JAIC 1988, Volume 27, Number 2, Article 6 (pp. 107 to 111)
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Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC 1988, Volume 27, Number 2, Article 6 (pp. 107 to 111)


1.1 To the Editor:

WE MUST BE GRATEFUL for people who are willing to take the time to write thorough and instructive reviews of books. Newman, et al (JAIC, 27(1988):41–3) in their review of the Trone translation of Herman Kühn's 1986 revision of his 1974 text, Conservation and Restoration provides us both background (by reference to other works) and specific criticisms of the book's contents. There are some problems, however, with the detail which, unfortunately, begin in the first sentence of their review. In what must be a typographical error it is stated that the first German edition of the book was published in 1914 when it actually appeared in 1974 (the earlier date would have given new meaning to the word “precocious” for Dr. Kühn). It is also incorrect to say that the present text is simply a translation with “revisions and updating of some material…” The German edition was written for a general audience and ran 512 pages. The current edition is 262 pages and is substantially rewritten both by the author as well as by the following advisors for different materials: A.D. Baynes-Cope on general paper questions; William Clarke on prints, drawings, watercolors and books; Vivien Chapman on textiles; Anne Moncrieff on silanes and adhesives; Jennifer Cox on insects; and Richard Tuck on leather.

In reading their review I kept having the feeling that I was reading a review of two different books, especially since I had reread Althöfer's review of the 1974 edition (Erhaltung und Pflege von Kunstwerken und Antiquitaten)1 before turning to the new review. Half of Althöfer's review is taken up with Kühn's background and philosophical approach of the book.2 This is drawn both in terms of Kühn's stress on analysis of materials as a basis of conservation as well as his comprehensive reliance on the methods and techniques used in original manufacture and the role of this information in conservation. While Kühn's text is no “manual” in the sense of Plenderleith and Werner's 1971 text, it does describe conservation and restoration techniques as well as methods for authentication and analysis.

There is an attitude in Conservation in general, which is to view with some trepidation the idea of manuals in which the word “recipe” indicates in the reviewer's description. While I do not expect every layman who picks up a Merck Manual at a flea market to begin to operate on himself or his friends, basic manuals abound in most scientific disciplines with the attendant dangers for misuse when in the hand of untrained individuals. Nowhere is this more rampant and the destructive results so apparent as in archaeology. Nevertheless, texts continue to be produced, necessary for the training of students and the advancement of science, and, at times, by way also of these same texts, amateurs (even reformed “pot hunters”) are brought into the fold, so to speak, and acquire professional expertise as well as recognition.

On the other hand, I do expect conservation professionals to be able to judge from their knowledge and experience what is something to experiment with in such texts as Kühn, what is out of date, and what needs revision in light of current knowledge. Also, hopefully we can assume that conservation students will learn this critical approach from their instructors. However, if textbooks and manuals are not written by respected conservation practitioners, then others will write them and they will be put into practice as they will have no competition in the marketplace of frameshops, restoration studios, antique shops, gallery workshops, art and archaeology departments.3 In this respect, criticisms of specific practices put forth in such texts should (when reviewed) be made in detailed clinical rebuttal, otherwise there is no objective information with which to compare the authority of the objection.4 This can create enormous problems in the decision to review a text. For example, in 1982 an individual by the name of William F. Haney II published a manual titled, Handbook of Paper Conservation. I acquired a copy for the conservation laboratory at the Achenbach Foundation in order to evaluate the methods presented. This proved impossible when, on reading the text, I found that almost every treatment required a reagent produced and available only through the author. Attempts to acquire samples of these reagents for analysis were unsuccessful, while the purchase of the full set was beyond our means. Still, the text is used by numbers of individuals and while I have met one who gained their training from the text (as part of the training given in a conservation school run by the Mr. Haney) and have seen an example of work treated using the methods presented, I could hardly make a reasonable or scientific review of the text from this, aside, of course, from the admonition that the use of such “secret” proprietary reagents constitutes unacceptable practice as defined by the AIC Code of Ethics (Part IV, subsection A).

This is a difficult area even without such problems, as, for example, until recently chemical bleaching was the accepted method of treatment for work on paper, the only question was which reagent was most effective, easily removed and least damaging. A parade of chemicals were “introduced” from the turn of the century (e.g. ethereal hydrogen peroxide) to chlorine dioxide gas exposure treatment. Now light bleaching is the vogue and chemical bleaching is out. Were people using these methods two years ago all “wrong” and now all “right”? There were certainly no lack of scientific papers reporting on experimental testing for comparative effects of these treatments, color reversion, etc. Based on this dismal record (and this is only one procedure) how do we evaluate texts?

