WAACNewsletter
Volume 18, Number 1 .... January 1996

WAAC Annual Meeting: Presentation Summaries

The 1995 WAAC Annual Meeting was held Sept 9-12 at Montecito-Sequoia Lodge in Kings Canyon/Sequoia National Parks. The papers from the meeting are listed below along with summaries prepared by the speakers.

The first eight papers were given as part of a retrospective look at conservation in the West during the last twenty years. A lively discussion, chaired by Bob Futernick, followed.

Stayin' Alive!

James L. Greaves

1975-1995-WAAC has been stayin' alive. What do you remember about conservation twenty years ago? How many conservators do you recall working west of the Mississippi? What were the current practices within your specialty? Did your specialty even exist?. . .I'm not sure I can remember either, but I'll do my best to stir up some memories and fill in some history of the origins of the Western Association for Art Conservation.

A Brief Overveiw of Painting Conservation During the Last Thirty-five Years (or So)

Thornton Rockwell (Abridged by Pauline Mohr.)

In the mid 19th c. when Delacroix condemned restoration as the worst fate that could befall a painting, he was referring to overpainting by artist-restorers. By the 1930's idealistic graduates from the Fogg Museum Art Conservation Department of Harvard University set out to correct this deplorable practice and create a school of painting conservation which was objective and scientifically based. Among these pioneer art conservators were Sheldon and Caroline Keck.

In the late 50's the Kecks, together with Robert Feller, taught a course at New York University entitled "Fundamentals of Painting Conservation". This course planted the seed for the opening in 1960 of the Conservation Center at the New York University School of Fine Arts. This center became the progenitor of the Cooperstown and Winterthur programs opening in the late 60's and early 70's respectively. Ben Johnson, one of the first to graduate from the NYU program, became chief conservator at the Los Angeles County Museum, and was one of the principal founders of WAAC.

A new spirit of openness in the sharing of knowledge and techniques was entering the field. "The Exposition of Painting Conservation" held at the Brooklyn Museum in 1962 exemplified this spirit. Inspired by the Kecks, the exposition displayed a cornucopia of new equipment, materials and techniques. Wax lining was in its heyday. Glue linings were often removed and replaced with wax whenever safely possible. Animal glue linings were considered to be, and often were, dangerously hygroscopic resulting in massive flaking conditions. Wax-resin linings were performed either by hand with a iron or on the vacuum hot table.

Through the 60's and into the early 70's the continuing desire to flatten planar distortions in paintings led to experimentation with mounting lined paintings to solid supports such as masonite with a hollow or balsa wood core and later, aluminum honeycomb core panels.

Problems associated with the wax infusion of certain paintings had become apparent. Lean paint mixtures could be stained and darkened. Exposed canvas which formed part of a painting's composition could change color and tonal value. In the early 70's Bernie Rabin introduced the use of poly vinyl acetate as a "hot melt" adhesive to deal with these problems. By the mid-1970's Gustav Berger's non-penetrating Beva®; lining adhesives were beginning to see increasing popularity.

By the mid-1980's a reverse in the swing of the pendulum had become obvious. Less structural intervention was acceptable. In the area of cleaning, practitioners were becoming increasingly cautious.

By the 1950's the Kecks had established some objective criteria for the cleaning of paintings. The foundation of their approach to cleaning was to create a margin of safety in the use of solvents on oil paintings. To this end a graduated system of solvent combinations of increasing potency was created. Before cleaning, paintings were tested extensively to determine this marginof safety for original paint and glazes during the removal of obscuring films. Nevertheless, the taste of the period did lean toward thoroughly cleaned paintings rather than undercleaned ones. A wide range did exist in the sensitivity of practitioners in regard to the integrity of works of art.

