AIC 2009 in LA: Vendors

May 20, 2009

PACIN = Packing, Art Handling & Crating Information Network

Photo 37  A professional interest committee of the American Association of Museums.  They will be holding what seems to be the first ever PREPARATOR’S CONFERENCE Aug 14-15, 2009 at the Sterling and Francine Clark Museum of Art in Williamstown, Mass.

I chatted at this booth with Ashley McGrew, who handles, moves, and installs objects at the Getty, and he told me there’s scarcely a decent book on the subject either, and yet how important is this field in terms of consequences?  PACIN has a couple of publications, $15 each: “Technical Drawing Handbook of Packing and Crating Methods” and “Soft Packing Methods and Methodology for Packing and Transportation of Art and Artifacts”   There is a more expensive book coming out that will be a Museum Materials Sample Set with good-sized samples for getting your hands on them and feeling their properties.  Availability of that volume will coincide with the next AAM and coincide with a session on materials.  This book will the be first of several sets, with later ones including things like foam.  These will definitely be considerably more than $15.  Ashley really likes HDPE (high density polyethylene) as a packing material.  Clear Getty janitorial trashbags were apparently Oddy tested with good results, as manufacturers don’t tend to use plasticizers and slip agents in the manufacture of HDPE?  Nice schwag of carpenter’s pencils and stencil-rulers.


P5200007 Aprons, chenille weights with plastic pellets, leather weights with lead shot, ear buds, tape measures, water bottles, lab coats…I wonder if they will sell out their inventory of the handmade stuff…









P5200008  How about this?

Intercept Display Case Filtration System

Made by Xtend Packaging Inc and using corrosion intercept (polymer plastic impregnated with copper) technology it has a fan run by two D batteries to scrub the air and actively remove pollutants.  Filter has both corrosion intercept for inorganic pollutants as well as activated charcoal for inorganics.  Hollinger Metal Edge sells the units for $69.95 each and a pack of 3 filters for $23.55  They recommend changing the filter when you change the battery, about once every 3 months.  Really marketing this towards use in exhibit cases.

Currently, they have a product in research/development that will involve this RIBS media (reactive intercept barrier system) on top of a layer of activated charcoal attached to paper, which would allow scavenging of both organics and inorganics.  This paper could then be used to line storage boxes.  This has been in development for the past three years and they are hoping to bring it to market within the next year.  Such a box could offer 10 year protection.  They would also make sleeves, envelopes and other enclosures.  Soon they will also come out with garment bags.  

P5200009   Hmmmm….this could be handy.  








P5200011  Set of acrylic mount-making tools available from University Products








P5200012  Loved this display of little packets of good stuff from Talas








P5200013  Check out this cute little visor light that Talas sells!








P5200015 Coveted by anyone crafty who sees one in my lab.  Especially wonderful for removal of tape from places it does not belong.  But other odd uses too, like opening those maddening little plastic triangle photo mounting corners.  I bought one today, my only purchase of the day, for $19.25 and I will gift it to our exhibit designer at the Alaska State Museum…this will save mine from being stolen and also win me some brownie points with the exhibits department…clever clever Ellen.

AIC 2009 in LA: Getty Center Tour

May 19, 2009

Ethical question: when you go on a lab tour, how much can you responsibly blog about what you hear and see?  I mean, some of this involves people’s individual research, and you can’t jump the gun on them by blogging about it.   Not proper to show artworks, probably, especially since some of them don’t belong to the Getty.  And what can you write about the things you hear on the bus on the way there and back?  Probably best to be discreet.  Hardly anyone reads this, but that might not always be the case.


On the tour, I finally met Richard McCoy in person.  He was much as I’d suspected…smart, witty, and little snarky.  Hope there is more opportunity to chat with him at this conference, tho he seems to have a pretty full schedule.  We began in the objects lab, and I must say it seems the Getty is made of several separate collections and conservation entities and I never did quite get clear on the distinctions.  UCLA/ Getty conservation student Lauren Horelick might be meeting with me later in the week (I am trying to woo her to Alaska for part of her internship year…) and perhaps she can clarify it for me.  The collection serviced by the objects lab (sculpture and decorative arts) is apparently rather small and in pretty good condition, so instead of intense treatments, they focus on:

1. Technical examination, for example the recently published catalog of the baroque collection.

2. Exhibition.  Three mountmakers work with them to make sure things can handle the earthquake threat.  Indeed, all the objects for the upcoming exhibit of French bronzes were strapped down to handy surfaces throughout the lab.

3. Didactics.  Things they make up to illustrate various techniques and processes.  This seems like a huge amount of fun.

