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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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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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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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!

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A darkroom in the park

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Saturday was a HOT day for an outdoor photography workshop, but it was well worth the pouring sweat to learn from Lisa Elmaleh how to produce tintypes. The workshop, offered through the Center for Alternative Photography, took place in a tent out at Photoville. In six hours we covered the entire process, from coating the plate with collodion to varnishing the final tintype.

Historically, tintypes were created with sheets of japanned iron (not tin), unlike the coated aluminum that we used last weekend for its stability and low cost. We also varnished the completed plates with Soluvar in place of gum sandarac and lavender oil, to avoid having to heat the resin. The result is still the same, though, adding a protective coating to prevent silver mirroring. The rest of the wet collodion process–used for both negatives and direct positives–was historically accurate, and can be seen from start to finish in this wonderful video from the George Eastman House (below).  I really commend tintype photographers for their hand skills and intuition about exposure and development times. The hardest part of the process, however, is completing every step on the spot before the collodion starts to dry!

I just want to say thank you to the Professional Development Award Committee for granting me the funds for this workshop. I’m positive (pun intended) this experience will be helpful in my future as a photograph conservator!

**Please don’t forget to wear personal protective equipment in your practice–gloves and goggles WILL prevent cancer and blindness.

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A crash course

Yesterday, I took a break from my vacation to head to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the first of a two-day workshop on photograph conservation. Taught by Debbie Hess Norris and Katie Sanderson, the workshop was a crash course in photographic materials and preservation for a group of fifteen doctoral students from around the country, each participating in an educational program at the museum. The enthusiasm of the students seemed to fuel the enthusiasm of the instructors and group leaders, so I was really lucky to sit-in on this dynamic course.

Debbie shows the group some examples of albumen prints.

Creating the compositions for our photogenic drawings.

My first visit to the Photograph Conservation Department at the Met was back in January, when the WUDPAC class of 2014 visited as part of our photo block. If I hadn’t already decided to major in photograph conservation at that point, the Met’s collection would certainly have swayed me. The prints that I saw then, and again yesterday, are aesthetically gorgeous and in impeccable condition. I almost didn’t recognize the albumen prints because of their white paper, purplish-brown tonalities, and crisp images. If you’d like to see some examples, but aren’t conveniently located near the Met, you can check out over 33,000 images of the collection online.

Examples of salted paper prints fixed/stabilized in different solutions. Clockwise from the upper left: hypo (sodium thiosulfate), sodium chloride, potassium iodide, and potassium bromide. Notice the range of tonalities.







The workshop was the perfect opportunity for me to revisit the information covered in photo block, in preparation for my second year in the WUDPAC program. I also got to make salted paper prints! Katie demonstrated William Henry Fox Talbot’s process of creating photogenic drawings, and described the difference between stabilizing solution and fixer. One of the most important things I took away was a glimpse at how to successfully teach photograph conservation to non-conservators.

Being a Monday, the museum was unfortunately closed, so I didn’t have the chance to walk through the galleries, but I did enjoy a nice lunch AND dinner with some amazing colleagues. I’m looking forward to traveling back to NYC this weekend for a photo workshop and for the start of my summer internship at MoMA.

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Not my photograph, but I can't help but share this from the SFMoMA Facebook page: "Try the latest art-inspired creation at our Blue Bottle Coffee Co. on the Rooftop!
This chocolate-y treat is based on Rineke Dijkstra's series of photographs at the beach. Caitlin and Leah (the ladies behind Blue Bottle's art-inspired edibles) use a lovely coaster printed with photographs of Ocean Beach, Baker Beach & Chrissie Field as the backdrop for their version of a bathing beauty: a cake tower made of a dark chocolate cake layered with whipped cream and topped with a ganache glaze. Mmmmm!"

I can’t believe it’s almost April! Although the spring season is still going strong, I can end my anxiety with plenty of good news: I will be attending the Delaware Public Humanities Institute for two weeks in June, followed by a summer internship at the Museum of Modern Art in New York! And, to top that off, I just declared my major; the new background image should give you a hint–it’s photographs!! I’ve always had a strong interest in fine art photography, both creating it and studying it. Now I have the opportunity to delve even deeper into historic and contemporary processes, and focus my time on the conservation of photographic materials.

I was so excited to share my new decision with my conservator friends at the Legion of Honor and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art during my spring break. Debra Evans and crew in the paper lab at the Legion kindly showed me their current projects, as well as storage, where the shelves were recently updated with earthquake-proof straps. The idea was really clever, and reminded me just how real the threat of earthquakes is on the west coast; I tend to forget, living in Philadelphia. Before leaving the museum, I stopped in to see The Cult of Beauty: The Victorian Avant-Garde, 1860-1900, which included some lovely photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron.

