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.

45th Annual Meeting – Book and Paper Session, “Less is More/Recapturing the Subtleties” by Adam Novak

For the first BPG Session of a treatment-themed AIC Conference this year, Adam Novak, a paper conservator at Daria K. Conservation, LLC in New York gave his presentation on a topic that is very important but not often discussed in the field: using one’s senses to determine the appropriate treatment for an item. With a multitude of treatment options available, the conservator is (ideally) able to control the outcome and intensity of the treatment by understanding the effects of time, moisture, conductivity, and expansion on the item. Adam referred to the thorough research and presentation at last year’s AIC meeting by Amy Hughes and Michelle Sullivan on minimally invasive treatments using gels as an example of how the conservator can control the treatment.

The primary concern in conservation is obviously the effectiveness of a treatment, but the possible repercussions of the treatment on an object in the future is a concern. Adam spoke of how every treatment carries with it both risks and benefits, and as conservators we can control how invasive (and how effective) we would like a treatment to be. Drawing from conservation’s relatively short past, it is apparent that reversibility is key and often “less is more.” The less invasive the treatment, the better the longevity for the object. This is of course balanced with the efficacy of the treatment as well, which Adam mentioned.

Adam gave a few examples of different paper treatments involving different kinds of media in excellent detail, describing how he approached each object with the idea that one’s “senses are as important as the science.” Which is to say, if you can detect the subtleties of the paper surface, quality of the ink, etc. then you are more able to control your treatment in such a way to retain the integrity of the work. Ideally, if the conservator is honed in on the subtleties of the item being treated, then the overall outcome of the treatment will have little trace of invasion. This quote was integral to the message of the presentation, and appeared twice(!):

As the treatment “toolbox” grows and changes moving in to the future, taking a closer look at qualities of an item to be retained after its treatment and cleaning will become more important and certainly more achievable.

45th Annual Meeting – Book and Paper Session, June 1, “Sidewalks, Circles, and Stars: Reviving the Legacy of Sari Dienes,” by Samantha Sheesley

“Marcy,” Sari Dienes, mid-1950s

As a library conservator, I enjoy breaking out of my niche by attending art-related talks, because it gets me back in touch with my roots as an artist once upon a time. I knew Samantha’s talk was not to be missed. She has shown through previous research that the conservation of modern and contemporary art on paper is exciting, as you often have a more direct link to the artists when treating their work. While the Hungarian-born artist Sari Dienes (1898-1992) is no longer living, I was confident Samantha would still get to know the intricacies of this unique artist thoroughly. There has never been a better, more urgent time to focus on the influence and mastery of women artists as it is now, in our current political climate, where suppression of the female voice rises as a concern once again. Samantha’s timely and engaging talk grabbed my attention not only for its focus on an unsung 20th century female artist but for the way Samantha, paper conservator at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA), throws herself into her projects wholeheartedly.

By now many colleagues have heard about Samantha’s research and treatment of original artwork by the tattoo artist “Sailor Jerry” during her time as paper conservator at CCAHA. I admired how much her work on this project became a part of her, literally and professionally. The tattoos she took away as a permanent “souvenir” of this work, on her own skin, really left an impact on me. Having overlapped with her in grad school at Buffalo, I remember how much Samantha loves her work and shows a special curiosity. Samantha’s project on Sari Dienes’ large-scale rubbings was no exception.

While Dienes worked in many mediums and styles throughout her lifetime, Samantha presented Dienes’ rubbings of manhole covers, which she created using brayer-applied ink on Webril – a material used in the medical field as padding between skin and cast. While Webril today is commonly 100% cotton, it was not in the past, and the fiber composition of the Webril Dienes used was not recorded. True to her immersive spirit, Samantha travelled to the Sari Dienes Foundation in Pomona, NY, where she was able to collect historic samples of materials from the artist’s collection to use for testing and analysis. She explained that identification is not resolved as she seeks colleagues with fiber samples she might use for comparison, since her reference library did not provide a match to her FTIR analysis.

Samantha Sheesley creates a rubbing of a manhole cover in the style of Dienes

In her presentation, Samantha led the audience on a manhole scavenger hunt through the streets of NYC, where she traced Dienes’ steps at the artist’s preferred working time, Sundays at 5am. Samantha wondered how Dienes navigated the city streets with all her required bulky supplies, and explained that Jasper Johns sometimes served as her assistant. Dienes would talk to people passing by on the street as she worked, which is inevitable in the extroverted city of New York. To get a sense of the physical work required, Samantha produced rubbings in the same manner as the artist.

