and feel good about leaving their artworks. Two of the conservators had live/work spaces. Features like loading dock or 10 ft bay door become important given the potential size of art works. Anna Alba has opportunity within her building to rent extra space as needed. Recommendations for set-up include having everything on wheels for adaptability, using Ikea for cabinets and storage, creating work surfaces with trestle legs and hollow frame wood doors. The rented studio provides some psychological benefits, creating a clearer mental boundary and giving some structure to the business. A favorite tidbit regarding equipment investment comes from Emily MacDonald-Korth, always get a deposit for a treatment and use the deposit to buy needed equipment and supplies for that project. Hence one avoids the trap of spending on unnecessary expensive equipment just for the sake of buying it. Cynthia Kuneij-Berry as a painting conservator always had a solvent cabinet in her studio space.  She invested in a ventilation system in her current studio feeling a higher standard now that she has employees since regretfully she’s had conservation friends who died from cancers related to workplace hazards. She found consulting with engineers, insurance agents, and lawyers valuable in addressing safety needs. AIC has some upcoming online courses on lab safety and risk mitigation.
An exciting trend for private practice is there are some large underserved art markets in North America. Stephanie Hornbeck acknowledged market need was a major factor for establishing her practice in Miami, Florida. She wanted to stay on the East Coast overall, but a noncompete clause made it impractical to stay in Washington DC.  She recognized that Florida was underserved with numerous museums, a major art fair, and only three institutions had conservators. With her background at the Smithsonian, she saw a need and niche for a museum conservator for 3-D art and now works with fourteen museums in the state. With half of AIC membership being conservators in private practice and the movement toward outsourcing across the United States economy, private practice conservation will likely remain major professional trend for art conservators. A future trend mentioned by CIPP leadership is interest for senior conservators in private practice transitioning their businesses to the next generation of conservators.
It was clear for all panelists the rewards outweighed the challenges for private practice. The types of projects in private practice offer variety and broaden horizons and the opportunity to shape your practice and move professionally in directions of interest, such Stephanie Hornbeck’s work with art conservation in disaster areas. The happiness on clients’ faces when they see their artwork post-treatment is really memorable.  Another reward is spending most of your time in studio and on treatments instead of mundane meetings. Last but not least, the people in your professional life can be a major reward with the opportunity to pick your coworkers, and hosting pre-program and graduate interns who bring updates in technology and education to the studio, and continually meeting new people as clients.

43rd Annual Meeting – Electronic Media Session, May 16, "Tackling obsolescence through virtualization: facing challenges and finding potentials” by Patricia Falcao, Annet Dekker, and Pip Laurenson

The presenters began by explaining that they had changed the title to reflect the emphasis of presentation. The new title became "An exploration of significance and dependency in the conservation of software-based artwork."

Based upon their research, the presenters decided to focus on dependencies rather than obsolesence per se. The project was related to PERICLES, a pan-European risk assessment project for preserving digital content. PERICLES was a four-year collaboration that included systems engineers and other specialists, modeling systems to predict change.

The presenters used two case studies from the Tate to examine key concepts of dependencies and significant properties. Significant properties were described as values defined by the artist. Dependency is the connection between different elements in a system, defined by the function of those elements, such as the speed of a processor. The research focused on works of art where software is the essential part of the art. The presenters explained that there were four categories of software-based artwork: contained, networked, user-dependent, and generative. The featured case studies were examples of contained and networked artworks. These categories were defined not only in terms of behavior, but also in terms of dependencies.

Michael Craig-Martin's Becoming was a contained artwork. The changing composition of images was comprised of animation of the artist’s drawings on LCD screen, using proprietary software. Playback speed is an example of an essential property that could be changed, if there were a future change in hardware, for example.

Jose Carlos Martinat Mendoza's Brutalism: Stereo Reality Environment 3 was the second case study discussed by the presenters. This work of art is organized around a visual pun, evoking the Brutalist architecture of the Peruvian “Pentagonito,” a government Ministry of Defense office associated with the human rights abuses of a brutal regime. Both the overall physical form of the installation, when viewed merely as sculpture, and the photographic image of the original structure reinforce the architectural message. A printer integrated into the exhibit conveys textual messages gleaned from internet searches of brutality. While the networked connection permitted a degree of randomness and spontaneity in the information flowing from the printer, there was a backup MySQL database to provide content, in the event of an interruption in the internet connection.

The presenters emphasized that the dependencies for software-based art were built around aesthetic considerations of function. A diagram was used to illustrate the connection between artwork-level dependencies. With "artwork" in the center, three spokes radiated outward toward knowledge, interface, and computation. An example of knowledge might be the use of a password to have administrative rights to access or modify the work. A joystick or a game controller would be examples of interfaces. In Brutalism, the printer is an interface. Computation refers to the capacity and processor speed of the computer itself.

