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.

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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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Highlights of the IIC-SECC

Not often can I attend a conference in my pajamas, so I thought I would take advantage of this opportunity to watch the live broadcast of the IIC‘s first Student & Emerging Conservator Conference, Conservation: Futures and Responsibilities. The system was executed so smoothly, with live speakers as well as those streamed in through Skype, and questions from the audience, Twitter, and the IIC newsblog.

Conference venue, the Institute of Archaeology at UCL

Unfortunately, I missed the Friday session because I was in class, but I set my alarm for 5 o’clock this morning to catch the second session on planning a professional career. The speakers included Duygu Camurcuoglu (British Museum), Amber Kerr-Allison (Lunder Conservation Center), Bronwyn Ormsby (Tate), and Mikkel Scharff (Konservatorskolen). Bronwyn began with the story of how she was first introduced to conservation and subsequently followed that career path as a paper conservator in Australia, and later in London as a Conservation Scientist and lecturer. The panelists continued in that fashion, each discussing their unique career paths and how they believe conservation work is changing. Amber Kerr-Allison made a great point about our generation’s skill set being social media and other technologies; to volunteer these talents would likely be a welcome contribution to IIC, AIC, and even regional conservation guilds.

The third session was a lively one, made more lively by the fact that I was fully awake by this point. The topic of this session was conservation and the international perspective, and included just that–an international perspective: May Cassar (Centre for Sustainable Heritage), Max Marmor (Kress Foundation), Patrick McBride (Self-employed Paper Conservator), Jerry Podany (Getty Conservation Institute), and Alison Richmond (ICON). To have goals that are “focused, yet open” was the common theme of this session’s advice, so concisely summarized by Jerry Podany.

While international experiences were discussed in the form of education abroad, and travel for work, the panelists also covered many other topics on the minds of conservation students and emerging conservators, including volunteering, internships, and cvs. I’ll just note what I thought to be the highlights from each panelist (paraphrased):

May Cassar –

  • Graduate programs should be providing  you with an education, not just training.
  • As emerging conservators, one thing you should be sure to do is build “an evidence base for the value of conservation,” to use for future advocacy work.

Max Marmor –

  • Be open to unexpected opportunities.
  • Network
  • Evangelize

Patrick McBride –

  • Think of volunteering as relationship-building.

Jerry Podany –

  • A graduate program provides you with an amazing community of support, but consider broadening that to an international community, even one that includes other, related professions.
  • Be strategic; prepare yourself for the opportunities that you want to have in the chance that they will materialize.
  • What I look for in an intern: creative and critical thinking, enthusiasm, commitment, an open mind, focus.

Allison Richmond –

  • Tailor your cv to each position. Include experiences that make you stand out, no matter how directly related they are to conservation, and regardless of the amount of time spent in that position.
  • Your questions and concerns related to the field are helpful to professional organizations such as ICON.
Thank you to everyone who had a hand in organizing this event. I hope to see more like it soon!
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A Whirlwind Week

Well, the AIC annual meeting has come and gone, and I have to say that I’m a little exhausted! Each day of the conference was packed with opportunities to network with other conservators and absorb the most up-to-date treatment information. Overall, my favorite part of the meeting was listening to seasoned conservators lecture, as well as debate, the practical and theoretical issues involved with conservation.

Here is just a sampling of what I took away from my whirlwind week:

  • Volunteering–whether it’s with a committee, or with conference set-up–is a great way to meet people.
  • You should strive to become a Professional Associate or Fellow of AIC. More importantly than the little badge that you get on your nametag, PAs and Fellows have more opportunities to apply for grant money.
  • Everyone needs a business card, including emerging conservators. There have been occasions where I want to contact someone that I’ve met, but can’t remember their full name to look them up; on this occasion I was the one without a card.
  • It’s a good idea to broaden your focus outside of one specialty. There were so many interesting sessions throughout the meeting, and sometimes they were even more relevant to me than a book and paper talk.
  • Collaboration with people of varying skills and interests is always a good thing. Each of my team members on the Angels Project contributed something useful and, even if we didn’t completely finish our work, I think (and hope) Anne Downey gained a lot.
  • Conservation has come a long way in a short amount of time. Bob Feller’s speech upon accepting the first Lifetime Achievement Award was really moving, and I didn’t even know the guy. There’s definitely room to make your mark on this profession, if you want to.
  • Someone told me that it’s the responsibility of younger members to push AIC forward and continue its progression [insert visual of a fist pushing against a palm].
  • Conservators can be fun! With over 1,200 attendees, this was a very large AIC meeting, and it was so great to see everyone reunite with past classmates and colleagues. I think the refreshment breaks ran over every single time!
Last but not least:

  • Outreach is a conservator’s obligation. Barbara Appelbaum made a point that has stuck with me above everything else: a lot of art and artifacts are falling apart while we sit around and talk about editing our Code of Ethics; ethics are an integral part of our organization, and our profession, but reviewing documents is not our #1 priority.
On that note, here’s to the 2012 AIC Annual Meeting in Albuquerque, NM: Outreach and Advocacy!
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The Conservators are Coming!

