MARK LEONARD, ED., PERSONAL VIEWPOINTS, THOUGHTS ABOUT PAINTINGS CONSERVATION. Los Angeles: Getty Publications, 2004. 136 pages, softcover, $29.95. Available from the Getty Conservation Institute, 1200 Getty Center Dr., Los Angeles, Calif. 90049; www.getty.edu/ bookstore. ISBN 0-89236-698-2
This is a modest but dense and engaging book of the proceedings of a two-day symposium organized by the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Getty Conservation Institute, and the Getty Research Institute that took place on June 21–22, 2001, at the Getty Center, Los Angeles. Mark Leonard, who co-organized the conference, edited the book and wrote the introduction. There is a foreword by Thomas Crow, director of the Getty Research Institute; Deborah Gribbon, former director of the J. Paul Getty Museum and vice-president of the J. Paul Getty Trust; and Timothy P. Whalen, director of the Getty Conservation Institute.
The book is organized into sections corresponding to the three sessions of the conference. Each section contains essays by two conservators who had been asked to reflect on treatments they had used, to focus on one or two, and to recall what they did and why. Using the benefit of hindsight, they were asked to consider what they liked about the treatments and what they might now do differently. Before the symposium, their essays were sent to the other participants (curators and a conservation scientist), who were called upon to comment and add their own reflections after the oral presentations. Panel discussions, where others joined in, followed.
The conservators were David Bomford, senior restorer of paintings, National Gallery of Art, London; Andrea Rothe, then senior conservator for special projects, J. Paul Getty Museum; Carol Mancusi-Ungaro, director of conservation, Whitney Museum of American Art, and founding director of the Center for Technical Study of Modern Art, Harvard University Art Museums; Jorgen Wadum, chief conservator, Royal Cabinet of Paintings, Mauritshuis, The Hague; Zahira Véliz, London-based freelance conservator and independent art historian; and Mark Leonard, conservator of paintings, J. Paul Getty Museum.
Other participants included John Walsh, director emeritus of the J. Paul Getty Museum; Philip Conisbee, senior curator of European paintings, National Gallery of Art, Washington; Ashok Roy, head of the Scientific Department, National Gallery of Art, London; and Scott Schaefer, curator of paintings, J. Paul Getty Museum. Several additional curators and conservators from the Getty spoke during the panel sessions. Their words are included in the transcription.
Without exception, the authors acknowledge the privilege all professional conservators have to engage directly with works of art. They address the need for collaboration across the disciplines of conservation, art history, and conservation science. And they are invested in the endeavor to understand the works in their historical context through research. Armed with this knowledge, we make better decisions—whether to intervene or not to intervene and what the limits of the intervention will be. These threads tied the conference, and now the essays, together. Not only is it stressed that this collaboration is the responsible thing to do for the sake of the objects we treat today, but the authors underscore the importance of this context in the legacy we leave.
David Bomford, Andrea Rothe, John Walsh, and Ashok Roy were the speakers in session 1. Bomford's piece, entitled “The Conservator as Narrator,” focused on the changing academic role of the conservator over the past 30 years. Through material research and documentation (technical art history), conservators increase the understanding of a work of art. The practitioner has the awesome responsibility of “editing the visible history” of a work of art through intervention or nonintervention. The conservator as communicator of an artist's technique tells the story through the understanding of materials. He or she then contemplates intervention. Andrea Rothe discussed several treatments with an eye to outlining differing approaches and the thought processes behind them. The restoration of the Getty's The Virgin Mary with Saints Thomas Aquinas and Paul, c. 1330, by Bernardo Daddi (1280–1348) was of particular interest, especially in the context of Bomford's discussion of the conservator's role in connoisseurship. John Walsh followed with reflections on his own career as museum director. Commenting on the statements made by the two conservators, he added his views on interventions, the important role of conservation history, and how conservators seem now to be more accepting of natural changes, intervening less and realizing the finality of major decisions. Ashok Roy then added comments from a scientist's perspective, noting how conservation science has grown and where room for growth remains.
The lively panel discussion that followed was of particular interest. We heard the frank voices across the disciplines, from the speakers as well as other members of the J. Paul Getty Museum staff, discussing the history of the object and the history of the interventions. When does the intervention become so important to the history of the piece that it is worth consideration in a future treatment? The example of a painting by Giovanni Canaletto (1697–1768), in which clouds were repainted by John Constable (1776–1837), was notable. The responsibility of museum professionals is to select a narrative for a work of art, the “ultimate point of reference being the original work of art” (p. 35).
