Conference Review for “The Next Chapter: Rare Books in Modern Times,” November 13-14, 2012

Speakers Abigail Quandt, Will Noel, Renee Wolcott, and Jim Hinz answered audience questions during the first day's question and answer session. Laura Hortz Stanton (right) was the moderator. Photo credit: CCAHA
Speakers Abigail Quandt, Will Noel, Renee Wolcott, and Jim Hinz answered audience questions during the first day’s question and answer session. Laura Hortz Stanton (right) was the moderator. Photo credit: CCAHA

A question and answer session at "The Next Chapter" conference.  Photo credit: CCAHA
A question and answer session at “The Next Chapter” conference. Photo credit: CCAHA

“The Next Chapter:  Rare Books in Modern Times” conference had an ambitious goal, to offer talks of benefit to anyone with a professional interest in rare books. The conference was presented by the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts, and hosted by the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia.

One of the aspects I most appreciated about “The Next Chapter” was the collaborative spirit fostered by having speakers from a diversity of rare book-related professions. Librarians, preservation administrators, conservators, a curator, and a professor of book arts shared their expertise and insights with an audience of more than 100 rare book professionals and students. The presentations ranged from practical preservation basics to inspiring achievements in conservation, digitization, and exhibition methods.

Chela Metzger, Conservator of Library Collections at the Winterthur Museum, gave an overview of contemporary rare book conservation and a brief historical perspective of book conservation. She discussed collaborative digitization and public engagement projects involving conservators and other professionals.

Abigail Quandt, Senior Conservator of Manuscripts and Rare Books at the Walters Art Museum, presented the historical evolution of codex bindings from Coptic Egypt through the early European Renaissance, and some examples of later handwritten Eastern Mediterranean books.

For altered or damaged rare manuscripts, digitization methods may help to reveal the original text and page order. Will Noel, Director of the University of Pennsylvania’s  Special Collections Center and The Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies, discussed the challenges of digitizing and conserving the Archimedes Palimpsest and three other Byzantine manuscripts.

Not all rare books were originally ornate or expensive. Renée Wolcott, Book Conservator at CCAHA, discussed the construction, history, and preservation challenges for the simple, inexpensive American scaleboard bindings of the mid-17th to early 19th centuries.

Jim Hinz, CCAHA’s Director of Book Conservation, spoke about projects that combined book conservation and digital imaging, including the preservation of Bruce Springstein’s original spiral-bound notebooks of lyrics.

For those seeking basic how-to information, Janet Gertz offered two talks on setting preservation priorities and selection for digitization. She is the director of the Columbia University Libraries Preservation and Digital Conversion Division.

Maria Fredericks, Drue Heinz Book Conservator at the Morgan Library & Museum, discussed her institution’s impressive state-of-the-art exhibition program.

Public outreach is an important focus for rare book collections. Christine Nelson, Drue Heinz Curator of Literary and Historical Manuscripts at the Morgan Library & Museum, presented digital strategies to engage the public, educate, and inspire dialogue about special collections.

Eric Pumroy, Director of Library Collections and Seymour Adelman Head of Special Collections for Bryn Mawr College, spoke about ways of promoting and preserving rare book collections, including the use of social media, adopt-a-book programs, exhibits about conservation, and recognition of donors.

In his talk about the University of Alabama’s hands-on MFA book arts classes in Cuba, Professor Steve Miller shared the joy of creation, and a welcome perspective from contemporary makers of hand-crafted, limited edition books.   Miller is the Coordinator of the MFA in the Book Arts Program, School of Library Sciences, for the University of Alabama.

Conference participants were invited to attend two optional events, an open house reception at the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts, and a rare books talk in the American Philosophical Society’s reading room by Roy Goodman, Assistant Librarian and Curator of Printed Materials. At the reception, CCAHA staff discussed their current conservation treatments and storage housing projects.