In the early 70's talented graduates from the Cooperstown, Winterthur and NYU program, and some with Canadian and European training, began to change the face of art conservation in the United States. At this same time other profound changes were being felt in the field. In England much controversy had raged over cleanings of paintings by Helmut Ruhemann and others at the National Gallery in London. The controversy was soon to spill over into the United States. A new way of thinking about the appearance of paintings was emanating from the conservation department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

John Brealey, a prominent picture restorer from England had recently been put in charge of that department. Such influential figures in the art and museum world in the US as Paul Mellon, John Paul Getty, and Charles Wrightsman were favorably inclined toward his way of thinking. Brealey's philosophy declared that the appearance of a painting was what the painting communicated. He claimed that many paintings had gotten out of balance. This visual/esthetic imbalance was due to both natural changes and human intervention. Brealey felt that to work on paintings one must get into the mind of the artist to as great an extent as possible. He seemed to be bringing the subjective back into painting conservation. Precipitously the world of painting conservation was forced into a polarization between the "objective school" and the "subjective school". In 1978 a moratorium on the cleaning of paintings was declared at the National Gallery in Washington, DC.

The fallout of the controversy has been far reaching. Art conservation in general has moved toward a "less is better" approach. In the area of cleaning, Richard Wolbers' formulations and techniques are having continuing ramifications. One hopes the future will create a balance between the various schools of thinking. The pendulum of taste concerning how paintings ought to look has not stopped swinging, and it probably never will. Flexibility and open-mindedness will be necessary to cope with increasing technical sophistication on the one hand and the continuing swings in fad and fashion in the art world on the other.

Furniture's New Moves: Clogging Meets Break Dancing

Mark Harpainter

Furniture has one foot in fine arts and the other in applied arts. Consequently, responsible care and treatment of it requires a dance rooted in tradition while incorporating some of the fancy footwork developed in the conservation profession. Clogging meets break dancing.

Insecticides: Classification and Toxicity

Michael A. Wolf

A brief overview of insecticide classification. Both inorganic and organic insecticide classifications will be presented. The acute toxicity of any insecticide can be readily determined by referring to the "signal" word located on the product label. Integrated pest management strategies for museum pest control and how chemical controls should be applied will be discussed.

Twenty Years of Textile Conservation in WAAC

Stan Derelian

Pat Reeves and S.D. Derelian were the two textile members at the beginning of WAAC. Their many years of experience in many aspects of textile conservation gave them the confidence to try new and different approaches to treatment problems and to share therir successes-and failures. In the 70's and 80's the number of textile conservators expanded greatly, but it seemed to this conservator at least, that there was much less innovation and open communication. In retrospect, this might be attributed to a certain insecurity that goes along with a lack of hands-on experience; however, the situation seems to be changing again as these conservators now have twenty and more years of work behind them. Once again, there appears to be a distinct willingness to discuss and critique both new and old materials and techniques.

How well this experience advances the profession over the next twenty years is an open question as funds become more scarce and must be divided among more projects. The skills that make for an accomplished conservator are not necessarily the skills that it takes to rise to policy making positions within the institutional bureaucracy. Those in the profession who will become administrators at the policy level might not be the conservators with the broadest knowledge of the field. Will that lead to conflict between the working conservator and the administrator in setting priorities for projects, techniques of treatment, availability of materials, and funding? We might know at the fortieth anniversary.

Paper Conservation: 1975-1995

Victoria Blyth-Hill

Information on the evolution of paper conservation as a profession in the western United States was distilled from a survey of veteran paper conservators and conservation suppliers in the WAAC membership. Paper conservation in the late 1960's and early 1970's was a product of varied backgrounds with paintings and textile conservators and bookbinders often being given credit for encouragement and training. Early treatments and materials were drawn directly from other conservation fields and applied to paper treatments. By the late 1970's and early 1980's, paper conservation had come into its own. Availability of specialty materials and equipment designed for paper conservation, research by leaders in the field, and the ultimate experience and maturity of the conservators themselves resulted in sophisticated, individualized treatments and broader perspectives on collection management, storage, environment, transit and display. Factors which have not changed throughout this three decade evolution are our respect and concern for the long term care of the object, good judgment and dedication to problem solving.

The Other Book Repair

Maria Grandinette

All research library collections include non-rare as well as rare books. This talk will focus on developments in the care of general collections materials and the many intersections between "book repair" and "book conservation"

Objects Conservation on the West Coast Twenty Years Ago

Elisabeth Cornu

The talk will center on northern California objects conservation staff twenty years ago at prominent museums and will talk briefly about practices-or the looseness of practices-of that time. It will trace the influence of new conservators arriving from training programs in the later 1970's and early 1980's and will talk about their effect on the professional standards in museum conservation. It will show the drastic changes which have taken place in the field of objects conservation due not only to technological advances in the field, but also due to better ethical standards introduced into the field. (The paper was read by John Burke.)