Some tantalizing comments have been made in this area by Sheldon Keck in an article on picture cleaning controversies in the AIC Journal (v.23, 1984:73–87). Keck adequately summarized the subject and brought it up to date. This was a valuable exercise for students and for practitioners faced with wary collectors and curators made jittery by journalistic forays into this delicate subject. However, Keck added little to the earlier exposition of the controversies by Brommelle in the way of a solution to the near perennial nature of this debate.5

We certainly must address the questions delivered by an interested public but we cannot ascribe, as Mr. Keck did, base motives to all those who criticize conservation treatments, rather we must remove doubt from methods and intentions. This can only be achieved by a concise and frank discussion of the results of conservation work and the historical progress of the field technically.

It is imperative that an analysis of genuine failures in treatment (along with the study advances I mentioned earlier) be done, both historical and contemporary. The causes that brought these about and a detailed history of advances in the development of treatments must include why certain practices were abandoned and why—objectively—others are preferred. There is an adequate body of literature upon which decisions on when and what kind of treatment is necessary—most of which is based on a long period of scientific research and experimentation. All of this has made the repetition of errors (leading to disasters) by knowledgeable and trained conservators unlikely, if improbable. Such a description of the development of conservation would show, as has been done in other disciplines, that there has been objective and recognized progress in practice accepted by the field and documented by experimentation and long experience.

The compilation of subject matters so buttressed by documentation into texts of study as are available from the behavioral to the nuclear sciences, would go far to enlighten the public and form a foundation which could deter future accusations. This follows fundamentally from my earlier comments above on the need for texts. Comparing slides of work and stating that one is as it appeared 300 or 400 years ago or attempting to revive a memory 50 years hence concerning the tonal appearance of a work of art (as Mr. Keck does) is not very convincing or scientific. The microscopic examination of paint film and the use of the array of analytic procedures available to us can establish, to a reasonable mind, which treatments were properly conducted and which were not.6 This is what the public is asking for, and what Mr. Keck and others could provide. It might be a painful process in that the work of some well-respected individuals might be criticized (as in the reference by Mr. Keck to work done by Richard Buck). Nevertheless, no one is perfect and investigators of an earlier time become more human by a knowledge of their trials, and practitioners of today can more realistically judge their own work and experience by a more precise knowledge of their predecessors.7

Appelbaum has called for the study of large numbers of the same type of actual objects, as such studies could establish treatment evaluation guidelines.8 This could be done by locating several hundred objects of each type (paper, wood, glass, etc.) which have been conserved over the last 100 years by sending questionnaires to conservators, art and archaeology departments, museums and historical societies. Those objects for which treatment information was available could be grouped into time periods: 100 years, 80 years, etc. A research design for analysis of treatment “success” could be developed and information collected.9 These treatments to date have been greatly affected by the demands of fashion in curation and connoisseurship.10

The development of scientific research that led to the dramatic changes in standardized practice in the 50's and 60's has been undermined by the lack of comparative research in series for practical, routine reference. Specifically, for example, Ruhemann11 presented some data that scientific testing of standard samples under laboratory conditions subjected to artificial aging did not reflect actual behavior of varnish paint films on individual objects. While the limitations of artificial aging have become clearer in recent years, this reflects of course, the variation in materials used (as well as variation in composition) and the complex interplay of the aging of different materials in contact over time and subject to varying environmental conditions, which is also the foundation of Kühn's studies.12 All this is changing rapidly as new research such as that by Dawn and Bresee, adds to the fundamental research built up by such conservation scientists as Feller and Schaffer.13,14

Sensitivity to the needs of curators and archaeologists is increasing, and, I think, the attitudes of the past which caused such responses as John Casey to say in 1980 “…One gets the impression more and more that conservation takes place for conservators and is no longer a service,”15 and resulted in Michael L. Ingraham's letter to the AIC Newsletter in 1983 expressing the feeling (after attending the AIC conference that year) that conservators had contempt for archaeologists, are changing (v.8;n.4, 1983:19).

I think that on both sides (curatorial and conservation) a meeting of the minds is occurring, and that books such as that by Kühn can only improve things. But I also think changes are going on in the goals and needs of curation that are having profound effects on the direction of conservation.16 Whereas in the past 20 years of museum and university anthropology work, I thought my practice was both conservative and experimental. Today I would consider many of the treatments I executed in that period to be radical and not particularly innovative. In archaeology and anthropology however, we tended, I think, to utilize products as they were available, trusting manufacturers' product data as well as the anecdotal evidence of fellow practitioners. Possibly this is due to the fact that in archaeology/anthropology the major research concern during this period has been focused on typology and dating, and has been interested in objects primarily for comparison with others in the same region or same time and, most importantly, for the purpose of publication. In sharp contrast to the fine arts, in which appearance of objects for exhibition has been the prime concern during this same period, and, as a result, surface features have been under constant and detailed scrutiny. These two generalizations, as distorting as they are, can explain to some extent the lack of interpretation and analysis in English speaking works on conservation which we see in continental publications, where even in archaeology and anthropology interpretation has played a greater role.17

In all, many of the criticisms of Newman, et al., are valid especially as the new edition of Kühn has removed much of the philosophic foundations presented in the German edition. On the other hand, it must be kept in mind that Kühn has been curator (Department of “Handicraft and Old Technology”, Deutsches Museum) during his career as well as a conservator and these two roles and responsibilities are seldom held today by one individual in America. Let's hope that more translations will be done with less drastic tailoring but similar collaboration by specialists.

