IIC 2018 Congress in Turin: Call for papers and posters (extended deadline)

IIC 2018 Congress
Preventive Conservation: The State of the Art, Turin, 10 – 14 September 2018
Simultaneous call for papers and posters

  • Closing date extended to June 5, 2017

Preventive conservation is a vital and ever-developing field at the centre of museum, site and heritage management, contributing to the sustainability of organisations as well as to the care of their collections. An IIC Congress last addressed issues in preventive conservation in Ottawa in 1994 and much has changed since then: new methods of investigation and analysis; a greater understanding of materials and how they may change or decay with time; developments in conservation practice. For conservators, conservation scientists and all those concerned with preventive conservation there are still as many questions as answers, still matters of concern to be discussed; many of you working in the field have something to say and exciting research to bring to us. To enable you to do this, we have extended the closing date for the call for papers and posters to 5 June 2017!

It will be 24 years since an IIC Congress last specifically addressed issues in preventive conservation, in Ottawa in 1994. The field has developed enormously since 1994: preventive conservation has a central position in museum, site, and heritage management. In addition to capturing developments and changes in scientific understanding and practice, this congress will focus on current issues that exercise our field and will look to the future. It will build on some recent IIC initiatives, including the 2008 Congress on Conservation and Access and the IIC/ICOM-CC environmental guidelines developed at the 2014 Hong Kong Congress.

The location for the 2018 Congress is Turin, a city with a varied cultural history, a strong international profile and innovative industrial centre and, at the same time, a comfortable, relaxed ambience. We are delighted that our partners in the 2018 Congress are the City of Turin, the Italian Regional Group of IIC (IGIIC), Turismo Torino e Provincia and the Centro per la Conservazione ed il Restauro “La Venaria Reale”, which, most appropriately, is housed in one of the Savoy palaces, La Venaria Reale.

Please don’t delay! We now invite paper and poster proposals that address the issues defining the state of the art in preventive conservation and latest practice. A full list of suggested topics and themes and full details for submission can be found at the main IIC Congress web-site page here:  www.iiconservation.org/congress

Please note that this is a simultaneous call for paper and poster proposals: there will be no later separate call for posters. IIC invites you to submit your proposal for a paper or poster in English in about 500 words (3500 characters) via the website here: www.iiconservation.org/congress. If you have an IIC account, please log in first; if not, please register on the front page of the site for an IIC account before submitting a proposal. Please do not include any illustrations with your proposal submission and please indicate if your proposal is for a paper or for a poster. The deadline for the receipt of proposals has been extended from May 8 to June 5, 2017.

We look forward to seeing you in Turin!

Power to Preserve: Creating a Collection Care Culture: AIC’s Collection Care Network Hosts a Session at the American Alliance of Museums Annual Meeting

–By Marianne Weldon, Objects Conservator and Collections Manager of the Art and Artifacts Collection, Bryn Mawr College
On Sunday, May 29, I attended the panel entitled Power to Preserve: Creating a Collection Care Culture moderated by Rebecca Fifield.  This session was developed by AIC’s Collection Care Network (CCN) for the Collection Management track at the Annual Meeting of the American Alliance of Museums in Washington, D.C.  The AAM Annual Meeting Theme for 2016 was Power, Influence, and Responsibility, encouraging exploration of “how the themes of power, influence and responsibility shape the work of museums in the U.S. and around the world”.
A goal of the presentation was to share influencing strategies to support development of collection care, as well as to highlight resources and partnerships available through AIC. The three presenters spoke of ways that they have been working at their institutions to foster relationships with partners within and outside their institution to better enable them to care for their collections.
 Maryanne McCubbin spoke to fostering aligned goals across an institution.  She emphasized the importance in finding common ground among museum staff and that most people working in the museum are collections stewards in some way whether directly or indirectly.  She outlined the importance of fostering that relationship with others that work in the museum in a variety of ways including:

  • Avoiding rhetoric and demystifying what collections staff are doing. Avoid terms that people won’t understand, such as agents of deterioration.
  • Being proactive and available so people don’t feel like they are bothering you or that you are too busy for them.
  • Provide frequent, regular, repeated communications on many levels and in many directions up and down the chain.
  • Make sure to demonstrate that you have the “big picture” in mind and that you understand and present things in an inter-disciplinary way.