The diversity of subjects and perspectives presented during the talks ensured that there was something of interest for everyone. We learned from each other and gained a better understanding of other aspects of the field. “The Next Chapter “ was an inspiring and valuable conference.

AIC’s 39th Annual Meeting – Joint Paintings/Research and Technical Studies Session, June 3, “Developing Cleaning Systems for Water Sensitive Paints by Adjusting pH and Conductivity” by Tiarna Doherty

As a fitting end to a conference full of great talks, Tiarna Doherty, from the J. Paul Getty Museum, wrapped up the final session of the joint PSG/RATS session at the annual meeting on Friday evening with an incredible talk about new developments in cleaning water-sensitive paintings. The project was a collaboration between herself and two others, Chris Stavroudis, conservator in private practice, and Jennifer Hickey, Graduate Intern at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, that aims to develop a methodological approach to cleaning water sensitive works by measuring the pH and conductivity levels of the surface of the artwork and cleaning solutions in use.

Doherty began her presentation by introducing us to the Modular Cleaning Program (MCP), a database system that has been developed to assist conservators in their approach to cleaning artworks. The MCP performs valuable computations which assist the conservator in creating cleaning solutions that take into consideration, pH, ionic strength, HLB, and the functions of surfactants, buffers, and chelating agents, within aqueous cleaning solutions. Using MCP workshops given by herself and Stavroudis as an example, Doherty highlighted how practical experience with the MCP has helped them to understand how paints interact with cleaning systems, and thus aided in their current research.

She continued by concisely explaining why they focused on pH and conductivity. First, recognizing that the pH of something as simple as water may vary widely, Doherty notes that even exposing de-ionized to air over a long period of time eventually causes the pH to lower. Likewise, carbonated water also has a low pH, but since an acrylic paint film swells at a pH of 7 and higher, the use of carbonated water has been shown to successfully clean some water sensitive acrylic artworks. Doherty finished her introduction on pH with a brief explanation of buffers and the use of acetic acid and ammonium hydroxide to adjust the pH of water for cleaning, noting that both of these components of the solution will evaporate over time without leaving a residue on the surface of the artwork.

Next, Doherty continued her talk by segueing into an introduction on conductivity. Conductivity, the ability of a solution to transfer (conduct) electric current, was recently explored as a means to evaluate the surface of an artwork during cleaning and to create/develop useful cleaning systems. In a simple manner, the conductivity of a painting’s surface can be measured by placing a small drop of water on the surface of the painting, and then transferring it to a conductivity meter after a short period of time. Doherty reported that recent research in the field has concluded that there is less swelling of a water sensitive paint surface when it is cleaned with a solution that has a of pH of 6 or lower and a conductivity of 6000 micro-Siemens.

The talk continued with two in-depth cleaning case studies on an oil painting and an acrylic painting, which were both painted in the 1960’s, and had proven to be sensitive to water. Using solutions with adjusted pH, various conductivity levels, and the addition of materials such as chelators, surfactants, and even an emulsion system containing a proprietary material called Velvasil®, Doherty’s team tested and successfully developed systems for cleaning each of the two artworks (which, to ensure accuracy of content, I will point you in the direction of the post-prints for the details of).

As Doherty concluded her talk, I couldn’t help but be a little excited about possible implications of this and future research on these topics. This talk not only raised many interesting considerations about the cleaning of paintings, but, it also revealed the practical application of a new a tool set for conservators who face the challenge of water-sensitive paintings.

Bravo Tiarna (and team), I look forward to hearing more as this project progresses.

39th Annual Meeting – Joint Paintings/Research and Technical Studies Session, June 3, “Potential Cleaning Applications of Poly(vinyl alcohol-co-acetate)/Borate gels on Painted Surfaces” by Lora Angelova & Kristin deGhetaldi

Where to begin? First let me start by saying, if you missed this presentation during the joint PSG/RATS session, then you should be sure to check out the paper in post-prints once available. The details and future potential of this research cannot likely be given its due justice in a short blog post, but I will do my best to give you the major highlights.