It’s impressive how well-connected Dienes was to artists of the time, but because she was a woman, she was not well-liked or accepted by the many of her male contemporaries. Jackson Pollock spoke poorly of her, but she collaborated with Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg for an exhibit in the Bonwit Teller department store in 1955. The VMFA acquired two of the manhole rubbings that were at Bonwit Teller, which were in poor condition. One of the pieces Samantha focused on is titled “Marcy.” It was stapled to an acidic cardboard backing, which subsequently discolored the Webril, along with displaying many other condition problems.

Samantha Sheesley treats “Marcy” at the VMFA

The goal was to repair Dienes’ work in order to restore her legacy and display all the manhole rubbings together again. After much testing on samples, Samantha decided to wash the delicate Webril supports using wet Tech Wipe, and created over 70 inserts using acrylic-toned Hanji adhered with methyl cellulose. Pastel pencils were used for visual integration. The work was logistically challenging and time consuming, to say the least, but the audience was able to see clearly how much care was taken with excellent results depicted in Samantha’s treatment photos.

I was thrilled to be exposed to an artist I never heard of, but who was in fact so very influential. Samantha explained that Dienes’ work not only influenced Rauschenberg and Johns, but was associated with Fluxus artists such as a personal favorite, Naim June Paik. Dienes believed any material could be used to create a work of art and to end her presentation, Samantha shared an inspiring Dienes quote that deserves to be passed along: “Spirit lives in everything. It has no age, no color, no sex.” Samantha should feel proud of sharing the life and work of a woman who influenced many, while standing in the shadows of history. One of our greatest responsibilities and joys as conservators is to repair artifacts so that silenced voices can be heard once again. Samantha continues this charge with admirable determination.

45th Annual Meeting – BPG, Art on Paper Discussion Group, June 1, “Multiple Perspectives on the Treatment of Multiples”

Multiple Perspectives on the Treatment of Multiples: Innovative thinking on the conservation of prints

Participants: Judy Walsh, Anisha Gupta, Sarah Bertalan, presenters; Rachel Freeman, Cyntia Karnes, Harriet Stratis, moderators.

This panel offered three presentations followed by a discussion that touched on how we define a group of multiples, how we determine treatment goals and exhibition parameters for the group (i.e. by looking at other examples of the same impressions or by broadening our research to include similar works), and whether or not we should strive to apply consistent treatment protocols to each object in the group.

Judy Walsh, former professor of paper conservation at Buffalo State, presented the complex and nuanced treatments of three fifteenth century copperplate engravings carried out at the National Gallery of Art. Though these works were not identical impressions, nor were they by the same artist, she identified them as belonging to the same “cohort,” meaning that they shared the characteristics of age, materials, process, and in this case, a long tradition of scholarly reference and interpretation. An impression of St. Michael Defeating the Devils from 1467 by the Master E.S. is one of only five known to exist and Man in a Fantastic Helmet c. 1470/80 is unique. The third print, The Virgin and Child by Mantegna c. 1470, was drawing particular attention due to recent revelations about its condition. Ms. Walsh outlined the restrictions placed on all three treatments by NGA curators who were concerned that the prints might deviate too much from their long-published, damaged appearances.

Though the curators at first sought minimal treatment with little to no cosmetic compensation, in each case Ms. Walsh described how she was able to present a logical argument for reducing distracting damages and finding reversible methods of completing each image based on her research into other works in the cohort. Ultimately, her creative solutions allowed the prints to retain their status as time-honored works that presented indelible marks of storied pasts, while at the same time, she was able to stabilize each work and align it more closely with the visual standard of other fifteenth century prints presented in the Gallery.

Sarah Bertalan, conservator in private practice, presented several interesting observations that she has made over the years regarding multiples printed on Van Gelder Zonen, Arches, Rives, Montval, and MBM papers. These papers all have unique characteristics and respond to treatment differently. For many nineteenth century artists in particular, Japanese papers, Arches papers, and aged papers were desirable for printing etchings and drypoints. Sometimes the publishers of artists’ editions selected papers, and some papers were marketed by their manufacturers for specific applications. Rives BFK was originally produced for photographic mounts, for example. Depending on their intended function, these papers could be bulked with fillers, additives, and/or colorants such as yellow ocher or titanium dioxide. Ms. Bertalan wanted to stress that we often don’t know what is in a paper and shouldn’t assume that we can tell by looking or testing in a discrete area only.

