WAACNewsletter
Volume 17, Number 3 .... September 1995

President's Letter

by Pauline Mohr

Hello and Good-bye! This is the last of my President's Letters; next time you'll be greeted by Neil Cockerline, whose excellent article on circus poster highlighted the last Newsletter.

One note of regret: Mary Piper Hough, after many years of dedicated service to WAAC is vacating her position as Secretary/Treasurer to spend a year in the "Research Stream" at Queens University, doing research on contemporary paintings. Since 1992 she has diligently served us in her present position; however she has been involved with WAAC and the Newsletter since 1981. Best wishes to her for this mid-career opportunity. Chris Stavroudis, WAAC member summa cum laude, will assume Mary's role in the meantime. Many thanks to both of them for keeping the machinery running.

The newly elected officers are: Liz Welsh, Vice-President; John Griswold, Mark Harnley, and Karen Zukor, Board Members at Large. I would like to extend my appreciation to the nominating committee comprised of Neil, Glenn Wharton, and Vicky Cassman. Additionally, those general members who nominated candidates deserve thanks.

With the 20th anniversary focus for the September meeting at Montecito-Sequoia and an unforeseen throwback at the St. Paul meeting, I have been prompted to address the issue of "historical perspective". Actually, the true catalyst was Lucy Pearce's talk two years ago at the Marconi Conference Center in which reference was made to a painting I'd treated during my internship in 1974-75 at the San Francisco Museum of Art (now SFMOMA). I realized that as I reached my 20th year in this field I was sure to see more points on the professional circle forming a full circumference. In St. Paul, a furniture conservator focused upon a small Persian inlay table that I'd assisted in treating as part of my first (1973) summer work project from the Cooperstown Graduate Program. Now I truly suspected that from the perspective of 1995 I seemed almost antediluvian, old school, antiquated, whatever. I'd been handling things long enough to begin to see them resurface. And not always positively. Some of the procedures are now just plain "dated".

Twenty years ago I wrote reports that touted new materials and approaches that made me feel progressive and different and an improved version of the "restorer". (Actually, I still do, but now I write them with the more moderate wisdom of a "forty-something".) As I looked at discolored oil retouching, desiccated glue linings, masking tape hinges or paper mounted to wood, I felt my methods were superior, my rationale more sophisticated, and I'd avoid the traps those before had suffered. But here I am at times looking as if I were still wearing bell bottoms in 1995! Newer conservators were pointing their fingers and asking how and why did I do a particular treatment. Didn't I know that...

But the real issue is that we are not new; we are a continuation. We are helped by all the labors of those before us. Whatever breakthroughs insert themselves in the conservation time line, we can only strive to achieve what really seems the best at a given time, under those circumstances and with a reasonable projection of the future. It is tempting to criticize a treatment or philosophy from the advantageous distance of experience. And rightly so if we are to progress. But what must accompany the assessment is a quality of fairness or courtesy. Let us not forget that conservation, like life, has its element of fashion. The beehive hairdo and body piercing will eventually seem the same: quaint symbols of "a new look".

What we essentially do remains unchanged. We love art and hope to convey its essence by allowing the artwork to speak honestly to us and future viewers. Neither do we want to give back a trumped up whore or a ragged urchin. Presumably, we want our work to effect a healthy, vibrant presence. Some would contend there is justification for all of the types, given different outlooks and purposes. Of course, just as one look can never be completely satisfactory always, we might judiciously combine these attributes, washing and ironing the clothes of the urchin and removing the false diamond tiara from the overdressed woman.

In the last letter, I quoted from Moby-Dick. Yes, I'm still riding BART, but having had to suspend the continuation of this novel, I have only just encountered the first sighting of this great white master. You'll have to plunge yourselves into its depths for your own conclusions. For summer fun there was MOO by Jane Smiley. Sort of "Bud Lite" compared to her earlier fabulous A Thousand Acres but delightfully humorous in its look at the fictitious Moo U of the upper Midwest. (The majority of the books I've mentioned reflect the selections of a small women's book group in the Bay Area, half comprised of conservators. These are your colleagues; this is where they go after hours.)

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