The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 11, Number 4
Jun 1987

The AIC Meeting in Vancouver

This year the American Institute for Conservation met outside the United States for the first tine, because of a computer workshop cosponsored by the Getty Conservation Institute (CCI), the International Institute for Conservation--Canadian Group (IIC-CG), and AIC. Meetings were planned so that anyone who wanted to could spend four days at the IIC-CG meeting, an afternoon and a morning at the computer workshop, and a week at AIC, without leaving the Victoria-Vancouver area. The Book and Paper (B/P) meetings occupied the last two days of this super-conference.

Overall attendance was smaller than usual: only 540 out of about 1900 AIC personal members. The convention seemed to run more smoothly than it did last year, although name tags were hard to read, lists of participants appeared late and were in short supply, and some of the registration materials were held up in customs.

In both the general and the specialty group sessions at AIC, some topics claim a lot of attention over a period of years. This year the topics were:

Effects of enclosure
Effects of wood on stored objects
Light bleaching vs. light aging
The Paper and Book Conservation Catalogs

Effects Of Enclosure

Last year Mary-Lou Florian gave a paper on freezing in the Objects Group session, which has since been published in Leather Conservation News. It gave instructions for calculating whether there was any danger of condensation inside the plastic bag if the temperature was lowered drastically. It depends on the temperature drop, the amount of air in the bag, and the absorbency and amount of moisture in the book or artifact. This year a paper was given before the same group, suggesting that condensation be avoided by putting windows in the plastic bags, made of Gore-Tex or some other fin permeable to air and water vapor but not to dust, water or insects. Another paper was given in the Textiles Group, documenting a variety of seriously damaging effects on artifacts as a result of packaging small pieces of Vapona pest strip with them for one to five years in polyethylene bags.

Effects Of Wood

Last year Margaret Leveque had a paper in the general session reporting the Boston Museum of Fine Art's unfortunate experience with plywood storage cases. Despite three coats of polyurethane varnish, capping of cut edges and airing for one year, the cases continued to give off formic acid and formaldehyde, causing obvious corrosion on metal objects and less obvious damage on glasses, glazes, shells, fossils, paper, textiles and pigments. The plywood cases will have to be replaced by metal ones. (In 1985, students gave a preliminary report on the same problem at Harvard's Center for Conservation and Technical Studies at AIC.) This year a museum conservator gave a paper in the B/P sessions that gave instructions on building wooden storage cases and shelves, without mentioning the Leveque paper. In the general sessions, a specialist from the University of California Forest Products Lob in Richmond described the gases given off, their effects, and how to measure the gases. His two-page bibliography cites literature going back to 1957, almost half of it from the conservation literature.

By the last day, people were pretty sensitive to this issue. Abigail Quandt was questioned closely after her presentation on the binding of an early rare book, about the oaken boards she put on it. She replied that white oak, which she used, was better than red oak, and that she would not have used wooden boards if the pages had been paper instead of parchment. Jack Thompson said wood is less harmful if it is naturally dried and aged for a long tine.

Michael Connolly, an objects conservator from Indianapolis, made available an information sheet reporting serious outgassing of formaldehyde from the paint on the stainless steel storage cases in his museum. (He gave a paper on this topic at the IIC-CG meeting.)

Light Bleaching Vs. Light Aging

Light bleaching has been a hot topic at B/P meetings for five years now. The paper conservators say it is safe and effective, and in fact it strengthens paper; the paper chemists say it can't be safe, because light deteriorates paper; in fact, it is used for accelerated aging. The conservators bleach the paper only while it is wet or submerged in an alkaline bath, and only until the desired effect is achieved. A description of the method appears in the December 1986 Paper Conservation News. The scientific literature usually describes bleaching of paper in air, with a much higher exposure to radiation.

Chemists and conservators are trying to understand each other's point of view, however. To that end, the morning of the last day was devoted to a Special Session on the Color of Paper and the Effects of Light with Cellulose. Presenters were Ruth M. Johnston-Feller and Robert L. Feller. (A related paper by Robert Feller, on accelerated aging, was given in the general session.) The discussion afterwards included the following questions, answers and comments:

Q: What standard colors can be used for reference in documentation of conservation work?

A: The Munsell and Centroid systems are good. The LAB (?) system is excellent and should be used if you have the instruments it calls for. [An article on the Centroid system that first appeared in the December 1980 Abbey Newsletter is reprinted in this issue.]

Comment: According to Helen Burgess's data, this is the mildest bleach method, and there is not much post-radiation darkening.

Q: What does degraded rosin or gelatin sizing contribute to color reversion [darkening after bleaching]?