Common problems that she has noticed include the development of white spots, generally referred to as “reverse foxing” when Van Gelder Zonen papers are subjected to aqueous treatment, certain Somerset papers preferred by artists like Hockney and Freud turn yellow when they are placed in contact with alkaline material, and some Arches sheets, initially white or off-white, can turn a buff/yellow color over time. This she suspects is due to the presence of titanium dioxide, which is a photocatalyst.

Ms. Bertalan suggested that we don’t necessarily know how or have the means to detect all of the components of any given paper, and that typical treatments may not really be addressing the root of their problems. This lack of understanding can result in reversion or reappearance of stains post-treatment.

Anisha Gupta, Mellon Fellow at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco gave the final presentation of the panel in which she presented a case study of her treatment of 24 Ben Shahn lithographs that had all received extensive, but differential light exposure over the course of 23 years. All were printed on Arches ‘cover’ paper that was specifically manufactured for printing. In this case, all of the works in the group were going to be shown together and moreover, the meaning of each print was directly influenced by those on either side.

Working with a curator, Ms. Gupta determined that light bleaching would be the best course of treatment and what the optimal paper tone would be. She used a spectrophotometer to establish baseline L* values for each of the 24 works, but she said that ultimately as treatment progressed, a sense of unity was more easily achieved visually than numerically. The treatment involved bathing and light bleaching in increments of 3 hours. Though she did note that spectrophotometer readings taken of each work after treatment confirmed that the prints’ L* values had converged.

Following the three presentations, the moderators solicited questions from the audience and initiated a conversation.

Peggy Ellis, Professor of Paper Conservation at NYU, asked Ms. Gupta how she and the curator arrived at the “right color” for the paper tone of the Shahn prints and if she could remember some of the terminology that the curator had used to describe that paper tone. Ms. Gupta replied that the curator had repeatedly referred to the lightstruck prints as ‘dingy,’ and that she would like them to look “more alive.” The optimal paper tone was based on the maximum lightness that could be achieved by light bleaching the darkest paper for a set amount of time. Ms. Gupta mentioned that she thought that at some point, the treatment had hit a plateau and that had further lightening been desirable, she may have explored chemical bleaches, pH changes, or exposing the versos of the prints.

With the general topic of the risk of over-bleaching circulating, Judy Walsh speculated that many 15th century prints that look so bright white today may have been treated to a different standard (what we might now consider over-treating) in the past. She then raised the question of how to integrate current treatment standards and ethics when the challenge is to visually unify works that belong to a cohort.

Sylvia Albro, Paper Conservator at the Library of Congress, brought up the fact that many 15th century prints that have not been removed from bindings are quite white, and that contemporary books in good condition might be useful standards of reference when trying to determine “original” paper tones.

Ms. Walsh also stressed that when trying to determine how prints should look, our own experiences and visual memories are our best assets as conservators. For that reason we should be making more efforts to talk to colleagues in the field, especially those in private practice and at regional centers because they have seen and treated a volume and variety of objects that a museum conservator does not typically experience.

Antoinette Owen, Head of Paper Conservation at the Art Institute of Chicago, offered her personal experience with Van Gelder Zonen papers, saying that there is definitely “something in them” that cannot be identified with XRF, and that whatever it is causes white spots to develop when they are exposed to moisture. Ms Bertalan said that it is unlikely that you would find a measurable difference because the staining is not necessarily related to a higher concentration of iron. She put forth one theory, that perhaps during long print runs paper may have been left to soak for days prior to printing. This situation could lead to fungal growth or other latent changes. Joan Weir, Paper Conservator at the Art Gallery of Ontario, chimed in to say that as a printmaker, she had witnessed some colleagues adding formaldehyde or other biocides to their baths to prevent mold.