Session 2 proved equally engaging and continued the theme. The speakers were Mark Leonard, Jorgen Wadum, and Philip Conisbee. Leonard presented a very personal view of several of his treatments, exploring the reasons for the treatment choices and his thoughts as he approaches a work of art. Conservators must let the work of art guide them through the treatment, Leonard said. The artist's voice has to lead the way, as they quiet disfiguring loss and old restoration, acknowledging that they can never know the true appearance of the original and accepting natural change. Jorgen Wadum elaborated on the impact of our treatments and the responsibility that we have to increase understanding of works of art— how they may have changed and why, how science is instrumental. We must disseminate this information in our global society, he said, unveiling the “mysticism and alchemy” (p. 60) that once prevailed in our field. He concludes by returning to the question of whether we should preserve the “history” of the object or, accepting its age, attempt to bring it closer to its original state, always being mindful of the “why” of our interventions. Philip Conisbee reiterated the importance of collaboration in the “creative tension between the aesthetic and our historical awareness of a given work” (p. 75). He spoke to the fact that while we may try to “let the work of art” speak to us, it may not always be so easy. Works of art change, as do the contexts in which we view them. They are no longer in their original locations, in many cases, or viewed under the same circumstances (gallery lighting, for instance), so we must acknowledge our subjectivity when we make evaluations.
The panel discussion following this section was especially persuasive in focusing on the idea that conservators should be more expressive when writing treatment reports, that they should include more of their thought processes, more of the reasons they have made their decisions.
Session 3 included presentations by Carol Mancusi-Ungaro, Zahira Véliz, and Scott Schaefer. In a compelling account of the study and treatment of the Rothko Chapel paintings, Carol Mancusi-Ungaro related her thoughts, misgivings, and triumphs. She effectively and candidly gave a window into her process and professional growth along the way. While Zahira Véliz began her career in museums, she sought work in the field so that she could see and treat works of art (paintings) in their original context. This approach allowed her the extraordinary opportunity of working on, among other things, virtually untouched 16th-century paintings, a humbling experience for the author. She speaks of the necessary judgment of the conservator, because it is they, after all, who ultimately treat (or mistreat) the paintings. Scott Schaefer wrapped up this session by articulately echoing the themes of the conference—namely, that it is difficult to truly know the original work of art and that collaboration helps us to make more informed decisions about our treatments and to share the burden of these decisions.
A dynamic panel discussion followed. Carol Mancusi-Ungaro engaged in an interesting dialogue with the others about the legitimacy of contemporary artists' restoring their own works. In the spirit of wanting to try to understand the artist's vision, she asked, if it was fair to ask living artists to restore their own works? Ashok Roy entered the conversation from a scientific point of view, raising a query about the longevity of materials and practices of some contemporary artists.
John Walsh closed the conference by applauding those in the group for their presentations and recognizing the improvements in conservation practice today. More realistic goals, better, more extensive research, and greater humility result in better work, he said. Time was cited as a factor in making conservators better practitioners—the necessity of sufficient time to do quality work. And conservators must communicate, through their own documentation but also through public education, increasing public awareness of conservation globally.
The two-day seminar was clearly lively and compelling. Even experiencing it through the essays reveals the surprisingly candid conversations among professionals. So heartfelt are the comments of the authors that we forgive the occasional self-serving lapse. For people in the field, there is much we can identify with and much to which we can aspire. But the book is also accessible to the lay public, a goal outlined by John Walsh in his closing remarks. It is a way of reaching out to give people a glimpse at the mechanisms and complexities of the curatorial side of the museum world.
- Patricia Sherwin Garland
- Yale University Art Gallery
- P.O. Box 208271
- New Haven, Conn. 06520-8271
JOANNA M KOSEK. CONSERVATION MOUNTING FOR PRINTS AND DRAWINGS: A MANUAL BASED ON CURRENT PRACTICES. London: Archetype Publications, in association with the British Museum, 2004. 185 pages, hardcover, $60. Available from http://www.archetype.co.uk. ISBN 1-873132-59-X.
Joanna Kosek has given paper conservators a rare treat in this comprehensive examination of mounting works of art on paper at the British Museum. She and her many colleagues have compiled instructions, color photographs, and diagrams illustrating close to a hundred procedures, as well as discussion of the history, philosophy, and practical issues. The range is defined by restricting the topic to British Museum procedures, but the breadth and long history of these collections have led to a great diversity of solutions.
This book is presented with two apparent goals: it acts as both a practical manual and a history of the evolution of conservation mounting, as seen through the lens of the British Museum. Both aims are of interest to paper conservators, while preparators and curators-historians will likely each find one-half of the book rewarding. Limiting examples to the British Museum collections is useful, as the author describes these procedures with the authority of experience. Kosek is also in position to frankly evaluate how each method has stood the test of time, which she does not hesitate to do. Along with an abundance of optional techniques, she advises which options are appropriate for different situations.
In the first section of the book, the history of mounting works of art on paper at the British Museum is discussed. As that institution has certainly been a great influence in the field, this book can almost be seen as a history of mounting in Western museums. The British Museum has an exceptionally large collection of prints and drawings that is heavily used by readers and has therefore required simple, sturdy, and easy-to-use systems for access and storage. Common techniques such as the window mat, title-stamping, and inlay or false margin mount were developed or popularized in this Prints and Drawings Department.