Kathy Garrett-Cox spoke to the importance of working with community partners to enable smaller institutions to create a collection care culture beyond their institutions.  At Maymont, an American estate in Richmond Virginia, the staff numbers 3 full-time and 3 part-time, which is small when considering the needs of institutions during emergency response.  Garrett-Cox spoke about the formation of The Museum Emergency Support Team (MEST), which was formed by a group of small local organization in 2006 in response to Hurricane Katrina as an alliance for response to help to share resources, planning and training.  She additionally outlined many specific examples of the way the group grew and changed over the years, introducing challenges associated with volunteer group continuity, what worked, and what didn’t.
Patricia Silence works at Colonial Williamsburg Foundation where she manages the preventive conservation team of 20 members.  She gave numerous examples of ways that demonstrated the power of communication strategies to strengthen staff partnerships in supporting collection care. Overall, these ideas helped create relationships where colleagues in other departments wanted to help further collection care. These strategies included:

  • Meeting with over 150 site interpreters and supervisors in small groups and explaining the reasons for temperature set points. This included a briefing on dew point and how they use temperature to reduce the possibility of having water in the walls. This has helped their facilities department get fewer calls regarding comfort issues.
  • Tracking the number of hours spent cleaning gum off of items and cleaning up soda spills in order to explain why these items should not be allowed in historic buildings with collections.
  • She emphasized the importance of expressing professional “needs and desires” in terms of value. Giving reasons beyond collections value when necessary and aligning the rationale with the goals of colleagues in other departments.

Additionally Patricia spoke of areas for improvement, where things haven’t gone as well as she would like.  One specific example was in the area of excessive lighting, where additional buy-in by leadership and security staff is still needed.
As a result of all the panelists discussing both things that worked well and areas that needed improvement, discussion with the audience then centered around how we respond to hearing “NO” at our institutions and what are the most compelling arguments to win institutional support for preservation programs.  Several  members of the audience responded with ways that they build partnerships with allies within their institution or develop data to support their argument before again attempting to implement change.
The panelists presented a variety of examples, both successful and unsuccessful, to promote collection care cultures at their institutions. It contributed renewed energy to go back to our institutions to continue to forge stronger relationships to support collections care in a variety of creative ways.
Find out more information about the activities of AIC’s Collection Care Network.
Rebecca Fifield is Head of Collection Management for the Special Collections at the New York Public Library. She is a graduate of the George Washington University Museum Studies program and a Professional Associate of the American Institute for Conservation. A 25-year veteran of large and small art and history institutions, she is Chair of AIC’s Collection Care Network and an Advisory Council Member of the Association of Registrars and Collections Specialists.
Maryanne McCubbin is Head, Strategic Collection Management at Museum Victoria. Maryanne has worked in archives and museums for close to thirty years. An expert in history and care of heritage collections, her work has centered on the development, care and preservation, use and interpretation of collections. Her current position involves addressing the big, tough issues around managing a major, complex state collection.
Patty Silence is Director of Preventive Conservation at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, responsible for preservation in the historic area, museums, storage, and loans. Her focus is on site maintenance, environmental management, emergency preparedness, exhibit preparation, pest control, and safe transport of collections. Patty has over 30 years of experience in encouraging colleagues to gain and use expertise in collections care.Kathy Garrett-Cox is Collection Manager of the Preservation Society of Newport County, Rhode Island and formerly Manager of Historic Collections at Maymont in Richmond, Virginia, where she worked for 11 years. She currently serves as President of the Virginia Conservation Association and as Chair of the Richmond Area Museum Emergency Support Team. Kathy speaks frequently on coordination of conservation projects and writing disaster plans. She recently coordinated the Central Virginia Alliance for Response program.

92-year resident of Georgia barrier island leaves home treated by FAIC

Sandy West’s family bought Ossabaw Island, a barrier island off the coast of Georgia, in 1924. For almost a century, she inhabited the “Main House,” one of the few buildings on the island, and worked to protect the island and share its beauty with others. In 2010, FAIC joined furniture conservator David Bayne in a program to bring emerging conservation students to the island to gain hands-on training in historic home housekeeping and preventive conservation. The culmination of four summer workshops on the island resulted in a 40-page guide to caring for West’s home, prepared in 2015 for the State of Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources, which will gain control of the house after West’s death.
As a result of West’s eventual financial instability, the 25,000-acre island was sold in 1978 to the State of Georgia for a discounted price in hopes of preserving the sacred place. As a result, Ossabaw became Georgia’s first Heritage Preserve. The deal with the state allowed for West to remain in the colonial revival mansion on the island until her death (at the time, a state-hired actuary predicted she’d live to be 78). Now at the age of 103, West recently relocated to Savannah to access more affordable full-time care.

