The London Gels in Conservation Conference: Jonathan Clark, “Revisiting a shipwrecked felt hat for Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust: a multidisciplinary approach”

Gels in Conservation Conference, October 16-18, 2017
Gels in Conservation Conference, October 16-18, 2017

This blog post is part of a series of observations about the London “Gels in Conservation” conference co-hosted by the Tate and IAP (International Academic Projects, Ltd).  In mid-October, over the course of three days, some 41 authors presented research, techniques and ideas on gels in conservation.  The talks were excellent, and I’ve focused on four that were notable for the wide range of materials treated and challenges faced. They ranged from coating/grime removal from a giant sequoia tree cross section, to dirt and varnish removal from Delacroix wall paintings, to removal of repairs from a fragile felt hat from a 18th century ship wreck, and an experiment comparing residues left behind by various gels on paper.

2.Image of felt hat during treatment using gel and spider tissue to remove old repair.
2. Image of felt hat during treatment using gel and spider tissue to remove old repair.

Jonathan Clark’s presentation, “Revisiting a shipwrecked felt hat for Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust: a multidisciplinary approach” featured a really cool felt hat from a 1758 shipwreck. The project resulted in an unusual opportunity for collaboration between a textile and an objects conservator–both bringing needed experience to successfully treat the hat.  In the past, the object had been treated aggressively with layers of synthetic materials and heavy cardboard fills.  The hat was misshapen as a result of the thick repairs, making it difficult to fully see the original object.  The treatment objective was to release the fragile felt hat from its past repairs and reshape it to its intended form without harming the object.  Acetone softened the thick unknown adhesive, so both acetone vapor and solvent gels were used to release and reduce the adhesive. The acetone solvent gel was applied through spider tissue, a very soft and strong paper (100% manila fibers).  Once in place, the spider tissue was pre-wetted with methylated spirits, then the gel was applied via spatula, which was then covered with plastic wrap to slow evaporation.  Once the old repairs were removed the hat remained misshapen, to further soften the remaining adhesive holding the felt hat out of shape, it was placed in an acetone vapor environment.  The softened pliable hat was then weighted and pinned to a Fosshape form, a shrinkable polyester felt, used by textile conservators to create mounts.  The end result was an object that was stable and could safely be stored showing only its original materials.

Felt hat after treatment pinned to Fosshape form.
Felt hat after treatment pinned to Fosshape form.

This blog series is a result of receiving the FAIC Carolyn Horton grant to help me attend the conference.   I would like to gratefully acknowledge the FAIC for helping make it possible for me to attend this important conference.

“Blog 2: The London Gels in Conservation Conference, October 16-18, 2017, Richard Wolbers and Paolo Cremonesi” by Jodie Utter

Gels In Conservation
Gels In Conservation

This blog post is the 2nd in a collection of observations about the London “Gels in Conservation” conference co-hosted by the Tate and IAP (International Academic Projects, Ltd).  In mid-October, over the course of three days, some 41 authors presented research, techniques and ideas on gels in conservation.  The first presentations of the first day kicked off the conference, setting the tone with intriguing philosophical, as well as practical hands-on examples of gels in conservation.  The two leading conservation scientists in the field of gels, Richard Wolbers and Paolo Cremonesi, each provided an introduction to gels in conservation, what has been done historically, what is currently practiced, and thoughts for the future.  Wolbers not only delivered the key note presentation, but spoke several times as collaborator for many of the talks and as a moderator.  In his keynote address, Wolbers emphasized minimizing toxicity through substitution of less toxic materials and Cremonesi discussed the characteristics of agar gels and the current work being done with thermo-reversible rigid agar hydrogels.

Bottom line, it seems that the basic goal for many of the case studies that were presented is to find a way to safely use aqueous cleaning systems on water-sensitive materials without damaging the object.  A tall order.