4. Outdoor sculptures.  Recent donation of 28 sculptures came with a stipulation that they must go on exhibit in a year.  Mostly, bronzes, some painted metals…a lot of work removing surface coatings.  For many, they re-applied a wax, both because the old wax had done a good job of maintaining the sculptures and also because they didn’t necessarily have the time to fully strip everything.  Some flaking painted surfaces had to be re-done…some in-house and others with consultation with the artists’ foundation and local fabricators.  


 Here is the impressive ceiling of the lab, built for maximum flexibility and  apparently working pretty well.


Next door, the marvellous Arlen Higenbotham described various issues with Asian lacquer and marquetry which he might describe at this conference and I will try to report on that later…gosh he’s bright and has such an ease about him.  Public speaking comes so easily to him…I remember hearing him at the ANAGPIG conference when we were in grad school and it was like some ringer was there as an interloper …he was so relaxed and sounded so expert.  Ever wonder if certain conservators just sprung from the head of Athena or something??  That’s Arlen.  No photos of Arlen’s lab because he’s IN all the photos and I was too novice to ask permission.  Doh!  I’ll catch on to this blog thing yet…













And the prize for the coolest tables goes to the paintings lab!!  Look at those beauties.  Paintings has 4 conservators plus one full-time frame restorer.  They have a September-to-September intern, and then they host 2-3 guest conservators for several months at a time.  Apparently, these folks bring paintings from their own collections to work on.  Some paintings are treated at the Getty for free, with the stipulation that they are then able to be exhibited there for 6 months or so.  This is in keeping with the J. Paul Getty Trust goals of philanthopy and service to the field of conservation.  


  The exterior wall forms a zig zag, with each little triangular nook an individual workspace.  This serves to both provide individual workspaces but maintain a unity and openness to the space.  The purpose was to be able to capture north-facing light, and each space has great natural light.  







  Walking through the framer’s space, I saw this appealing little still-life.  Do you think they left it like that on purpose, knowing it looked like a composition?  What is the story with that adorable little table?









 The Getty Conservation Institute was littered with expensive fancy equipment, but I present for your entertainment a rack of personalized lab coats.  They have a staff of six, roughly divided among the specialties.  X-ray, XRD, XRD, CT scans, and so on.   Fabulous stuff we won’t see in Alaska for the next 50 years, I’m sure.









  This is the lab space I was most intrigued with.  If I understand correctly, this is the conservation studio for the Getty Research Institute, and there are approximately 6 staff here, serving a collection of mainly bound volumes and works of art on paper, and some architectural models, but the conservators here are book, paper, and objects specialists.  This lab had a good feel to it, and the staff seemed to have a particularly good vibe.  By this, I mean certain staff members seemed very geekily enthusiastic about their work and genuinely seemed to like each other.





 Nice storage systems on the walls, I think they were called “The Uni-strut System?”  And check out those bins below…they are on a diagonal slant so you can fit larger boards in them.  So nice!  The avocado-green board shear is apparently the most prized instrument in the lab, seeing the most use and devotion from staff.  They also had a matching avocado green book press, but other 70’s kitchen colors were absent.  Sorry, no Harvest Gold.






  Here is a nice stainless steel washing sink, along with a system for light bleaching of paper, although they rarely use that feature (Hydrofarm Horticultural Products 1000 watt metal halide M47 type lamp suitable for damp locations, 120V 9.0 amps)  The sink has these lovely “leaves” that have interlocking pegs like a nice dining room table, allowing it to be used as a dry flat workspace as well.  They have a couple of nice floor stand binocular microscopes, but one has a lot of vibration in it, perhaps because it has such a long arm. They have a ultrasonic polyester encapsulation system made by Dukane, 120V.  Smaller than some I have seen, but I bet it is perfectly adequate.  


I asked about the impact of recent national economic turmoil on the Getty, and was told that of the 2,500 people employed, there have been perhaps 100 layoffs with another 100 people whose contracts will not be renewed.  This is after 50 layoffs last year.  Thankfully, there were a couple of people in the GCI lab who were moving on for other reasons, and those postions were simply not filled.  I have heard that the Getty endowment lost some 40% of it value in the economic crisis.  Hard times all over I guess.  


 The little exhibit pavillions at the Getty Center are surprisingly intimate.  One had these appealing book stands for illuminated manuscripts.  They seem to be made of thick plexi with highly polished edges, using additional loose  oval or rounded-parallelogram shapes to support the textblock.  The backs of the mounts seem to be painted a dark color and the effect is really quite unobtrusive.  Except, of course, if you have my sickness and the mount-making perversely becomes more fascinating than the artifact.




