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.

ECPN Interviews: Electronic Media Conservation with Alexandra Nichols

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.

In our first EMG interview, we spoke with Nick Kaplan. Now for our second interview from the EMG series, we turn to with Alexandra Nichols, currently a Sherman Fairchild Foundation Fellow in the conservation of time-based media and installation art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. From 2016-2017, she was a Samuel H. Kress Foundation Fellow in Time-based Media Conservation at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. She earned her Master’s of Art Conservation from the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation (2016) where she concentrated on the conservation of modern and contemporary objects.

ECPN: Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

Alexandra Nichols (AN): I received my Master’s of Conservation from Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation in 2016, where I concentrated on the conservation of modern and contemporary objects. I recently completed a one-year fellowship as a Samuel H. Kress Foundation Fellow in Time-based Media Conservation at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, where I was working under Joanna Phillips, the Guggenheim’s Senior Conservator of Time-based Media. Just a few weeks ago, I joined the Metropolitan Museum of Art as a Sherman Fairchild Foundation Conservation Fellow, where I’ll be working with the Met’s collection of time-based media and installation art.  

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

AN: After obtaining my undergraduate degree in art history, I moved to London and landed a job as an executive assistant at the British Museum. While there, I visited the Hirayama Studio, the British Museum’s conservation lab dedicated to the care and treatment of East Asian paintings and works on paper. It’s a beautiful, peaceful room, with tatami mats and walls lined with brushes and different types of paper. I loved how the conservators could develop such a close, tactile relationship with the artworks, and how the treatments were carried out with respect for the cultures that created the works. This led me to seek out internships where I could gain experience in conservation.

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

AN: I’m really fascinated by the wide range of materials and methods utilized by contemporary artists. Something I love about time-based media art is its complexity and variability. An artwork may have multiple channels of video, require a very specific placement in the gallery, or be shown differently based on the size or shape of the room.

My training is in objects conservation, focusing on the conservation of contemporary art. During the course of my graduate studies, none of the North American programs offered coursework in time-based media*. Thus, I was able to explore working with time-based media during my graduate internships at the Hirshhorn and the Museum of Modern Art. I’ve been pleasantly surprised that many of the time-based media pieces I’ve worked on incorporate sculptural elements, so my graduate training has been helpful in ways I didn’t expect. Learning how these objects should be placed in an installation and their relationship to electronic and audiovisual elements is really intriguing.

*The Institute of Fine Arts (IFA) at New York University is implementing a curriculum geared towards the conservation of time-based media, and is accepting applications this this year for Fall 2018 matriculation.

Alexandra and Contract Video Engineer Maurice Schechter conduct a quality check (QC) on a video file. [Photo: Joanna Phillips]
Alexandra and Contract Video Engineer Maurice Schechter conduct a quality check (QC) on a video file. [Photo: Joanna Phillips]
ECPN: What has been your training pathway?  Please list any universities, apprenticeships, technical experience, and any related jobs or hobbies.

AN: I’ve always had an interest in computers and electronics. In middle school and high school, I learned the programming language C, built computers as a hobby, and took courses in video editing and digital photography as part of my undergraduate degree.

I’m originally from the Washington, DC area, and after deciding to pursue conservation, I completed pre-program internships and contracts at various museums in the Smithsonian system, including the Freer and Sackler Galleries, the Museum Conservation Institute, and the National Museum of African-American History and Culture.

In 2013, I began my graduate studies at the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation, where I specialized in the conservation of modern and contemporary objects. As a graduate student, I completed a summer internship at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, preparing time-based media works in their collection for the 2014 exhibition Days of Endless Time. During my third-year internship at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, I collaborated with Kate Lewis and Amy Brost to treat a pearlescent bead-adorned cathode ray tube television set by Nam June Paik and Otto Piene.