Richard Wolbers, keynote presentation, “Gels, Green Chemistry, Gurus and Guides”
Richard Wolbers, keynote presentation, “Gels, Green Chemistry, Gurus and Guides”

Wolbers’ talk, “Gels, Green Chemistry, Gurus and Guides”, it provided an overview of gels in conservation, as well as a look towards the future, emphasized the goal of using Green chemistry, which involves less waste and is less toxic – something he has been advocating for years (here is the link to his talk:

Wolbers said, when confronted with a treatment problem, first determine if a gel is appropriate.  Gels keep the gel and its contents in contact longer with the surface; gels make local application controllable or they can serve as a poultice.  Naturally, the gel used shouldn’t impact the surface medium, and it should be non-toxic and clean the object.  Wolbers listed some of the advantages of solid rigid agar gels: they dissolve in water, improve surface wettability, and have surfactant properties.

Ultimately, to do the best by our objects, we as a field need to continually look to other industries for ideas.  For example, the cosmetic industry utilizes green chemistry to reduce exposure to potentially harmful solvents.  We need to truly understand what we want to achieve in a particular circumstance and tailor it to our object, rather than relying on a few stock recipes and applying them to all situations.  As conservators we must remain agile and stay creative.  To do this we must understand the underlying principles of the materials we want to use and the objects we are treating.  Conservation needs to be able to gain ideas and experience from other fields, and also be able to create and engineer our own materials to give us the type of control we need.

Paolo Cremonesi, “Thermo-reversible rigid agar hydrogels: their properties and action in cleaning”
Paolo Cremonesi, “Thermo-reversible rigid agar hydrogels: their properties and action in cleaning”

In Cremonesi’s talk, “Thermo-reversible rigid agar hydrogels: their properties and action in cleaning”, (here is the link to Cremonesi’s talk, he listed the advantages of agar gels: how they dissolve in water, and improve surface wettability. They have limited adhesion to the surface and, most importantly, leave behind minimal residue (as compared to gellan gum. (See M. Sullivan’s paper “Rigid polysaccharide gels for paper conservation: a residue study”).  Past drawbacks of agar gels had been that they could only be applied to relatively flat surfaces. However, if the liquid gel is applied (brushed or poured on) just at the moment it starts to thicken, it can be used on a variety of surfaces, planar or not.

(here is the link to his talk:

Thermo-reversible gels are often prepared in the microwave to prepare a homogeneous gel. When heated above 80F (Cremonesi recommended type E for its low gelling temperature) the gel is liquid and when cooled below 80F it is a solid.  With increased concentration, the gel becomes stiffer which will slow the release of water from the gel.  While in the liquid form it can be poured into receptacles such as a syringe body. Allowed to cool, once solid it can be kept in a “pencil” shape (this slide caused many audience members to swoon) or be cut into small plugs.

slide from Cremonesi's presentation, grating agar plugs
slide from Cremonesi’s presentation, grating agar plugs

At room temperature it can also be grated, with the shaving manipulated for surface cleaning.  Enzymes mixed with Agar in a semi-solid state are the most effective form of the material. That said, Cremonesi said gellan gum is more appropriate for works on paper because it’s more flexible and transparent than agar.

One thing I’ve found with using gels (in my case gellan gum) is the formation of tide lines, which made me assume we were doing something wrong.  According to both Wolbers and Cremonesi, I was missing a step. They talked about the importance of pre-wetting the surface to be treated with a non-polar solvent (they specifically mentioned D5, aka decamethylcyclopentasiloxane aka cyclomethicone).  At first this might seem counter-intuitive: how does water work if there’s non-polar solvent in the way? Actually it’s about displacement – oil floats on water – so the water in the gel displaces the non-polar solvent to get to the surface.  The non-polar solvent prevents tidelines principally by blocking capillarity. Now it’s all starting to make sense. The same principle was used by Burgio, Rivers et al (2008, Studies in Conservation) when consolidating matte paint. On this basis, any non-polar solvent (first spot tested) should work to prevent tidelines. D5 has the advantage of being a ‘green’ solvent, comes without the H&S hazards associated with hydrocarbon non-polar solvents, and is exceptionally non-polar.

This blog series is a result of receiving the FAIC Carolyn Horton grant to help me attend the conference.   I would like to gratefully acknowledge the FAIC for helping make it possible for me to attend this important conference.

