A Gathering of the Platinistas

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With the FAIC Platinum and Palladium Photography Symposium in Washington, D.C. now a couple months behind me, I can look back and reflect upon how much I have applied my newfound knowledge into my daily work.

To summarize, the program included a full day workshop, a day-long tour, and two days of symposium presentations. The tours to see collections at the National Gallery of Art, the National Museum of American History, and the Library of Congress offered an opportunity to see examples of a variety of prints close up. Not only did the collections include a breadth of subject matter, they also showed the many conditions, tones, and techniques that we would hear about later in the week. The workshop happened concurrently to the tours in the photograph conservation lab at the National Gallery of Art, where Mike Ware, Pradip Malde, Chris Maines, and Adrienne Lundgren demonstrated three versions of printing in platinum and palladium (see images) and gave the participants time to try their hand at each.

Finally, the symposium talks presented the thorough research that the many conservators, scientists, curators, historians, and artists had been conducting over the course of years. The wealth of recently-discovered information cannot be conveyed except through the much-needed publication, fortunately expected in print in a few years’ time.

Ultimately, in only a few short days, the Symposium showed me that platinum and palladium photographs are not always what we previously expected; they can be in excellent condition, faded, or stained, neutral or warm in tone, contact printed, enlarged, or even selectively printed with the use of glycerin…and the list goes on. Although I do not work with photographs on a daily basis, I have already found use for my improved identification skills and look forward to attempting some of the proposed treatment techniques, like iron chelation, in the future.


*Many thanks to the John Krill-Betty Fiske Scholarship Award for funding this experience, and to Michelle Sullivan for sharing her images of the workshop.

Categories: Conferences, Education, Exhibitions, Talks, Workshops | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Flat People

flatHBI’m currently in Washington, D.C. completing my 2nd summer work project in the photograph conservation lab at the National Gallery of Art (NGA). I know from my last summer in New York that an 8-10 week internship is really no time at all! As I expected, the summer has flown by and I only have 1.5 weeks left to wrap up my research on platinum/palladium prints before I move on to my next adventure in Houston. Of all the places I could’ve been for the summer, I think I lucked out with D.C., partially because of all the amazing museums here, but also because of the number of amazing conservators that work in them.

I’ve been fortunate to share this experience with many other interns at the NGA and at other locations around D.C. After doing the math, we counted over 10 of us interested in paper, photo, or library/archives preservation and/or conservation! Thanks to a clever technician at the Lunder Center, our group organically received the name of THE FLAT PEOPLE due to our affinity for flat objects. Perfect right?! Naturally, the only thing for us to do was to organize tours of the local conservation labs in museums and libraries, including the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (through the WCG), the National Archives and Records Administration, the National Museum of the American Indian Photo Archives, the Lunder Center, the Folger Shakespeare Library, and finally the NGA (scheduled for next week).

It’s been so great to meet the many conservators and allied professionals at all these D.C. institutions and to see the beautiful spaces they work in. One of the best parts of the tours, though, has been learning about what my student colleagues have been doing during their summer internships: treatment, surveys, re-housing, outreach, research, and more. I’m so thankful to my supervisors at the NGA for letting me participate in these extra activities; I feel like I’ve been able to take part in 6 separate internships in only 9 weeks!

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Last weekend, the Association of International Photography Art Dealers (AIPAD) held a show at the Armory in New York. I drove up with a group of WUDPAC students and teachers to learn about what types of photographs are currently on the market and, most importantly, how much they’re selling for. I noticed that many dealers specialized in either 19th-century photographs, modern masters, or contemporary prints, and that each category focused on 1-3 processes. As expected, contemporary works included mostly oversize chromogenic and digital prints, with the exception of contemporary artists, like Sally Mann, who work in analog processes.

It was interesting for me to see how much information was included on the labels and the naming conventions for digital prints; they tended to range from specific printing processes, like inkjet, to just “archival pigment print.” It’s understandable that consistency in media ID is more important for conservators who require these details for preservation purposes, but I wonder how much collectors are interested in the longevity of their newly-purchased artwork.

Here are some of my favorites from the show:

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Winter Meeting in Wellington


The conference venue – Te Papa Tongarewa

Kia ora (that’s hello in Maori, the native culture of New Zealand). I just returned from a fabulous trip to Wellington for the Photographs Conservation Joint Meeting of the AIC PMG and the ICOM-CC PMWG. Sorry for all the acronyms. This is only the second joint meeting of the two groups (the first was in Rochester in 2007) as the PMG meets biennially and the PMWG meets triennially. It was definitely a treat for me to fly across the world the soak up some sun…but more importantly the knowledge of some of the field’s most experienced conservators and allied professionals. A huge thanks to all of my funders (listed below)!