Another essay in this section offers a succinct outline of conservation issues involving works of art on paper, especially those that can be addressed through careful mounting. Kosek's commentaries throughout the book on the conservation principles and underlying philosophies are both apt and well placed. This discussion, while sometimes obvious to another paper conservator, is essential for a book that might be used as a manual for preparators and private framers.
The second section of the book is a series of instructions on various procedures performed in the British Museum preparators' studio. These range from the most basic and universal, such as hinging a window mat, to hand-setting movable type for labels—a practice that may persist only at the British Museum. Each technique is broken into simple steps and illustrated with high-quality color photographs. Where a line diagram would be more helpful, this is also provided. Not only are the instructions well written and easy to follow, but the graphic design also makes this book a pleasure to use. The color photographs throughout are clear and informative, and the book's ample size (pages are standard A4 paper, 21 x 29.7 cm) means that each procedure can fit comfortably on a single page. Kosek is also not afraid to use bullet lists where appropriate, so the manual reads quickly and with emphasis. The procedures section offers such a wealth of options that I can see myself flipping through the pages when I need inspiration on a particularly unusual mounting problem.
Some aspects of this book may diverge from other traditions of conservation mounting. The precisely framed goal of this publication was to describe practice and history at the British Museum, which will not always align with practice elsewhere. The divergence that is most obvious is the issue of inlays, also known as false margins. Inlaying is a procedure in which a drawing is adhered at all edges to a window of paper so that it can be handled by the new margin. Insensitive inlays are terrible things that can cause stress, cockling, indented lines, abrasions, and tearing. Insensitive mounters may use heavy cards as inlay, glue with irreversible, poor-quality adhesives, and shave down the verso edges of artworks to give a smoother join. Because of such examples of abuse, inlays have a bad reputation with many conservators, especially in North America. Kosek acknowledges the possible criticisms, and she references dissenting opinions, but she explains the specific advantages of inlays that have led to the British Museum's continued use of this technique. She also includes instructions for much safer methods of inlaying and agrees that it is not the appropriate solution for all collections. This discussion is a professional handling of an issue on which conservators are certain to disagree.
Another detail resulting from the British origin of the book is the terminology. Though there are no references to “flats,” “brollies,” or “prams,” many common mounting words are different from North American terminology. For example, Kosek uses “sunk mount” to refer to a window mat and back board, while I would say “sink mount” to describe building up the edges of a back mat to accommodate a thick work of art (which Kosek calls an “inset mount”). Although unfamiliar, Kosek's terminology is generally more specific than ordinary daily usage in paper laboratories, and a glossary is included. Similarly, her use of micrometers rather than plies or inches to discuss board thicknesses is more precise, but these details throughout require a more careful reading for North American audiences.
The sizable section of instructions is the most satisfying part of the book for practical use. However, the organization of this section is an unsatisfying feature. Each procedure on each page is extensively cross-referenced to other procedures. The very first set of instructions—for making a standard overthrow (window) mat—has eight steps that contain references to five other procedures. These complexities are partly the nature of matting, a complicated procedure with many related skills. But it might have been more useful to begin with the small, basic steps (like cutting the mat) before tackling assembly. Multiple references are ideal for academic writings, but they are an interruption when they occur in cookbook-style manuals. And because the mounting instructions are so beautifully presented in cookbook form, I almost wish they included a list of ingredients, tools, and baking times. All the information needed can be found in this book, but following the cross-references and checking the glossary will require page flipping, backtracking, and patience.
In two instances the conservation advice offered touches on areas where paper conservators may disagree, each with good reasons. One illustration shows an artwork being bent and inserted into a photo corner-type pocket, without any accompanying discussion of how to decide if the paper can withstand this treatment. Also, mount finishing such as corner rounding and sanding bevels on mounts should ideally be performed before the artwork is attached. The illustrations depict this sequence, but the text instructs performing finishing after attaching the artwork.
Clearly the illustrations add depth and sometimes corrections to the text. It is through the photographs and diagrams that this book stands out from comparable literature. It surpasses other classics like the Paper Conservation Catalog's Chapter 40: Matting and Framing, Anne Clapp's Curatorial Care of Works of Art on Paper (1987), and Merrily Smith's Matting and Hinging of Works of Art on Paper (1981) in visual clarity and breadth. While there are many conservation pamphlets and book chapters on matting and framing, they are generally only a few pages illustrated with line drawings or black-and-white photographs. In comparison, this book is lush and plump, although the basic conservation principles have not advanced since other worthy works were published.
The multiple options presented in the procedures section are sure to include new ideas for every reader, but by limiting it to British Museum procedures some common and effective solutions are omitted. This specialization makes this book a wonderful resource, but it cannot fully replace its more modest predecessors. The step-by-step instructions, in combination with perfectly planned photographs, have introduced a new level of instructional literature. But they also hint at the possibilities of an even better cookbook, with better organization, that includes procedures from conservation studios all over the world.