I Paid My Dues to AIC, for What?

Beverly N. Perkins

As a new board member of AIC, I believe that the members are AIC. The board would like to serve this membership. Please let us know your opinions.

AIC has spent our money to develop and publish all kinds of little goodies which can be used to inform students, clients, or the general public. Feel free to contact any board member, or the AIC office, for a list of materials which are available to members.

The Public History of Filoli

Tom Rogers

The 20th anniversary of WAAC corresponds closely with the public history of Filoli, the National Trust for Historic Preservation house and its sixteen acres of formal gardens, located on the San Francisco peninsula. Twenty years ago the 43-room Georgian-style mansion was empty: architecturally a beautiful example of the work of Willis Polk, but lacking any furnishings. The collections of furniture, decorative and fine arts in the house today tell a story of close relationships with museums, private collectors, WAAC, and its members. This relationship points out the importance of WAAC to house museums and historic properties of all sizes. Is this an area due more focus in the future?

Zeolite Molecular Sieves and Their Use in Preventative Conservation Programs

Siegfried Rempel

Zeolites are naturally occurring aluminosilicate minerals with three-dimensional structures based on (SiO4 )4- and (AlO4 )4- polyhedra. These polyhedra are linked by their corners to produce an open structural form which has internal cavities in which molecules of various sizes can be trapped. The use of natural and synthetic zeolites in industry has been established for a number of years with rapid growth in their use having occurred in the last few decades.

The ability to trap chemical species provides the basis for the emerging application of molecular traps in conservation. The crystalline nature of the molecular sieves provides the inert, non-reactive basis required for use in close proximity to artifact and collection materials while providing a functional role in trapping various molecular species, particularly undesirable gaseous species, which are present in the collection environment. The use of molecular sieves as traps for airborne pollutant gasses as well as traps for the byproducts of deterioration associated with collections, forms the basis of two groups of preventative conservation housing products presently available to the conservation community.

The ability of these product configurations, generally in a paper matrix but not limited to paper, to trap pollutant gases provides passive protection of the collections. In the case of materials which display self-destructive elements associated with inherent vice, these housing materials provide an improved preservation profile for the collections by reducing the rate of deterioration of the artifacts through the isolation of the artifact's deterioration by-products.

The preventative conservation profile of a collection can now be enhanced by using preservation housings which continue to function in the traditional manner, providing physical security for the contained collection materials while also providing a local environment in which pollutant gases and by-products of deterioration are trapped and,thus, prevented from interacting with collection material. (See article pp. 12-18, this issue.)

Science in Conservation-An Oxymoron?

Duane R. Chartier

The purpose of this talk is to examine some of the problems and opportunities associated with the integration of a "scientific approach" into conservation.

Most scientists have not been trained to deal with problems in the real world which is mathematically and statistically "messy". Conservators often have to educate the scientists and tolerate them to some degree. This situation of tense interaction is very common and is particularly evident when listening to the side conversations at conferences.

How many graphs are too many? Are there any truly fundamental ideas? Can science really be of any value? Is statistics a valid representation of practice or experiment? What is science anyway? Why are scientists so obnoxious?

In a slightly humorous and sometimes irreverent manner, some attempt will be made to produce a recipe for when science can be useful.

Exploring Every Girl's Dream

Amy Meyer

Every Girl's Dream (1962) and Woman in a Girdle (1962) are two oil paintings by Ralph Goings in the permanent collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Ralph Goings is a living artist working in the photo-realist manner. These works from early in his career are pivotal pieces exemplifying his search for style and technique. Examination of Every Girl's Dream revealed an intriguing underpainted image which prompted further investigation as well as a comparison with Woman in a Girdle.

This presentation will deal with the preliminary research of these works and the information received from an interview with Ralph Goings. Relevant conservation discussion includes how the underpainted image has affected the surface over time and the artist's opinions on conservation treatment of his own work.