Additionally, the chance to work with Joanna Phillips at the Guggenheim has been thrilling—there aren’t many opportunities to learn about time-based media conservation in the American graduate conservation programs, so emerging conservators must gain expertise through internships and fellowships. However, this is changing soon — The Institute of Fine Arts (IFA) at New York University is implementing a curriculum geared towards the conservation of time-based media, and is accepting applications this year for Fall 2018 matriculation (link: I’ll be utilizing the skills I’ve developed over the past year at my current fellowship working with the time-based media art collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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

AN: Strong documentation skills are important in any specialization, but this is especially true for time-based media. The inherent variability of time-based media requires extensive research and documentation to ensure that it can be installed correctly in the future. It’s also important to know about the history of video production, including film history and the development of various formats. Foundational knowledge of video and other technologies is also crucial and has to be updated continuously, since technology is always evolving. Without this knowledge, media conservators cannot seek out and engage external specialists and vendors who can provide specific technical expertise

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

AN: I am just getting started at The Met, but I am currently working with Nora Kennedy and Meredith Reiss to help document the 250 time-based media artworks in The Met’s collection. This includes updating questionnaires that are sent to artists during the acquisition process, which help us learn more about the production history and intended exhibition of the artwork, and researching past exhibitions to create retroactive iteration reports. The Met has had a Time-based Media Working Group for many years now, and I am looking forward to collaborating with its members as I conduct my research.

Image of a Skype interview with an artist, in which Alexandra and Contract Video Engineer Maurice Schechter discuss the audio channels of an artist-provided video file. [Photo: Alexandra Nichols]
Image of a Skype interview with an artist, in which Alexandra and Contract Video Engineer Maurice Schechter discuss the audio channels of an artist-provided video file. [Photo: Alexandra Nichols]
ECPN: In your opinion, what is an important research area or need in your specialization?

AN: I think the acquisition and display of virtual reality (VR) will pose a number of challenges for conservators in the coming years. Artists are increasingly experimenting with these types of works—Jordan Wolfson exhibited a VR work in the Whitney Biennial this year, for example—but as far as I know, no museums have acquired a VR piece yet. This technology is so new and is still being developed, and as a result, there’s so much potential for the obsolescence of file formats and hardware.

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

AN: Try playing around with how to shoot and edit your own video in Final Cut Pro or Premiere! It will teach you about digital video formats and give you some insight into the artist’s process. And, don’t be afraid to reach out to conservators you admire to learn more about what they do!

ECPN: Please share any last thoughts or reflections.

AN: Supervised training under established media conservators is essential to the development of one’s skills as an emerging time-based media conservator. Fellowships and internships provide practical experience with real-life museum scenarios that is not possible to gain through readings or coursework. I am extremely grateful to the Samuel H. Kress Foundation and the Sherman Fairchild Foundation for providing me with opportunities to hone my expertise at the Guggenheim and The Met.


*Featured photograph: Alexandra examines a MiniDV tape containing an artwork while working at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. [Photo: Kris Mckay]


44th Annual Meeting – Photographic Materials Session, May 16, “Photochromatic Images of Edmond Becquerel: Where do the colours come from? Tracks in the understanding of the origin of their colours.” by Dr. Marie-Angélique Languille, Edouard de Saint-Ours, Jean-Marc Frigerio, and Christine Andraud

Edouard de Saint-Ours clearly described the fascinating work he and his colleagues have done to identify the source of the colors in one of the earliest color photographic processes. In 1848 Edmond Becquerel successfully produced a color photographic image, but himself was unable to identify the cause of the colors. The discovery of several of his early plates in the archives at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris sparked Edouard and his colleagues’ interest in Becquerel’s process and the source of his colors.
Edouard began by explaining the two known ways in which color can be produced in photography: through the use of colorants, or through the production of interference colors. It was assumed that Becquerel had been relying on one of these two types of color, and the research team focused on methods of analysis that would identify either of these two methods of producing color.
Becquerel’s photochromatic images were made by dispersing sunlight through a prism for several hours, exposing the plate in camera to form a direct positive. The images were not fixed, and will fade if exposed to light. In order to understand the physical and chemical composition of the Becquerel plate, Edouard and his colleagues replicated the technique themselves. To make a photochromatic image a silver plate was polished and cleaned, and sensitized by immersion in copper chloride, or by hydrolysis in a bath of hydrochloric acid. The latter is referred to as an electrochemically sensitized plate. Once sensitized, the plate takes on a red-brown hue. In the replication of the process the plates were exposed to a Xenon lamp with colored filters, and the colors produced on the plate corresponded to the color of the light.
Once they had replicated the technique, they set about studying their sample plates in order to identify the cause of the colors they had produced. SEM analysis and cross-sectional analysis showed that there were no surface or structural differences between the different colors. Although this suggested against interferential colors, it did not rule out the possibility entirely.
SEM-EDX offered the researchers more information about the chemical composition of the different colors, but also indicated no difference between the green and red colors on the sample plate. Both were almost entirely comprised of silver chloride. However, Edouard mentioned the very interesting possibility that very small variations in the proportion of silver could cause different sizes of silver nanoparticles to form on the plates. In this scenario, a different size of nanoparticle would form from each color of light, and the color of the silver nanoparticles would vary depending on their size.
From this hypothesis, the researchers performed spectroscopic analysis of the colored surfaces, a technique which can detect the chemical state of an element. However, this analysis showed only oxidized silver on all colors, with no indication of difference between colors, or the presence of metallic silver. Again, this suggests against the presence of silver nanoparticles, but does not definitively rule out that possibility.
Although the project has not returned any definitive results, the research is ongoing. In the meantime, the work has cast light on the complexity of Becquerel’s early process, and the intriguing questions still presented by early color photography.

