I’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!
During Leila’s second to last week at the PMA she wanted to take a trip to DC to visit some conservators at the Library of Congress and National Gallery. Even though I had just been to the NGA in May, everyone there was so great that I couldn’t resist tagging along with Leila on her tour. It was also helpful that I could drive us because Amtrak is too expensive and Megabus only has a handful of trips each day.
We started our day early, leaving at 6 am, in order to beat traffic and make it to the Library of Congress at 10 am. Sylvia Albro was a wonderful tour guide, taking us through the conservation department and introducing us to everyone along the way. I was surprised how large the department is, and what a huge collection the library maintains–and it’s all available to the public! We were able to see the breadth of the collection just in the conservation labs, everything from books and manuscripts to maps, photographs, and prints. Heather Wanser was working on a series of Yokohama prints just like the ones we have been preparing for exhibition at the PMA. I also met Eliza Spaulding, who was busy reducing stains in a photograph; Eliza will be the Mellon Fellow in paper conservation at the PMA beginning this fall, which means that I will have lots of time to get to know her. I can’t wait!
Unfortunately, our tour ended abruptly as I remembered our nearly expired parking meter, but we did make it back to the library’s cafeteria for lunch and then on to the Jefferson building to enjoy the amazing architecture and peek into the current exhibitions. Thanks to Sylvia for her warm welcome!
On July 1st, I took a trip to NYC with Leila to tour a couple conservation labs, at the MoMA and Morgan to be exact. We didn’t plan it this way, but it was like a paper conservation reunion from the NYU class of 19…well, they all graduated from the same class (you can figure it out if you really want to); Karl Buchberg at MoMA, Peggy Ellis at the Morgan and Nancy Ash at PMA were 3 of 5 students to graduate that year and all went into paper. It’s such a small world this profession!
Anyway, it was great to see the paper lab at MoMA for the first time and take a look at some things they’re working on, like a paper guitar sculpture by Picasso and large cut-outs by Matisse, both a part of upcoming exhibitions. I love that each conservator has their own workspace looking out toward the sculpture garden; the light is beautiful! It was also fun to visit the objects/paintings lab where Oldenburg’s floor cake is in treatment (read the blog at Inside/Out). As a contemporary art enthusiast, MoMA is one of my favorite museums and I was thrilled to be there after the opening of Contemporary Art from the Collection. I highly recommend going to see it!
From the conservation labs at MoMA to the Thaw Conservation Center, we witnessed a large contrast in architecture, strange considering that both spaces were designed by Sam Anderson Architects. What I love about both labs is that they really do fit with the surrounding architecture and function well for their intended purposes; MoMA is modern and artistic, glass and steel, the Thaw is much more like a library, wood and brick. They both feature every possible luxury for the paper conservator: large sinks, moveable tables, plenty of storage. And neither one of them is in the basement!
After a quick tour through the Thaw, Peggy Ellis was kind enough to bring us into the museum to talk a little about the Renzo Piano architecture. I love learning little behind-the-scenes facts, like how Piano wanted the entire museum encased in glass and visible to the public, even the storage areas! Even though he had to make some concessions, Piano’s bright space beautifully showcases the di Suvero sculptures currently in the atrium. As much as I appreciated the Durer exhibition, I cannot wait to see Lichtenstein at the Morgan in September!
Thanks to Karl Buchberg and Peggy Ellis for begin such gracious hosts. Hopefully I’ll be back soon!
After living in Philadelphia for almost 6 months, I finally made it to the American Philosophical Society for a visit. Leila and I scheduled an appointment with head conservator Anne Downey to tour her lab located at the institution’s library on Chestnut Street.
The history associated with Philadelphia is one of the things I like best about the city. (Yes, I’m staying positive, even in this hot and humid weather :)). The Philosophical Society was founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1743 as a place of leisure, to “cultivate the finer arts, and improve the common stock of knowledge.” Besides attending regular meetings, and publishing journals, the society was able to amass a large collection of books and other artifacts. Today, the collection continues to grow, and is open to scholars interested in items such as Ben Franklin’s manuscripts or Audobon’s Birds of America. There’s also a museum on S. 5th Street, near Independence Hall, where the public can go to see exhibitions like Dialogues with Darwin.
The Conservation Department is made up largely of book conservators as there is a great need for repairs on the books requested by readers. Denise Carbone and her associates do a fabulous job of making materials more user-friendly, including housing them in beautiful custom-made boxes with illustrations on the cover. I was surprised to see how much book conservators use Tyvek in their work, probably because of it’s strength, flexibility and highly waterproof surface. Elena Bouvier also makes her Tyvek covers fun with a little color dyeing; I can’t wait to try that sometime.
Thank you to Anne for wearing one of her many hats–tour guide–to show us around the lab!