I won’t go into detail about every single talk, but I will say that I noticed some overall themes throughout the week. For starters, there is a push for emergency and disaster planning–as there rightly should be–in response to climate change and the increased occurrence of natural disasters. Andrew Robb (Library of Congress) gave an excellent workshop on Collections Emergency Management that was very timely considering that Superstorm Sandy hit the Northeast just last October (see previous post).

Another theme was the dematerialization of the medium (always accompanied by a slight panic for the job security of photograph conservators). Sylvie Penichon (Amon Carter Museum) discussed digital materials and their preservation in her informative workshop on contemporary photography, and other speakers promoted printing hard copies of important digital files as a back-up preservation method. In my opinion, there is still a lot of research to be done on borne-digital materials, including their use in conservation treatments. Victoria Binder (Legion of Honor) presented a beautiful poster on creating digital fills for loss compensation in photographs.

Me with my poster on social media for outreach

Me with my poster on social media for outreach. Photo by Greta Glaser.

There were also many well-research talks on specific photographic processes and innovative treatments, as well as talks and posters on conservation outreach, including my poster on using social media for public engagement (handout attached below). Debbie Hess Norris ended the first day of presentations on an inspiring note (literally, with a slideshow of images set to Imagine by the Beatles). She reported on the current progress of global outreach in photograph preservation and shared a google map showing World Wide Photographic Preservation Projects–be sure to check it out.

Thanks to the National Library of New Zealand and the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa for organizing a lovely conference, including a traditional Maori welcome ceremony at the opening reception, as well as a delicious dinner at The Boatshed on the waterfront. I was sad to pack up my sandals and leave Wellington, but I can now start looking forward to a closer–albeit colder–PMG winter meeting in Boston!

Extending our Reach poster handout.docx

*Thank you to the following organizations for generously supporting my attendance at the conference: The Foundation for the American Institute for Conservation George Stout Grant, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and Tru Vue, Inc., the University of Delaware Graduate Office Professional Development Award, the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation Professional Development Award, and the Art Conservation Department at the University of Delaware!!

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Disaster Recovery in NYC

For those of you that live on the east coast, you know the extent of damage that Hurricane Sandy left in her path. I was fortunate to be in Philadelphia during the storm and was barely affected by the wind and rain, but many cities along the coast have experienced power outages and some extreme flooding…and are still dealing with the aftermath. One area hit hard was lower Manhattan, and within it, the Chelsea art galleries. There was no way for these galleries to prepare for the 6-20′ of water that entered on the first floor, causing damage to even the framed artwork on the walls. Luckily, many gallery owners have responded to the situation by calling in conservators, and the conservation community has come together to provide the best support that we can.

Courtesy of A. Maloney

The weekend following the hurricane, I volunteered at a private conservation studio in New Jersey to recover multiple bins of water-damaged photographs coming from Chelsea art galleries. It is a good idea to move artwork from the site, where possible, to a location that has power, clean running water, and plenty of space. Even with a fairly large studio, space is a premium for spreading out wet objects in need of air drying. I helped to unframe photographs before they dried and began sticking to the glazing. They were laid out on blotters in drying stacks created with cardboard and styrofoam cups; this allowed us to create extra space moving upward when table space ran out. Most of the objects were safely removed from the frames and are now stable, but depending on the situation (broken glass, debris, etc.) some items could not be salvaged. The experience of working in an actual disaster recovery was much different than the mock disasters created in class, and it was a great educational opportunity for me…unfortunately at the price of so much destruction.

On the same day that I was volunteering in New Jersey, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), along with the AIC-Collections Emergency Response Team (CERT), the New York Regional Association for Conservation (NYRAC), and Heritage Preservation’s Alliance for Response-New York (AfR-NY) organized a consortium on conserving works of art damaged by flooding. The video of the presentations and Q&A session is available now on the MoMA website, as is a document with instructions on immediate response for collections. You’ll find that both of these sources stress the importance of personal health and safety, especially where mold is almost guaranteed to be growing. I also learned that if mold is dormant now because of the cold weather and low relative humidity, it is still possible for the problem to return next summer when the temperature and humidity rise. Please be sure to document all stages of the disaster for insurance purposes because even future condition problems with the collection can be associated with this event.

As efforts still continue to recover objects in NYC, I imagine that locals are in need of a rest, so if you’re available to volunteer please check the Emerging Professionals in Conservation (EPiC) Facebook page for up-to-date postings, or fill out this Volunteer Recruitment Survey supplied by NYRAC. The sooner we can stabilize all damaged objects, the better chance they have of being salvaged.