The Examination and Treatment of Two Overdoor Paintings by Francois Boucher

Elma O'Donoghue and Virginia Rasmussen

The in-progress examination and treatment of two paintings by Francois Boucher (dated 1738 and 1741) will be presented. These paintings may have been part of a series of four overdoors for the Hotel de Mazarin in Paris. The sculptor, Nicolas Pinear, designed boiseries for the hotel into which the paintings were set. The paintings were removed from the hotel prior to its demolition in 1826 and were re-installed in the Hotel de Broglie. It is presumed that once they were removed from their second location, sections of the canvas were cut away to facilitate their expansion into a more rectangular format.

Radiographs of the paintings have revealed earlier compositions which can be compared with drawings, previously thought to be unrelated. The evidence provided by the comparison of the radiographs and the drawings strongly supports the provenance of the paintings.

The purpose of the present treatment is twofold: to remove a discolored varnish and to regain the curvilinear shapes both the overdoors originally possessed. It is hoped that the overdoors can then be exhibited in a manner which is more consistent with their original appearance and setting. The removal of old lining canvases and non-original additions exposed early strainer marks, facilitating a more accurate determination of the shape of the paintings. The attachment of new additions and the lining of these two paintings will also be addressed, as will the technique and materials of the artist.

Low-Interventive Upholstery Conservation at LACMA-A Crash Course

Irena Calinescu, Catherine McLean and Jean Neeman

Preparing for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's recent exhibition, "Common Forms, High Art: Three Centuries of American Furniture", the conservation staff was faced with the task of treating over forty upholstered chairs in four months. Most of the chairs in the exhibit did not retain their original upholstery, a majority had inappropriate fabrics, and many profiles were historically inaccurate. The success of this project was only possible through a collaborative effort among members of the textile, objects, furniture and painting conservation labs, Decorative Arts Curator Leslie Bowman, and consulting contract upholstery conservator Elizabeth Lahikainen. The project was coordinated by Catherine McLean, Head of Textile Conservation.

We were able to implement a minimally interventive approach to upholstery conservation, wherein we sought to use methods and materials that are stable and easily reversible. Wherever possible, the insertion of metal fasteners into the wood was avoided, as physical evidence showed us that traditional upholstery techniques were not a suitable conservation option. Repeated upholstering over the years with tacks and nails has damaged many chair rails, leaving them structurally compromised.

This paper discusses techniques we learned and applied during this project, with particular emphasis on the use of historical information, the application of carved high-density Ethafoam seat forms, covering with reproduction fabrics, and applying finishing details. We will share several innovative modifications that were devised along the way. The lecture will be illustrated with treatments ranging in levels of difficulty, from straightforward chairs with slip seats to complicated half over-rail upholstered chairs.

Drawn to Blue: The History of Artists' Blue Drawing Papers

Roy Perkinson

From the late 15th century to the present, blue paper has occupied a special place among artists' papers. For centuries it was, one might say, the only color in which paper was available, apart from a relatively limited range of whites, browns and grays. This lecture will explain the reasons for the uniqueness of blue paper, describe the principal kinds of colorants used to make it, and illuminate aspects of its aesthetic role in the art of drawing.

An Historical Overview of the Conservation Department at the Main Library at the University of California, Berkeley

Gillian Boal

Gillian Boal, Book Conservator of Special Collections, will give an historical overview of the conservation department in the Main Library at the University of California, Berkeley th-Hill

The paper conservation lab at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art recently acquired an X-Rite 938 Spectroden-sitometer to monitor changes in appearance of photographs and works of art on paper. The instrument was put to immediate use to monitor the most sensitive objects in a traveling photograph exhibition, "The Camera I". Also, essential experiments to determine optimal conditions for making measurements and limits of usefulness of the data have been undertaken.

An experiment was performed to check whether any useful data could be collected if measurements were made through glazing. Reflectance is decreased throughout the visible spectral range, but it is preferentially attenuated in the blue region. The amount of light reflected depends on the thickness of the air gap between the glazing and the surface of the object. Also, variations in the shape of the reflectance curves were noted when the air gap exceeded the thickness of a 4-ply mat.

In another study, samples of a resin-coated gelatin silver print of a grey scale have been exposed directly to daylight coming in a north-facing window, to daylight while under UV-absorbing plastic glazing in the same window, or have been left in darkness in a drawer. These samples are being monitored with the spectrodensitometer to determine the extent of light exposure required to cause a significant difference in appearance. Samples of prints on fiber-based paper and prints treated by bathing in tap water which has been filtered to remove particulates, organics, chlorine and heavy metals, will be monitored also.