Last Chance to Support FAIC this Year

Dear Friends,

As 2017 comes to a close, we wanted to take the opportunity to thank those of you who have already supported our many endeavors, ranging from the Conservation DistList and Conservation OnLine (CoOL) resources to FAIC’s professional development programs, scholarships, Connecting to Collections Care webinars, and emergency programs.

Thanks to your support, we’ve managed to achieve a lot this past year. FAIC has awarded more than $300,000 in scholarships and grants; produced 25 professional development workshops and courses; provided 18 free collections care webinars viewed by more than 4,100 people from around the world; and supported 74 conservation assessments to help small and mid-size museums preserve their collections. The ConsDistList has a new look and reaches 10,000 international participants twice a week on a regular schedule. Our National Heritage Responders volunteers have been busy helping museums, libraries, and archives affected by this year’s hurricanes and wild fires. Two additional NHR teams will depart shortly to continue our assistance in Puerto Rico.

In order to provide these opportunities, events, and services, we need your support. We rely on donations from people like you so that we can keep these programs running. If you haven’t done so already, we hope that you’ll consider making a year-end donation to support the programs you use and love. You can write a check to FAIC and mail it to 727 15th Street, NW, Suite 500, Washington, DC 20005, USA, or make a contribution by credit card at

Warm regards and many thanks for your ongoing support of FAIC!

Tips for Writing FAIC Grant Proposals: ECPN Interviews ETC


Recent recipients of the George Stout Memorial Fund Scholarship, a grant administered by FAIC that provides funding for emerging conservators to attend AIC’s Annual Meeting.



Between 2011 and 2015, the Foundation for the American Institute for Conservation (FAIC) awarded $2,064,962 through 462 grants and scholarships. $428,601 of this was given out in 2015 to 91 grant and scholarship recipients. While these numbers include larger grants such as Samuel H. Kress Conservation Fellowships and publication grants, an important part of FAIC’s grant program is to provide professional development support for individuals to attend conferences and workshops and to pursue research projects. A full list of grants and scholarships is available here.

Emerging conservators are eligible for a number of these grants, including the FAIC / Tru Vue® International Professional Development Scholarships and George Stout Memorial Fund Scholarships  – the latter of which is reserved for pre-program individuals, graduate students, and recent graduates to attend professional conferences. Each grant has specific deadlines, eligibility, and application requirements – all of which are listed online. FAIC recently moved the grant application process online to make the process easier for the applicants and the reviewers.

This brings us to the subject of this post: how to improve your applications for FAIC grants! Reviewing and awarding these grants is an important but time-consuming task, so FAIC relies on AIC’s Education & Training Committee (ETC) for assistance. Conservators from different career stages and specialties volunteer to serve on ETC, which is responsible for advancing AIC members’ knowledge of conservation practices by supporting continuing education and professional development endeavors. ETC also promotes educational issues within the field.

As many emerging conservators may be new to writing grant applications, the Emerging Conservation Professionals Network (ECPN) interviewed some members of ETC to ask a few questions about the application and review process. Here’s what we learned:


ECPN’s Interview with ETC

  1. Review Process: What happens with an application once it is submitted? Who reviews it, and who makes the final decision?

For each application cycle, the Institutional Advancement Director for FAIC calls for volunteers from ETC to review applications, specifying the deadline and how many volunteers are needed. The reviewers are usually different people based on who can commit time to the process during the application review period. Three reviewers are assigned to read each application, and reviews are conducted anonymously. The reviewers receive instructions and reminders for the unique criteria for each grant.

Taking into consideration the specific grant criteria and the benefit of the project to the applicant (among other things), the reviewer assigns points for each of the selection criteria categories and provides comments to help clarify the ratings provided. ETC members’ ratings and review of the applications ensures a thorough and fair review process.

Next, the AIC Board Director for Professional Education works closely with the Institutional Advancement Director to tally the scores and review comments by ETC and submits the recommended awards for final approval by the Executive Director of FAIC and AIC and the FAIC Treasurer. The goal is always to administer as many awards as the budget allows to support the professional growth of AIC members.

  1. Audience: Who should the application be directed to? That is, who are you writing for (e.g. general audience, fellow conservators)?

