Joint 44th AIC Annual Meeting and 42nd CAC-ACCR Annual Conference – Research and Technical Studies Session, May 17th – “Ensuring Maximum Impact for Conservation Science” by Marie-Claude Corbeil

Right off the bat, Dr. Corbeil noted that the title of the talk should probably be a question rather than a statement, because nobody has all of the answers, and this talk was not going to be a definitive guide to conservation science. She noted that conservation science still has some issues – it can be very expensive to complete scientific research projects, and thus there is a reliance on government funding, which can be fickle in a number of ways. Through these challenges, Dr. Corbeil’s aim was to show how the CCI operates, raise questions about the efficiency of the approach, and understand how best to ensure maximum impact for conservation science.
The CCI has three main categories of work: research and development, expert services, and knowledge sharing, all of which are interconnected, and which relate to the community that CCI serves. Dr. Corbeil spoke specifically about a number of examples of this work, including dripping paint on works by Alfred Pellan; authentification of works by Jean Paul Riopelle in conjunction with the Getty; fading paint on Rothko murals; and various pesticide surveys of textiles.
Of these cases, the Rothko question had interesting implications. With the Rothko, the institution asked for the analysis to be completed, and result showed the presence of a fugitive pigment. A monitoring program was enacted in response to this. Dr. Corbeil mused on a few topics – was the analysis really necessary, given that many Rothko works have these fugitive pigments? Would the exhibition decision have been different without analysis? Is the monitoring necessary, given that degradation of these fugitive pigments is inevitable?
The pesticide surveys also brought up an interesting chain of discussion, involving the repetition of analysis for different clients. If enough data has already been collected to generate guidelines and predict the results of surveys, is it necessary to continue to analyze separate collections? Dr. Corbeil noted that it has been an inescapable fact that people want to test their own collections, even if previous applicable results are available. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it also points to the idea that services rendered for one client may be broadly applicable, and that dissemination of results will always be significant.
Dr. Corbeil concluded that the key elements for success involve choosing the right research question, engaging in collaboration, transparency in methodology, and effective dissemination. Within this context, one of her previous statements resonated with me – she stated that results are disseminated “in the traditional way” at CCI. I wonder if there is a benefit to looking into non-traditional routes for the sharing of knowledge, since that is one of the areas Dr. Corbeil indicated was most important for the success of conservation science? I look forward to future discussion of this topic, and the bright future of conservation science as a whole. Keep up the great work, CCI!

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.