44th Annual Meeting- Joint Photographic Materials + Research and Technical Studies Session- Surface Roughness, Appearance and Identification of AGFA-Gevaert Photograph Samples- by Dr. W. Wei and Sanneke Stigter

Having encountered some very bizarre textures in matte Gevaluxe prints during a National Portrait Gallery internship several years ago, I was eager to learn more about the characterization of these interesting papers. The popular Gevaluxe papers (made by Belgian company Gevaert) often had a velvety matte appearance that was desired by many mid-twentieth century photographers.
This project was inspired by a concern that the increasing reliance of museums on digital surrogates for original photographs might not capture all of the original properties of the photograph. Even where a traditional silver-gelatin or chromogenic photograph has been used as a surrogate, the textured surface of the replacement paper might not match the original. The work Hoe Hoeker Hoe Platter by Dutch artist Ger Van Elk was used as an example of a mixed media photographic work where texture played an important role in conservation decisions. Texture can influence the perception of color, so it was important to characterize the essential properties of the paper’s texture.
Paul Messier’s research was considered an important first step, but Bill Wei’s research team in the Netherlands sought to leverage some of the technology from other industries where surface texture and roughness are systematically quantified (such as the auto industry). First, Wei gave an overview of some of the techniques employed in texture measurement: polynomial texture mapping and confocal white light profilometry. In this project, confocal white light profilometry was used to create a non-contact contour map with a resolution of 60 nanometers. Gloss measurements were also used; on a matte surface the difference between incident and reflected light is the light scattered, so the glossiness (or lack thereof) can be quantified.
The study compared human perception with quantitative texture measurements in observations of textured paper and their apparent roughness or smoothness. An Agfa-Gevaert sample book from the 1970’s served as the source material. Only three of the samples were color papers, so they were more difficult to evaluate. The 25 samples were categorized into 5 groups. Some of the groups had a “macro” texture of waviness, versus a “micro” texture of roughness on a much smaller scale. Group 1 was smooth. Group 2 papers had a very fine texture. Papers assigned to Group 3 displayed the fine texturing in the Group 2 papers, combined with a large-scale waviness. Group 4 exhibited the waviness of Group 3, without the fine texture. Group 5, which included some of the color papers, was comprised of a very regular pattern of raised circular nubs or dots. For anyone who has a lot of family photos from the 1970’s, that dot texture will seem quite familiar.
The research is ongoing, so the presenter mentioned some preliminary observations, without drawing any conclusions. There was not a direct relationship between roughness and gloss. For example, samples from Groups 4 and 5 were just behind group 1 in gloss. The human observers demonstrated that their perceptions of smoothness did not always correlate with the quantitative measurements, especially for some papers in Group 2. It will be interesting to hear the follow-up results as the research team continues the project.

42nd Annual Meeting – Paintings, May 30, "Piet Mondrian: Technical Studies and Treatment" by Ana Martins, Associate Research Scientist, MoMA, and Cynthia Albertson, Assistant Conservator, MoMA

