The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 13, Number 6
Oct 1989


AIC 1989

by Ellen McCrady

The informational and educational value of the annual meetings of the American Institute for Conservation have been considerably diminished by its new policy of not providing preprints of the papers given. The 80-page book of abstracts that takes the place of the Preprints volume does give authors' addresses, so one cam write away for all the interesting papers after returning home, provided they have all been included. This year, four papers relevant to book and paper conservation were omitted from the Abstracts book. Tapes of the sessions are no longer offered.

The Book and Paper and Photographic Materials groups do publish the papers given in their own sessions (and sometimes other papers as well), but there is a time lag, and they do not include papers from the general sessions that are relevant to book and paper conservation. In fact, the Book and Paper Group Annual does not even include every paper given in the Book and Paper sessions.

This year, to compensate partly for the lack of documentation, the Book and Paper Group assigned several of its members as special reporters to take especially good notes in its sessions, and will compile and condense them for later publication.

As a reporter for this Newsletter, I did not do too well. I arrived two hours too late to hear the student papers, which had been moved to an earlier hour than originally scheduled. These are the papers I missed:

Examination and Treatment of an 18th-century Varnished Watercolor by Paul Sandby--Anne Driesse (Harvard)

The Effects of Thymol on Paper, Pigments and Media--Lisa E. Hall (Buffalo State)

Optical Brighteners in Paper--Laurie Samuel (NYU)

Conservation of Oversized Library Materials--Melissa Kimmerley (Columbia)

An Examination of Animal Glues--Deborah Ann Dyer and Margaret Ann Haupt (Queens)

The Hall paper has been published in the 1988 proceedings of the student conference, which can be purchased from the Buffalo State College Art Conservation Dept., 230 Rockwell Hall, 1300 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo, NY 14222 (716/878-5025). The others will be published in 1990 by Harvard University.

The 1½-day pre-session seminar this year was "The Conservation Assessment: A Tool for Planning, Implementation and Fundraising." This was a follow-on to last year's program on museum surveys. Libraries and archives were represented on this year's program by Karen Motylewski and Laura Chase.

The opening session on the following day included an address by Arthur Schultz, "We Can do More Than we Think we Can," in which he urged conservators to become public advocates of conservation (a little hard for conservators in museums, where access to the public by museum personnel is strictly controlled through the director's office). He did, however, offer a good argument to use when seeking funding for conservation:

Perhaps we should advance the 1% rule. That is, each year we set aside 1% of the value of new acquisitions for conservation. A piece of art valued at $1,000,000 would thus result in $10,000 being reserved out of operations for a "conservation fund." This seems like a modest enough figure. Business regularly sets aside 5% or more for depreciation of its assets...

He did not say how to justify setting aside funds for the older materials already in the museum.

The AIC has started providing "update" sessions given by the various specialty groups for the benefit of people who are not in the specialty, but who still like to keep up with it. The groups appreciate this formal opportunity to summarize the state of the art and inform both their own members and nonmembers of recent advances in their field. The different fields of conservation do not work in isolation, after all. Book conservators treat paper, leather and metals; paper conservators bind books and treat art on paper; objects conservators work with a variety of materials and techniques, and nearly everyone works with some materials like gold. This year one of the updates was on photographic materials. There were good presentations by Debbie Hess Norris, Nora Kennedy and Doug Nishimura, which are in the abstract volume. A few excerpts from my notes: The stability of cellulose triacetate has been questioned; people should concentrate on keeping the humidity low (25%40%) and providing good housing. Priorities for treatment of photographic materials, in descending order: active mold, flaking binder layers, pressure-sensitive tapes, rubber cement and embrittled supports. If your institution collects or accepts color materials, cold storage should be seriously considered (a frost-free refrigerator, at least). Pre- and post-exhibition monitoring of fading in exhibited photographs is becoming more popular. Acetate films (movies) can shrink 10-15% from loss of plasticizer (which allows loss of solvents). There are firms that can reintroduce the solvents and give you time to copy the film, but you have only an hour or two to do this after opening the can. The Image Permanence Institute' s work on toning (Abbey Newsletter, July 1988) has been replicated by two other labs (Kodak and Smithsonian Institution); it shows that sulphiding and gold-thiourea toners offer best protection; selenium is not so good. There are some problems with baked enamel shelf coatings, which may give off volatile compounds. The National Archives lab is investigating this.

One reason photographic conservation is important for book and paper conservators, by the way, is that historic photographic materials (and modern materials too) are so sensitive to environmental factors and housing materials that they serve the same purpose as the miner's canary: if they are deteriorating rapidly for some reason, research is done which benefits book and paper collections too.

Kitty Nicholson gave a paper on the health hazards of photocopiers, with a conservation case study on removal of toner from a valuable paper. Tim Vitale reported results of a study on best drying methods for paper. They found that early restraint, periodic release and slow drying helped to minimize cockling and preserve surface texture. Pat Dacus Hamm gave a paper on the nature and conservation of early printing inks to 1850.

The Book Conservation Catalog, a record of current practices, organized by techniques, seems to be finally getting off the ground. It will be published in parts, like the Paper Conservation Catalog is (a very valuable publication). Eleanore Stewart at Berkeley is chair, and invites anyone interested in taking part to contact her or any other committee member.

In the Book Conservation Group discussion session Sunday afternoon, Don Etherington showed slides of a method he has been using to cope with calf and sheep bindings with loose boards: reattachment with thin strips of Japanese tissue, which become virtually invisible when toned and pasted on the outside of the hinge. He can do eight a day, which is much faster than rebacking.

Tim Barrett described his research on early book papers, which is to appear soon in The Paper Conservator. The 15th century papers averaged a bit above neutral pH, and the best papers were about one pH point above the worst. The best ones also contained more calcium, magnesium and zinc, while the worst ones had more potassium, copper, aluminum and sulfur. In his work on lab samples, he found that alum at the 5% level helped. He uses 3-5% himself. He is still making paper at the University of Iowa, as he used to do in Michigan, and invites inquiries about their availability. One of his papers is Minter Dry-Tear Guard Strip, made in sheets but with alternate rows of regular and very thin fiber layers, so that it is easy to tear off a strip for mending as needed. (His address, like those of the other people mentioned here, is in the AIC Directory, available from AIC in Washington, DC - 202/232-6636.)

There was quite a discussion on the way brittle or weak paper can be made strong and supple by crumpling it under certain conditions. This is not an illusion. People who can testify to this effect are Cathy Atwood, Don Etherington and Bill Minter. People usually discover this effect when they take out of its envelope a paper that has been used repeatedly to demonstrate the protective effect of encapsulation on brittle paper. So far no paper chemists have shown an interest, though this effect must say something new about the nature of paper.

Another topic of interest, on which no research has been done, is the mixing of adhesives. It is fairly common to mix PVA and methyl cellulose, or PVA, methyl cellulose and paste (2:1:1) to get good working properties, and no one has reported any trouble with it. Bill Minter has been doing some informal aging of samples of the three-part mix for 10 years now, but no lab evaluations are known to have been done. No one is sure what the long-tern effect will be.

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