The essays on mounting history and conservation theory are excellent summaries of these topics, familiar to conservators. Besides being a pleasure to read, they are great resources for curators and historians. The final section, although presented as instructions on title-stamping mounts, is mostly of historical interest.
Any minor gaps mentioned in this review are noticeable only because the book itself is so comprehensive. Overall, the book is a pleasure to hold, a pleasure to read, and a pleasure to use. It sets a very high bar for any future publication on matting and framing, and it is a valuable addition to conservators' and preparators' bookshelves. Joanna Kosek and her colleagues have created a remarkable book. Its strengths bode well for the British Museum's 2005 conference,“Mounting and Housing Art on Paper for Storage and Display,” which aims for an international perspective not intended by this book, so its post-prints should make the perfect supplement to this excellent publication.
- Heather Hendry
- Project Conservator
- Weissman Preservation Center
- Harvard University
- 821 Holyoke Centre
- Cambridge, Mass. 02138
SHERELYN OGDEN, ED., CARING FORAMERICAN INDIAN OBJECTS: A PRACTICAL AND CULTURAL GUIDE. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2004. 258 pages, softcover, $39.95. Available from the Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1-800-647-7827; www.mnhs.org/mhspress. ISBN 0-87315-505-6.
From cover to cover, Caring for American Indian Objects: A Practical and Cultural Guide, is wrapped with the American Indian voice. While most of the actual how-to-care-for-collections information can be found in many previously published sources, it is the inclusion of the American Indian perspective in a volume on standard museum practices that makes this book of particularly different value to Indian and non-Indian users and readers. For example, in the foreword, “Obligation to Our Past,” Joseph Horse Capture (A'aninin [Gros Ventre]) writes, “I believe that it is our responsibility, as Indian people, to preserve our culture, including the items that were used by our ancestors. … With more and more tribes taking a proactive approach to building facilities to house items from their tribe and building collections, the future of these important materials is promising. Once these items are gone, this important physical link to our ancestors, the items that they wore or held in their hands, is gone forever” (p. v). Horse Capture is one of the several American Indian authors who refer to the importance of preserving what, first, was taken away by non-Indians and, second, still exists for today's Indian people to learn from and connect to. One after another, the 14 American Indian participants in this book guide the reader and user into understanding the perspective of an American Indian working in a museum or cultural institution. If you read carefully, you find that it is not just about the material that needs to be preserved; it is also about the family and cultural ties and identity held within the materials that are so important to the perpetuation of culture.
Editor Sherelyn Ogden points out in her introduction,“This book is intended to be used by people who have little or no training or experience in standard museum practice but who seek additional information. The primary audience for this book is the American Indian people who are charged with the care of their cultural items. A secondary audience is the staff of cultural institutions of all sorts who seek introductory information on how to care for American Indian collections” (p. xiii). The goal of the book, states Ogden, “is to make available a body of practical information that focuses exclusively on the care of these items” (p. xiii). Ogden interviewed several American Indian people about undertaking this book prior to writing it to make sure that it would be useful and that appropriate topics would be discussed. She “was concerned that this book might be unnecessary; items clearly have lasted for generations by tribal care methods, so standard museum methods and techniques might not be needed. But the American Indians I consulted felt it was useful for the people who make decisions about care of items to have as much information as possible, and that the book would be helpful” (p. vii). Appropriately, a statement at the beginning of each chapter acknowledges traditional cultural care practices and clarifies that information in the chapter is offered as additional preservation methods available for use at the discretion of the individual caretaker. Ogden also acknowledges that a broad approach has been taken to encompass the general needs of cultural items of all American Indian people. By addressing the general issues at an introductory level, the book will find use by the diverse American Indian cultures. The book is also repetitious by design because it is intended to be used as a topic-specific reference manual rather than being read cover to cover.
Part I, “Cultural Considerations of Preservation,” encompasses chapters 1–5. Each chapter has been written by an American Indian. Chapter 1, “Why Should American Indian Cultural Objects Be Preserved?” by Sven Haakanson Jr. (Alutiiq-Sugpiaq), states that because museums contain “implicit information and knowledge about how each Native group made and used its material culture,” they “play a very important role in the preservation of American Indian history. They are caretakers of objects that have proven to be a way for us to learn and understand our past traditions. Without these collections Natives would have an even harder time demonstrating their links to their prehistory and the heritage of their people” (p. 4). Haakanson goes on to state that “cultural items are more than objects of art or representations of primitive peoples. They are cultural links between the past, present, and future for specific groups of people” (p. 5).
Chapter 2, “Handling Considerations: One Person's Story,” by Joan Celeste Thomas (Kiowa), discusses guidelines for handling items that may be culturally sensitive. Thomas's first question is always, “Should I even be involved in handling this particular object?” (p. 8). From the cultural perspective of respecting that only certain individuals should possess particular cultural knowledge, Thomas is careful to tell the reader that, “If for cultural reasons I feel uncomfortable, I will discuss this with an appropriate tribal member and also relay my concerns to my supervisor” (p. 8). Of primary importance, she concludes, is “respect for the cultural materials with which [one] come[s] into contact” (p. 10).