P5190096  The Japanese lacquer exhibit did not allow photos, but I offer a quote from the label text: “…integrated approach to the conservation of lacquer objects that respects both modern Western conservation ethics, which emphasize minimal intervention and the reversibility of treatments, and traditional Japanese conservation values, which seek to preserve the cultural continuity of objects by employing materials and technologies similar to those used at the time of manufacture.”  Hmmm, interesting.  This used to be the way conservation was practiced here as well.  Does it  perhaps make a difference if your personal cultural heritage is an unbroken line between yourself as the conservator and the original artist?

Radical Ideas or New Directions for AIC?

May 11, 2009

Thanks, Ellen, for letting me write a guest post on your blog.  The amount of conservation information you’re sharing here is impressive; I really can’t think of anyone who is putting as much treatment and research information out as you.  It’s as if you’re running your own conservation publication for the state of Alaska!

Also, I think it’s fascinating that you and I can be connected in a meaningful way without having met in person or chatted on the phone.  After all, you’re way up there in Alaska, and I’m here in Indianapolis.  To make this point visual, my friend, Tascha, in the IMA Photography department, made the image below.

Richard's Indianapolis Blog Cruise Stops in Alaska

Richard's Corn-Fed Blog Cruise Stops in Alaska

In recognition of the upcoming AIC Annual Meeting being held in Los Angeles that is dubbed “Conservation 2.0 — New Directions,” I thought it would be a good idea to put out some thoughts on “New Directions.”  Following this post, on Wednesday Ellen will be posting over at my home blog at the IMA and then on Friday Daniel Cull will posting at The Dan Cull Weblog.  We’ve all agreed to address potential “New Directions” for AIC.

Of course, to me, it makes total sense that I publish this post here in Alaska.  In many ways I think it is projects like Ellen’s blog that are beginning to change the landscape within the conservation profession and point to new directions.  I’m not just talking about starting a blog and telling people what you do, but it’s the capacity for anyone in the world to use a very powerful printing press basically for free.  The ability to share information about art conservation is changing dramatically.

Read the rest of this entry »

Buffered Tissue

March 19, 2009

Q: Should I use buffered tissue?

A:  Considerable dialog has gone on within the
museum community about the use of buffered tissues versus non-buffered
tissues.  The pH of all papers drops over time as they deteriorate, even
acid-free papers.  “Acid-free” simply means that when it was
manufactured, the paper had a neutral pH.  Buffered tissues contain a
compound (usually calcium carbonate) meant to neutralize acids that form
in paper during natural aging.  Buffering makes the tissue last longer.
It does not stabilize nearby acidic materials.  This is partly due to
the fact that the amount of “alkaline reserve” is rather small (2-3%)
and does not migrate.  The products of acid degradation do migrate
however, so the tissue does act as a barrier to protect nearby surfaces
from that acid migration.  Theoretically, buffered tissues should not be
used with artifacts made of proteins (animal parts like feathers and
fur, or things made from animals like silk and wool) because those
artifacts prefer a slightly acidic environment.  Alkalinity also is
known to affect some pigments and dyes, and therefore buffered paper is
not recommended with color photographs or pigmented surfaces.
Practically speaking, however, unless the tissue is wet and touching the
surface of the object for an extended time, it is questionable if those
effects are taking place.  Furthermore, tissue is quite thin and the
amount of buffering rather small.  At the Alaska State Museum, we don’t
use buffered tissue at all.  We find it is difficult to keep it separate
from the non-buffered, as they look almost identical.  Buffered tissue
does cost a little more, too.  Simple acid-free tissue paper is so
beneficial for padding, interleaving, and protecting surfaces that we
don’t worry much about the small added risks or benefits that may be
associated with buffered tissues.  Not long ago, we had a conversation
with Dr. Naoko Sonoda of the National Museum of Ethnology in Osaka,
Japan.  She was showing us her collections storage, where acid-free
tissue wrapped or padded nearly everything.  We told her about various
modern products we use in the U.S., and she told me that while they are
very interested in those products, deep down they feel very comforted by
the presence of tissue because they have been using it to preserve their
heritage for centuries.  A product tried and true over hundreds of
years.  It is hard to argue with that.

The Conservation Interview

March 17, 2009










For those about to interview…some things that have worked for me.  This is intended to broadly cover internships, grad schools and jobs.

1. The point of the interview is to determine if you and the position are a good fit for each other.  Sometimes a door has to close for another door to open.  Interviewing is always a worthwhile experience and makes you a better professional.