Direct the application to your fellow conservators. ETC is made up of your peers — but it is important to keep in mind that ETC members come from a range of specialties. The reviewer may not know the significance of a particular project unless it is clearly defined and expressed. It is important to give details that explain the “why” —that is, why your project is relevant, timely, or important — so the reviewer can understand your thought process.

Because our field is small, there is a good chance that reviewers know some of the applicants. ETC members must also recuse themselves from a particular review if there is any conflict of interest (e.g., that member applied for a grant, or wrote a letter of support for an applicant).

ETC considers the applications based on the merit of a particular application, not with regard to whether you are a junior or well-seasoned conservator, or whether the reviewer is familiar with your work.

  1. Content: What are the major points in the application text to pay attention to? What level of detail is desirable when discussing your project?

Address the grant review criteria directly and pay attention to the parts that are unique to you and your application. Set up the relevance of the project first by describing it; the project description should be brief and straightforward. Then discuss how the project benefits you professionally. This is section with the most freedom: explain how the project is appropriate to furthering your professional development. It is more important to state effectively how you will benefit from your involvement–this is the part that really distinguishes the applications from each other.

So instead of listing your accomplishments, explain what you will accomplish — either by attending the conference, presenting your work, or pursuing your research. And be clear about your level of participation and whether you are attending a workshop or conference, or presenting. While your financial need is implied—you are applying for a grant, after all—you should still mention it. It is helpful for your case if the reviewer knows that your institution does not provide professional development funding, or has not provided it for a number of years.

Describing how you plan to disseminate what you’ve gained from the project is also an important factor. This doesn’t have to mean that you’ll write a book on the subject, but FAIC is interested in the most bang for the buck: how far will the benefits go if this person is selected for funding?

  1. Budget: What are the important considerations when reviewing a proposed budget? What costs should and should not be included? What is the best way to explain how you arrived at your cost estimates? What should you do if your estimated costs exceed the amount that can be awarded?

The budget needs to be complete and reasonable. Being stingy with yourself will not necessarily score you points, but you should not price out a luxury hotel and first-class flights. The Federal Government Service Administration (GSA) provides numbers that can be a great guide for drafting a budget. The online application form prompts you to consider expenses related mostly to travel and lodging, and additional explanation of expenses beyond this form is usually not necessary. While the grants don’t cover food, there is a place to fill out your estimated meal costs to show what you will be covering yourself.

Do not request for more than the maximum award; it may appear as though you didn’t read the grant description. If your projected costs exceed the maximum award, fully outline those costs and request up to the award limit. Outlining all of your costs—regardless of whether they are covered by the grant or exceed the award limit—provides valuable data for FAIC. This information can be used if grants are ever re-evaluated, and FAIC can use the budget information to advocate for higher award limits.

Having an expensive project doesn’t put you at a disadvantage. In fact, it engenders sympathy and understanding that you will have to seek additional funding or otherwise provide funds out of pocket. The better the reviewers understand the total costs, the better the committee can try to support you. The number of grants given out each cycle varies, and the goal is to provide enough support to allow the awardees to fulfill their projects.

  1. Recommendation Letters: How should you select recommenders? How can you help prepare them to know what points to speak to? Do your recommenders have to be AIC members? Should they have status within AIC (PA, Fellow)?

The letters should come from someone with whom you have a professional relationship, and who will write a positive recommendation that specifically discusses how the project will benefit you. If you are unsure whether a recommender’s letter will be positive, you can ask them or ask someone else to write for you. The perceived status of your recommender is not so significant; someone who seems important in AIC does not necessarily write a better letter. The requirements for recommenders’ status within AIC vary from grant to grant, so be sure to read the application procedures section very carefully.

Providing a recommender with your current CV and a draft of your application can help them to tailor the recommendation letter to your application. Also, let your recommenders know they can fill out the Letter of Support Form [insert link] provided by FAIC, rather than writing a traditional letter. All of these materials can be submitted electronically by the recommender, so the recommendation remains confidential. The deadlines are firm, so make sure to ask for recommendations well in advance and indicate the application deadlines in your request.

For more on this topic, look at the guides ETC has developed for requesting and writing letters of recommendation.

  1. General: Are there any easily fixable but common mistakes you see in applications? If your application is not accepted, what steps can you take to improve your chances next time? What are some general tips you would provide to first time grant applicants?