Chapters 3 and 4 are about considerations involved in displaying American Indian items. Pollyanna Nordstrand (Hopi) and Laine Thom (Shoshone/Goshiute/Paiute) discuss the considerations, approaches, sensitivities, and cultural protocols involved in formulating exhibitions. Nordstrand differentiates a consultation from “a collaboration [which] is a mutually beneficial process and begins by identifying how the desired outcomes will be accomplished for all involved, not just the museum” (p. 13). Nordstrand emphasizes the importance of allowing enough time for the review process. This part of the exhibit planning should not be underestimated or cut short if the museum is to really establish a collaborative relationship with tribes and their cultural representatives.
Chapter 5, by Alyce Sadongei (Kiowa/Tohono O'odham), is titled, “What about Sacred Objects?” This very weighty topic is given much clarity by Sadongei's discussion of sacred objects viewed in light of their original purpose, defining three general categories of use: “Physical Use, Symbolic Use, and Life Ending Use” (p. 17-18). Each category requires different handling sensitivities by the museum and cultural caretakers. Sadongei also instructs the “non-tribal museums to know the difference between active practice and passive accommodation” (p. 18) and then goes on to describe the nature of these phrases as they relate to cultural items in museum collections. This chapter gives respectful and appropriate guidelines to the non-Indian caretaker of American Indian items.
Part II, “General Preservation Considerations,” consisting of chapters 6–12, is primarily written by Ogden with the exception of chapter 9, “Housekeeping,” which is co-authored with Marjorie Waheneka (Confederated Umatilla Tribes); chapter 10, “The Issue of Pesticide Contamination,” written by Nancy Odegaard; and chapter 12, “Registration Methods and Everyday Business,” co-authored by Faith Bad Bear (Crow/Sioux) and Brian M. Kraft. This part presents information based on standard museum practices. The reader is advised to
“consider the cultural priorities of the items in your care and adapt the general care suggestions as needed” (p. 21). Each of these chapters makes an important contribution to the “book as manual,” covering causes of deterioration, storage issues, handling, housekeeping, pesticide contamination, display, and registration requirements for cultural institutions. American Indian cultural centers or museums with repatriated or taxidermied items will find the completeness of information in chapter 10 on pesticide contamination extremely helpful. Odegaard points out,“Because these items are being handled and used in traditional ways, pesticide contamination is an especially urgent and serious concern” (p. 69). In chapter 12, Bad Bear and Kraft emphasize that standard museum registration requirements should be adopted by American Indian culture centers and museums. Compliance with the American Association of Museums standards is stressed if loaning to or requesting loans from other places is of interest.
Part III, “Specific Preservation Considerations,” deals with material-specific guidelines for preservation. Fifteen chapters cover these topics: skin and skin products; quills, horn, antler, hair, feathers, claws, and baleen; shell; bone, ivory, and teeth; glass beads; textiles; metals and alloys; wood and birch bark; ceramics; stone; plastics and modern materials; paper; plant materials; audiotapes and videotapes; and framed items. These chapters were written by the conservators at the Minnesota Historical Society— Paul Storch, Ann Frisina, Thomas Braun, and Ogden. Each chapter begins with the caveat that the information is not meant to take the place of traditional preservation methods but is to be considered as additional methods offered for use. The content of these chapters is very straightforward and well illustrated, with good basic introductory collections care and conservation information. All include the same subdivisions of identification and general information; basic care and storage; special pest concerns; routine handling; display issues; mounts and supports; and cleaning and minor repairs. Some chapters have more information about treatment than others, but overall they are relatively similar in level of information even though they were written by four different conservators. I would have organized these chapters in a more scripted order such as separating out organic materials commonly found in American Indian collections—proteinaceous, cellulosic, and then inorganic materials, followed by modern materials and those not implicitly related to American Indian items such as plastics, audiotapes and videotapes, and framed items. The current sequence seems to lack an order, making it less easy to assist the user through the “book as manual.”
The epilogue, “The Value of Preserving the Past: A Personal Journey,” by Nokomis Paiz (Anish-niabe/Ojibwe), is an incredibly poignant statement by an American Indian about museums and the 21st century. Paiz and her mother, Kathryn “Jody” Beaulieu (also quoted in the book), live and work on the Red Lake Indian Reservation in northern Minnesota and have had an ongoing relationship with the Minnesota Historical Society (MHS). Paiz struggles with the “double-edged sword” of museums, collections, and research in relationship to Native people on the reservation trying to preserve their culture. She relates a difficult experience of seeing her culture on display in a foreign museum, saddened in knowing that these items were thousands of miles away from the culture that made them and the people who know them best but do not even know that they exist. Paiz says, “Museums should let their collections be known and used by Indian communities to give back some of what was taken. Also, so many times non-Indian people have done the research and the writing about collections, and it is long overdue to involve Native people” (p. 212). She thanks the MHS for its openness to working with Native people and urges other museums to involve Native communities in the collections as equal partners, “sharing the research, the writing, the decision making, and the responsibility for the care of our items, or, better still, that we preserve our heritage ourselves in our own museums and culture centers” (p. 212).
