WAACNewsletter
Volume 6, Number 2, May 1984, pp.6-8

Profile: Balboa Art Conservation Center (BACC)

by Gary Wade Alden

The Balboa Art Conservation Center was founded by RICHARD D. BUCK and incorporated as a non-profit cooperative conservation facility in March of 1975. The center was modeled after the Intermuseum Conservation Association of Oberlin, Ohio, which Mr. BUCK had founded in 1952. The original laboratory was established for the conservation of paintings and polychromed sculpture. The three institutions which formed the San Diego consortium were the Timken Gallery, the University of California at San Diego (which was with BACC until 1977) and the Fine Arts Gallery of San Diego, in which BACC began with two basement rooms and one telephone. As the FAGSD metamorphosed into the San Diego Museum of Art, BACC also grew to occupy six rooms, some of which were located three floors and many corridors away from the others. The roster of museum members belonging to BACC grew to include: the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art (76-), the Phoenix Art Museum (76-), the Santa Barbara Museum of Art (76-), the Charles W. Bowers Memorial Museum (76-), the Laguna Beach Museum of Art (76-), the Denver Art Museum (76-78; the Denver Art Museum left BACC upon the establishment of the Rocky Mountain Regional Conservation Center), Hearst Castle (76-), the University Galleries of the University of Southern California (77-83), the University of Arizona Museum of Art (79-), and the San Diego Historical Society (80-.) BACC has also worked on an occasional basis for non-member museums, including the Portland Art Museum, the Anchorage Historical and Fine Arts Museum, the La Jolla Purisma Mission, the California Railroad Museum in Sacramento, the California State Capitol Restoration Project, the Fresno Metropolitan Museum, the Old Mission San Luis Rey and over 40 other institutions.

BACC employed two conservators in 1975 and treated only twenty- five objects, but during 1983 a staff of up to 14 people treated 232 objects. Pressures to expand led BACC to transfer quarters in August 1981 to a nearby building thereby tripling work space to 4500 square feet and enabling the lab to offer a facility for paper conservation. Since 1981 BACC has been located at the Casa de Balboa, a national landmark which was originally built in 1915 for the Panama California International Exposition. Patterned after the Government Palace in Queretaro, Mexico and the Moorish Towers in Spain, this Spanish-Baroque building was one of the most elaborately ornamented structures in the Exposition at Balboa Park. Unfortunately a fire in 1978 reduced the original building to rubble, however it was reconstructed three years later as an exact duplicate using the original plans and fiberglass molds of the surviving original ornamentation. BACC was the first occupant in this city owned building when it re opened. BACC now shares the Casa de Balboa with the Museum of Photographic Arts, the San Diego Model Railroad Museum, the San Diego Hall of Champions (a sports museum), the San Diego Historical Society Research Archives and the Museum of San Diego History.

Conservators who have worked at BACC include RICHARD D. BUCK, the first director (75-77), Norman Muller (75-76), Robert McGiffin, Jr. (76-77), George L. Stout, who served briefly as acting director (77-78) after the death of Richard Buck, Ann Rosenthal (77), Steven Kornhauser (77), Yoshiyuki Nishio (77), Cynthia Stow (77), Bruce Miller (77), Sara Fisher (77-81), Laura Juszczak (78- 79), Janice Antonacci (82), Leslie Kruth (82) and Joan Samuels (83.) The present staff includes Gary Wade Alden, director (77-), Betty L. Engel, chief conservator of paintings (79-), Elizabeth H. Court, conservator of paintings (80, and 81-), Alfredo N.M. Antognini, conservator of paintings (78-), Marie E. Fox, conservator of paintings (77-) and Janet E. Ruggles, conservator of paper (82-.)

BACC has also had eight student assistants, six of whom have continued on to graduate training programs: Wendy Bennett (78-80) at New York University; CANDY KUHL (79-81) at the Courtauld; Laurent Sozzani (80-81) at Winterthur; Monica Jawarski (81-83) at Cooperstown; Marc Harnly (83) at Cooperstown and Victoria Jeffries (83-84) who will matriculate at Winterthur this coming autumn. Jeff Maish (81-83) and Candace Bott (83-) continue working toward eventual acceptance in a graduate training program.

BACC Structure and Operations

BACC is administered by a cooperative alliance of museums which have joined together to support the Center for their mutual benefit and in an effort to provide services to institutions throughout the region. Institutional membership is open to all nonprofit charitable, scientific and educational organizations. Members have a voice in determining the Center's policies and operating procedures through attendance at annual meetings and eligibility for representation on the Board of Trustees. There are two financial obligations for membership in BACC: a one-time non-recoverable fee upon joining and a commitment to use BACC services at a specified minimum level each year. Non-member institutions may take advantage of BACC's services, however members enjoy reduced hourly rates and preferential scheduling.

Although BACC does not accept individuals for membership, privately owned works may be referred to the staff through a member museum or cooperating institution. Publicly supported non- profit institutions may request services for objects they own, have in their custody or in which they have an interest.

BACC received initial support from the National Endowment for the Arts from 1976 through 1979 and in 1981 the NEA awarded funds toward the construction of the new BACC facility. Other donation and grant monies for this project came from the James Irvine Foundation, the James S. Copley Foundation, the Reuben H. Fleet Foundation, the Putnam Foundation, the Parker Foundation and the Del Mar Charities. A grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation supports supplemental activities in research and education. BACC's basic operating budget, however, since 1979 has been maintained exclusively by operating income, that is, by fees charged for conservation services. These services include on-site inspection of collections, emergency first aid, and consultation as well as examination, analysis and treatment of easel paintings, polychromed sculptures and works of art on paper.

BACC offers conservation counseling to the public by appointment at a free clinic held in the lab one afternoon each week. During this time conservators will examine without charge, any object brought in by a private owner. BACC also offers a public tour of its laboratories on the last Wednesday afternoon of each month. BACC has an active lecture schedule throughout the San Diego community and hosts many private tours of the laboratory as a part of many local courses of study. In September 1984 BACC plans to open a permanent public exhibition area which will feature, in addition to changing displays, a viewing window into the painting conservation laboratory.

BACC facilities were open to a tour of conservators attending the AIC meeting in Los Angeles. They visited the nine rooms which BACC now occupies and were able to peruse various and sundry equipment therein, including three binocular stereomicroscopes for the scrutiny of object surfaces and for photomacrography; two polarizing light microscopes for the analysis of samples; x-ray equipment for the study of paintings, paper and thin metals; miscellaneous equipment for a full range of documentary photography (normal, raking light, infrared reflectance, infrared false color, and ultraviolet excited/visible fluorescence photographs); a vacuum hot table for paintings; a suction table for paper; an ethylene oxide fumigation chamber; spray equipment and local fume exhausts.

BACC also houses a reference collection of some 500 vials of pigments which belonged to the late Edward Waldo Forbes, former director of the Fogg Museum.

BACC accepted an invitation to associate membership in the National Conservation Advisory Council in 1978 and has served as a voting member since 1980. BACC is now a member of the National Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Property. BACC is also one of ten members of the Association of Cooperative Conservation Centers founded in Denver in 1982.

Further information about BACC staff, services and operating procedures is detailed in an Information Leaflet which is available on request from the Balboa Art Conservation Center, P.O. Box 3755, San Diego, CA 92103.

Gary Wade Alden, Director
Balboa Art Conservation Center

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