Do not overthink it. Your essay need not be lengthy; completeness and accuracy are what counts, so answer the questions and speak to the grant criteria directly. Be concise in making your case, and keep in mind that reviewers may read dozens of applications at a time.

Almost all of the projects and applicants seem worthy in each cycle, so it may come down to minor errors or omissions that result in an incomplete application. It does not reflect poorly on you for future applications if you not receive funding for your first application, so please don’t get discouraged.

For some common reasons why applications do not receive funding, see the great list below, provided to ECPN by Eric Pourchot, Institutional Advancement Director for FAIC.


Some Final Thoughts

In 2015, about half of FAIC grant and scholarship applications were funded, and the total funding awarded was 34% of the total amount requested. And—as we mentioned in our last post on the structure of FAIC and AIC—FAIC must raise the funds to support these grants and scholarships. A good portion of this comes from the Specialty Groups, AIC members, and individual donors! In 2015, $49,000 was raised through individual donations to support FAIC grants and other programs. So, if you are ever the recipient of one of these scholarships and grants, in the future consider “paying it forward” if you can by making a donation to FAIC!

We’d like to thank Nina Owczarek and Susan Russick from ETC and Eric Pourchot (Institutional Advancement Director for FAIC) for answering our questions, and Stephanie Lussier (AIC Board Director, Professional Education) and Heather Galloway (Chair, ETC) for their help reviewing this post.

If you have further questions about applying for grants, you can email:


— Jessica Walthew (Education & Training Officer) and Rebecca Gridley (Vice Chair) on behalf of ECPN


Bonus Tips!

ECPN asked Eric Pourchot, Institutional Advancement Director for FAIC, for some common reasons applications are not funded. Keep these in mind when drafting your application!

  1. The proposal did not meet the eligibility requirements or did not address the purpose of the grant or scholarship. For example, a professional development proposal might address the institution’s need for the proposed training, but not the benefit for the individual, which is the purpose of the grant. Read the guidelines carefully and think like a reviewer as you write the proposal.
  2. The proposal is incomplete. Be sure to double-check attachments, any required letters of support, etc.
  3. The project’s cost is out of proportion to the scale of the grant or scholarship. For example, a proposal might show $20,000-$30,000 in expenses, with no firm source of funding.  If the grant limit is $1,000, reviewers may ask how likely it is that the project will be completed.
  4. The proposal has errors or inconsistencies. These sometimes can be overlooked, but when competition is stiff, a proposal that doesn’t appear to be well thought-out will often be rated lower than more polished proposals.
  5. The budget is inflated, has errors, or isn’t justified. This is not always a fatal flaw, but often puts a proposal at a disadvantage.  If airfare or hotel prices are listed as much higher than what can be found online, for example, reviewers may question the overall proposal.  Conversely (but more rarely), a budget that doesn’t appear to reflect the real costs of a project may be seen as not feasible.  If there is a factor that distorts the budget, that should be indicated and justified in the narrative.  For example, scheduling might not allow the applicant to travel over a weekend, raising the cost of a round trip flight, or the applicant may be staying with friends and not require a hotel.

Recent recipients of the George Stout grant presenting at AIC’s Annual Meeting.

ECPN Blogpost Series: Getting to Know AIC and FAIC

Have you ever wondered where AIC (the association) and FAIC (the foundation) overlap, and where they diverge? Or who works for AIC and FAIC, and how they got involved?

This blogpost series takes a closer look at the structure and mission of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC) and the Foundation for AIC (FAIC) to introduce newcomers to the field —or even those who are not so new— to what AIC is and what it does. To get a more personalized and in-depth view, ECPN interviewed staff and board members for AIC and FAIC. In our follow-up blogposts, you will hear directly from those involved about these organizations and the work they do. But first…  let’s get back to basics!

First and foremost, AIC is a membership organization for conservation professionals. To this end, the AIC staff works to support AIC members, and the AIC board serves to support the members and address their concerns. AIC members themselves make up much of the organization’s structure: members are elected to serve on the AIC board and in specialty group leadership, or are appointed to committees and networks (such as ECPN). These different groups work together to support the field of conservation through their combined action. Which brings us to AIC’s mission statement:

“The American Institute for Conservation (AIC) is the national membership organization supporting conservation professionals in preserving cultural heritage by establishing and upholding professional standards, promoting research and publications, providing educational opportunities, and fostering the exchange of knowledge among conservators, allied professionals, and the public.”