It is interesting for me to review this book as the head of conservation at the National Museum of the American Indian and as a non-American Indian. While I have been working with American Indians for many years, it is impossible for me to review this book from the American Indian perspective for its effectiveness in tone, tenor, and content. Because American Indians are the main audience for this book, I would find it very enlightening to have this book reviewed by American Indians who work with cultural items. The blending of being an American Indian and a museum professional is not an easy one, as many of the American Indian contributors to this book relate. Tony Chavarria, curator of ethnology at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture/Laboratory of Anthropology in Santa Fe, and Santa Clara Pueblo tribal member, states in “Structural Fills: Preservation and Conservation in a Museum of Living Anthropology” (WAAC Newsletter 27 [January 2005]), that it is a “tight rope walked by the native museum/preservation professional. The line passes through minefields of suspicion, internal schisms, family conflict, and religious restriction” (p. 23).
Western/European–based and American Indian points of view and ways of information sharing are radically different. In early conversations with Ogden and as a reviewer of the manuscript for Caring for American Indian Objects, it was important to me to know that this book would provide something that numerous collections-care books and websites do not. What would make this book unique? What unfilled niche would it fill? Where would the balance of ownership of information lie? I commend Ogden for her sensitivity in seeing noncultural preservation methods as necessary to the preservation of American Indian cultural materials. I also have to ask if the caveat at each chapter heading in part III is the best answer to working toward common ground. If common ground is “their information” and “our information,” museum professionals and American Indians are still at a consultant relationship instead of a partnership relationship. The intellectual ownership within the chapters in parts II and III remains for the most part with the museum professional.
In the past 20 years, conservators and museums have come a long way toward inclusion of their constituents. I hope we can aspire to a place where the balance of intellectual ownership leans toward a more even sharing of information and more incorporation of the first-person voice of American Indians in preservation methods. As Ogden herself states in the conclusion, “Sharing knowledge of both approaches will enrich standard museum practice, enhance care of American Indian cultural items, and further the preservation of the American Indian cultures. We hope this book is the beginning of a mutually beneficial collaboration” (p. 213). I heartily agree.
- Marian A. Kaminitz
- Head of Conservation
- Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of the
- American Indian
- Cultural Resources Center
- 4220 Silver Hill Rd.
- Suitland, Md. 20746
JOYCE H. TOWNSEND, ed., WILLIAM BLAKE: THE PAINTER AT WORK. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003. 192 pages, hardcover, $45.00. Available from Princeton University Press, 41 William St., Princeton, N.J. 08540. ISBN 0691119104.
This publication from the Tate Gallery, London, presents recent research carried out at the Tate on the methods and materials used by the artist and poet William Blake (1757–1827) for his temperas, watercolors, and large color prints. Although there have been previous attempts to describe Blake's unconventional painting techniques (especially his large color prints), only one or two publications have included any technical analysis, and none has had the advantage of up-to-date analytical methods. The nine contributing authors for William Blake: The Painter at Work include historians, scientists, and conservators: John Anderson, Peter Bower, John Dean, Robin Hamlyn, Noa Cahaner McManus, Bronwyn Ormsby, Brian Singer, Joyce H. Townsend, and Piers Townshend. The bulk of the text deals with Blake's choice of materials, the often complex way he uses them, and how they have changed over time. It is divided into five parts (Introduction, Watercolours, Large Colour Prints, Temperas, and Epilogue), which include chapters that are frequently divided into sections with separate headings and topics. Most of the paintings and large color prints examined are from the Tate Gallery's extensive holdings, but some are from other British or North American collections.
The book's most likely audience is from the field of conservation and conservation science, but there is also information to interest the Blake scholar or enthusiast— especially in the first chapter of “Part One: Introduction,” entitled “William Blake at Work: Everything Which Is in Harmony,” by Robin Hamlyn. This introduction to the artist's methods and materials contains interesting research into the connection between his studio spaces (which were usually quite restricted) and his art production. The second chapter of the introduction “The State of Knowledge on William Blake the Painter,” by Bronwyn Ormsby and Joyce H. Townsend with Brian Singer and John Dean, is a useful review of earlier writers on the subject. The third and last chapter by Joyce H. Townsend describes the analytical methods used to examine the various works.