On the final day of the annual conference Lora Angelova and Kristin deGhetaldi presented their findings regarding recent research on Borate gels, a new aqueous co-solvent gel system for use on painted materials. This collaborative project between Angelova, a Ph.D candidate in the department of chemistry department at Georgetown University and deGhetaldi, the Andrew W. Mellon Painting Conservation Fellow at the National Gallery of Art, along with Senior Conservation Scientist Dr. Barbara Berrie and Professor of Chemistry Richard Weiss at the NGA and Georgetown, respectively, resulted in the development of a new aqueous based gel system with great potential for use by conservators in the cleaning of paintings and painted surfaces.

The presentation was first introduced by Kristin deGhetadi, who immediately hooked the audience with the highly successful results of a case study, which utilized the cleaning gels in question.

The case study involved the cleaning of a painting titled Multiple Views, a 1918 work by Stuart Davis in the collection of the National Gallery of Art. After a brief history of the work, including an antidotal account about how Davis painted the work during a three-day contest in an “atmosphere of drinking and conviviality”, deGhetaldi described in detail the before treatment condition of the work. The painting, which suffered from extensive previous restoration, was waxed lined and covered with an extremely yellowed and degraded dammar coating that analysis revealed contained not only wax, which likely migrated to the surface from the lining, but protein, polysaacharides, drying oil, and, even nicotine.

Needless to say, deGhetaldi realized that this particular coating would prove to be challenging to remove. She described her methodical approach to the treatment using the Modular Cleaning Program developed by Chris Stavroudis. After exhausting the options of traditional free solvents, various aqueous cleaning solutions, and solvent based gels, she turned to the use of an aqueous emulsion that contained Pemulen TR-2 with 5% Benzyl Alcohol. While the latter worked very well to remove the coating over much of the painting there were still areas where a particularly tenacious dark coating remained. For these local areas the Borate gels being developed by Lora Angelova were tested and used for treatment.

Working together, Angelova and deGhetaldi performed a variety of tests with the gels and adapted them to the particular problem of cleaning Multiple Views.

deGhetaldi finished her portion of the presentation describing this treatment with numerous beautiful before, during, and after treatment images and a full description of the practical use of the Borate gels, before handing the podium over to her co-presenter.

Lora Angelova began her half of the presentation by describing in detail the formation, characterization, and modulation properties of the borate gels (and the chemistry involved).

The gels are composed of a partially hydrolyzed poly-(vinyl alchohol-co-acetate) polymer that combines by cross-linking with a very small amount of borate ions. The formation of the gel is immediate and proved to be thermally stable with soft elastic properties found desirable for use in treatment. Additionally, due to the acetate groups present on the polymer, the gels allow for the use of large amounts of polar organic solvents to be incorporated into the system. Which was utilized in the case study discussed by deGhetaldi.

Angelova continued by describing several properties of the gels that may make them useful in conservation, including the fact that the gels are transparent, pliable, and as mentioned, have the ability to hold large amounts of commonly used solvents. She then went on to describe how the gels are easy to remove, leave no detectable residue, and have the ability to clean a precise area with little solvent penetration into the paint layers. Which of course grabbed the attention of the conservators in the audience.

Using the results of from a number cleaning tests and further analysis, Angelova further described testing of the prior mentioned traits. She used residue tests conducted by attaching a naturally fluorescing molecule to the polymer in the gel. This allowed for testing regarding the removability of the gel and demonstrated that no detectable residue of the gel was left behind after removal.

Finally, Angelova eloquently concluded her presentation with a brief discussion of future work and the testing that is necessary in order to fully understand and develop the use of Borate gels in conservation.

So, while these gels may not be quite ready for use in the wider world of conservation yet, as was made clear by both the author’s conclusions and some of the thought provoking questions posed by audience members, they are definitely showing great potential as a tool for conservators already and I know many, myself included, who look forward to hearing more about the results that this project produces.