Shifting topics slightly, Harriet Stratis, Senior Research Conservator at the Art Institute of Chicago asked for peoples’ approaches to showing (or not showing) individual prints that are part of a series. She wanted to know how other people managed opportunities for differential exposure. Victoria Binder, Associate Conservator at the Fine Art Museums of San Francisco, replied that her institution had recently required half of an Andy Warhol edition requested for exhibition to be swapped with its counterpart halfway through the show so that all prints in the series received equal exposure. This seemed to be a common practice.

Ultimately, the consensus in the room seemed to be that a centralized library of treatment protocols and results would be invaluable. At this, an impassioned plea went up to submit text and images to the Book and Paper Wiki. To contribute to the wiki, contact BPG Wiki Coordinators, Katherine Kelly and Denise Stockman.




44th Annual Meeting & 42nd Annual Conference—Book and Paper Session, 15 May 2016: "Careful Consideration: Learning to Conserve a Kashmiri Birch-bark Manuscript," by Crystal Maitland

Waxing philosophical (in her own words) about the nature of treatment, her musings inspired by a unique Kashmiri birch bark manuscript, Crystal Maitland provided a holistic look at the considerations for and process of treating an object outside the normal range of paper conservation expertise.
In sharing her experiences treating this manuscript, Maitland observed that unusual projects provide opportunities to reflect on our everyday treatments as well—those which are well within our skill sets and comfort zone of interventions. Both the AIC and CAC ethics statements require conservators to recognize and work within their limits [AIC: “limits of personal competence and education”; CAC: “limits of his/her professional competence and facilities”]. So when presented with a treatment that requires us to move outside of that range of interventions, how do we ethically expand the limits of our skill sets?
Maitland suggested that we turn first to the expertise of others, via published literature and the knowledge of colleagues; in the case of the Kashmiri manuscript, while treatment information was scarce, she was able to draw on information about the materials and cultural context to begin to first understand the manuscript and then shape a plan. This amassing of information included both material and intangible aspects of the manuscript and consideration of potential audiences for the manuscript.
A primary question she posed in this stage was, why was this text written on birch bark? Common substrates of the period were inappropriate (parchment, made from animal skin, would be antithetical to the Hindu sacred text it would support) or unavailable (papyrus, for example, is not found in the region). The isolated location, however, has copious quantities of Himalayan birch, making it a logical choice. The composition of the bark also proved relevant. The early annual growth, light in color, contains botulin, an antifungal agent that may have contributed to its survival; the later annual growth, dark-colored, is rich in tannins. The characteristic striping of birch bark is due to the presence of transpiration nodes called lenticels.
Clues to the manufacture of the manuscript were also carefully observed and informed the eventual treatment. The individual leaves were laminated together, some naturally (i.e., the layers were harvested together, giving a matched pattern of lenticels) and others artificially (i.e., the layers were grouped after the harvest, with distinct, mismatched lenticel patterns). These manuscript pages were delaminating, the bark layers separating and sometimes torn, and also exhibited a waxy efflorescence, in addition to heavy soiling, curling, and tears along the edges.
Having established a baseline for the composition, manufacture, and condition of the manuscript, Maitland felt comfortable formulating and pursuing a course of treatment. The intervention ultimately drew on her research and careful consideration of the manuscript to make treatment decisions. Surface cleaning with a smoke sponge and cold deionized water was followed by relaxing the curling edges of the leaves with methanol vapor chambers. Mending utilized wheat starch paste of a lining consistency and Japanese paper for tears, placing the repair tissue between the layers of the birch bark where possible. Damaged lenticels were mended with toned tissue for additional structural support to the leaves where necessary. With access being a driving force behind the treatment, the entire manuscript was digitized; the manuscript was then interleaved with polyester film sleeves for safe handling in consultation, and stored in custom boxes.
Returning to the questions she posed at the beginning, Maitland suggested that conservators can expand their limits, ethically, by learning from colleagues, including published professional literature; by testing treatment options, carefully observing the results, and proceeding accordingly; by engaging in holistic thinking about cultural heritage and considering the intangible aspects alongside the materiality; and by playing to our strengths, or making the most use out of the techniques and skills that we already know and possess.
Maitland’s treatment and her process for developing it certainly provided food for thought. The intimate look at an unusual intervention combined with an exploration of how to expand our skill sets while respecting ethical limits encouraged reflection on our treatment processes for more routine treatments. Ultimately, I came away from this talk with the conviction that the way I approach treatment should not depend on the uniqueness or visual appeal of an item, but rather that each object deserves a respectful and appropriate treatment.

