JAIC 1983, Volume 22, Number 2, Article 9 (pp. 102 to 103)
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Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC 1983, Volume 22, Number 2, Article 9 (pp. 102 to 103)


Leslie M. Smith

Three Articles on Textile Conservation in Textile History, v.13, no.2 (1982):“Conservatism in American Textile Conservation” by Dennis V.Piechota; “A Comparison of British and American Conservation Services” by PhyllisDillion;“Rags to Research: Textile Conservation in the United States” by J. K.Hutchins.

Textile History was started in 1968 as an annual journal devoted to the economic history of textiles, with specialist papers on textile art and design.

With increasing attention being given to conservation, restoration and the study of all manner of art and historical objects, there is now a greater awareness of the role of textiles in the national heritage, not only in the UK, but throughout the world. The editors have accordingly decided that the time has come for an enlargement of the aims and scope of this established journal from mainly economic history to one that will encompass all aspects of the role of textiles and costumes in social history, and the techniques of their conservation.

THE ABOVE PARAGRAPH is now printed on the inside cover of each new issue of Textile History. All subscribers to the AIC Journal should welcome the increasing awareness of the profession of conservation that this change in publication policy represents. Textile conservators in particular will be pleased that there will be another source of information available to them where conservation issues will be discussed simultaneously with art historical interests.

The first three articles in this new category are the leading contributions of the Volume 13, no. 2, presented as Textile Conservation in America: “Conservatism in American Textile Conservation,” by Dennis V. Piechota; “A Comparison of British and American Conservation Services,” by Phyllis Dillon; and “Rags to Research: Textile Conservation in the United States,” by J. K. Hutchins. All three authors, AIC members, have written provocative essays. To some extent they reflect their personal experiences but, as all have served as both museum staff conservators and conservators in private or regional centers, their experiences are applicable to the general membership represented in AIC. Mr. Piechota presents an historical review of the development of textile conservation in the States basing his opinion on published articles. He appears concerned over the very conservative attitudes and resultant treatments of textiles as performed by this youngest branch of the conservator's profession. He laments this caution and finds the majority of textile conservators unaffected by the shift inmerican conservation to a more scientific approach. However, experimentations on techniques may well belong in the research laboratory rather than the day-to-day workroom. A traditional treatment is not to be condemned unless it creates more harm than help to an artifact, and conversely a newer technique or material is not preferable until proven by accepted methods of testing. The small body of literature on professional textile conservation might represent more the editorial policy of the publications than the scope of conservation as it is actually practiced. The plea for more involvement with the scientific community will be seconded by many conservators who have long felt the reluctance for more cooperation on the part of the scientist.

The article by Jane Hutchins develops the same discussion. After the standard review of textile conservation problems based on the origin of textiles as utilitarian objects made from organic materials, the author cites the slow growth of conservation science. The diverse educational background of the practitioners (art history, crafts, sciences) are contributing to a body of knowledge. The author appears to be speaking of the many new entrants into a previously small field. To be accurate, textile conservators in the United States, aware of their small membership, have a long-standing communication with their European colleagues, as well as with conservators in the other media. Ms. Hutchins' most important contribution is the emphasis on the wealth of information available in the industrial literature. One hopes that those who have time for such a search of literature and have access to industrial publications will indeed keep the professional practitioners alerted by sending important abstracts to the AATA. Even the smallest library can acquire copies through library exchange services.

The article by Phillis Dillon is a comprehensive comparison of textile conservation in the UK and USA. This comparison is discussed under the headings of services provided through or for the museums—national, municipal and university. Contrasts in conservation training result in differing roles played by conservators in these two countries. The general storage and exhibition conditions are less often the responsibility of the conservator in the UK than in the States. This is the domain of the curators who are more knowledgeable on conservation science than US curators. These relative responsibilities are an outcome of having more conservators in the UK trained in apprenticeship programs than in university. That all conservators in the States have equal prestige with the curators is perhaps overstated. This article covers many specific details of professional activities and is generous in information such as the comparative availability of established regional centers providing services to small museums and the fees charged.

The three articles, listed as the first of a series, will be stimulating reading for all concerned with the preservation of textiles. One hopes the publication will continue in its stated aims.

Copyright 1983 American Institute of Historic and Artistic Works