In only a couple of days, the city will be packed with conservators from all over the country, and even from other parts of the world. I’m so glad the American Institute for Conservation’s 2011 annual meeting will be held here, in Philadelphia. I was planning on making the trip to Pittsburgh for my first meeting, but the fact that the conference will be in my hometown is so much for convenient, and actually allows me to become a little more involved; I wrote a blog post for the AIC website, I’m volunteering to stuff tote bags, and I can continue to help out after the meeting, with the Angels Project at the American Philosophical Society.

For those of you that can’t make it to the meeting, you can stay in the know by visiting the AIC blog–which will have posts about the workshops, talks and tours–and by checking the Emerging Conservation Professionals Network Facebook page for photos. I’m excited to finally attend a conference devoted solely to conservation, and I look forward to meeting a lot of very talented conservators!

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Conveniently, the annual conference for the Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums was held in Philadelphia this year. This was my first time attending a MAAM event but I figured, with my interest in museums and my future as a possible museum employee, that it would be a good idea to see what it’s all about. I volunteered to help at the check-in table in order to waive the registration fee, and met a really nice woman named Laura, who is finishing up her Master’s degree in Museum Studies at the Université de Neuchâtel in Switzerland; technically, she is interning “abroad” at the Franklin Institute, even though she is a U.S. citizen. I also met some great people over the business lunch, and came away with a free bag and other goodies from the exhibitors!

These are the talks that, I feel, were the most interesting…probably because they were the ones directly related to conservation:

A Green Revolution or Business as Usual – New Directions in Environmental Guidelines

Patty Silence, conservator at Colonial Williamsburg, and Steven Weintraub, founder of Art Preservation Services, spoke about preventive conservation in the form of environmental standards for museums that house collections. I linked both of them to descriptions of the talks they gave at AIC 2010 because I’m sure a lot of the content was the same. To summarize, environmental guidelines are really flexible, and specific to every collection. But because they’re not only driven by preservation, but also a human comfort factor and cost, conservators must create a minimum standard of best practice (i.e. RH of 50-60%).

There were a lot of graphs and charts involved, but the information was presented in a very accessible way. I would have loved to hear more about each conservator’s expertise–Patty on sustainability and Steven on lighting–but this overview was appropriate for the audience, and I’m sure there will be much more to come on the subject at AIC 2011.

Making Connections with Collections: Sharing the Results of Statewide Preservation Planning Projects

The panel was made up of Ingrid Bogel and Lee Price of the Conservation Center, Tom Clareson of Lyrasis, and Rebecca Buck of the Newark Museum. Together, the presenters described the details of preservation planning projects in Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey. Lee, Tom and Rebecca represented each of the three states, however, a lot of collaboration was done with the Conservation Center and Lyrasis in each case. The initiative began with a survey of collections throughout each state to assess basic preservation needs. From there, goals were created in order to apply for grants, and then plans for implementation when funding was received.

It was surprising to me the level of marketing skills involved in development in order to attract funders, especially when the needs of these institutions are so basic. I mean, if your state’s cultural heritage is falling apart, why do you need persuaded to save it? A lot of what these small libraries, archives and museums require is simply education on how to care for the collection. It seems easy enough, but for states like New Jersey, with only one museum conservator in employment, who does the educating? I hope the efforts of Lee, Tom and Rebecca will pay off in the near future.

Ask the Conservators!

At the end of the second day, the conservators from The Art Conservators Alliance presented on what conservation is and what they do as conservators in private practice, then answered specific questions from the audience. Their talk was a good companion to the previous two because it showed preventive conservation in the context of conservation as a whole, and how to arrange funding for projects. They also listed basic principles for conservators, such as the AIC Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice, and the need for collaboration, outreach, research and training. There were some great slides of treatments and projects the conservators have done; I thought the organization of the presentation was so clear and concise that I actually used it as a model for my own talk last week!

Overall, the MAAM conference gave me plenty to take away and I look forward to next year’s meeting on museum sustainability!

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