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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Summer of art

Werner Herzog, “Hearsay of the Soul” (2012); Whitney Biennial 2012; http://www.artfagcity.com.

Now that I’ve checked some major things off my to-do list–finish first year of school, find an apartment in New York, catch up on some sleep–I’m ready, and excited, to begin a summer full of museum and gallery visits!

I cheated just a little, and made a stop at the Whitney Biennial a few weeks ago while apartment-hunting in New York. I had to make an exception because the Biennial closed on May 27th, and I figured I wouldn’t have the energy to make it there on the day after my last comprehensive exam.

To sum it up, I have to say that I was slightly disappointed. My personal aesthetic is very formal, but I also like to be challenged by interesting concepts; in comparison to my experience at the 2006 Biennial, this exhibition seemed less appealing visually, and less cohesive. Maybe it was the lack of a title or theme this year that made the difference. Overall, there were many works that we would traditionally call craft (such as woven textiles), which is great, but many were commercially produced, taking the manual dexterity out of the equation. There were also many installation pieces that occupied an entire gallery with “stuff” that didn’t always tell an identifiable story. Finally, there were multiple artists that included 2-D framed pieces (prints, drawings, etc.) that seemed to be randomly  spread throughout the galleries.

That said, I was still impressed by a handful of artists that showed some inventive work. Ironically, they all happen to be photographers or video artists. I liked LaToya Ruby Frazer for her imagery and composition, Liz Deschenes for her approach to the photographic materials, and Moyra Davey for her concepts of time and communication.

Werner Herzog‘s Hearsay of the Soul was probably my favorite piece, combining 17th-century prints by Hercules Segers, music by Ernst Reijseger, and video of musicians in a five-screen projection. I have to be honest and say that I mostly sat down in the gallery because I was tired. The longer that I sat there, however, the more I enjoyed the piece because of the way that it stimulated my senses: the video contained graphic art along with human movement, constantly changing and surrounded by beautiful music.

Even with mixed reviews, I’m still glad I attended the exhibition, and I look forward to seeing how the careers of these artists transform over the coming few years.

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Engaging through outreach

Repair the Tear was featured on the ECPN poster at the 2012 AIC Annual Meeting in Albuquerque! Read more about it on Conservators Converse.

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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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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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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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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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