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

The FAIC workshops (see the plan for the 2015 course) taught the basics of preventive conservation in the pink 1920’s Main House. Ossabaw’s remoteness and climate presented a unique medley of housekeeping problems for the groups to consider. These workshops explored the relationship between objects, their history of use, and their long-term preservation in a historic house setting.
During each day of the two-week program, participants learned about different materials and how to care for them. The activities ranged from pest management to furniture handling; textile cleaning to taxidermy examination; and maintenance of book and paper collections. Participants gained experience in assessing and prioritizing issues with limited time and resources. The site contextualized objects in poor condition with their environment and acted as a counterpoint to the experience of working in a museum lab.
The living room in the Main House on Ossabaw Island, GA.
The living room in the Main House on Ossabaw Island, GA.

FAIC’s Ossabaw Housekeeping Guide provides yearly, quarterly, monthly, and weekly care recommendations specific to the main rooms of the house based on the objects and materials in the room. Pests, light levels, temperature, and relative humidity were monitored, with recordings included in the guide. Suggestions for crisis housekeeping are also included, and may be incorporated in a full disaster plan in the future.
For several reasons, including difficulty in getting to the island, FAIC had to find a new location for the historic house training workshop. The 2016 workshop is currently taking place with eight participants and five instructors at Staatsburgh State Historic Site, a property owned by the New York State Bureau of Historic Preservation. Keep an eye out for blog posts by the participants coming soon.
As West’s time on Ossabaw Island ends and the state prepares to take over the Main House, they are equipped with a solid resource for implementing a standard of practice and recommendations to be considered for the future care of the historic home.
You can find a review of the program from a 2012 participant on the blog: http://www.conservators-converse.org/2012/10/review-of-faic-preventive-conservation-workshop-ossabaw-island-ga-january-7-20-2012/ and an article on a workshop presented as a talk at our annual meeting in San Francisco (from which the above photographs have been reposted): http://www.conservators-converse.org/2014/06/42nd-annual-meeting-collection-care-session-may-29-the-ossabaw-island-workshops-preventive-conservation-training-in-a-real-life-setting-by-david-bayne/

–Article by Sarah Saetren (FAIC Education Coordinator) with Bonnie Naugle

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.

44th Annual Meeting – Pre-Conference Session, May 14, STASH Flash III, organized by Rachel Perkins Arenstein and Shelly Uhlir

This year’s STASH Flash session featured a whopping fourteen speakers, divided by subject into three groups. To do them all justice is almost impossible — it was really a fantastic session! — but here is my best attempt.

2016-05-14 16.15.56
Nichole Doub presenting on storage solutions for waterlogged wood.