2.  Read over the job description with a fine-toothed comb.  Some of your interview questions will be based on that position description.  Think about what experiences you had or courses you’ve taken that relate to the things in that description.  Make sure you know what they are describing in the position description and if you are at a total loss, at least try to read up on the subject so you’ll have some theoretical knowledge if not practical skills.  You are studying for an oral exam, and the subject is YOU.   In your head, you ought to have answers for each category on the job description.

3.  Since the subject is you, read over your resume and cover letter…the one you sent that got you the interview…and make sure you can discuss the things written there.  Interviews often reference those documents, and you can’t ask them to hand over your CV to ponder what you wrote.  If there are gaps in your dates, be able to explain them.  Remember the names of people you’ve worked or studied with so they pop to the front of your mind.  It’s OK to write yourself an outline and actually study for an interview.  At the very least, it makes you feel like you are doing something to prepare and if you feel a little more confident that will help make a good impression.

4. Be honest with yourself about your weaknesses, what areas you have not studied, where the edges of your knowledge are.  There is an interview technique that involves asking progressively more in-depth questions on a single topic until the candidate does not know the answer.  In fact, students are often asked some sort of question that they are unlikely to know the answer, because it reveals interesting information about a person’s honesty, self-awareness, ability to think on their feet, and reaction to stress.  (I’ve seen this technique for management-level positions as well, and wow can it be revealing!)

5. Google the heck out of the institution.  If you can find the names of staff, check bibliographic databases like BCIN or the Getty AATA to see what they have written and what areas of research interest them.   Don’t go out of your way to drop this info in an interview, but if there is a natural way that it comes up, all the better.  

6. Interviews often ask for little anecdotes, so be ready to give examples of the following: a project that was challenging but you succeeded, a project that went poorly and how you dealt with it/what you learned, how you have dealt with conflict, how you communicate, what you consider your greatest weakness. 

7. The interview is about what you have to offer and why they might want to work with sparkling, positive, organized, charming you.  It is not about what YOU want from them.  This is not the time to talk about how much it pays, when you want to take vacation, and what skills you want them to teach you.  There will be an opportunity to negotiate those issues later if they offer you the position.

8. Some interviews will involve a portfolio.  This may be conservation work you have done (treatment reports and images) or it might be studio art.  There will usually be instructions about this, and you are wise to follow those instructions meticulously.  Questions often involve probing the edges of your knowledge about technique, alternative ways to do things, ethics, familiarity with materials and products etc.

9. Some interviews will include a writing exercise.  This is usually timed.  My method is to read the whole thing first, trying to figure out what it is testing for.  Then I re-read it and jot notes in the margins.  Next, formulate an outline that has an intro/summary sentence, a step-by-step answer, and a summary statement at the end.  Then I actually write the thing.  If you just start writing, you’re likely to wander and seem unfocused.

10.  Have you read over the AIC’s code of ethics and guidelines for practice?  You’d best go do that (again) because it will put certain concepts and phrases in your head that will be helpful. On the AIC website under core documents.

11. A lot of interviews end with “Do you have any questions for us?”  Do not say “no.”  Think of a few ahead of time, just in case.  Asking a good question at the end is a nice way to engage the interviewer(s) and convey enthusiasm about the position.  

12. Consider sending a thank-you email later that day or the next.  A simple thank-you for the opportunity to interview, I’m-grateful-for-your-time sort of thing is classy.

Folks who have found a mentor are going to hear about all this anyway, its not letting a cat out of the bag to blog about it.  On the day of the interview, it’s like the day of an exam.  Being mentally and physically rested and nourished is the best thing, and by that point, you either know enough or you don’t.  You have to just walk in and give it your best shot.

Supervising Interns and Volunteers

January 1, 2009


Molly Gleeson describes her technique to Bruce Kato

Molly Gleeson describes her technique to Bruce Kato











Since 2001, I have supervised more than a dozen interns and even more volunteers.  I’ve come to a few conclusions.  One is that the balance of supervision invested versus useful work produced cannot be met without a significant time commitment from both parties.  For me, this has either been a minimum commitment of one day per week over a long period, or a concentrated chunk of time where the person comes in almost every day.  In order to utilize interns and volunteers well, the supervisor needs to have a certain level of organization already in place.  Otherwise, the time is simply spent facilitating work I could have done faster myself.   Most of my supervisory experience took place when I was a curator of collections and exhibits.  The interns were mainly grad students from the Texas Tech Museum Studies program.  The most difficult aspect of supervising them was striking the right balance of adequate instruction and appropriate correction.  I have no stomach for providing criticism.  Written manuals of museum procedures are most helpful, particularly for processing collections.   With the volunteers, who were mostly retired local folks, it was more delicate because few of them had computer skills, and volunteering is partly a social activity.  However, most of them had deep and valuable knowledge about community history.  It was most helpful for me to schedule them all on the same day of the week.  This way, I could spend some time the day before preparing everyone’s projects and lining up my own questions for them.  The volunteers mostly knew each other and enjoyed each other’s company. 