NYC’s Museum of Modern Art owns sixteen Piet Mondrian oil paintings, the most comprehensive collection in North America. From this starting point, conservator Cynthia Albertson and research scientist Ana Martins embarked on an impressive project, both in breadth and in consequence—an in-depth technical examination across all sixteen Mondrians. All examined paintings are fully documented, and the primary preservation goal is returning the artwork to the artist’s intended state. Paint instability in the artist’s later paintings will also be treated with insight from the technical examination.
The initial scope of the project focused on nondestructive analysis of MoMA’s sixteen oil paintings. As more questions arose, other collections and museum conservators were called upon to provide information on their Mondrians. Over 200 other paintings were consulted over the course of the project. Of special importance to the conservators were untreated Mondrians, as they could help answer questions about the artist’s original varnish choices and artist-modified frames. Mondrian’s technique of reworking areas of his own paintings was also under scrutiny, as it called into question whether newer paint on a canvas was his, or a restorer’s overpaint. Fortunately, the MoMA research team had a variety of technology at their disposal: X-Radiography, Reflectance Transformation Imaging, and X-ray Fluorescence (XRF) spectroscopy and XRF mapping were all tools referenced in the presentation.
The lecture discussed three paintings to provide an example of how preservation issues were addressed and how the research process revealed information on unstable paint layers in later Mondrian paintings. The paintings were Tableau no. 2 / Composition no. V (1914), Composition with Color Planes 5 (1917), and Composition C (1920), but for demonstration’s sake only the analysis of the earliest painting will be used as an example here.
Tableau no. 2 / Composition no. V (1914) was on a stretcher that was too thick, wax-lined, covered in a thick, glossy varnish, and had corrosion products along the tacking edges. Research identified the corrosion as accretions from a gold frame that the artist added for an exhibition. The painting has some obviously reworked areas, distinguished by dramatic variations in texture, and a painted-over signature; these changes are visible in the technical analysis. The same research that identified the source of the corrosion also explained that Mondrian reworked and resigned the painting for the exhibition. XRF mapping of the pigments, fillers, and additives provided an early baseline of materials to compare later works to, as the paint here did not exhibit the cracking of later examples. Ultimately, the restorer’s varnish was removed to return the paint surface to its intended matte appearance, and the wax lining was mechanically separated from the canvas with a specially produced Teflon spatula. Composition no. V (1914) was then strip-lined, and re-stretched to a more appropriate-width stretcher.
It is possible to create a timeline of Mondrian’s working methods with information gleaned from the technical examination of all three paintings. His technique had evolved from an overall matte surface, to variations in varnish glossiness between painted areas. XRF analysis demonstrated a shift in his palette, with the addition of vermillion, cobalt, and cadmium red in his later works. XRF also revealed that the artist used registration lines of zinc and lead whites mixed together and used on their own. Knowing the chemical composition of Mondrian’s paint is vital to understanding the nature of the cracking media and identifying techniques to preserve it.
The underpinning of all this research is documentation. This means both accounting for un-documented or poorly documented past restorations, as well as elaborating upon existing references. Many of the MoMA paintings had minimal photographic documentation, which hinders the ability of conservators to identify changes to the work over time. The wealth of information gathered by the conservation and research team remains within the museum’s internal database, but there are plans to expand access to the project’s data. Having already worked in collaboration with many Dutch museums for access to their Mondrian collections, it’s clear to the MoMA team how a compiled database of all their research and documentation would be groundbreaking for the conservation and art history fields.

42nd Annual Meeting- OSG, May 31, "Restoration by Other Means: CT scanning and 3D Computer Modeling for the Re-Restoration of a Previously Restored Skull from the Magdalenian Era by J.P. Brown and Robert D. Martin"

