The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 10, Number 4
Aug 1986


AIC, Chicago, May 1986--a Report

by Ellen McCrady

The annual meeting of the American Institute for Conservation was held this year at Chicago's Hyatt Regency--elegant, expensive, not conveniently laid out for our kind of meeting (for instance, it has no proper lobby) and not terribly well run. Most people I talked to had experienced overcharges or poor service or inexcusable mixups. the conference arrangements for which AIC was responsible were not well coordinated either: tour groups were left stranded miles from the hotel, and so on.

General Sessions

The papers were at their usual high level of excellence, however, if not higher. Half the papers in the general sessions were significant for book and paper conservation. (Walter McCrone's paper on his one-men microanalysis of fibers from the Shroud of Turin was of general interest.) One of the student papers on Wednesday was a good technical study of the effects of light bleaching under different conditions. Work on light bleaching was also reported in the Book and Paper Group session, in a paper coauthored by Cathy Baker.

Klaus Hendricks, Debbie Hess Norris and James Reilly summarized the history and state of the art of photographic conservation in 13 pages, which include a 57-page bibliography. Training in this specialty, they said, is now available at Winterthur and at the Royal Academy in Copenhagen. Sara Wolf Green's paper on conservation of taps cloth from the Pacific provided a great deal of general information on taps cloth, which has characteristics of both cloth and paper; and it described treatment methods, which included leafcasting to fill losses. Margaret Leveque described a futile attempt to seal in formaldehyde vapors by applying multiple coats of polyurethane varnish over the plywood used in a new storage area at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts; the implication is that clasps, bosses and other fittings of metallic alloys may develop a very poisonous coating of lead formate if library shelves are made of plywood or particle board, even if they are well varnished. Abigail Quandt's paper on the conservation of a 12th Century vellum manuscript was more than the title suggested, since it provided generous detail on treatment of vellum, a topic seldom handled in American conservation literature. Paul Whitmore, Glen Cass and James Druzik documented the fading of some traditional colorants by ozone, a pollutant whose presence is hard to detect because it is so reactive. Two papers which I did not hear drew favorable comment: a progress report on the Degas Pastel Research Project by Anne Maheux and Peter Zegers, and a paper on a "papier mache" chair by Dianne van der Reyden and Donald Williams.

Joint Session on Disasters

An afternoon session, jointly arranged by the Book and Paper (B/P) and Photographic Materials Group, was devoted to disasters, with contributions on disaster planning by Ann Russell, Connie Brooks, Richard Baker, John Townsend, and David Mathieson. Elizabeth Banks, Janet Stone, Sally Buchanan and David Mathieson contributed case histories of disasters, and Klaus Hendricks gave an update on recovery of water damaged photographs (all but glass plate negatives and perhaps daguerreotypes can be frozen, and freeze drying is feasible for the rest, but vacuum drying messes up emulsions).

Connie Brooks is planning a statewide cooperative disaster plan for New York State libraries, museums, archives, county clerks' offices and historical societies. Richard Baker described the training seminar that he organized two years ago for institutions in the regional consortium that his library belongs to in Massachusetts. John Townsend described the challenges and complexities of maintaining a disaster plan at the New York Public Library, one of the world's largest libraries. David Mathieson described the Mystic Seaport Museum's 30-year-old disaster plan, which is continually updated and used.

In the discussion afterward, Scott Odell recommended a new type of sprinkler head that gives an improved automatic shutoff. Someone warned that freezing facilities should be chosen that have auxiliary power, in case of electrical failure. Elizabeth Schulte reported a serious problem that came up at CCAHA: the insurance company would not allow them to salvage anything until they had called every single owner of every object at the Center. She did not say whether any objects have been lost because of this stipulation, and there was no indication from others present how general this attitude is among insurance companies. Ms. Schulte said their insurance company used the same principle for private conservators and for institutions that have objects on loan from other institutions.

Conservators shared their experiences with freeze-dry companies, air drying and keeping salvaged books in order. Sally Buchanan described the Stanford and Los Angeles Public Library disasters, and Mr. Mathieson described the preparations for Hurricane Gloria, which kept it from being a disaster at the Mystic Seaport Museum.

The Informal Gathering

The book conservators got together informally Saturday evening to talk shop and touch base, as they do at every AIC meeting. In a room really only large enough for 50 or 60 people, 75 sat or stood from 8:00 to 10:45 p.m. Don Etherington described the Institute for Fine Binding and Book Conservation to open in Austin next April. The emphasis will be on structure and workmanship rather than design. In a discussion on ethics, he said that book conservators' documentation practices were often inadequate; Bill Minter volunteered to collect forms already in use from people and make them all available to anyone who wrote for then. Conservators interested in compiling a Book Conservation Catalog (a collection of techniques, like the Paper Catalog) should contact Don Etherington.