In 2007, I supervised my first conservation graduate students, Samantha Spring from the Delaware program and Molly Gleeson from the UCLA/Getty program.  An article about the experience can be found at (forgive me, I’m just learning links!):

This was a very rewarding experience for me, since we all came from similar educational backgrounds and could cover considerable ground quickly.  They had knowledge of AIC standards and guidelines for practice, basic ethics, and knew the components of a treatment report.  The exchange of knowledge and skills was a two-way street, with the students providing the latest information from their training and me providing the pragmatic “what they don’t tell you in school” and some meaty projects.  They presented a paper about their work at the ICOM-CC conference in New Delhi India in September 2008.

I’ve found it rather difficult to come up with a reliable barometer about how well an intern or volunteer will work out.  For a while, I thought that young people who were not yet in grad school didn’t take the experience seriously and were flaky.  But I was proven wrong on that a couple of times, thanks to Katie Mahoney and Dean Duryea, Jr.  And the best resume I’ve ever seen ended up being a poor fit.  And now that I am focused mainly on conservation, I thought perhaps I should stick only to conservation grad students.  But I’ve got a volunteer, Sadie Beck Ingalls, who is so sharp I could totally use her full-time, and I think her educational background is a recent Greek and Classical Studies degree. 

I would love to have an intern around most of the time…so I am entertaining the idea of a summer intern and perhaps a third-year conservation grad student.  The main difficulty is money.  There isn’t funding from my end, although conservation students often have some limited resources if the want this particular experience bad enough.  Juneau is an expensive place to live, and since it is a summer tourist destination, living accomodations are tricky.  On the upside, my boss, Bruce Kato, is very supportive of conservation and the projects we’re tackling.  And Juneau is a fantastic wonderland.  

I really believe in the intern/mentor relationship.  I love seeing things anew and critically through the eyes of a grad student.  I like being challenged and questioned so I don’t get complacent (there are only 4 conservators in all of Alaska and I am married to one of them.)  And I hope that these relationships are destined to turn into a colleague-colleague peer thing.  

Samantha Springer and Molly Gleeson work on projects as Ellen supervises and Bruce approaches

Samantha Springer and Molly Gleeson work on projects as Ellen supervises and Bruce approaches

Opinion on Certification

December 22, 2008

stormy seas  

I admit to being a bit of a good girl/ rule-follower type, so the truth is, if certification becomes a reality for the conservation profession here in the U.S., I would do it.  I would also pay out the nose from my own pocket to fly where I had to (from Alaska mind you) and cough up fees to do it.  But I’m not looking forward to the prospect.  I’ve tried to keep up with what is developing in committee, mainly through postings to the listserves, but I can’t bring myself to become a student of the vast verbage being generated almost daily.  I have had the same general feelings about it since it came up years ago, but I’m still willing to be swayed…

In essence, I believe in the formal graduate training programs.  NYU, Buffalo, Delaware, Queens, London, and now UCLA, basically.  I believe one’s diploma from one of those places constitutes your walking papers.  I feel like I paid my dues, jumped through a lot of hoops, learned a ton, and that ought to be the equivalent of a certification.  (In the near future I’ll be posting an exhaustive CV which will detail said hoops.) Furthermore, I have been involved in AIC and jumped through those hoops to become a Professional Associate.   I’ll jump through the Fellowship ones when the time comes, too.  And if the certification hoop shows up, I’ll do it.  

I have a nagging suspicion that there will be folks out there who didn’t want to pursue a formal degree, have put in some time as a conservation technician, and who will be clever enough to study up and pass a certification test.  I imagine myself in that position years ago and think I probably could have passed.   There are some talented folks out there who didn’t go through a formal program.  The brilliant and insanely skilled Tony Sigel for one.  And then there is Dave Harvey, whose posts I have been reading and agreeing with on discussion lists for years.  But that cream seems to have risen on its own, hasn’t it?  At this point in history, I am not in favor of  an apprenticeship-style path into the conservation profession.  Professions like medicine, law, and engineering include the expectation of formal academic training and I would like to see conservation grouped in with those kinds of professions.

A certification program is not likely to impact my work much.  I feel concerned that there are people who I admire and respect who are in favor of certification and worry that I am missing something in the dialogue.   And it is upsetting to think of dozens of people working hard, volunteering their efforts to design a certification model with nothing but the best of intentions for our profession…and then have it voted down.  But at this point, I am likely to vote “no” or not vote at all.


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