44th Annual Meeting- Book and Paper, May 17th, 2016: "A Protocol to Conserve Glazed Paper after a Water Damage." by Celine Allain

This talk was given by Céline Allain of the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF), after the lead author, Lucille Dessennes, also of the BnF, was unable to attend the conference.
In 2014, a pipe burst in the BnF, causing damage to 12,000 books, mostly from the 18th and 19th centuries. 360 of these 12,000 items contained coated papers, and when the disaster salvage/freeze drying contractors arrived on the scene, they would not accept books with coated pages for treatment.
The emergency team at the BnF instead had to use 6 freezers at the BnF to freeze-dry the 360 books with coated pages, although 51 of the 360 were too dry to be freeze-dried. Allain spoke to how difficult it was for the emergency team to accurately identify which books had coated pages—whether because the feel and look of the papers can vary or there might only be a few coated papers in a volume— and encouraged the audience to train emergency response teams to recognize coated papers beforehand. The difference is rarely as easy to identify as in the graphic below:

Image from
Image from

A common theme through the talk was the importance of keeping coated papers wet until they can be frozen. Even in the 2-3 hours it took the emergency team to arrive and place books in freezers, a number of books with coated papers had to be frozen “half-dried,” which limited the recovery outcome for these books. Had the books been kept wet and then frozen wet, they would have fared better.
Allain addressed the makeup of coated papers in order to explain why the pages should be kept wet: the coating (a mixture of pigments, binders, and other elements to improve opacity or water resistance) swells in the presence of water, readily attaches to the wet coatings of facing pages, and congeals into a “block” of stuck pages upon drying that cannot be separated without delamination of the paper surface. When the coated papers are still in a wet state, however, the pages can still be separated without loss of content.
The standard treatment for drying coated papers is freeze-drying (see below Further information), as long as there it is not a vacuum-thermal drying procedure. This allows the frozen water to sublimate.
For the 51 books that had been frozen half-dry, however, there were some that had blocked pages that needed to be un-blocked. The authors adapted a number of treatments to the books, including using a Teflon spatula to separate pages while still frozen. 
The authors knew from previous research into the paper industry that the main binding agent in the papers was styrene-butadien latex (LSB in French, SB latex in English), which is soluble in tetrahydrofuran. Because the tetrahydrofuran’s toxicity made it too dangerous for use, Allain and Dessennes consulted the solubility triangle to arrive at a less toxic solvent. Using a mixture of toluene and ethanol (50/50 vol/vol), the conservators were able to attain equivalent solubility parameters and un-stick blocked pages of the affected books. The conservators brushed on the mixture, softening the SB latex, and then used a stiff spatula to separate the pages. The work is done in a fume hood. The authors noted that a large drawback is that the solvent can only be applied to specific areas of blockage and cannot be used on a large area or an entire book because the inks are frequently soluble in the solvent mixture.
Dessennes experimented with using the solvent in a solvent chamber, but speculates that because of the thickness of the block, that the vapors could not penetrate the interstices of the paper. Because of the limitations of the solvent applied as a liquid and in vapor form, Allain and Dessennes have plans to experiment with the solvent used in a low pressure environment.
Further information:
“Effet de la lyophilisation sur le comportement mecanique et chimique du papier, du cuir et du parchemin” Flieder, Francoise; Leclerc, Françoise; Chahine, Claire
Carlsen, Soren. “Effects of Freeze drying on Paper,” IADA Preprints, 1999, p. 115-120.
David Tremain on Emergency Drying of Coated Papers
NEDCC leaflet on Freeze-Drying:
CCAHA on freeze-drying techniques:
NARA on efficacy drying techniques:
LOC on drying techniques, what to do if collections get wet:

44th Annual Meeting & 42nd Annual Conference – Book and Paper Session, May 15, “All Over the Map: Bringing Buffalo’s Stars of Cartography to Light (One Lining at a Time) by Stephanie Porto

Stephanie Porto, Owner and Paper Conservator at Niagara Art Conservation, presented an engaging talk on the conservation of maps depicting the rapid growth of Buffalo, New York from 1805 to 1909, which were exhibited in “You Are Here: Buffalo on the Map.” Stephanie’s talk perfectly balanced the technical treatment aspects with contextual information on the maps themselves.