My heart goes out to anyone that has been dealing with power outages and other damage to your home. If you have questions about how to salvage artwork, family photographs, or any other objects in your home, please call AIC’s 24-hour assistance line at (202)661-8068.

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Philadelphia Area Conservation Association

A small glimpse into the paintings conservation lab, including part of the wall covered in burlap to mimick the gallery.

After almost a year and a half of fabulous events [that I sadly missed], I finally made it to a PACA meeting at the Barnes Foundation last week. It was great to see so many Philadelphia-area conservators that I already knew, and meet others that I didn’t know, all while enjoying some delicious snacks and drinks.

Having lived near the new site of the Barnes for almost three years, I feel like I’ve been very connected to the building and the collection’s move from Lower Merion, checking in on their progress every time I walked to Whole Foods or drove to school. Now I can finally say that I was able to tour the new paintings conservation lab! Even better than the tour was the panel of conservators (Barbara Buckley and Margaret Little), director and chief curator (Judith Dolkart), and registrar (Andrea Cakars), who discussed the logistics behind the collection’s move. It helps to have an involved board of trustees and a strong network of colleagues in other institutions. It was amazing to hear just how many people were involved in the work, and how smoothly the whole process happened despite all of the controversy surrounding the move!

In the end, everyone wanted the collection to be in a safe and accessible new home; not only is that true, but the space is also beautiful and Green, achieving the highest rating in the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) system by the U.S. Green Building Council.  I still have to go back sometime to view the collection in the new building, but until then, I will happily enjoy the space from the outside.

Thanks, PACA, for organizing the event!

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New tools for the outreachbox

An ever-increasing use of social media has made the internet the way to go for public outreach. Facebook, Twitter, and WordPress have all been done (yes, I say this as a blogger), but video hasn’t really been used to it’s full potential for engaging a non-specialist audience.

Leading the way for the humanities is a website called Smarthistory, now associated with the Khan Academy, an online library of educational resources. Smarthistory is essentially an interactive art historical textbook that utilizes contextual information and links to other websites along with short documentary-like videos on works of art. Smarthistory creators Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker began the site in 2005 as a blog to aid in art history lectures. With the support of the Kress Foundation and the Khan Academy, this non-profit organization has become a leader in providing course materials as well as an online community for the discipline of art history.

Recently, Beth and Steven collaborated with FAIC and the conservation department at the Met to organize a workshop geared toward conservation-specific outreach, titled Media Tools for Conservators. I was fortunate to attend this workshop, along with 5 other recent graduates and 7 mid-career professionals. The dynamic of the workshop was great, and not only did we learn about the software that Smarthistory uses to make their videos (Garage Band for audio and ScreenFlow to incorporate the audio with images), but we had the opportunity to capture some of our own conversations using audio recorders.

The group hard at work exchanging ideas

In the morning we paired up to talk about specific conservation projects that we had prepared in advance, and in the afternoon we took advantage of the Met’s collection and experimented with recording conversations about entirely new objects. The entire workshop was a lot of fun, but the most important conversation that day was the one about implementing this technology into everyday work. As conservators, we often run into sensitivity issues, either about copyright or institutional regulations, and that may throw a wrench in the plan to discuss a treatment. But what many conservators forget is that we have a lot of specialized knowledge, and that knowledge may be interesting to people that know absolutely nothing about conservation. So, you CAN make a video about conservation in general, or about a personal object, or my favorite: pair up with a curator to talk about a work of art. Be creative.

When I left the workshop, my head was spinning with ideas on how to use these tools in my own work. There is such potential for making professional and interesting videos. Hopefully my enthusiasm for video-making will spread, because your videos are needed for this new site devoted entirely to conservation; introducing ConservationReel!

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Field trip fun

There are so many conservation labs in New York City, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to visit them all! Thanks to my summer spent at MoMA and my student colleagues interning at the Met, I was able to make it to two–and two fascinating ones at that.

First, we took a trip to the Guggenheim labs, located not at the museum proper but across town, where there’s plenty of space and a lovely view of the river. We arranged the visit with Paper Conservator Jeffrey Warda, who kindly showed us his lab and screened part of Robert Smithson’s Hotel Palenque. The piece was first given as a live presentation by Smithson in 1972 and is now a timed slideshow accompanied by a recording of his voice. From a conservation standpoint, this piece is challenging because the color and intensity of the slides are constantly changing due to the light exposure, especially since some slides are projected for 30 seconds at a time and others for 10 minutes. Jeffrey’s solution to this problem, for now, was to make multiple copies of the piece to replace the current ones when they’ve faded. Eventually, though, the materials will all be extinct, and the Guggenheim may have to compromise some aspect of Smithson’s original vision.