The three main topics of the book are divided under the headings “Watercolours” (Part Two),“Large Colour Prints” (Part Three), and “Temperas” (Part Four). Early in his career Blake experimented with the oil medium, but he quickly dismissed it because of its “yellowing and blurring” tendencies, and unfortunately none of these experimental paintings have survived. The first chapter under “Watercolours” (Part Two), by Peter Bower, is on Blake's use of paper and board. (Blake used boards only during the making of his color prints, so in fact most of this information has more to do with “Part Three: Large Colour Prints”). The next chapter, by Noa Cahaner McManus and Joyce H. Townsend, contains a description of the sequence Blake followed in the execution of his watercolors, divided into early, midperiod, and late works, with several pages devoted to the pigments found in a number of Tate watercolors. The pigments identified correspond to those listed by A. F. Maheux in her 1982 study of eight watercolors from the Harvard University Art Museums, with the addition of indigo (which appears quite extensively in the Tate works) and chrome yellow. Although some general remarks are made on Blake's binding medium (p. 74), it is disappointing that media analysis was not part of this study, especially since this would have been a new area of investigation (as noted on p. 44).
“Part 3: Large Colour Prints” is difficult to follow, no doubt partly due to the idiosyncratic and complicated methods Blake employed for these works. But there is a lack of logical organization in this section. For instance, detailed discussions about dating and paper size precede in-depth descriptions of materials and techniques. In addition, there is no explanation as to why these prints are being discussed in a book on “The Painter at Work,” and under the first subheading, “The Making of the Large Colour Prints,” by Noa Cahaner McManus and Joyce H. Townsend, there is no clear explanation of Blake's printing process. The final chapter in this part, by Piers Townshend and Joyce H. Townsend, describes the conservation of a color print, Satan Exulting Over Eve.
At the beginning of the first chapter of “Part Four: Temperas,” titled “The Painting of the Temperas,” there is a section on “Blake's Fresco Method” by Bronwyn Ormsby with Brian Singer and John Dean. Blake claimed to have “recovered” (p. 37) the art of fresco that he described as merely requiring the presence of a “plaster ground and the absence of an oily vehicle” (p. 111). In spite of an attempt by the authors to connect his technique to fresco secco, the methods and materials he used have little in common with any kind of fresco technique. The five sections that follow in this chapter (which include The Bible Series and The 'Heads of Poets' Series) clearly demonstrate this. They are arranged chronologically and feature works from 1799 to 1826. The supports for these paintings include canvas, wood, and metal, and, in one or two cases, double supports of paper and canvas or canvas and wood. The medium is identified as a combination of gums with the occasional addition of animal glue. The pigments identified include those found in the water-colors and large color prints, as well as eight or nine additional pigments, gold and silver leaf, and shell gold. The final paragraph of this chapter notes:“Interestingly, the analysis and identification of the constituents of Blake's paints consistently revealed that he used the same pigments, media and layering techniques throughout the years of tempera production” (p. 133). This layering technique is described as paint layers alternating with unpigmented layers of animal glue.
The next chapter in Part Four, by Bronwyn Ormsby with Joyce H. Townsend, Brian Singer, and John Dean, attempts to put Blake's use of tempera in context. It includes a brief overview of contemporary colormen and the materials they supplied; an analysis of watercolor cakes from an Ackermann watercolor box; the medium and pigments from three watercolor palettes and boxes owned by J. M.W. Turner; and a look at two of Blake's followers—George Richmond and Samuel Palmer. The information and the accompanying illustrations are connected to Blake when at all possible, but the connection is sometimes slight, especially as Blake apparently mixed his own colors and there are no records of where he bought his materials. The final chapter in Part Four is “The Appearance of Temperas Today” by Bronwyn Ormsby with Brian Singer and John Dean. Even during his lifetime, some of Blake's temperas were described as being in very poor condition. This is a valuable chapter for the conservator. It demonstrates how Blake's painting methods (which he believed would ensure lasting brightness and clarity) all too often led to fading, yellowing, and cracking and consequently in some cases to overzealous conservation treatments.
“Part 5: Epilogue, ” by Joyce H. Townsend, Robin Hamlyn, and John Anderson, deals with the presentation of Blake's paintings. This topic is certainly worth considering, although only 15 works were accepted for exhibition during Blake's lifetime, and framing therefore “played but a small part in Blake's studio routine” (p. 165). The examples of posthumous framing and exhibitions are of some interest nonetheless.
In addition to the main text, the book has 6 analytical appendices and 145 illustrations. The illustrations include plans of his workrooms and living spaces, X-radi-ographs, and cross sections. They are mostly in color and mostly informative. In some instances, however (especially in “Part Two: Watercolours”), they are too small to illustrate the points being made, and occasionally the closeup details are not sharp. As is frequently the case when multiple authors are involved, there is some unevenness and inconsistency in the writing. Also, due to overlapping categories, there is a fair amount of repetition. To give a better flow to the text, the chapter “Analytical Methods”(in Part One) and much of the information in “The Conservation of a Large Colour Print”(in Part Three) could have been presented as appendices.