After collaborating with JP at the Field Museum on rendering CT scans a few years ago and seeing his article about this work in the spring MRCG newsletter, I was excited to see some images about this in person. JP has been working with CT scanners since 2006 starting out by taking advantage of the kindness of local hospitals and more recently renting a portable unit that came to museum on a truck.
As many of us know, CT scanners can look inside objects non-destructively and provide accurate images with 3D geometric accuracy. JP started the talk be reviewing some of the physics of getting a CT scan done, the benefits, and limitations. Here’s a run-down:
1. The scanner has a donut shaped gantry consisting of a steel ring containing the X-ray tube and curved detector on the opposite side, so your object has to fit within the imaging area inside the steel ring.
2. On each revolution you get lots of images scanned within 30 seconds to 5 min- this is very fast.
3. The biggest logistical challenge is moving objects to and from the hospital safely.
4. During the scanning you immediately get slices, which are cross-section images from three different directions. Volumetric rendering  is done from the slices and there is free software for this.
5. Apparently it is relatively easy to do segmentation, segment out regions of interest, and extract wire frame models, just time consuming. From there you can get images of the surface and texture and can even print the models. It is relatively easy to go from slice to wireframe, but harder to achieve a manufacturing mesh to produce a 3D print, which can be expensive in comparison to traditional molding and casting.
6. PROs of scanning and printing: there is no contact with the object, complex geometry is not a problem, the scans and volumetric rendering are dimensionally accurate, you can print in lots of materials; prints can be scaled to make large things handleable or small things more robust for handling or increase visibility; subtractive manufacture, in which you can use a computerized milling machine to cut out a positive or negative, is also a possibility.
7. CONs of scanning and printing: printing is slow, the build volume is limited, a non-traditional skill set is required of conservators to produce the final product, and only a few materials age well. The best material is sintered nylon, extruded polyester may also be safe, but it doesn’t take paint well; it is hard to get the industry to think about permanence.
The object at the center of this project was a Magdalenian skull. The skeleton itself is of considerable importance, because it is the only magdalenian era skeleton of almost completion. A little history: it was excavated, quite professionally, in 1911 when they lowered the floor of the site. Unfortunately the burial was discovered when someone hit the skull with a pickax. Needless to say, the skull did not come out in one piece. In 1915 the full skeleton was removed in two blocks. My notes are a little fuzzy here, but basically at some point between the excavation the skull was restored and then went from being 2 pieces to 6 pieces, as it is documented in a 1932 publication by von Bonen. It appears that at that point the skull was also skin coated with plaster. Thankfully (?) those repairs have held up. Great, so why, did they need to scan and reconstruct the skull? Well according to Dr. Robert Martin, JP’s colleague at the Field Museum, the skull doesn’t look anatomically correct. Apparently during the time period when it was put together there was an interest in race and the skull fragments could have been lined up incorrectly accentuating cultural assumptions.

Previous condition documentation image
Previous condition documentation image

One image slice from the CT scan
One image slice from the CT scan

A previous x-ray showed that two fragments in the forehead are secured with a metal pin. In 2012, when the mobile CT scanner came to the museum, they were all geared up to start with the Magdalenian skull. Unfortunately there was not much difference in attenuation between bone and plaster making it tricky to define between the two materials in the scans. JP consulted a cranial reconstruction group and asked them to pretend this was a pediatric car crash victim with a cranial injury; they asked, why aren’t you using the mimics software package?
In this scanner, the object sits on a rotating table, while the source and detector stay still. Since these are fixed, a full scan has to be done in parts depending on the size of the object.
In this scanner, the object sits on a rotating table, while the source and detector stay still. Since these are fixed, a full scan has to be done in parts depending on the size of the objec

JP and his team also imaged the skull with a micro CT scan that has a 0.1 mm resolution versus the normal modern setting of 0.3 mm. They had previously identified 36 fragments of bone from the previous scan. It was hard to tell if some of those separations were just cracks or actual breaks between fragments. The hope was that the micro CT scanner could better define these areas. The micro CT scanner works opposite to the industrial/medical scanner. As you can see in the image to the left, the tube and detector are fixed, while the sample is rotated. Other differences are that it is slower, one scan takes 30-90 minutes and because of scanner geometry the skull had to be imaged in two scans . Because of this, JP used the previous scan to mill out a contoured support to hold the skull in the exact position. JP noted that digitally filling in the holes of the skull to create the support was the most time consuming part of that process and suggests using different radio-opaque marker dots to identify left and right for orientation during the later stitching process. With the new scans at least three separations were identified as cracks vs. breaks.
Now for the virtual reconstruction… the biggest obstacle in this stage was how to achieve something more anatomically correct using the virtual fragments when they have no boundaries. The fragments don’t push back in the computer- and the fragments can easily move into each other. With the software JP used mostly the translation and rotation functions and the free animation software Blender (which has a high learning curve and took several days to get accustomed to) to create hierarchical parent child relationships between the fragments as he joined them together. Just like putting a vessel together, right? In the virtual world at least there is no worry about lockout. They had a 3D printed of the final skull reconstruction and had an artist do facial reconstruction, which JP thinks always look related to Jean Luc Picard… So how successful was this? From a conservation perspective- awesome, it’s fully reversible! Scientifically though, it’s decent, well documented and scientifically justifiable- However, someone else could go through the same process and come up with a different reconstruction because of their reliance on left right symmetry for this reconstruction…
Creating the virtual reconstruction
Creating the virtual reconstruction

Comparison of the current restoration and the virtual restoration
Comparison of the current restoration (left) and the virtual restoration (right)

So what did I take away from this talk? This was a very cool project and if I have a question about CT scanning and 3D renderings, I will call JP! The scans can be extremely informational and there seems to be a lot of potential in their use for mount-making, crates, and storage, and possibly virtual reconstructions. Hopefully at some point in the future the software will become more intuitive and easier to use so that more of these types of projects can be done.