True to the theme of the annual meeting, the first set of talks focused on storage solutions for emergencies, beginning with Kelly O’Neill who presented on a mobile storage rack for paintings. As conservators at ArtCare, Miami, O’Neil and her colleagues must be prepared for severe weather. With this in mind, they worked with a carpenter to design a moveable rack made of marine plywood and reinforced PVC piping, with vinyl flooring and large wheels. A sailmaker was commissioned to create a custom cover with zippered sides and button snaps at the base, using Sunbrella cloth. The completed rack measured 105” x 114”, with the depth ranging from 43 to 93”; this was dictated by the space available in the studio.
Nichole Doub from the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory suggested folding frame tanks (such as those sold by Husky) as storage for waterlogged wooden objects. She also recommended the use of tank liners (Flexiliner has a chemist on staff who can advise in the case of solvent use) as well as above-ground swimming pools, which can be hooked up to the conservation lab’s own filters.
Ashley McGrew from Stanford University recommended the use of nylon mesh and webbing fixed with fast release clips to create user-friendly, flexible, and affordable restraints to protect objects during earthquakes.
The next group of presenters discussed solutions that were large in scale and scope, beginning with Alicia Ghadban, who discussed the implementation of the RE-ORG methodology at a workshop at the WuHou Shrine Museum in China. The workshop focused on a storage room on the third floor, where objects were stored on the floor, limiting access. During the reorganization, most objects were removed from the room, allowing the installation of compact shelving. Materials were reused wherever possible, and objects were housed by size and type. Additional information about RE-ORG is available here.
Gretchen Anderson from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History followed with a way to protect type collections for archeology: she made a lid with a window in it using archival board and polyester film, protecting objects from dust while allowing them to remain visible. Meanwhile, her colleague, Leslie Haines, suggested an alternative to plastic sheeting for building dust covers for large objects: they now use Tyvek, which is draped over a support made of PVC piping. The support is basically a cube made of piping (the bottom framework is important for stability) and can incorporate a Coroplast panel on top to protect the object from water. Cotton ties can be sewn to the Tyvek to help hold it closed, and images of the object can be fixed to the exterior for easy identification.
Erika Range then discussed a recent survey at the Canadian Museum of Nature that developed guidelines and decision trees to use in identifying appropriate labeling materials for use in natural history collections. I was hoping these would be available online, but could not find them; hopefully they will be made available to the wider conservation community soon.
The last segment of the session dealt with multipurpose solutions, beginning with Sanchita Balachandran of the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum, who presented on the rehousing of small robust archeological objects to facilitate their safe use in classrooms. She and her colleagues developed a repeatable, modular, searchable, and useable solution that could be implemented by student workers. Details on the solution are available here .
Emily Wroczynski followed with a presentation on creating clamshell boxes for oyster shells with rare earth magnet closures. Then, Kesha Talbert described the creation of mounts for the display and storage of handheld fans at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. These custom mounts were made with matboard covered with suede polyethylene, and step by step instructions are available here.
Stephanie Gowler described the problems inherent in displaying and storing items from the archive of performance artist Charlotte Moorman. Mounts needed to be almost invisible, which Gowler and her colleagues achieved by the use of Tycore and Volara panels with Ethafoam and Volara supports. Objects were sewn onto the panels with monofilament and linen thread, and the whole was housed in custom boxes from Talas. Quilts of Hollytex and polyester batting were used to minimize vibration. A great blog-post detailing the process is available here.
The session came to a close with two presentations on the housing of (relatively) flat materials. William Bennett, from the Smithsonian Institution Archives, presented on his creation of a custom pieced housing for a fragile early gelatin print using a magnetic overmat that allowed the photograph to be easily removed if necessary. Liz Peirce’s presentation on the rehousing of a collection of thin wood samples in four-flap boxes that are themselves housed in a clamshell box.
For further information, you can access the abstracts of all the presenters here. Presentations will also be posted on the STASH site.

New Collection Storage Book Seeks Cover Image

new-bookThe Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections, The American Institute for Conservation, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Museum Studies Program of George Washington University are collaborating on a new book entitled Preventive Conservation: Collection Storage.  The volume discusses all aspects of collection storage, from planning and assessment, through building design and facilities management, to storage furniture and specimen housing. It is due for publication in late 2016.
As part of the book design process, the editorial board is seeking a cover image that reflects the concept of (good) collection storage. We hope that you will contribute one or more images you feel would work well. Given the scope of the book, the image might be a photograph at the building, room, cabinet/shelf, or object level, or simply reflect a “good storage concept.”
There is no financial reward, but you and your institution will receive full acknowledgement and a free copy of the book and, of course, incredible bragging rights!  The winning image may also be used on the book website and other promotional materials.
If you’re interested in submitting an image for consideration, please send a horizontal image, at least 300 dpi, and minimum of 8 in W x 5 in H (2400 x 1500 pixels, 300 pixels/inch). JPG or TIF format preferred to Lisa Elkin (lelkin@amnh.org) or Chris Norris (christopher.norris@yale.edu) by October 31.

43rd Annual Meeting, Collection Care Session, May 14, “Pathways for Implementing a Successful Passive RH microclimate” by Steven Weintraub”