In spite of information that is not always clearly presented, this publication makes a valuable contribution to the study of Blake's painting techniques. It includes the visual examination and comparison of several works, new analytical data, and historical information that attempts to put it all into context. It will be especially useful to conservators or curators contemplating a treatment, but hard going, perhaps, for anyone who merely wishes to gain a better understanding of how Blake produced his unique paintings.
- Katherine Olivier
- Straus Center for Conservation
- Harvard University Art Museums
- 32 Quincy St.
- Cambridge, Mass. 02138
NEVILLE AGNEW AND MARTHA DEMAS, EDS., PRINCIPLES FOR THE CONSERVATION OF HERITAGE SITES IN CHINA. Los Angeles: Getty Conservation Institute, 2002. 2nd printing rev., available in PDF format only and may be downloaded from http://www.getty.edu/conservation/publications/pdf_publications/reports.html
After World War II, heritage conservation became an international concern. A number of countries have written conservation regulations according to their specific needs. Now China has joined the international community by contributing to conservation theory.
Principles for the Conservation of Heritage Sites in China is an English-language translation of the national guidelines issued by China ICOMOS in October 2000. It was originally written in Chinese to provide a methodological framework for the preservation of heritage sites in China. The Principles were developed by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage of China in collaboration with the Getty Conservation Institute and the Australian Heritage Commission. This slim volume consists of three sections: the Principles, the Commentaries, and an English-Chinese glossary. These sections are followed by a complete Chinese-language text of the Principles and Commentaries. Illustrated examples of successful sites will be added in the future.
The publication is intended for English-speaking heritage preservation specialists who work in China. While this may seem to be a limited audience, it is a group that will undoubtedly grow in the future, involving many foreign specialists using English as a common language. According to the book's introduction, there are more than 300,000 registered cultural sites in China. Among those, 1,268 are identified as National Priority Protected Sites. Prior to the development of the China ICOMOS 2000 national guidelines, there were no written procedures for preservation in this enormous country with its wide variety of peoples and sites.
Between 1949 and 1976 China did not have a legal code. A modern legal code was promulgated only in the late 1970s. Since then, the rule of law in China has grown, as has the recognition of the importance of heritage sites. The first law to protect cultural property was the 1982 Law of the People's Republic of China on the Protection of Cultural Relics. In 1985 China ratified the UNESCO Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. This action brought China into the international community involved with heritage conservation. By the 1990s the recognition and identification of so many important sites made it clear that national guidelines for conservation and management were needed. The present Principles were developed between 1997 and 2000 in consultation with international groups along the lines of the 1964 Venice Charter and the 1999 Burra Charter. As with these documents, the Principles are a living document that will change with the developments in the field.
The Principles are broad statements that provide guidelines for identifying heritage sites and their uniqueness. Among the topics covered are the need for archival records and a flowchart for the conservation process. Most important is the discussion of the need for assessment and interpretation, a conservation master plan, and maintenance for long-term preservation. These Principles and Commentaries will help China provide a more holistic approach to the preservation of its huge number and variety of sites. They also provide enforceable guidelines for the “sustainable development of the national culture” (p. 3).
These Principles are presented as a professional text in a readable format that should serve as a model on which other countries can base their principles for heritage site preservation. Clearly a great deal of time and effort went into compiling and writing these guidelines. There is no group better qualified to participate in the writing of heritage site principles than the Getty Conservation Institute, which has long been a leader in developing heritage management internationally. The editors, Neville Agnew and Martha Demas, have worked in heritage management in China for years and have an excellent understanding of preservation needs at a number of sites.
The Principles have expanded the Burra Charter by adding Commentaries similar to those written for the Code of Ethics of the American Institute for Conservation. However, the Commentaries do not align directly with the Principles. Rather than amplifying the Principles, they provide methodology and serve as criteria for evaluating the results of conservation work. As noted in the introduction, the Principles are in compliance with the existing legislation of China. The Principles help interpret the national laws and regulations as they apply in practice.
The glossary is excellent. Not only does it include Chinese characters and pinyin romanization, but it also provides the literal meanings of the Chinese along with comments. This format allows the reader to gain a deeper understanding of the translations. To make this volume more useful to native Chinese speakers, it should have included a Chinese-English glossary so that both native Chinese speakers and English speakers could use the same volume. To strengthen the reader's understanding of China's concept of preservation, a copy of the 1982 Law of the PRC on the Protection of Cultural Relics should have been included for reference.
It is extremely commendable to see such quick steps taken by China to protect its heritage sites. It is hoped that these Principles will not make all sites look the same but will give enough space for the local people to have some say in the preservation of their home sites. It is also hoped that each site will retain its individual character under these guidelines.
Now that the Principles are written, it would be interesting to know how they are being distributed in China. What member groups or organizations are responsible for seeing they are adhered to? This volume will be a valuable model for other countries developing heritage management methodologies, and this English-language edition will be extremely useful for all who work in China on heritage management.
- Donna Strahan
- Head of Conservation
- Asian Art Museum
- 200 Larkin St.
- San Francisco, Calif. 94102