AIC’s 39th Annual Meeting – General Session, June 1, “Restoring the Spirit and the Spirit of Restoration: Dresden’s Frauenkirche as Model for Bamiyan’s Buddhas” by James Janowski.

Big Buddha in the Bamiyan Valley. Photo courtesy of Volker Thewalt.

Sometimes conservation is more than the technical care of an object.  Sometimes, the working solutions to treatment of cultural heritage must rely on judgments, choices, and values unique to a people and a time.  James Janowski raises many ethical and philosophical questions in his presentation on the possible reconstruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas.  He asks his audience to balance the needs of the historical record with religious and cultural values.

The Bamiyan Buddha’s were located along the silk road in the Bamiyan Valley of Afghanistan.  These statues were the largest likenesses of Buddha’s in the world.  They had survived past damage from soldiers, weather, and time.  They were true survivors.  All that ended with the 2001 acts of cultural barbarism by the Taliban.  The cruel and wanton destruction of the Buddhas have left us with empty niches.  But much of the original material is still located in the valley as fragments of all shapes and sizes.  Could the Buddhas be reconstructed from original and replacement materials?  Should they be reconstructed?

Janowski turns to the destruction and reconstruction of the Dresden Frauenkirche as a model for the Bamiyan Buddhas.  The Frauenkirche was the most original protestant church constructed in Dresden.  During World War Two, the allied bombing damaged the church. The subsequent fires reached 1000 degree Farenheit and caused the church to buckle and crumble.  The church was much beloved by the people of Dresden.  The ruin served as a symbol of the culture and community.

Beginning in 1989 and 1990 the people of Dresden called for the church to be rebuilt as an “archeological reconstruction.”  The reconstruction resulted in much debate, but the project was approved in March 1991.  The reconstruction continued until October 2005 when the church was re-consecrated.  Architectural stone and elements were salvaged from the rubble and carefully cataloged.  Forty-five percent of the reconstructed church was made from original stone

The reconstruction of the Dresden Frauenkirche was considered a rousing success.  The process recharged the community.  The original and non-original materials were clearly distinguishable, so as not to erase the historical events that took place.  In the end, the project was adjudication between competing values.

Janowski argues that the integral restoration of the Buddhas with remaining original fragments should be considered in the future despite the 30-50 million dollar price tag. He notes that there must be a balancing of the religious and cultural values with the historical documentation of the event.  He also offers consequential values.  The reconstruction will have economic and political value and can serve as a unifying thread to the country.  He feels that at least one of the Buddhas could be reconstructed leaving the other as a “witness” to the destruction.  Janowski believes that the meaning and values of a restored sculpture outweigh the shock of the empty niches.

Janowski pushes the audience to think outside the box.  He forces us to think through the steps ahead and the possibilities beyond the norm.  [Blogger’s note:  on March 11, 2011, UNESCO told the Afghan government it does not support a rebuild project, citing concerns over funding priorities and authenticity. ]

AIC’s 39th Annual Meeting – Links to photos

Photos from AIC’s Annual Meeting are being uploaded to our Flicker site as time permits. Each photo below represents a set. So far I’ve posted photos from the reception at Philadelphia Museum of Art on Wednesday night, the Manikin workshop, and Thursday’s portfolio review session. There will be a lot more coming, so please check back regularly to this post or go directly to our Flicker site (at to view additional photos.

Museum Manikins Workshop (click on this photo to view the entire set)


The reception at Philadelphia Museum of Art, June 1 (click on this photo to view the entire set)


Portfolio Review Session (click on this photo below to view the entire set)

AIC-AM2011-020611-Portfolio Review-013-post

ECPN Officers (click on this photo below to view the entire set)


Annual Meeting CHART!

We are pleased to inform AIC members that PSG and OSG officers, in collaboration with the AIC Office, have created a color-coded, hourly, cross-reference-capable daily schedule for this year’s annual AIC meeting. The PDF file can be found at this link:

The link will open up the file directly. You can then save it to your computer, mobile device, or tablet (it would look great on an iPad!).