Technically I’m only four days behind on this post, but I have a queue of other topics forming, so unfortunately, this will have to be brief.
I first visited the CCAHA in October and was given a tour by Mellon Fellow Jessica Silverman. Thankfully, Jessica was available again to show us around the center before Leila heads back to Paris in July. It looked just as I remembered, but it was exciting to see all of the new projects in-progress, including a large collection of drawings from the Penn Museum done by M. Louise Baker (shown working below).
I guess I chose the perfect day for a visit because a guest speaker, Elin Danien, was there to talk about the artist that so many of the conservators were coming into contact with. Elin Danien is a scholar who recently finished her PhD on the collection of Chama pottery at the Penn Museum. Through her research, she came across the drawings by M. Louise Baker and immediately felt a connection with this ‘fiesty broad’ (Danien’s words). I believe Elin is now writing a book on Baker, but also curated an exhibition of Mayan pottery called Painted Metaphors.
The work done by Baker, and the amazing life that she lead, is really inspiring. I look forward to reading more about her on the FAMSI site and in the future illustrated catalogue!
Historic Rittenhousetown is the site of the first paper mill in British North America, and is located in Germantown at the edge of Wissahickon creek. William Rittenhouse acquired his paper making skills in Holland, before moving to the United States and beginning his own business in 1690. By the late 18th century, Rittenhouse owned three separate mills in and around Philadelphia. The Rittenhouse family continued their paper monopoly until the Industrial Revolution, when the Fourdrinier machine made handmade paper obsolete. After the mill closed, the land was purchased from the city of Philadelphia and the Fairmount Park Commission, and was restored to become a National Historic Landmark in 1984. Today, visitors can take tours of the old mill, learn to make paper through workshops, or just take a walk along the creek and enjoy the beautiful scenery.
I have learned quite a bit about paper while working in the paper lab at the PMA, and I have read my share of books on how paper is made, but a hands-on workshop really is the way to go; not only is it fun to be creative and work with my hands, but it is educational as well! On Saturday, I took a Japanese Papermaking course with Chris Dellandre at Historic Rittenhousetown. There were about 10 people in the class, all artistic and crafty in their own way, and all with some great questions about the process. Chris described how she went about buying the fibers–kozo, gampi, and albaca–and how she cooked them in soda ash before beating them to a pulp (literally). It may have been helpful to go through that process myself, but it was kind of her to do all of that work so we could devote more time to papermaking!
I made about 25 sheets of 8″ x 12″ paper, some stenciled, some with twine or leaves interwoven, and some just plain and simple. They turned out really well after being dried flat against my mirrors at home, and I would definitely do it again. Now, to decide how to use all this paper!
On May 5th, I joined 120 other museum/conservation professionals in participating in a live webinar presented by the American Association of Museums. This online seminar focused on how to respond to water emergencies in a museum setting, and, more specifically, how to salvage books, photographs, documents, and other works on paper. The advertisement for this seminar caught my eye because, while working at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco just last year, the Museum Services division was revising their emergency response manual. The webinar provided the perfect opportunity to brush up on emergency response procedures (did you know you only react at 20% capacity during an emergency?!), and I was pleased to see that the staff at the Asian had also logged on for the informative presentations.
First, let me say that the webinar system ran surprisingly smoothly, with the presentation and closed captions on the right and presenter’s photo, attendee list and chat box on the left. Not once did my system freeze, and the questions and poll answers all appeared in real time; maybe I’ve been scarred from years of sluggish dial-up, but the webinar really was a good substitute for a live seminar, especially since I could relax on the couch while watching it :).
On to the content: Julie Page of the Western States & Territories Preservation Assistance Service began by giving an overview of possible water problems and how to respond. That segued very nicely into the presentation by Theresa Voellinger of the National Park Service. She explained the structure of the Incident Command System (ICS) originally used by the California Department of Forestry and Fire to contain wildfires in the 1970s; within that framework, Theresa also gave specific steps to take when dealing with these problems affecting paper objects: mold, tidelines, blocking, bleeding and warping. Ellen Carrleeof the Alaska State Museums next told the story of a water leak at a site of the Alaska State Libraries in 2005. Most helpful was the month long timeline she gave for the entire recovery process and a list of actions that would have been useful at the time. California Historical Society‘s Mary Morganti also listed “what we learned” and “what worked” in her description of a water leak at her site in San Francisco in 2008. She concluded by confiding in the attendees an estimate of how much the entire event cost to the Society; all I can say is YIKES!
What I took away from the presentations was a better understanding of the exact steps to take in order to salvage works on paper. It was also clear how important it is to communicate with the people involved in the response and to keep very detailed and organized records of each step taken. Ultimately, safety is first, which is why we must be prepared for an emergency so that we are able to focus when the time comes.