Q: Does degree of polymerization [a measure correlated with molecular weight, which declines with deterioration] increase at a certain stage in aging? Washing out the smaller particles could raise the molecular weight.

Comment: A few drops of hydrogen peroxide per gallon of water gives 10-20 tines the effect in light bleaching.

A: But you also degrade the paper.

Q: Would simply moistening the paper with a humidifier have the same effect? You could use a vacuum table to remove the garbage.

Q: Can we research the strengthening effect of light bleaching?

Cathy Baker said that her students did a quick comparative study of bleaching methods followed by 30 days' aging. All samples reverted, including those light bleached, the control and the washed samples.

The Paper And Book Conservation Catalogs

A fourth section ("edition") of the Paper Conservation Catalog, covering filling of losses, was given out to those who had ordered it. Eventually it will document all contemporary methods of paper conservation. So far, it has been produced entirely by voluntary labor, and without special funding, but participants learned at the meeting that an NEH grant had just come through, funding it generously for three years and enabling them to hire an editorial assistant and get a computer. By the terms of the grant, the catalog must be made available outside the AIC, which makes some people wonder if it would be misused by unqualified people.

The book people want to put together a similar catalog for book conservation. People could contribute to either or both, and either catalog could refer to the other if it already had a procedure written up. The paper people explained to the book people at a special meeting how they had organized to work on the catalog, and what their philosophy was (cooperative; non-judgmental; continually revising). At this same meeting, people described the various uses to which they had put or would put the catalog: preparing a talk, drafting a contract for jobbed-out conservation work, solving treatment problems, guiding the studies of interns, and so on.

Some topics, though not strictly new, were given notable attention this year:

A referral system
Bench training


There were two papers on reversibility, both apparently prompted by the ongoing revision of the AIC Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice, to which all professional associates and fellows must subscribe, and which emphasizes the principle of reversibility of treatment. The use of reversible treatments is widely believed to be what distinguishes the conservator from the restorer. (In fairness, it must be said that the two terms are considered synonymous in Europe.)

Richard Smith of Wei T'o urged revision of the Code, because no treatment is perfectly reversible. Arno Schniewind of the UC Forest Products Lab said the Code was satisfactory on this point, and "did not conceive of reversibility as an absolute requirement but as a guiding principle." His study reported the largely successful removal of an impregnant from wood.

A Referral System

Despite the fact that referrals are commonly given by most conservators, it is a time-consuming and inefficient process, especially when the caller seeks someone who can do work outside the conservator's area of expertise. The Conservators in Private Practice (CIPP) group put forth a well-thought-out proposal for a computerized referral system using the AIC office's membership database, that would provide the caller with a list of AIC professional associates and fellows in the caller's area and in the specialty his work required. All the office personnel would have to do would be to mail the list. The system would be expensive, but funding support was thought likely. Other proposals will be considered.

Bench Training

Apprenticeship and internship received attention both from CIPP and from the Education and Training Committee over the past year, because good bench training and experience are so necessary, yet so hard for neophytes to find. Graduates from the conservation school generally lack the bench experience that would qualify them for jobs as conservators, and as a result they have to apply for either technician or administrative jobs. If they go into administration, they may never be able to return to the bench. The CIPP polled its members to see how many were willing to offer either full apprenticeships or pre- and post-academic training apprenticeships. (The cost to the host was judged to be $5,000 to $10,000.) Most of then said they could do it at least part time. Joint or shared apprenticeships were suggested.

The Education and Training Committee of AIC is working on a brochure; the Getty training program is putting together a handbook for internship supervisors and students; and the ICOM training group is trying to encourage the production of more technicians by the formal training programs. (In Copenhagen, there is a conservation school with a three-year course for technicians and a five-year course for conservators; nearly everyone takes the three-year course, but then they go off and take jobs as conservators.)

Representatives of the formal training programs (Fogg, Cooperstown, NYU and Winterthur) discussed what kind of a pre-training apprenticeship they liked applicants to have, and how they arranged for the internships during the student's last year. Policies are not uniform. There seems to be some interest in cooperating to define apprenticeship and internship programs.

Lecture On Cultural Disasters

Philip Ward of the Canadian Conservation Institute and author of Getting the Bugs Out gave the Stout Memorial Lecture, and chose the topic of cultural disasters. He started by discussing the usual type of disaster brought on by an environmental event, but his emphasis throughout was on the role of human decisions (and indecision) and human actions (and inaction). The unwillingness of museum directors to discuss disasters and accidents in their institutions was the "first disaster." This conspiracy of silence gives colleagues in other institutions the impression that disasters are rare, and they don't even take their own disaster plan seriously. Bureaucracy is another disaster. The complexity of the support system may defeat a disaster committee's efforts to keep their plan alive.