Next stop: SFMOMA. I was able to say hi to a few of the people that I worked with in 2009 (I can’t believe it’s been almost three years!), then chat with Photograph Conservator Theresa Andrews about her day-to-day duties in the museum. I couldn’t help but be a little jealous of the artworks that she gets to handle, but also a bit relieved that I don’t have the monstrous task of re-designing a new lab space as part of the museum’s remodel.

There are currently three amazing photograph exhibitions on view at SFMoMA: Picturing Modernity, photographs from the permanent collection, with some beautiful albumen prints in pristine condition; Photography in Mexico, exploring the photographic traditions of Mexican artists, and other photographers working in Mexico. This was crazy because I wrote a research paper in college titled something like El Ojo de Mexico: Edward Weston, and this exhibition included every single image that I discussed in my paper! Finally, the Rineke Dijkstra Retrospective will be coming to MoMA this summer, but I think it will be interesting to see the show at two separate venues. Plus, Dijkstra’s images are very moving, and I love large scale color photography.

I’m so lucky that I get to visit photograph exhibitions as part of my job! Next on the list: Cindy Sherman Retrospective at MoMA and Francesca Woodman at Guggenheim.

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A Golden Inspiration

On October 15, I met Jane Golden, founder and director of the Mural Arts Program in Philadelphia. In a 20 minute talk, she managed to inspire me enough to think about changing my major from paper to paintings conservation! Though I will probably stick with paper, I’ve become an advocate for the preservation of murals, and if you continue reading her story, you probably will, too.

Jane graduated with a fine arts degree from Stanford. From there, she worked in Los Angeles painting murals until 1984, when she took a job with Philadelphia’s Anti-grafitti Network. Armed with a little bit of money, some paper and markers, Jane ventured onto the streets of Philadelphia to become acquainted with the city’s most sought after graffiti artists. Fortuitously, she hired one of the big names in graffiti as her assistant; he was looking to turn his life around, and provided just the connection Jane needed to infiltrate the graffiti community.

One night, after dark, Jane heard a knock at her door, only to find the entire group of Philadelphia’s most-wanted graffiti artists standing on her porch. She didn’t know whether to call the police or invite them in. Hesitantly, she invited them in, and this event became a major turning point in her career. As an adult female, speaking to a group underprivileged high school drop-outs, Jane’s main goal was to avoid making them feel misunderstood. She described what she was trying to do with the Anti-Graffiti Network, and offered all of the young men paid jobs to create art in the place of graffiti. They didn’t say yes right away, but they did share their treasured sketchbooks with her, and asked her questions about contemporary artists that they admired. Jane was blown away by their knowledge of art, and decided to invite these men to art class as part of the deal.

The following morning, on her way to work, Jane turned onto Broad Street to find every corner covered with graffiti tags. They included all of the names of the men that she had met the night before, plus one more: Cool Jane. Jane was flabbergasted, and a little bit annoyed, especially when her boss wanted to know, “who’s Jane?” The good news is that the graffiti writers both liked and respected her…she just had to let them know who was in charge. Using their paychecks as leverage, Jane managed to get the young men to clean up their tags, sign an agreement that they would no longer tag illegally, and, finally, attend Jane’s art history class at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Begrudgingly, the young men attended Jane’s class at the Museum, and ended up having a great time. During a break, while Jane was organizing some supplies, a panicked security guard rushed into the classroom to fetch Jane. She, in turn, panicked, thinking that the graffiti artists had either stolen something or tried to tag the walls of the gallery! Nope, much better: they were in the museum cafe trying to sell their artwork to the affluent patrons. She just laughed.

From that point on, Jane and her newfound friends moved around the city painting murals and bringing communities closer together. The work that the group completed was truly amazing–the art and the outreach. Somehow, the murals were able to resolve conflict, while also beautifying the most run-down neighborhoods of the city.

Common Threads by Meg Saligman, Broad St. and Spring Garden. This mural is the current focus of Heritage Preservation.

In 1996, the funding for the Anti-Graffiti Network was pulled, so Jane moved her group to the department of recreation, and raised enough money to create the Mural Arts Program. Today, there are over 3,000 murals in Philadelphia, only six of which have ever been vandalized. The crew of original graffiti writers now work as a teacher, poet, professional artist, etc. At one point, their life expectancy was age 25, or a long-term prison sentence. Through the inspirational work of Jane Golden, art transformed them into thriving adults, able to contribute back to the city they once defaced.

What this means for the field of conservation: the preservation of the murals is vital in keeping this almost thirty year history alive in Philadelphia. The Mural Arts Program has happily upgraded their materials to include more stable paints, but the weathering of the murals is still an issue, so many of them have to be re-painted before they are lost completely. Amanda Norbutus, PhD candidate in Preservation Studies at WUDPAC, has been researching protective mural coatings as part of her dissertation. You can read more about her work on her blog, then follow these tips to become involved with rescuing public murals. The first step, though, is to see the murals by taking one of the many wonderful tours offered by the Mural Arts Program in Philadelphia.

October is Mural Arts Month!

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