Image and exhibition outline found on:
Image and exhibition outline found on:

Stephanie outlined the history and interesting facts of each map requiring conservation treatment. From the 1833 map, which detailed the area one year after Buffalo had been incorporated as a city, to the 1847 map which demonstrated the increase in commerce on the lake, and the 1893 Christian Homestead Association map, which included the salacious representation of 75 houses of ill fame.
Their conservation treatment needed to be completed in a limited timeline, and while six out of eight of the maps required linings due to poor quality paper, Stephanie found that traditional wet paste lining was not going to be possible in most cases. She included some great references that she had consulted on dry lining techniques:
Sheesley, Samantha. 2011. “Practical Applications of Lascaux Acrylic Dispersions in Paper Conservation”. The Book and Paper Group Annual 30: 79-81.
Jamison, Jamye. 2013. “Tip: Lascaux Linings in the Treatment of Park Plans for the Cleveland Public Library”. The Book and Paper Group Annual 32: 82-83.
Stephanie’s lining mock ups initially had an issue with sheen and planarity, but she was able to solve both problems using cellulose powder and a combination of Lascaux 303 HV and 498 HV. She outlined the specs of each adhesive, noting their difference in sealing temperatures (498 HV is higher) and final film elastic description (498 HV is hard and 303 HV is tacky). Stephanie described her preparation of the lining paper, beginning with rolling a 2:1 Lascaux 498 HV and 303 HV mixture onto silicone release Mylar with a brayer, allowing to dry, and ironing the dried adhesive film onto the lining paper, and using a printmaking baren to apply pressure after the film and paper were cooled. The map was placed recto up and the prepared lining paper was aligned underneath, the sandwich was flipped and smoothed by hand, then ironed from the center out. After being cooled, the lined map was pressed between Tycore panels. She then discussed the specific treatments of particular maps requiring linings.
The 1850 map depicting an 1805 Buffalo rendered in ink on watercolor paper required the removal of pressure sensitive tape, suction washing and cleaning, dry lining, and overall stretch-mounting.
The 1888 relief printed map could not withstand a backing removal, and so the treatment went forward with consolidation of delaminated paper with wheat starch paste set with a tacking iron, and a dry lining was applied with the original textile backing still in place.
The 1909 relief printed map was heavily water-damaged and retained evidence of previous conservation intervention. The map was consolidated with methyl cellulose, and was lined overall with the backing still in place with a Beva 371 film, and stretch mounted onto a foam board.
The 1893 color lithograph map required the removal of pressure sensitive tape, a temporary facing of 4% w/v Klucel G in ethanol during the backing removal, and a dry lining.
The 1833 hand colored lithograph was in the poorest condition with many detached fragments and a varnish layer. After the varnish was removed with ethanol, and the same temporary facing was applied, the backing was removed dry and the verso was then sanded to remove the adhesive residue. After lining with the Japanese tissue Okowara, the backing paper itself was hand toned with acrylics to integrate losses.
All the temporary facings were removed and loss compensation was completed by pouncing the Japanese tissue with cellulose powder and dry pigments. Finally, we got to see an excellent use of old chemistry textbooks in the pressing and flattening of the maps!

44th Annual Meeting—Book and Paper Session, May 16, “A Low-Oxygen Capable Storage and Display Case for the Proclamation of the Constitution Act & Design of a Counterbalance Supporting Mount for the Book of Remembrance, Michael Smith and Eric Hagan