Bob Strauss described products under development at Archival Products: pamphlet binders, a strong cotton/polyester blend cover cloth, acrylic-coated board, a $10,000 adhesive binder, and a better PVA, Don Etherington urged people to write the specifications for these and other improved materials into their orders so the cheap imitations won't get the bid. The specs can be gotten from the original supplier.

There was a fruitful discussion of linen as a conservation material, initiated by Bill Minter's announcement of Chris Clarkson's new linen cord. Participants were Bill Minter, Betsy Eldridge, Tim Barrett, Robert Espinosa and Don Etherington. Points brought out were: It is not necessary to remove the last 3-4% of the lignin from linen, as long as it is cooked in lime; it damages the cellulose if you try to get the last bit out. Linen, a traditional material in bookbinding, is not highly regarded by textile conservators. Betsy Eldridge is collecting references for research on linen and cotton. Classic early European papers had a good component of hemp; perhaps hemp deserves more credit.

Marc Reeves described a program he had written for his Macintosh, which helps the user design a treatment form. It can perform many more functions besides, which he did not go into. Five other people present told what software they use--Nutshell, Filemaker, Ready Set Go, Personal Bibliographic System, and Helix. John Townsend said he was at a meeting at LC recently, which was called to discuss ways of putting conservation information into the MARC, RLIN and OCLC databases.

The meeting wound down with an abstruse discussion of the value of hollow backs. Disagreement seemed to be principally along the line dividing the English from the German styles of bookbinding.

In the B/P paper session the following day, Eugene Cain reported on his continuing analysis of the degradation products from paper, using thin layer chromatography and working with Anne Clapp and Tim Barrett. Many of the products from naturally aged paper are the sane as those from artificially aged paper, and most products are not from the cellulose but from other components. John Waterhouse was unable to attend, so we did not hear about the determination of aging by nondestructive methods. Tim Barrett gave a progress report on his research to find out what made the early good European papers so good. He has ruled out the use of enzymes and low levels of iron and copper, but he has confirmed previous findings that high calcium content is associated with quality of paper. Alum is hard to check for, so apparently that has not been investigated as a factor yet.

At lunch there was a panel discussion, "The Conservator as Collections Manager," chaired by Lois Olcott Price. It addressed the conflict between benchwork and administrative duties, a topic that was also addressed last year in Don Etherington's seminar for administrators of conservation labs. The Collection Care Specialists to be trained on Bay Foundation grants (AN April 1986, p. 18) are expected to take some of the pressure off museum conservators.

After lunch, Bob Futernick quickly ran through slides of a dozen gadgets and ploys that save time in the conservation lab. The last one involved the canning of starch paste in meson jars. Bill Minter described a half dozen of his own, of which the most useful is probably the self-healing mat on the bed of the guillotine. Frank Mowery and Charles Hazel explained their system of using a video camera and computer to measure voids for leafcasting. Jeffrey Abt described an ultra-thin electroluminescent light source that can be inserted between pages of a book for tracing watermarks or doing page repair. There were many other good B/P papers, which are listed with abstracts in the back of the Preprints, which incidentally are printed on acidic paper.

Other Matters

In the AIC business meeting, the Professional Associates won the right to vote on all issues, by a vote of 61 to 13. In the B/P business meeting, a 17% growth in membership since last year was reported (388 to 451 members). A $10,000 surplus has accumulated, and members now have the pleasant task of deciding how to spend it. Dues for students were lowered from $15 to $5.

One of the preconference tours included the Graphic Conservation Company, which deals mostly with works of art on paper but also provides freeze-drying service locally. Their freeze drier is custom-made by the Virtis Company, Inc. (Rt. 208, Gardiner, NY 12525, 800/431-8232). It holds 37.5 cubic feet, can go to -20°F and 5 millitorr, and can dry 300 cubic feet per month.

On the bulletin board was a notice that John C. Scott is advocating teleconferencing, electronic mail etc. among conservators, especially those in private practice. He calls it the Conservators Computer Communication Network. His address is 521 W. 26 St., NYC 10001 (212/714-0620). He is still (Aug. 7) gathering names of interested people, and will go ahead with it when he has enough to get him past the break-even point.

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