42nd Annual Meeting – Track A: Case Studies in Sustainable Collections Care, May 30, “Boxes Inside of Boxes: Preventative Conservation Practices by Robin P. Croskery Howard”

Robin P. Croskery Howard, Objects Conservator at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, focused on how custom housing, in concert with climate control, can be effective preventative conservation. Three case studies highlighting specific housing solutions for different collection materials were shown.
Case Study #1: The Long Road Home/Speck Collection
Some housings need to provide safety for travel and long term storage. The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki museum makes it a priority to repatriate any collection items that are not Seminole in origin. These items are returned untreated. The two housings used for this are either stacked layers of Volara cutouts, contoured to fit the object or ethafoam cavities lined with acid-free tissue.
Case Study #2: The Doll with the Broken Neck
The museum has a number of dolls made out of palmetto fibers. These fibers deteriorate over time and the limbs and necks of the dolls often detach. Any treatment would produce only temporary results as the doll continued to age and breakdown. Custom pillows and supports are used to support the dolls and relieve stress on their joints.
Case Study #3: Leaning Baskets
An oversized modern sweetgrass basket that had partially collapsed under its own weight was restored using an adaptive housing. The basket was put in a box with twill ties holding it in place. The ties were gradually tightened over several weeks to support and lift the basket and allow it to gently regain its shape over time. Other modern baskets are stored with ethafoam supports.
These were great, practical solutions for caring for objects by using housing to prevent or control damage. I realized while writing this post how much this session falls in line with Cordelia Rogerson’s “Fit for Purpose” talk. All of the items showcased here were cared for, but in a manner and level appropriate for long view of their “life” at the museum.

42nd Annual Meeting – Case Studies in Sustainable Collection Care, May 30, “Becoming ‘Fit for Purpose’: A Sustainable and Viable Conservation Department at the British Library,” by Dr. Cordelia Rogerson

In this presentation, Dr. Cordelia Rogerson spoke about radical changes in the approach to treatment decision-making at the British Library under her direction as Head of Conservation. The changes in approach were sparked by deep cuts to the Library’s budget, resulting in a reduction of the number conservators working in the lab by half–from 70 conservators to 35. At the same time, there was increased demand for conservation work in the busy library where collections are constantly in use. These cuts forced conservators to evaluate the fundamental nature and purpose of their work to determine if they could do less treatment without compromising use of the Library’s collection.
In response, the British Library conservation department adopted a “fit for purpose” model to govern how much treatment to do for materials sent to the conservation lab. Items are evaluated to determine what treatment is absolutely necessary for the immediate projected use of the item, and only this necessary treatment is undertaken. “Vulnerable damage” (such as a long tear across a page) is likely to be repaired, while “stable damage” (such as a loss at the corner of a leaf that does not interfere with safe handling) will be left untreated in many cases. This represented a shift away from a previous emphasis on full (or more complete) treatment for the majority of the materials coming to the lab. The new model does still allow for high priority items and items selected for exhibition to receive treatment beyond stabilization.
After applying “fit for purpose” to seven discrete projects with positive results, the model was adopted as the guiding principle for all work in the lab. By doing only the work deemed necessary, the lab has greatly increased the number of repairs completed each year. At the same time, the efficiencies gained have actually allowed the conservators to devote more treatment time to high priority collections.
As one of only two conservators working in a lab for a medium-sized special collections, I found that many of the challenges, decisions, and compromises of the changing operations at the British Library sound familiar. I appreciated hearing how a “fit for purpose” decision-making structure works in the setting of one of the largest institutions of its kind and the dramatic impact it can have in cost-savings and efficiencies on this scale.
In the future, I would be interested to hear more discussion of “fit for purpose” decision-making in the conservation of library and archival collections, digging deeper into the diverse interpretations that might emerge for a range of materials in varied contexts.

42nd Annual Meeting – Collection Care Session , May 29 “Conservation Assessment at Schloss Leopoldskron in Salzburg, Austria: Promoting Sustainable Choices for the Adaptive Re-use of the Collection and the Site” presented by Rita Berg, Graduate Intern in Paintings Conservation, Brooklyn Museum and Crista Pack, Kress Fellow, Arizona State Museum.

Beautiful landscapes to boot, this talk illustrated how graduate students gained experience in preventive conservation by identifying the collections care needs of a prominent historic site that is also a busy event space/hotel.
In the summer of 2013, four students from New York University and the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation — Rita Berg and Cybele Tom (NYU) and Crista Pack and Emily Schuetz Stryker (WUDPAC)—performed a conservation assessment of the historic collection at the Schloss Leopoldskron, under the supervision of Hannelore Roemich, Professor of Conservation Science at NYU and Joelle Wickens, Associate Conservator and Preventive Team Head at Winterthur. The talk was dedicated to Emily who passed away unexpectedly in February of this year.
Crista and Rita presented by discussing the building’s history, the goals of the project, the group’s workflow and theoretical approach, recommendations for the future, and lessons learned. The Rococo palace was commissioned by Count Leopold Anton Eleutherius von Firmian, and was once owned by Max Reinhardt. It is now an Austrian national historic site, and host of the Salzburg Global Seminar (SGS). The assessment project was co-sponsored by the Kress Foundation and SGS.
The Schloss is not only a magnificent edifice—it is familiar to many as the inspiration for the Von Trapp villa in The Sound of Music—but its historic collection includes paintings, works of art on paper, furniture, decorative arts and sculpture. Unfortunately the collection’s condition has never been systematically documented.
The major goals for the project included developing a long-term strategy for caring for the collection, as well as providing educational training for students who were able to test theoretical approaches in a “real-world” scenario (though it was admittedly hard to think of the bucolic, dream-like setting of this palace as “real-world”). However, major challenges quickly presented themselves to the students: food and beverages could be found throughout the house, candles were lit regularly, there were many open windows, objects vulnerable to theft, chaotic transportation and storage of objects during events, wildlife, dust and dirt accumulation.
The group worked in pairs to assess rooms, and three different types of object groups (prints, paintings and architectural elements) using photography and written survey forms that they had developed. They interviewed staff and local scholars, recorded patterns of use and consulted existing literature from the National Parks Service and the Conservation Assessment Program.
Among their recommendations were that the SGS articulate the presentation of the building and collection directly in its mission statement, appoint a collections manager, establish guidelines for events and handling. They also identified that the paintings, which were among the most valuable objects, are at the highest risk.
Although they found inherent contradictions in the house’s dual function as a historic site and event space/hotel, the students aimed to raise awareness among staff, owners and guests of the collection’s needs. This was done they maintained, keeping in mind the priority of the space’s functionality. This July a new team of conservation students will continue the project following the guidelines established by their predecessors. And judging from the Alpine landscape, lucky them.

Left to right: Rita Berg, Crista Pack, Hannelore Roemich and Cybele Tom at the 42nd Annual Meeting
Left to right: Rita Berg, Crista Pack, Hannelore Roemich and Cybele Tom at the 42nd Annual Meeting