A Low-Oxygen Capable Storage and Display Case for the Proclamation of the Constitution Act
The first half of the talk was presented by Michael Smith, Collection Manager, Textual and Cartographic, Unpublished and Unbound, Library and Archives Canada, who discussed the construction of storage and display cases for the two original copies of the Proclamation of the Constitution Act.
There are two original copies of the important document, sometimes referred to as the “raindrop” and the “red-stain” copies. It was raining on April 17, 1982 when Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau signed the Proclamation of the Constitution Act outdoors, and raindrops smudged the ink on one copy. The other copy, signed later indoors, was pristine until July 22, 1983 when Peter Greyson, a young art student from Toronto, requested to see the document at the Public Archives of Canada under the pretense of studying its design and calligraphy. As he leaned over the document, a pool of red substance spread over its surface. This was later found to be red paint coming from an Elmers glue bottle hidden in Greyson’s coat pocket. Greyson had defaced the Proclamation of the Constitution Act to protest a decision allowing the United States to test cruise missiles over Canadian air space. Conservation attempts to remove the stain from the paper were unsuccessful, and while suggestions were made to cut out the damaged area and replace it with a newly inscribed piece, the decision was made to keep the stain rather than carryout out a procedure would affect the document’s authenticity and integrity. The act of vandalism was the first time a document in the Public Archives of Canada had been willfully damaged, dramatically changing security and viewing procedures at the Archives.
The inks on both copies of the document were tested for light sensitivity, and studies concluded that the ink was extremely light sensitive. While designing the case for the Act in collaboration with CCI, Michael decided to segregate preservation components from security components, reasoning that it was stored in a secure vault for the majority of the time where security requirements would be fulfilled. The storage case with built-in compartments for silica gel and activated charcoal was designed to control humidity and oxygen levels, using OptiView™ UV filter/anti-glare glass to reduce UV levels. The document was secured in place using custom magnetic clips. The case was fitted with a Marvelseal® bag that expanded or contracted in relation to the atmospheric pressure in order to reduce stress on the glass. A display case was then designed to limit light exposure and for security during exhibition, using a layer of security glass, VariGuard Smart Glass™, and a top layer of glass for scratch protection. The VariGuard Smart Glass™ remains opaque to block light levels until a button is pressed to make the glass clear. In combination, the storage and display case made up two halves of one system for the security and preservation of the documents.
Design of a Counterbalance Supporting Mount for the Book of Remembrance
Eric Hagan, a conservation scientist at CCI in the Preservation Services Division, presented the second half of the talk on the design of mounts for seven books of remembrances displayed in the Memorial Chamber on Parliament Hill. A high profile project to craft six new altars for the books using stone, bronze and glass led to a condition assessment of the books by Christine McNair, who recommended a better support system for the books when displayed. As the pages of the books are turned daily during the Turning of the Page Ceremony, the books have to be fully movable and go through a range of motion. To provide suitable support for these working books was a fascinating design challenge.
The counterbalance support system for the First World War book served as an inspiration for the versions used to support the remaining books. Eric’s new design relied on a linkage connection using four bars to form a gravity-activated mechanism, mirroring the motion of the book while the leaves were being turned. The low-profile mounts were each made of 24 pieces of custom-made aluminium parts and other parts sourced from outside Canada. A different design for each book had to be made due to varying dimensions. A surface of bonded Volara® foam was used to provide cushioning for the books. Eric ended his talk by describing the completion of the mounts with a black powder-coated fabric cover. It was amusing how he thought the anodized aluminium was quite appealing, and had not thought of the need to make a cover until the topic was raised up! A difference in aesthetics—I suppose the sleek, matte-black look of the aluminium did not match the more traditional look of the Memorial Chamber.
It was fascinating to listen to Michael and Eric describing their problem-solving process to deal with the requirements and challenges they faced. I was particularly intrigued by Eric’s counterbalance support mount, since a book cradle that adjusts according to how a book opens seems to be the dream everyone tries to achieve in book supports. While the mounts were amazing, the high profile project of the Books of Remembrance meant that there wasn’t really a budget limit. In hopes of finding a more affordable solution, I asked Eric afterwards what the previous supports for the books were like, but was told that none had been used before—hence a real need for the new supports! I’m curious how sensitive the mounts are, and whether they only respond to the movement of the books they were made specifically for. The concept of a cradle that adjusts its shape according to the book could possible be great for digitization projects or for the idea of reusable cradles.

44th Annual Meeting – Photographic Materials Session, May 16, “Understanding Temperature and Moisture Equilibration: A Path towards Sustainable Strategies for Museum, Library and Archives Collections,” by Jean-Louis Bigourdan