Virtualization has been offered as an approach to preserving these essential relationships. It separates hardware from software, creating a single file out of many. It can act as a diagnostic tool and a preservation strategy that mitigates against hardware failure. The drawbacks were that it could mean copying unnecessary or undesirable files or that the virtual machine (and the x86 virtualization architecture) could become obsolete. Another concern is that virtualization may not capture all of the significant properties that give the artwork its unique character. A major advantage of virtualization is that it permits the testing of dependencies such as processor speed. It also facilitates version control and comparison of different versions.The authors did not really explain the difference between emulation and virtualization, perhaps assuming that the audience already knew the difference. Emulation uses software to replicate the original hardware environment to run different operating systems, whereas virtualization uses the existing underlying hardware to run different operating systems. The hardware emulation step decreases performance.

The presenters then explained the process that is used at the Tate. They create a copy of the hardware and software. A copy is kept on the Tate servers. Collections are maintained in a High Value Digital Asset Repository. The presenters also described the relationship of the artist's installation requirements to the dependencies and significant properties. For example, Becoming requires a monitor with a clean black frame of specific dimensions and aspect ratio. The software controls the timing and speed of image rotation and the randomness or image changes, as well as traditional artistic elements of color and scale. With Brutalism, the language (Spanish to English) is another essential factor, along with "liveness" of search.

During the question and answer period, the presenters explained that they were using VMware, because it was practical and readily available. An audience member asked an interesting question about the limitations of virtualization for the GPU (graphics processing unit). The current methodology at the Tate works for the CPU(central processing unit) only, not the graphics unit. The presenters indicated that they anticipated future support for the GPU.

This presentation emphasized the importance of curatorship of significant propeeties and documentation of dependencies in conserving software-based art. It was important to understand the artist's intent and to capture the essence of the artwork as it was meant to be presented, while recognizing that the artist’s hardware, operating system, applications, and hardware drivers could all become obsolete. It was clear from the presentation that a few unanswered questions remain, but virtualization appears to be a viable preservation strategy.

43rd Annual Meeting – Sustainability session – May 15, 2015 – "Achieving Competing Goals: Energy Efficient Cold Storage" by Shengyin Xu et al

This presentation provides a case study from the Minnesota Historical Society for a cold storage unit that is inefficient and could perhaps provide better conditions within its given parameters. One problem with specialty storage is the high cost of running specialized environmental systems. So, what can one do for optimal conditions for cold storage yet still save on energy cost?
In 2012, an NEH Sustainability Planning Grant was secure to investigate the possibilities available for improving their cold storage. It is hoped that the collaborative design process could achieve better preservation condition in the long term and use energy savings more efficiently and potentially see actual savings.
Currently, their cold storage unit ran at 62F and 40%RH and was a very small space: 2% of their overall storage space. Its current conditions provided a Preservation Index (PI) of approximately 100. It utilized 7% of the Historical Society’s annual energy use, but wasn’t providing the conditions it needed for good cold storage of audiovisual collections.
The Historical Society went through a variety of condition and compared PI numbers to see what various conditions could provide in terms of collection storage longevity. Beyond that, they also investigated capital costs associated with retrofitting the unit to provide those conditions. Lastly, they examined the costs associated with running the unit for the long term. They balanced all three of these factors in order to come to a solution that would be beneficial on all three levels: collections environment, capital costs, and sustainability.
I will admit that I had a hard time following the flow of this presentation, especially toward the end when gears were shifted from environmental conditions of cold storage to air quality examination. One of the frustrating points of the presentation were these air quality tables that were too small to be legible on the screen.Visual charts would have been helpful to demonstrate the different air quality levels that were present and what they were trying to achieve. I also didn’t fully understand what this part of the presentation had to do with the rest of the talk.

43rd Annual Meeting- Wooden Artifacts Session, May 15, “Bending over Backwards: Treatment of Four Chinese Export Bamboo and Rattan Chairs” by Michaela Neiro, Historic New England

Bamboo Settee, Historic New England Collection
Bamboo Settee, Historic New England Collection

Michaela Neiro spoke about a great treatment of bamboo furniture for exhibit at Quincy House, a historic home in Quincy Massachusetts built in 1790 (part of Historic New England).
Photographs from the 1880’s show bamboo chairs in the first floor hall, but they were subsequently lost.  Fortunately, acceptable substitutes could be selected from the Historic New England collections.
Rattan and bamboo are two light but sturdy construction materials that became popular in America as a result of trade with China and the East, and remain commonly available today. Furniture made from rattan is called wicker.
The HNE chairs were constructed by heat bending the bamboo into curves, and securing joints with wood dowels and wood pins. No adhesives or metal fasteners were used. The seats were caned, and many small pieces of bamboo were joined to create intricate decorative patterns in the back, sides and base.
In addition to dirt and failing coatings, some of the small rattan and bamboo pieces were missing. Luckily there was enough information from the small “pin” holes left in the frame to figure out the original pattern. All the losses were filled with new rattan, which can be ordered in various thicknesses. The rattan was shaped by bending lengths around nail and board jigs while it was wet and pliable; when it dried it maintained the shape of the jig.  The new rattan fills were toned to match the original bamboo and rattan using dilute acrylics before they were attached.
You can read more about the conservation project here:

43rd Annual Meeting, Collection Care Session, May 14, “Pathways for Implementing a Successful Passive RH microclimate” by Steven Weintraub”

Relative being the key word in this talk, Steven Weintraub of Art Preservation Services, Inc., presented a checklist of critical thinking when making decisions about relative humidity (RH) microclimates for collections.
Question the accuracy of your RH measurement
Weintraub points out it’s really easy to be 5% off  on measuring RH for a myriad of reasons including sensor locations relative vent locations, drift in the measuring equipment. While 40% to 60% is the usual goal, a conservator has to ponder how comfortable are you with 35% to 65%?  Weintraub admitted those extremes make him less confident for preventive conservation; microclimates can be the answer when an object requires tighter control.
The talk ended on this accuracy theme as well. While technology has come to RH measuring systems such as blue tooth systems so the case no longer has to be opened, accuracy remains in issue. Before setting up an exhibit, compare all the meters so to have at least an internal standard for readings.  Calibrating the meters before exhibitions is ideal, of course but not always feasible.  If there is a large discrepancy in RH readings between the loaning institution and your institution, it might be worth having a conversation about calibration methods.
To seal or not to seal a case
Weintraub recounted the common reasons for not sealing a case: Avoid trapping off-gassing; gallery climate control is adequate; it’s harder and more expensive to construct an airtight case. However hindsight is harder to manage. It’s harder to retrofit a leaking case and make it air tight after the fact when too much dust is collecting on the objects or other problems occur. Thus it’s best to start with air tight cases and loosen if needed.  Hence whether intentional or not, sealed cases are microclimates.
Microclimates: Active control, Passive control, or Nothing
Weintraub recommend building all cases to have the provisions for at least a passive RH control system regardless. Again the theme of enabling flexibility and avoiding retrofitting later applies. Building space for silica gel trays and not using it is easier than retrofitting the case later.
What is the rate of leakage for the case is the most important question for microclimates. The leakage rate will determine if a passive control is adequate or active control system is needed. Weintraub noted, no silica gel system in the world is adequate for a highly leaky case. Nominal leaking from a tight system then begs the question about why an active system is needed.Leakage assessment can be easily accessible. Weintraub feels it’s important and empowering for institutions to be able to conduct their own leakage rate tests. It will enable identifying when repairs are needed under service contracts and also make more informed choices about the steps needed for microclimates. A caveat on interpreting leakage rates when you’re shopping for cases No standard protocol exists for determining leakage rates; so manufacturers reported values are hard to compare. Leakage rates change over time as materials age and warp
 Creating your own leak detector
Weintraub shared two easy ways to have your own leak detection system. Cans of dust-off contain small amounts of refrigerant.  A refrigerant detector can be easily purchased from HVAC suppliers for about $500; the detector is akin to a Geiger counter. It’s a qualitative tool that helps locate the leaks. The second leakage assessment choice is monitor carbon dioxide levels. The carbon dioxide level in the case increased above ambient levels (600 to 2500 ppm) and use a meter installed in the case to monitor the change in carbon dioxide levels.  Let the case reach equilibrium at before starting the leak test. Weintraub and students at the NYU conservation center are currently examining how long it typically takes to reach equilibrium. Weintraub likes to run his leak tests for 3 days. Basically it’s calculating the rate of loss of CO2 Thus the difference in CO2 measurements over the time period.  Close to 0 for the rate means success as there is minimal leakage. A large rate indicates an issue. At that point, consider looking at the half-time decay, how many days it takes for CO2 levels to drop 50% in the case.
How much silica gel?
  Answer: Leakage rate * number of exhibit days* buffering capacity of silica gel at your target humidity levels= weight of silica gel.
You can examine compare different silica gel types for your scenario as some silica gels perform better at high humidity and others at low humidity. For a maintenance-free case, Weintraub’s rule of thumb is double the exhibition quantity of silica gel.   Another silica gel tip is to mix silica gels at different humidities to get the target humidity such at mixing 55% and 40% RH gel systems to get a target of 50%.
Also, mind the air gap in the case. An air gap is needed to make sure air flow is adequate in the case to get the benefits of silica gel actually reaching the collection objects.
Lastly, we as conservators need to do a better job of sharing our learning and experience about microclimate to develop a collective pool of knowledge
Weintraub’s article on Demystifying Silica Gel is available on Art Preservation Services website along with some of his work on LED.