The analytical computer program available with the instrument has been used to illustrate the different ways in which the densitometric and colorimetric data can be evaluated. For example, significant changes in CIELab tristimulus values (light areas) and density T values (darkest area) of the exposed resin-coated gelatin silver print were detected by the instrument before they were noticeable upon visual observation. These types of data will be used to develop a protocol for monitoring gelatin silver prints in the LACMA collections, and to assist in determination of the limits of change which can be relied upon with confidence to suggest exposure conditions for photographic works of art.

The equipment used in this study was purchased with the assistance of a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Setting the Standard! --An Update on ASTM Sub-committee D01.57, Artists Paints and Related Materials

Duane R. Chartier

The ongoing activities of an ASTM (American Society for Testing Materials) sub-commitee are somewhat difficult to convey to those who are not actively involved in the process of making and updating standards. Although there may not seem to be much glamour or excitement intrinsic to making standards the process is indeed enlightening and very educational. It is important for conservators to take an active interest in the creation of standards for materials as those standards very much affect the production of art materials by manufacturers and the consumption of those materials by artists.

A brief summary of committee activities will be given to update persons already familiar with ASTM and to introduce new people to the very interesting and essential work done by the volunteer members.

I Should Have Just Said, 'No'

Beverly N. Perkins

As a student and a museum conservator, my ethics were black and white, solid as a rock, no questions. . .etc. Then I went into private practice. Now I find myself constantly moving into ethically grey areas. Some treatments I just know I shouldn't take on, even while I am taking the object from its owner. There is this little voice in my head saying, "You'll be sorry. You will be asked to bend your ethics."

At times I have worked on objects and foregone payment, rather than bend my ethics from grey to black. I am beginning to get a feel for how important a clear explanation of the proposed treatment can be in avoiding confrontation and outright whining when the client returns for his object.

This is a complex issue faced by conservators everyday. It would be helpful to open a dialogue between conservators on holding our ethics high in the face of ignorant clients and even the occasional curator.


Update on Nitrogen Anoxia Research at the Getty Conservation Institute

Shin Maekawa and Kerstin Ehlert

Research projects utilizing the efficacy of a nitrogen anoxia environment for the eradication of insect infestation of cultural artifacts have been conducted at the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) since 1987. Under contract from the GCI, mortality rates of commonly found museum insects in a nitrogen atmosphere with less than 0.1% oxygen concentration, were evaluated at the University of California Riverside (UCR) in 1990 and 1991. In collaboration with the Getty Museum, practical issues for museums conducting anoxia treatments of their artifacts, such as designing the apparatus as well as selection and effective use of the components were investigated to complement the data collected at the UCR. Adapting the treatment to commercially available fumigation chambers and fumigation bubbles/tents for frequent and large-scale applications has also been investigated.

During the last eighteen months, research projects were conducted to improve our understanding of the practical issues of the nitrogen anoxia treatment. The required exposure time to completely purge oxygen from a large wooden object was investigated in a nitrogen anoxia environment. We found that a 48-hour period was sufficient for oxygen removal. The Ageless® oxygen scavenger's absorption capacity and speed were re-evaluated by directly monitoring bagged micro- environments. The required amount of Ageless® for producing an anoxia micro-environment (less than 0.1% oxygen concentration) was found to be much smaller than the amount recommended by the manufacturer. The anoxia environment was achieved in less than 48 hours with the recommended amount (20% of bagged air volume). Two types of the Ageless Eye® oxygen indicators were tested as suitable low-cost oxygen monitors for the treatment.

Filmpack 1193® has been found to be the best transparent oxygen barrier film for anoxia treatment. A ten cubic meter reusable tent was produced from the Filmpack 1193® film. The tent was successfully tested with both a nitrogen generator and a liquid nitrogen supply to produce and maintain the anoxia environment. The tests indicate that a large tent is a practical possibility.

The most recent GCI-sponsored study conducted at the UCR concluded that it was not possible to obtain 100% mortality of musuem insects in a nitrogen environment with 0.62% oxygen concentration, even with an extended exposure time greater than three weeks. The study also reported that the addition of an elevated temperature or an injection of a small quantity of carbon dioxide will produce the desired full mortality . This presentation will describe the results and progress of these projects.

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