While at the Guggenheim, we also had the opportunity to meet Time-based Media Conservator Joanna Phillips. This is an area of conservation that makes my head spin because of its complexities, and I really have to hand it to these conservators who are basically starting from scratch in creating this specialty. You can read more about the Guggenheim’s efforts on this wonderful new section of their website: Time-based Media Conservation.

The week following our Guggenheim visit, we rented a car and escaped the city. Destination: the quaint town of Milford, NJ. In the middle of the town, inside a beautiful old opera house is the private photographic conservation practice The Better Image (TBI). TBI was founded in 1991 by Peter Mustardo and Nora Kennedy (also the Sherman Fairchild Conservator of Photographs at the Met), and has two locations, one of them in Manhattan. The Milford location has much more space, so that is where much of the large-scale treatment work is completed. Personally, having always worked in a museum, I have never seen this much treatment done on photographs, so this really opened up my eyes (in a good way) to what private practice could be like.

Recent WUDPAC grad Amanda Maloney showed us many of their in-progress treatments, and chatted with us for awhile about the current state of photograph preservation. Peter gave us the tour of their extensive and beautiful library housed on the stage, then treated us to a delicious lunch at Ma De’s Chat House. We also met Richard Stenman, another WUDPAC grad, but we had to leave in time to beat traffic back to the city. Needless to say, we were all sad to leave.

All in all, these visits, along with the many photo exhibitions I saw this summer, make me very excited to begin studying photograph conservation in depth…starting this week!!

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An EPiC weekend

Instead of sleeping in on Sunday morning, a group of eager conservators (myself included) gathered at the Kremer Pigments NYC location for a watercolor workshop sponsored by the Emerging Professionals in Conservation. EPiC is a sub-group of the New York Regional Association for Conservation, begun in 2011, that hosts lab tours, workshops, and social gatherings for emerging conservators. I’m so happy that I was finally able to take advantage of an EPiC event!

Thanks to Becca Pollak, previous Kremer employee and current Buffalo student, 14 workshop participants were able to learn about the nuances of pigments, and how to make watercolor paints. After a quick demo by Becca, each person received one pigment to transform into 14 half pans of watercolor. Surprisingly, it was a lot of work to mix the pigments with the other ingredients (alcohol, water, and medium) and to evenly coat each particle…and we probably could have mulled a lot longer to achieve a more consistent watercolor.


Some pigments required more medium or more mulling than others–all tips that Becca had learned from her many years on the job. My burnt umber was fairly easy to work with, and looked like a delicious chocolate fudge at one point. Actually, all of the pigments looked good enough to eat! As great and fun as it was to create the watercolors myself and know what all of the ingredients were, I would likely need much more practice to equal the quality of the paints that are mulled for an hour in the machine. For now, I think I’ll stick with the store-bought version. But if ever I need a specific pigment (from a specific geographic region, for example), I definitely feel prepared.

Besides being my first experience making watercolors, this was also my first time into the Kremer store. It’s a really cool place, filled with pigments, mediums, adhesives, and everything you could possible need for art-making and conservation. What I liked best were the pre-made sets of pigments for interior decoration, stone inpainting, frames, and more. Maybe this is a conservator thing, but seeing shelves full of pigments arranged in a color spectrum is just so satisfying. I’m looking forward to heading back to Kremer in the next week to pick up my finished pan of watercolors!

Categories: Workshops | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

The first forum call

On Thursday, July 26th, the Emerging Conservation Professionals Network of AIC held their very first forum call. Using a webinar platform, the call was able to bring together around 100 emerging conservators to participate in a presentation by Debbie Hess Norris. If you missed the live webinar, you can watch the recorded version below.

To sum it up, Debbie’s presentation offered emerging conservators tips on how to promote our careers through networking, outreach, education, and fundraising. There was a lot of information packed into one hour, but many of the sources recommended in the webinar are conveniently listed for you in this blog post on Conservators Converse. It sounds like there may be more handy webinars like this to come, so keep your eye on the ECPN Facebook page.

The most amazing aspect of the webinar was bringing together people from around the country (and the world!) to share this knowledge. I’m so happy ECPN took the opportunity to poll the audience about their conservation experience and goals; the results were really interesting, and can be found in the video recording.

Thanks to ECPN and Debbie for your collaboration and hard work to make this happen!

Self Advocacy and Fundraising for Independent Research


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