Relative being the key word in this talk, Steven Weintraub of Art Preservation Services, Inc., presented a checklist of critical thinking when making decisions about relative humidity (RH) microclimates for collections.
Question the accuracy of your RH measurement
Weintraub points out it’s really easy to be 5% off  on measuring RH for a myriad of reasons including sensor locations relative vent locations, drift in the measuring equipment. While 40% to 60% is the usual goal, a conservator has to ponder how comfortable are you with 35% to 65%?  Weintraub admitted those extremes make him less confident for preventive conservation; microclimates can be the answer when an object requires tighter control.
The talk ended on this accuracy theme as well. While technology has come to RH measuring systems such as blue tooth systems so the case no longer has to be opened, accuracy remains in issue. Before setting up an exhibit, compare all the meters so to have at least an internal standard for readings.  Calibrating the meters before exhibitions is ideal, of course but not always feasible.  If there is a large discrepancy in RH readings between the loaning institution and your institution, it might be worth having a conversation about calibration methods.
To seal or not to seal a case
Weintraub recounted the common reasons for not sealing a case: Avoid trapping off-gassing; gallery climate control is adequate; it’s harder and more expensive to construct an airtight case. However hindsight is harder to manage. It’s harder to retrofit a leaking case and make it air tight after the fact when too much dust is collecting on the objects or other problems occur. Thus it’s best to start with air tight cases and loosen if needed.  Hence whether intentional or not, sealed cases are microclimates.
Microclimates: Active control, Passive control, or Nothing
Weintraub recommend building all cases to have the provisions for at least a passive RH control system regardless. Again the theme of enabling flexibility and avoiding retrofitting later applies. Building space for silica gel trays and not using it is easier than retrofitting the case later.
What is the rate of leakage for the case is the most important question for microclimates. The leakage rate will determine if a passive control is adequate or active control system is needed. Weintraub noted, no silica gel system in the world is adequate for a highly leaky case. Nominal leaking from a tight system then begs the question about why an active system is needed.Leakage assessment can be easily accessible. Weintraub feels it’s important and empowering for institutions to be able to conduct their own leakage rate tests. It will enable identifying when repairs are needed under service contracts and also make more informed choices about the steps needed for microclimates. A caveat on interpreting leakage rates when you’re shopping for cases No standard protocol exists for determining leakage rates; so manufacturers reported values are hard to compare. Leakage rates change over time as materials age and warp
 Creating your own leak detector
Weintraub shared two easy ways to have your own leak detection system. Cans of dust-off contain small amounts of refrigerant.  A refrigerant detector can be easily purchased from HVAC suppliers for about $500; the detector is akin to a Geiger counter. It’s a qualitative tool that helps locate the leaks. The second leakage assessment choice is monitor carbon dioxide levels. The carbon dioxide level in the case increased above ambient levels (600 to 2500 ppm) and use a meter installed in the case to monitor the change in carbon dioxide levels.  Let the case reach equilibrium at before starting the leak test. Weintraub and students at the NYU conservation center are currently examining how long it typically takes to reach equilibrium. Weintraub likes to run his leak tests for 3 days. Basically it’s calculating the rate of loss of CO2 Thus the difference in CO2 measurements over the time period.  Close to 0 for the rate means success as there is minimal leakage. A large rate indicates an issue. At that point, consider looking at the half-time decay, how many days it takes for CO2 levels to drop 50% in the case.
How much silica gel?
  Answer: Leakage rate * number of exhibit days* buffering capacity of silica gel at your target humidity levels= weight of silica gel.
You can examine compare different silica gel types for your scenario as some silica gels perform better at high humidity and others at low humidity. For a maintenance-free case, Weintraub’s rule of thumb is double the exhibition quantity of silica gel.   Another silica gel tip is to mix silica gels at different humidities to get the target humidity such at mixing 55% and 40% RH gel systems to get a target of 50%.
Also, mind the air gap in the case. An air gap is needed to make sure air flow is adequate in the case to get the benefits of silica gel actually reaching the collection objects.
Lastly, we as conservators need to do a better job of sharing our learning and experience about microclimate to develop a collective pool of knowledge
Weintraub’s article on Demystifying Silica Gel is available on Art Preservation Services website along with some of his work on LED.

PMG Winter Meeting – "Cataloging Is Preservation: An Emerging Consideration in Photograph Conservation Programs" by Robert Burton, Feb. 20