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.

AIC’s 39th Annual Meeting, Book and Paper Group afternoon sessions, June 3

Investigating Crayon Removal from Paper Based Japanese Prints

Hsin-Chen Tsai, Andrew W. Mellon Conservation Fellow, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Problem: Crayon “graffiti” on 20th century Japanese prints by Munakata Shiko. The prints were mounted to screens, and the graffiti appeared at about 4 ft. from the ground—around the same height as a child. Unlike graffiti on a painted wall, however, crayon does not come off of printed paper quite as easily.

Experiment: Mock-ups were created with Japanese paper, printed with black sumi ink, then colored over with both waxed-based and water soluble crayons. Possible solvents were chosen from the wax section on the Teas diagram and included petroleum ether, mineral spirits, toluene and xylene. These solvents were tested in three situations:

  1. Solvent on a swab
  2. A bath of water and solvent, followed by blotting of the stain
  3. Damp blotter surface with local application of moisture and solvent, followed by blotting of the stain


  1. Solvents alone did not reduce crayon to a satisfactory level; mineral spirits created a transparent stain visible through the paper
  2. With the bath, it was impossible to control the amount of solvent used, but the overall result was positive
  3. Crayon was lifted locally, but also migrated along with solvents to form tidelines

The ultimate solution was the use of a water-based treatment with toluene and xylene, such as that used in Experiment 2. For best results, Hsin-Chen suggested first manually reducing the graffiti with a kneaded eraser and scalpel.


Lynn Brostoff, Library of Congress

The Relationship Between Inherent Material Evidence in Cultural Heritage and Preservation Treatment Planning

Lynn Brostoff, PhD and Fenella France, PhD, Preservation Research and Testing Division, Preservation Directorate, Library of Congress

Problem: A 1513 edition of Ptolemy’s Geographia was in poor condition, and puzzled conservators as to its history. Lynn set out to answer many questions, including: what was causing seven of the forty-seven maps to deteriorate?

Experiment: Using XRF, the pigments and paper were analyzed on maps of both good and poor condition, and in various areas of the sheet.

Results: Maps in poor condition contained Fe and Cu—two elements that cause the degradation of cellulose—as wells as K, S and Al—elements that together form potash alum. The pulp repairs and gutters of these pages, however, did not contain such elements and remained in good condition. It was decided that the paper quality used in these cases was poor, requiring a past restorer to “strengthen” the bound papers with a potash alum solution; gutters were not coated, and mends were made with untreated pulp.

This information, along with the result that one of the green pigments contains copper, answers the question about the differing quality in the maps, and also informs conservators for treatment planning.


Light Bleaching: Scientific Investigation of Various Effects on Different Properties of Several Old Papers

Marion Verborg, Paper Conservation Fellow, Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts

Problem: As part of her graduate conservation program at the Sorbonne, Marion carried out research on the history and effects of light bleaching.

Experiment: Using an array of papers of varying quality (wood pulp and rag paper) and age (from late 19th c. to present day), Marion created test strips and subjected them to different conditions:

  1. A 25 min. wash in condition water
  2. A 4 hr. wash in conditioned water
  3. Washed in conditioned water, dried, then exposed to light
  4. Washed in conditioned water for 4 hrs, then exposed to light while still immersed in the bath

The paper samples were aged in an oven before undergoing a serious of tests including pH, tensile strength, color, and degree of polymerization.

Results: Light exposure in dry conditions can be extremely damaging to paper, all wood pulp papers become weak and yellow over time no matter what the level of treatment, and light bleaching is generally an efficient treatment for rag papers because it produced an aesthetically pleasing result without harming the paper extensively.