For best results, the chart should be printed on 11×17 paper. Don’t have 11×17 paper on hand? Have your printer tile it onto multiple pages and piece it together with tape. Tiling is often an option in your printer’s “Page Scaling” dropdown menu.

This schedule chart is not intended to replace the final program booklet distributed by AIC at the meeting, but simply to offer a graphic layout of events.  We hope you enjoy this great annual meeting tool!


A Shortcut to Philadelphia

By now you’ve registered for the annual meeting in Philadelphia, booked your hotel room at the Marriott Downtown, and bought your plane ticket to PHL. All that’s left to do is pack your suitcase, then you’re set to go. But what about when you get to Philadelphia? Does the thought of researching your trip seem daunting? Look no further, I did the research for you and came up with what I believe to be the most important tips for navigating Philly:


By plane: The easiest way to get to the conference hotel from the airport is to take the Regional Rail train; it picks up in four different locations within the airport every 30 minutes between 5 am-midnight. You can buy your ticket from a conductor on the train for $7 to center city. That price includes your ride to 30th St. Station and a transfer to the Market-Frankford subway line, which will take you to the Market East Station, about a block east of the hotel.

By train: From 30th St. Station, you can either catch the subway to the hotel (see above) for a $4 fare, taxi for ~$10, or bus. For $2 one way, bus #44 picks up at the station, and stops at almost every block of Market St., including 12th St., just in front of the hotel.

By car: Having booked your hotel room, you probably already know the rate to park your car at the Marriott—$41 a day! You may consider renting a car—if you prefer to drive to Philadelphia—then drop it off when you get to town.

Otherwise, there are a few parking options outside the hotel, such as a parking garage. Parking garages appear on every other block in center city, and run from $19-$25 for 24 hrs. Street parking is available at $2/hr., but you will have to return to the kiosk every 1-2 hrs. to purchase another ticket.

If you have the energy, you can do a combination of garage parking during the day, for about $16, then street parking at night. Whatever you do, I recommend checking on your car at least once a day, just to make sure it’s safe and you haven’t started accumulating tickets…you never know with the Philadelphia Parking Authority!


At the hotel: There are two restaurants and a Starbucks in the hotel for your convenience, but the area is full of great restaurants, at a variety of price levels. Your best bet is the Reading Terminal Market, which offers a market to buy fresh produce and other groceries as well as over 30 vendors with every type of food imaginable. On weekdays, the market is open 8 am -6 pm, but many shops begin to close at 5.

For a taste of Philly’s finest, try these other restaurants nearby:

Comforts of Home

The conference is only 3-4 days, but it may be nice to know that there are some standard amenities around just in case.

Pharmacy: CVS, 1046 Market Street

Grocery store: Trader Joe’s, 2121 Market Street

Office supply: Staples, 1044 Market Street

Walking/jogging trail: Schuylkill (pronounced skoo-gull) River Trail, entrance steps on Market Street, west of 23rd Street

Scenic hiding place: Rittenhouse Square, Walnut Street between 18th and 19th

Vacation time

If you plan to come to town early, or stay on after the conference, be sure to take advantage of these special events happening in and around Philadelphia:

First Friday, June 3: Monthly open house for galleries in the Old City art district

Rittenhouse Square Fine Art Show, June 3-5: Fine art will “circle the square” at this unique outdoor art show

Fireworks & Fountains, May 29: Longwood Gardens presents spectacular fireworks and fountains shows guaranteed to make your summer memorable

Wine & Jazz Festival, June 4: A weekend of great blues and good wine at Longwood Gardens

Miscellaneous information

Weather: 80s, possibly humid

Sales tax: 8%

Price of gas: ~$4 per gallon

If you’re interested in learning even more about Philadelphia, the visitphilly website contains everything you could possible want to know about tourist attractions, museum exhibitions, and more.

Have a wonderful trip, and I’ll see you in Philadelphia!