This is a tall order. How does AIC accomplish this? The AIC staff recently revamped portions of the website to detail the initiatives that fulfill each component of this mission. Some of these initiatives –such as organizing the Annual Meeting and managing communication between members (your specialty group listservs)–  are probably already familiar to you. We’ll learn more about these important programs and projects in forthcoming posts in this series.

The Foundation for AIC also supports conservation education, research, and outreach activities, but is separate from AIC. As Eryl Wentworth, Executive Director for both organizations, explains: “AIC and FAIC have a symbiotic relationship. They are separate legal entities with different missions, working both in tandem and independently to advance the field.” FAIC’s goals of advancing the profession, providing information resources, strengthening the professional education program, and expanding outreach, all benefit AIC members in critical ways.

There are important distinctions between AIC and FAIC in how they are funded, classified, and organized. AIC is a 501(c)6 nonprofit, and your AIC membership dues support the resources and staff devoted to AIC initiatives, such as the Annual Meeting, online tools and resources, and publications to disseminate conservation research (AIC News and the Journal of AIC (JAIC)). The Foundation (FAIC) is a 501(c)3 nonprofit, and in contrast, is responsible for raising funds to support its own management and initiatives. Funds raised from grants and individual donations (including from AIC members) support the programs administered by FAIC, which include Connecting to Collections Care (C2CC), Angels projects, the Collections Assessment for Preservation program (CAP), and the Oral History Project, to name only a few.

AIC and the FAIC are each managed by a board of directors. The AIC board is made up of conservation professionals nominated by the Nominating Committee and elected by the broader AIC membership. There are four administrative leadership positions (President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer) and four additional board directors that oversee different aspects of the organization, such as Professional Education, Communications, Specialty Groups, and Committees and Networks. These positions are all voluntary, and AIC relies heavily on its members to participate in the leadership of the organization. The FAIC Board includes leadership from the AIC Board (including the Executive Director of AIC and FAIC), plus professionals in allied fields and in such areas as marketing, publishing, insurance, and law. These board members provide additional voices that help to broaden the reach of the organization in related areas of arts and culture, as well as expertise we otherwise lack.

Both organizations are based in a Washington D.C. office staffed by 13 professionals in nonprofit management. Some of the staff work for both organizations, while others’ responsibilities are directly tied to either AIC or FAIC. The AIC/FAIC staff are deeply invested in helping our profession grow and to educating the public about what we do. You may have met some of the AIC staff at the Annual Meeting, or have been in touch with them to update your membership information. Their work extends beyond this, and includes crucial advocacy for the field in the broader context.

Stay tuned for our next posts, which will offer further insight into these organizations and the people who keep them running!

Thanks AIC and FAIC!


— Jessica Walthew (Education & Training Officer) and Rebecca Gridley (Vice Chair) on behalf of ECPN

42nd Annual Meeting – Collection Care Session, May 29, “The Ossabaw Island Workshops – Preventive Conservation Training in a Real Life Setting” by David Bayne