“Cataloging Is Preservation: An Emerging Consideration in Photograph Conservation Programs” was the first talk of the Biannual PMG Winter Meeting in Cambridge, MA, February 20-21, 2015.  Speaker Robert Burton began with a quote from his mentor Sally Buchanan, who stated, “Cataloging is preservation.” Burton went on to show how that is no overstatement. In a sense, the goal of all conservation is to preserve materials to enable continued access to them, and there is a direct relationship between cataloging and access. Descriptive records in prescribed formats, organized under controlled headings, make photographs discoverable. This in turn sparks research interest, helps institutions identify preservation priorities, and even helps them organize storage more efficiently. Burton showed that cataloging is the foundation of a comprehensive view of collections management and preventive conservation.
A good record should answer the questions: who, what, when, where, why, and how? It gives an institution administrative and intellectual control over its photographic materials. Whereas books and other text-rich objects are more self-identifying, photographs require additional data to be contextualized, and collecting this data requires a cataloger with the appropriate training.  A cataloger might be the first person to go through a photograph collection, and that person should possess visual literacy, an understanding of photographic processes, an ability to carry out basic preventive measures such as rehousing, and be able to bring objects in need of special care to the attention of conservators. Because different institutions have diverse approaches (different databases, digital asset management systems, missions, and constituents), catalogers must understand and apply data value standards to bring some consistency to searches for terms such as artists’ names, geographic place names, and so on. (Burton mentioned the Getty Art and Architecture Thesaurus and the Name Authority File from the Library of Congress as examples.)
Recent advances in digital recordkeeping and digital imaging have reduced the administrative burden of cataloging and have also reduced the need for over-handling photographic materials, which can result in handling damage. There are new technologies on the horizon that will help with cataloging, such as automatic captioning of newly created images, or giving photographers a way to record voice annotations as additional metadata. Nevertheless, catalogers will need to find a way to enter this information so it can be searched.
Without knowing its holdings, instititions will not be able to adequately value or safeguard their materials, nor will they be able to care for them. Uncataloged items are essentially invisible: vulnerable to loss, their condition and value unknown.
Burton acknowledged that few library school programs provide students with the opportunity to study photographic materials specifically.  He urged this audience to view cataloging as a preventive conservation method on par with environmental monitoring, housings, and the like. He traced the development of this thinking to the 2002 Mellon survey at Harvard, which in turn became the model for the Weissman Preservation Center’s Photograph Conservation Program, and then FAIC’s Hermitage Photograph Conservation Initiative. These surveys show that, by coordinating conservation, cataloging, and digital imaging, photograph collections are more accessible and in better condition. This positive trend should continue as more institutions adopt Susan Buchanan’s mindset: “Cataloging is preservation.”

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)

42nd Annual Meeting – Angels Project, June 1, California Historical Society

This year’s Angels Project took place at the California Historical Society (CHS), a non-profit organization founded in 1871 to celebrate California’s rich history. Textile conservator Meg Geiss-Mooney and photograph conservator Gawain Weaver led the group of about 25 enthusiastic volunteers and had our project and supplies ready to go early Sunday morning.
Prior to the AIC meeting, Gawain had surveyed the CHS collection for approximately 200 photograph albums that were in need of treatment and/or re-housing. We divided up into teams based on specialty and skill set, and went to work to assess, surface clean, stabilize, and box each album. The library was organized into stations to help with workflow and I joined the group that was examining each album to identify the photographic processes and provide recommendations for treatment. Not only was this a great way for me to put my photo conservation skills to the test, but as a native Californian, it was a pleasure to look through these beautiful albums featuring historic images of local monuments and people. Using a pre-made single page survey form, we denoted all necessary identification and condition information to help with the following treatment steps and for later catalogers at CHS.
Station two began treatment, and was set up to vacuum, brush, and clean with eraser crumbs the dirtiest album covers and pages. A special table of volunteers was armed with the proper PPE to tackle any possible mold. Next, a group of expert conservators were completing treatment steps such as re-attaching loose photographs, mending torn pages, and tape removal, as needed on a case-by-case basis. Finally, the albums were whisked away to be housed in new archival-quality boxes that were labeled and placed on a cart to return to storage.
At the end of the day, all albums were assessed and boxed, and many received significant treatment steps that will no doubt prolong the life of these valuable objects. For those albums that did not receive treatment, they can be flagged by priority and sent out to a private conservator in the future. As with Angels Projects that I’ve participated in in the past, I appreciated the opportunity to meet, learn from, and work with many new conservation professionals, and I was especially happy that this project allowed me to directly benefit the photographic collection through treatment and re-housing.
Many thanks to Meg, Gawain, Ruth Seyler, and the rest of the AIC staff for organizing this year’s project, and to the CHS staff for generously providing the volunteers with ample working space and supplies, a delicious lunch, and a bonus free annual membership to the Society!
For more images from this and previous Angels Projects, please visit the AIC Angels Projects Flickr page.