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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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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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Springtime Anxiety

Journalist Erickson Blakney interviews Christina Cole about her research into Native American quillwork. http://www.udel.edu/udaily/2009/jun/institute061209.html

Whew, Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow–6 more weeks until spring! Don’t get me wrong, as a native Californian, I love the warmer weather and blossoming of the flowers, but springtime also seems to bring a lot of anxiety in the conservation world: final exams, applications, interviews, conference talks, etc., and no matter what stage you’re at in your conservation journey, you’re probably affected!

Personally, I’m between the application and interview stage for my summer internship, and finishing up an application to the Delaware Public Engagement Institute (DELPHI; formerly PEMCI). Fortunately my comprehensive exams don’t happen until May, but I feel a little nervous for that already.

As a first year student at Winterthur, I’m also responsible for helping to organize admissions interviews in March, and that takes me back to my exciting experiences both last year and the year before. This year’s applicants should be hearing back about their interview dates in the coming weeks, so good luck! In the meantime, this post by Genevieve Bieniosek on “Interviewing for Graduate Programs” may be helpful.

I’ve found that anxiety can be worse than stress, because even more than the pressure, it’s the uncertainty of a situation that makes it difficult. Hopefully these links will be useful in guiding you through the annual season of apprehension. And, just remember, on the other side of the hill is summer!

  • Internship application advice from Nancie Ravenel, Objects Conservator at the Shelburne Museum
  • An interviewing event held by the Emerging Museum Professionals
  • Online courses on abstract and proposal writing by Sarah Lowengrad
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A new year, a new membership

It’s that time again. With the start of the new year, it’s time to renew your memberships to your local museums and to professional organizations, like the American Institute for the Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works. I have to be honest and say that I usually don’t become a member of museums since my staff badges allow me to get in for free, but, without hesitation, I always renew my membership to AIC. For students, the annual fee is $65, plus additional fees if you decide to join one or more specialty groups. I understand that $65 is a large amount when you’re paying for tuition, working unpaid internships, etc., but, for roughly $5 each month, you’re getting a lot in return.

Why join AIC?

The website lists the obvious perks of a membership: free copies of AIC News, the Journal of AIC, and the member directory, the ability to join a specialty group (that sends out emails and post-prints of the meetings), receive discounts for workshops and meetings, and apply for scholarships and grants. In addition, if you’re in your first seven years of conservation, you can join the Emerging Conservation Professionals Network. ECPN has a number of great initiatives going–like the Mentoring Program–that are only available to current members.

ECPN Chair, Rose Cull, heads the business meeting at AIC, 2011.

My experience has found that the greatest benefit of an AIC membership, above all of the tangible stuff, is the opportunity for networking. Building relationships with other conservators through in-person meetings and social networking has taught me a lot about the actual practice of conservation, along with how to approach the field as a student and eventually become a contributing professional. Purchasing a membership is really only the beginning of getting involved with your organization, but I’ll stop my preaching there.

Most importantly, joining an organization like AIC shows your commitment to a code of ethics for conservators. Through your CV or resume, you’re telling your teachers, employers and clients that for X number of years, you have understood the ethics involved with your work, and you have held to them. Personally, I think that says a lot about your qualifications. And, for those of you that don’t agree with a specific set of codes, don’t just complain about it; join a committee and change them. Sorry, I’m preaching again.

Best of luck with school and job applications, research, treatments, and talks in 2012. Happy New Year!

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Worth a read

Richard McCoy’s latest post on the art:21 blog, “The State of Affairs in the Conservation of Contemporary Art.”

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Conservator Calvin

I’m a huge fan of the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, and I had to share this one that I came across the other day, from December 22, 1992.

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My Mental Marathon

I have come to the conclusion that interviewing for graduate programs in conservation is like a marathon: it takes commitment, discipline, and sometimes pain during the training; the actual event is exciting and nerve-racking and pushes you beyond your perceived limits; and, the finish is the most rewarding accomplishment, no matter how you compared to the other competitors. At least that was my experience with running a marathon, and interviewing both last year and this year.

Over the past 10 months, I’ve had to constantly remind myself of the lessons I learned during the 2009 Nike Womens’ Marathon (this relates to conservation, I promise):

1. The extra training will make a difference in the end. You’re tired, and super busy already, so that conference is that last thing you want to do, but the information you glean from those talks may help in solving a problem in the future, so its worth going.

2. Focus on the things you love, rather than the stress. It’s easy to be pessimistic when you feel weighed down by responsibilities, but there has to be a bright side, like taking an amazing art class or meeting people with the same interests as you.

3. Pushing yourself is great, but don’t overdo it. Do the best that you can, but work at your own pace and take breaks. Doing something non-conservation-related can actually improve who you are as a conservator and restore your energy to return to work.

I’ll have to keep reminding myself of these things as I prepare for both my interview next week and a half marathon this summer!

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