NiccoloCaldararoSan Francisco State University, 1600 Holloway Avenue, San Francisco, California


. 1See Hienz Althöfer's review of the 1974 edition, in Studies, 19;1974:253–5. The reduction in text has been to sacrifice interpretation.

. 2Much like two recent books by Althöfer, 1) (as editor) with Hiltrud Schinzel, et al, Restaurierung Moderner Malerei, Tendenzen-Material-Technik, Callwey-Verlag, Munich (1985), see review by Manfred Koller in Studies, 32;1987:91–4, and 2) Das 19 Jahrhundert und die Restaurierung, Callwey, Munich (1987), see review by Gustav Merger, Studies, 33; 1988:48–50.

. 3One looks hopefully to the Paper Conservation Catalogue Project that the Book and Paper Group has undertaken in this regard. However, such compendiums of information by groups of individuals cannot be a subsitute for the texts of individuals reflecting their long experience and personal views. Luckily archaeology is somewhat better off here, see my article in JAIC, 26; 1988, and also Sease's recent text on archaeological conservation.

. 4For an excellent example of such comparison, see R.M. Organ's review of Plenderlieth and Werner's 1971 edition of The Conservation of Antiquities and Works of Art, in Studies, 18;1973: 189–194.

. 5Bromelle, Norman, Studies in Conservation, 2(4); Oct. 1956: 176–187.

. 6However, the criteria on which “properly conducted” could be based are yet to be established. Some areas of concern will most likely remain debatable until experimental designs can be developed to test series of objects sufficiently alike in all respects to establish standards. For example, whether interactive zones of paint films and deterioration products are desirable integral elements—patinas—compare Ruhemann, 1968: 216–218, with Calvin Tomkins' interview with John M. Brealey in The New Yorker; March 16, 1987: 44–70, and Joyce Hill Stoner, “Letter to the Editor”, JAIC, 27; 1988:51.

. 7It seems to me that the time is long overdue for FAIC to obtain rights to Eric Hulmer's book (1955) and republish it. The attitude Hulmer describes and the approach he brought to his work is much needed today. See also Guy Petherbridge's comments on the role of conservation in his abstract in the Conference Notes to the 1986 Institute of Paper Conservation, D137–8, and compare with Casey's comments in footnote 15).

. 8Barbara Appelbaum, “Membership”, AIC Newsletter, 11(2); March, 1986: 21–2.

. 9The Getty Conservation Institute could undertake such studies, in association with the Regional Centers which should have the most thorough documentation.

. 10Eric C. Hulmer, The Role of Conservation in Connoisseurship, 1955; Helmut Ruhemann, The Cleaning of Paintings, 1968: Sheldon Keck, “Some Cleaning Controversies: Past and Present”, JAIC, 23(2);Spr. 1984:73–87.

. 11Ruhemann, ibid, 1968: 201; and Clement's work (JAIC, 23; 1983: 47–62) is a step in the right direction.

. 12Robert L. Feller and David B. Encke, “Stages in Deterioration: the Examples of Rubber Cement and Transparent Mending Tape”, in Science and Technology in the Service of Conservation, Preprints of Contributions to the Washington, D.C. Conference, 1982: 19–23; Rachel Howells, Aviva Burnstock, Gerry Hedley and Stephen Hackney, “Polymer Dispersions Artificially Aged”, in Adhesives and Consolidants, Prepreints of Contributions to Paris Congress IIC, 1984: 36–43: Santucci L., Grosso, V., Hey, M. and Rossi, L., “Deacidification of Paper: Some Current Preoccupations”, Conference Notes, Institute of Paper Conservation; 1986: D6–69.

. 13Antoinette Dwan, “Paper Complexity and the Interpretation of Conservation Research”, JAIC, 26(1); Spring 1987: 1–18.

. 14Randall R. Bresee, “General Effects of Aging Textiles”, JAIC, 25(1);Spring 1986: 39–48.

. 15John Casey, et al, “Discussion”, in Numismatics and Conservation, Occasional Papers #1, University of Durham, Department of Archaeology, 1980: 56.

. 16An excellent example of this is Antoinette King's recent article in Drawing, “Technical and Esthetic Attitudes about the Cleaning of Works of Art on Paper”, 8(4): 79–83.

. 17While it may be unfair to compare the new works (see reference 2), to Plenderlieth and Werner (1971) or Ruhemann to Bradley (The Treatment of Pictures, 1950) one gets the same impression. Reference may also be made to von Sonnenburg's comments in the recent Dornberg interview, (Connoisseur; Oct. 1987: 137–143).

Copyright © 1988 American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works