**Comments/questions from the audience:

  • Does the hydrogen bonding need to be reset after treatment?
  • Magnesium can be used as a substitute for calcium when conditioning water baths, and produces better results after aging
  • Paper needs to be rinsed thoroughly (3 times) after bleaching to prevent color reversion


A Comparison of the Use of Sodium Metabisulfite and Sodium Dithionite for Removing Rust Stains from Paper

Seth Irwin, Alaska Paper Conservation

Problem: While conducting a treatment on a highly rust stained paper document in Petersburg, AK, Seth discovered sodium dithionite (SD) as a reducing agent to convert insoluble Fe (III) into soluble Fe (II). The setback: dithionite is expensive and toxic, and could not be shipped to the location before his treatment deadline.

Experiment: What is a suitable alternative for SD? With one more oxygen, sodium metabisulfite (SM) is a less expensive and non-hazardous option commonly used in wine making. In order to test SM as a viable solution, Seth rusted up some paper, and then used both SM and SD solutions (separately, with EDTA as the chelating agent) to create a comparison.


SD- best when cost is no issue ($7.00 for a 1 liter 5% bath); requires ventilation and HAZMAT shipping, but removes corrosion in 4-6 hours.

SM- cheaper ($1.20 for a 1 liter 10% bath); takes longer, and only removes light to medium stains, but could possibly be done on a suction table rather than in a bath if there are chemically sensitive areas of the paper.

**Comments/questions from the audience:

  • A commercial product called White Brite exists, and may also remove rust stains in paper.


Treatment of an Oversize Rare Book: Research and Decisions on Rebinding (Pre-program Student Paper)

Evelyn Mayberger, Intern, National Museum of the American Indian; Betty Fiske, Historic Odessa Foundation; Michelle Biddle, Olin Library, Wesleyan University; Abigail Quandt, Walters Art Museum

Problem: Cosimo Bartoli’s book The Architecture of Leon Batista Alberti, in Ten Books, of Painting, in Three Books, and of Statuary in One Book was in poor condition and required stabilization. With this opportunity at hand, pre-program intern Evelyn Mayberger worked with Betty Fiske at the Historic Odessa Foundation to research the history of the book before treatment.

Treatment: Evelyn visited several collections to learn about the types of bindings used for this book, and how conservators had approached their treatment decisions. After consulting with Abigail Quandt and Michelle Biddle, Evelyn and Betty spent a total of 462 hours on the treatment of the book, including washing, tape removal, sun bleaching, mends and infills, guarding, sewing, lining and board covering (!) Oversized plates that had been sewn into the binding were restored to fold outs, and the binding was returned to what Evelyn deemed historically appropriate.

Results: It was discovered that all editions of the book had been re-bound, and most contained 6-7 sewing stations. Also of note, the first edition was printed in parallel Italian and English, which caused later editions to include all plates facing recto.


For more notes on these talks, and others, please visit Preservation & Conservation Administration News.

39th Annual Meeting – Architecture Session, June 3, “Assessment and Characterization of the Architectural Metal Finishes at Fort Moultrie: A Successful Student-Scientist Collaboration” by Stéphanie A. Cretté, Lisa M. Nasanen and Néstor G. González-Pereyra, Clemson Conservation Center, Warren Lasch Laboratory; and Frances H. Ford, Clemson University/College of Charleston Graduate Program in Historic Preservation

Amelia Millar from the Clemson University/College of Charleston Program in Historic Preservation, and Stéphanie A. Cretté from the Clemson Conservation Center presented a two-part paper on a graduate-level project at Fort Moultrie National Monument near Charleston, SC.  Millar presented the student portion of the work, while Cretté presented the analytical research.

The project entailed a survey of metals in a portion of the Fort Moultrie site, owned by the National Park Service.  Students from the Clemson University/College of Charleston program performed a survey of all existing metals, both architectural metals and the metal objects on site, and assessed the condition of the metals.  They took paint samples to determine the chemical composition of the paint so that NPS can develop a strategy to safely remove any lead-containing paint while preserving the metal substrates.  The students did most of the field work and tested paint-removal methods, then collaborated with scientists from the Clemson Conservation Center on SEM-EDS and Raman analysis of the paints.  Most of the scientific portion of the presentation was about the analytical techniques and why they were used for this application.

The paper was interesting, but I would have liked to have learned more about the researchers’ findings and the various treatment recommendations put forward by the students.  It would have also been interesting to learn whether the NPS has implemented or plans to implement any of the student recommendations.  Nevertheless, it was a good collaborative project that seems to have benefited the students and scientists alike.