GarryThomson, The Museum Environment. (London, Butterworths: 1979) 270 pages.
When I received an advance flyer last year for The Museum Environment I was pleased to see that, at last, such an important and timely topic had received the attention of a respected author like Garry Thomson. Despite the high cost ($32) I immediately ordered a copy for our library. When the book arrived and I had a chance to thumb through it, I was at the same time delighted at its completeness yet intimidated by its apparent technical complexity. I suspect that at least in part my conservator's instinctive aversion to the highly scientific explained my slowness in producing this review for the Journal. As with so many tasks that seem insurmountable at first glance, I have found that, once into it, the experience was both pleasurable and rewarding.
In many respects, this book is to the topic of the museum environment what Plenderleith's and Werner's The Conservation of Antiquities and Works of Art is to objects conservation. Unfortunately, I fear that many, like myself, will find an initial look at the book intimidating and that they will not read far enough to realize its importance. In fact, the book's greatest fault is its completeness and the thoroughness with which the subjects are treated. Even though the author has divided the material in half, the first part as a “textbook for conservator and curator,” and the second for “workers in the field of conservation research,” it is hard to imagine reading Part Two without having read Part One. My guess is that the first audience is so much greater than the second that it was not a prudent decision to risk intimidating or losing the former readers by the juxtaposition. The author himself seems to recognize the flaw in the marriage and suggests in his Preface that the future may well bring a divorce. Too bad these parts had to start their life together!
Unlike the larger subdivision, which at times appears arbitrary, the organization of topics within the parts is excellent. The broad categories of “Light,” “Humidity,” and “Air Pollution” are presented in a most clear, logical and informative fashion. The basic problems are discussed, preventive measures outlined and instrumentation and methods evaluated. A great deal of every practical information is presented. At the end of the sub-sections are excellent brief summaries which themselves could be made into a very useful booklet. Mr. Thomson's use of analogies to explain scientific phenomena is well thought out.
In some areas, however, and especially in the first section, useful pragmatic information such as specific instructions and cautions regarding light sources are lost among technical explanations. Likewise, I find many of the numerous tables and charts in Part One unnecessary and often more confusing than clarifying for the non-scientific reader. The subtopic “UV Radiation and How to Deal with It” is particularly useful, but t find that gems such as this short section are sometimes lost as the reader wades through “The Spectrum,” “Colour Rendering,” “The Measurement of Colour” and “The Lighting Situation and the Process of Seeing.” These essays might perhaps be given to the party of the second part in any future divorce. The subsection. “A Suite of Exhibition Rooms” could go to the lawyers and not be missed by either Part. The introduction to “Humidity, Part One” is excellent, but by now it should be clear that this reviewer applauds the pragmatic and would like to have seen more information on conditioning silica gel and less on “Understanding the Hygromatic Chart.”
Perhaps because “Air Pollution” is a relatively new topic for all of us, I find Mr. Thomson's terminology essays exceptionally useful. In general, this section is the most concise and clear of all previously considered. My one minor criticism is that I wish he had placed his discussion of bronze disease not under “Air Pollution” but rather under “Humidity,” where it belongs.
Not being a scientist, I feel inadequate to comment intelligently on Part Two of this book. I would like to note, however, that the color illustrations which separate Parts One and Two are great. It is a shame (noting perhaps that there were financial constraints) that these superb plates could not have been closer to the relevent text in the first part. The full impact is so often lost when one has to thumb back and forth.
If only to prove that I did read (if not fully understand) Part Two, I want to note that I believe the section on “The Blue Wool Standards” would be very useful to Part One readers such as myself, a practicing conservator. And while we are at it, could we have custody of the last section, “Future Trends in Environmental Control”? I found it fascinating.ARTHURBEALE