Since 2010, there have been four Preventive Conservation workshops on Ossabaw Island, three of which have been generously funded by FAIC. These workshops have provided a unique training experience for both emerging conservation professionals and pre-program students.
Background and History of the Island
Ossabaw Island is a 26,000-acre remote barrier island off the coast of Savannah, Georgia. It has five residents, and may only be accessed by private boat. It is mostly wilderness, but there are some very interesting historic buildings, including some slave cabins of tabby construction (a technique using oyster shells, sand, and water as the mortar ingredients), the Club House (c. 1885) – where lectures take place and participants are housed, and the Torrey-West House or the “Main House” – where the actual work is carried out.
Dr. and Mrs. Torrey bought the island in 1924 and had a house built there to be their family’s winter home to escape the harsh winters of their native Michigan. The house was completed in 1926, and the Torreys spent four months (January – April) there each year afterward. The current owner of the house is Mrs. Eleanor “Sandy” Torrey West, who is the daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Torrey and is currently 101 years old.
In 1961, Mrs. West and her husband started an artist colony, where writers, artists, and composers could come stay in the Wests’ home and be inspired by the island’s natural beauty and tranquility. In the 1970s, this evolved into the Genesis Project, where college students and less-established artists came to work on various projects. The Genesis participants were more self-sufficient and built settlements, cooking/dining/washing facilities, and a pottery kiln at an area of the island called “Middle Place.”
With her money running out, Mrs. West decided to sell the island to the state of Georgia in 1978, but she had several stipulations. She wanted the island to remain wild and continue to be a place of inspiration, creativity, and discovery, so the state was not allowed to build a causeway or start a ferry service to the island. They also had to continue encouraging arts and sciences projects/research and allow her to continue living in her house on the island until her death.
The Workshop
The original goals of the workshop were to use the Main House to:
1. Train housekeepers working in historic houses.
2. Professionalize preventive conservation.
3. Expose professional and emerging conservators to a nascent historic house and provide an opportunity for them to take part in its institutionalization.

The living room in the Main House on Ossabaw Island, GA.
The living room in the Main House on Ossabaw Island, GA.

The workshop provides a unique opportunity for participants to learn about preventive conservation and housekeeping practices for a historic house.  The things that make this program so unique are that the house…

  • is still a home in which the current owner is a 101-year-old woman who resides there full-time.
  • is on a remote island, and supplies must be brought out by chartered boat from the mainland.
  • suffers from MANY problems, such as:
    • The environment of the island (heat, humidity, salty ocean air, etc.)
      • Mold and mildew
      • Rotting wood
      • Rusting metal
    • Pests
      • Extensive damage to house, furniture, pillows/cushions, carpets/rugs, books, taxidermy, etc by termites, carpet beetles, silverfish, rodents, and other pests.
    • General neglect
      • As Mrs. West became older, she could not take care of the house by herself, and she could not afford to pay for the amount of repairs and housekeeping that the house required.
    • Arsenic
      • Exotic game heads (a lioness, black rhino, water buffalo, and a few kinds of antelope) have always been a major component of the living room décor, even appearing in the original architect drawings for the house.  These may have been shot by Dr. Torrey himself on a safari hunting trip to Africa.  All of them were treated with an arsenic-based pesticide.  Testing of the heads found that some had arsenic content that was off the charts (>160 ppb).

Though current housekeepers in historic houses were the original target audience, most of the people who have completed the workshop have been pre-program conservation students. A house with such a rich and fascinating history, but so many conservation issues, provides a lot of opportunities for pre-programmers to learn and gain hands-on experience. That is probably the workshop’s greatest achievement: exposing potential conservation students to collections care and preventive conservation.
I was lucky enough to have been one of the participants in the 2013 season. It was not glamorous. We worked hard and got dirty, crawling around on the floors and under cobwebbed furniture, vacuuming, dusting, moving heavy wooden furniture, and examining sticky traps that had caught all sorts of disgusting, multi-legged creatures. Through all of this, we got exposure to integrated pest management (IPM) and the care of furniture, paintings, textiles, books, and works of art on paper. It could be gross, but it was fun and exciting, too. As David said in his presentation, “Everything is an adventure on Ossabaw.”
Another major achievement of the workshop has been in helping emerging conservation professionals by providing third-year students or recent graduates the opportunity to be instructors. In 2013, that included two former WUDPAC students, Stephanie Hulman (paintings) and Emily Schuetz Stryker (textiles). These young professionals play an essential role because they have knowledge of the most recent techniques and advancements in the field and are better able to answer pre-program students’ questions about portfolios and conservation school.

2013 Team - Ossabaw Island Preventive Conservation Workshop
2013 Team – Ossabaw Island Preventive Conservation Workshop

Unfortunately, Emily Schuetz Stryker died suddenly and unexpectedly earlier this year. She was a great instructor, a wonderful person, and the most talented knitter that I have ever met. The Ossabaw workshop would not have been the same without her sense of humor and her wonderful laugh.
RIP Emily Schuetz Stryker (1987 – 2014)