Preventive conservation is becoming an increasingly important part of our work as conservators, but it often seems that many important questions about environmental control have yet to be answered. Questions such as to what degree are fluctuations of temperature and RH humidity damaging to collections, and are they more or less damaging than strictly maintained but not ideal conditions?
Jean-Louis Bigourdan addressed some of these uncertainties in his talk on temperature and moisture equilibration in storage spaces containing significant quantities of hygroscopic materials. He focused on reconciling the need for climate-controlled storage with the quest for sustainability and the pressure of budgetary limitations. His introduction was reassuring: the current thinking on storage climate is that relatively stable low temperatures are desirable (“cool storage”), but there is little benefit to maintaining a perfectly stable climate (i.e. without fluctuations). Rather, a certain degree of cycling is acceptable, so long as the shifts are not extreme.
Following from this fact, Jean-Louis presented the concept of “dynamic management” of HVAC systems. Dynamic management entails shutting down the HVAC for short periods, such as overnight, and adjusting climate set points seasonally. This would save on energy, and thus reduce the environmental impact and cost of operating such systems. Of course, we as conservators are immediately concerned with the effect on collections materials during such shutdowns: How extreme are the fluctuations in temperature and RH resulting from periodic shutdowns of the HVAC?
This is the questions Jean-Louis attempted to answer through two phases of testing. He was particularly focused on the possibility that collections containing large quantities of cellulosic and/or hygroscopic materials might buffer against large or sudden shifts in temperature and RH. Jean-Louis undertook two phases of testing to understand the extent of the self-buffering capabilities of such materials. The first round of testing was conducted in the laboratory, and the second in library and archive collections storage rooms.
In his laboratory tests he exposed different types of materials to large fluctuations in temperature and RH. The materials included things like closed books, matted photographs and drawings in stacks, and stacks of unmatted photographs. He also tested the effects on these materials when they were placed inside cellulosic microenvironments, such as archive storage boxes, measuring the temperature and RH at the surface of objects, and at their cores. His results indicated that the RH at the core of books or stacks of cellulosic material does not change as rapidly as the exterior environment. Temperature equilibration occurred over a period of hours, and moisture equilibration occurred over the course of weeks or even months. Microenvironments increased the time to equilibration, mostly by controlling diffusion of air.
Another useful result of this laboratory experimentation was that it demonstrated that the moisture content of paper-based and film collections was more affected by environmental temperature than by environmental RH. In other words, at the same exterior RH, the moisture content of the collections object was lower at higher exterior temperatures. The laboratory testing therefore suggested that storage spaces with significant quantitates of hygroscopic materials will be buffered against large changes in RH and temperature due to moisture exchange with the collections materials.
Jean-Louis found that field testing in collections storage spaces returned many of the same results as his laboratory tests. 6-8 hour shutdowns of HVAC systems had little impact on environmental RH, and many of the systems they examined were already following seasonal climate cycles without causing dramatic shifts in the temperature or RH of storage environments. He encouraged conservators to take their collections materials into account when evaluating the buffering capacity of their storage environments.
I was very encouraged by these findings, although I have some remaining questions about the potential effects on collections materials. How much moisture is being exchanged with collections items in such a scenario? Is it enough to cause dimensional change in hygroscopic materials, especially on exterior surfaces, and will that contribute to more rapid deterioration in the long term? Regardless, I was happy to be prompted to remember that collections materials are an active part of the storage environment, not an unreactive occupant of it.
The talk wrapped up with Jean-Louis raising a few areas of further research. He hypothesized that changes in storage climate which are achieved through a series of small but sharp changes would result in slower moisture equilibration between environment and collections than would a change made on a continuous gradient. He also raised the possibility of predicting the internal moisture fluctuations of collections materials using their known hygroscopic half-lives. Both of these areas of research could be extremely helpful to conservators attempting any dynamic management of their climate control systems.
A particularly thoughtful question by an audience member provided the opportunity for more climate control wisdom. A Boston-area conservator of library and archive collections wondered whether it made sense to use dew point as the set point on HVAC systems in the winter to save money on heating costs, but during the summer to use RH as the set point to insure against mold growth. Jean-Louis felt this would be an unnecessarily complicated method of control, but offered a general rule for the storage of hygroscopic collections. He suggested thinking of lower temperatures as the primary goal, and of RH as important to maintain within a broader range. Lower temperature slow degradation reactions inherent to such materials, and so generally lower is better. However, RH need only be high enough so as not to embrittle material, but low enough to prevent mold growth. Essentially he suggested that if your RH and temperature are too high, you are better off reducing temperature slightly, which will slow degradation reactions, and as a side-effect your collections may absorb a small amount of moisture, thereby lowering the RH in the building environment.
Jean-Louis’s talk left me intrigued and excited about the possibility of taking advantage of hygroscopic collections materials to provide a more stable and sustainable storage environment.