Parallel to environmental disasters and equal to them in effect is the disaster of "slipping from the front page"--not advocating the heritage philosophy, letting the government and the public forget about conservation. He advised reaching out to the media, learning what they see as news, and staying in the public eye. (Later on, in the AIC business meeting, Bert van Zelst announced that an advisory committee for public relations would be set up. He urged members who "get into a fray with the media" to send a copy of the news story to him at the AIC office.)

Papers And Posters

Five people from the Conservation Analytical Lab at the Smithsonian had a poster, "Effect of Gamma Radiation on the Chemical Stability of Paint Media." They gauged the extent of degradation in a painting irradiated in 1982 during neutron activated autoradiography, by measuring the proportions of three products of oxidation. They tentatively concluded that exposure at 6000 rads was safe for the media.

Randy Silverman gave a well-illustrated paper on pamphlet binding structures suitable for conservation purposes.

Helen Burgess gave a major paper, coauthored by Season Tse, surveying the characteristics of 18 enzymes, both amylases and proteases, from mammal bacteria, fungal and plant sources. It summarized the last seven years of research at 021, describing the role of temperature, pH, purity of the water, and purity of the enzymes. (Many of the proteases were found to be contaminated with amylases or cellulases, so that they were likely to break down the wrong things, including the paper itself.) A guide or catalog of test results will be published.

Book & Paper Group Business

At the end of the first morning's paper session, President Bill Minter called Ellen McCrady up to the podium and presented her with an award for organizing the group and keeping the membership informed by publishing the Abbey Newsletter. Plans for doing this had been kept entirely secret. The award itself, calligraphed on handmade paper and placed in a folder made by a book conservator, was an admirable piece of workmanship, an appropriate gift from such a group. It was also appropriate for the recipient, who can never expect to be more than an associate member of AIC. Only bench conservators, conservation administrators, teachers and scientists can advance to professional associate or fellow.

It is indeed fortunate that the pressure of other duties had prevented her from publishing in the April issue of the Newsletter a planned editorial urging that the Book and Paper Group establish a set of awards for contributions to the field. If it had appeared, few might have believed that the award was a complete surprise. Many organizations, including ICCROM, have one or more awards that are given yearly or when appropriate, not only to people for whom no other form of recognition is possible, but to anyone the members feel deserves recognition for their outstanding contribution.

In the business meeting, Elizabeth K. Schulte was elected president. Betsy Eldridge reported that the Horton Fund is now accepted into FAIC, and the first awards ($400-$500 per year) will be given out next year. Deadline is March 1; both students and nonstudents qualify. The money is for further education and development of conservators of books, photographs, art on paper and archival material.

At the end of the meeting, Cathy Baker announced that within the last two months the Friends of the Dard Hunter Paper Museum has fallen upon very hard times, and the fate of the Museum itself is not assured. Concerned people should call or write her (P0 Box 622, Cooperstown, NY 13326, 607/547-8768; home # 547-5344) or other officers. She urged people to join the Friends if they want to help, and are not already members.

AIC Business

Next year's meeting will be in New Orleans, and the year after that in Cincinnati.

Roy Perkinson reported on the work of the Task Force on conservation archives. They have uncovered a problem: No one knows who has legal ownership of conservation records. Architectural records belong to the architect, and medical records belong to the patient, but there is apparently no legal precedent or ruling in the field of conservation. The Task Force thinks it will recommend putting the records into existing repositories and keeping track of where they are. Paul Himmelstein said it was important for records not to be lost during the period while the Task Force is working out a plan. He urged that people call him (212/666-4630) if they know of any records on the verge of being lost.

Dues for associate members were raised from $45 to $55, beginning next year.

For Further Information

Almost the entire meeting, including the B/P meetings, was taped. A list of cassettes is available from Cassette Recording Co., P0 Box 20453, Dayton, OH 45420 (513/222-1345). Cassettes are also available for all the meetings beck to 1980.

Papers given in the general sessions, and abstracts of papers in the specialty group sessions, are in the AIC Preprints ($15 members, $30 nonmembers, from the AIC office).

Papers of the B/P Group will appear in the Group's Annual in about eight months ($15 members, $30 nonmembers, from the AIC office). The first three annuals, now out of print, will be reprinted soon.

To join the B/P Group, send $45 (for AIC membership) and $15 (for B/P membership) to the AIC office, 3545 Williamsburg Lane, NW, Washington, DC 20008 (202/364-1036).


The above report is based on notes taken during the meetings and on materials received at registration. It may contain inaccuracies. Corrections from readers are invited.

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