The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 13, Number 8
Dec 1989


Saving Art History

Finally, it looks like something will be done about all those illustrated books in art history with their often irreplaceable color or black-and-white photographs of architecture, paintings, native art and sculpture. In many cases, the original work of art is gone or irrevocably damaged by polluted air and other agents of deterioration. An enormous number of art was lost when cathedrals, museums and libraries were destroyed by Allied bombs in the Second World War, because it was impossible to do pinpoint bombing at night with radar navigation systems. The pictures are all we have left. In all cases, the illustration is an essential part of the publication. When it is microfilmed, little information is lost from the text, but a great deal is lost from a colored illustration, because even if it were to be microfilmed in color, the image might not be archival.

It will not be possible to bring the printed photographs and supporting text back to their original condition, bet steps have been taken to evaluate the best preservation technology available, and to formulate a long-term, large-scale plan for these records. Original photographs will be included in this plan, probably because the techniques developed for the brittle books will also be appropriate for the photographs of the same subjects. The Commission on Preservation and Access will coordinate this two-year program with funds from the Catty Grant Program. The CPA's press release, slightly condensed, follows:

The Getty Grant Program has awarded $254,000 to the Commission on Preservation and Access to develop a joint task force and support research and demonstration projects on preservation microfilming for brittle books and photographs.

The project, to begin in January 1990, involves three interdependent activities. First, the Commission will convene a Joint Task Force composed of representatives from the many groups concerned about the preservation of brittle books and photographs. The Task Force will draw together the interests of diverse constituencies such as art librarians, museum administrators, architects, archaeologists, and art historians. The new group will serve as a focal point for communication and planning of a comprehensive preservation plan for those disciplines dependent upon text-cum-image publications for research and the advancement of knowledge. Second, a demonstration project at the Mid-Atlantic Preservation Service will explore the capabilities and costs of color and continuous-tone black-and-white microfilm for materials containing images and text. Third, a research project by the Image Permanence Institute of the Rochester Institute of Technology will explore the stability of color microfilm beyond the data mow supplied by manufacturers.

The Commission' s proposal to The Getty Grant Program was based upon the needs and priorities identified by a group of art historians, art librarians, technical specialists, and an academic press publisher of art books during a three-day seminar at Spring Hill, Wayzata, MN, in September 1988. A report from that seminar, funded by The Getty Grant Program, is available from the Commission under the title "Scholarly Resources in Art History: Issues in Preservation" ($5.00/prepayment required). [Write Commission on Preservation and Access, 1785 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Suite 313, Washington, DC 20036, 202/483-7474.]

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