WAAC 2009 in Juneau: Extracurriculars

September 7, 2009

As so often happens at conferences in small places, WAAC 2009 took on a bit of a feel of a retreat.  Lots of good info was shared and warm connections made at various meals, social activities and events outside the talks.

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Wednesday was the day before the talks began, but the day after the Angels project wrapped up.  Yosi Pozeilov gave a workshop on digital documentation to many members of the Alaska State Division of Libraries, Museums and Archives, and then turned around that evening and gave a terrific public lecture on his personal experiences with pinhole camera photography.  What a long day!   For those who don’t know him, Yosi is the senior photographer at the Conservation Center of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and married to conservator and WAAC board member Marie Svoboda.  I heard that Yosi got to spend some time in the studio of Ron Klein during his visit to Juneau.  Ron Klein is perhaps Juneau’s leading mad scientist-genius type, and was making collodion prints the day Yosi visited.  I think Paul Gardinier, the exhibits designer at the Alaska State Museum, introduced them.   Of course it was the perfect matchmaking thing to do, but Scott and I were running in other directions and Paul just graciously stepped in and made the connection.   That kind of thing is a big part of what makes it great to live and work in a place like Juneau.  People look out for you.  Speaking of that, many WAAC conference attendees spent all day Wednesday helping with recovery from the flood at the Alaska State Archives.  Instead of shopping, sightseeing, and generally enjoying a bit of vacation in exotic Alaska, these fine souls were getting pruny fingers helping save wet documents, maps, blueprints and photos.  The opening reception for the conference was held at the Alaska State Museum just before Yosi’s public lecture on pinhole cameras.  In the seemingly mundane photo above, Scott Carrlee stands next to Linda Thibodeau, the director of the state division of Libraries, Museums and Archives, to make some opening remarks.  What you can’t see in the photo is how badly Scott choked up and almost cried when he described the outpouring of help from WAAC attendees in mitigating the disaster.  Conservators were present providing key help and leadership in the three most crucial days of the disaster.  Some of their spouses came and helped, too.  Nobody got paid.  Nobody expected anything in return.  They just rose to the occasion.  That kind of thing gets Scott every time.  (you should see him when he watches “Its A Wonderful Life.” )

Janice Mae Schopfer

Janice Mae Schopfer helping to save maps following the flood at the Alaska State Archives

 

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Scott wasn’t the only one touched by the outpouring of help.  The Post-It on this jar of coveted, rare, homemade  Nagoonberry Jam says, “Karen, a token of my admiration for your amazing extra work!  Fondly, Mary.”  Mary Irvine is part of the Alaska State Museum security and visitor services staff, who put in a lot of extra time herself during the Archives emergency and also helped pick up WAAC attendees at the airport.

Yees Ku Oo

Yees Ku Oo

The first day of talks on Thursday was followed with another reception, this one at the Juneau-Douglas City Museum.   There was a performance by the dance group Yees Ku Oo, led by Carolyn Noe.  The director of the City Museum, Jane Lindsey, generously split the cost of the honorarium with WAAC.  She didn’t have to do that, but it was a classy move.  Although the photo above is blurry, maybe you can get an idea of how hard that guy is pounding on that box drum.  I saw him unfurl a length of supple chamois-like leather from around his hand after the performance, but I didn’t see any other padding or glove there to protect his hand.   My God, the sound that drum made!


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Here are my winnings from the silent auction.  A Golden “paint samples” tee shirt!  Look at this cool triceratops pencil sharpener where the hole for the pencil to go in also accomodates a key that winds up the dinosaur and he walks!  You lift his head to remove the shavings, which is his only flaw…I wish you lifted the tail instead.  And I won a cute bottle of “Ven Dinero,” an odd- smelling oil that is supposed to attract money into your hands.  I’ll let you know how that goes! 

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Dinner was at the Thane Ore House, a local rustic lodge-like restaurant that serves amazing all-you-can-eat salmon and halibut.  It is on the water, not far from Sheep Creek where salmon were spawning.  At one point, our dining hall was almost empty because everyone HAD to go see the spawning salmon.  Music was provided by the Great Alaska Bluegrass Band, my favorite band in Juneau, and they played several encores to an appreciative crowd.  

Great Alaska Bluegrass Band at the Thane Ore House

Great Alaska Bluegrass Band at the Thane Ore House

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Maria Charette and D. Hays Shoop enjoy the band

The end of the banquet marked the end of the conference, but I heard that the boat trip “Adventure Bound” to see glaciers, seals, sea lions and whales out in Tracy Arm was loaded with conservators the next day.  Seems like August 2009 was the busiest month ever in the Carrlee household…on Sunday evening Arlen Heginbotham and Leslie Rainer generously spotted us some childcare so Scott and I could go out an a date and toast the conference finally being over! 

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WAAC 2009 in Juneau: Aug 21 Sessions

September 7, 2009

The WAAC newsletter intends to publish abstracts from the conference, so I won’t repeat them here.  

Albrecht Gumlicht introduced the morning  sessions by saying how much he enjoys the mix of information presented and the courage to look at the profession from different angles.  He feels these interesting and controversial talks are what make WAAC special.  I am reminded of a talk I once heard by Elaine Gurian, who said that a museum should be a safe place for unsafe ideas.  Indeed, the friendly, casual atmosphere of open-mindedness and  excitement at the conference was palpable.  I think when people consume alcohol and Red Bull, they are seeking the same sensation of relaxed, focused sharpness.  I saw neither of those substances in evidence, however.

 

Seth Irwin

Vin Diesel, oops I mean, Seth Irwin!

Seth Irwin presented “A Comparison of Two Soot Removal Techniques: “Dry Ice Dusting” and Rubber-Based Chemical Sponges” co-authored by Randy Silverman.  Seth spent a good part of his last year and a half at the Queen’s graduate conservation training program working on this project, which sought to compare techniques for fire soot recovery techniques.  Disaster recovery companies train their crews to an industry standard that involves wiping with rubber-based soot sponges, commonly known by brand names such as Absorene or Gonzo, and then cutting off the dirty area to reveal fresh sponge.  FTIR confirmed that their composition is identical to your common household rubber band.  Randy Silverman suggested dry ice dusting as an alternate method, one that was used for the removal of lead paint on the Utah State Capitol building.  Randall Heath is the owner and operator of  the company “Cold Sweep”  and this dry ice technology was the one tested.   The sample set was 20 books…5 leather covered (both sheep and calf), 5 open weave cloth, 5 tight weave cloth and 5 paper covered books.  There were a few more books that had no analysis but were books to practice on.  The books were all cut in half and analyzed with surface metrology/ profilography by topographic scanning at the Novalus aluminum manufacturing company.  It uses a laser to read the surface and give a 3-D scan on a nanometer scale.  Takes three hours to scan a single square centimeter!  They also did colorimetry at CCI.  The National Fire Lab in Ontario was able to include the books in a test burn to make good sooty deposition on the books.  Can you imagine how fun that was?  This presentation (and I am hoping the published paper will appear in the 2009 AIC annual meeting Book and Paper postprints?) includes a ton of great info about many details of getting reliable results.  For example, the way they packaged the books to prevent disturbing the soot.  Or the clever Mylar templates to make sure they could line up the exact same areas for analysis again.  The specifics on the Alpheus Precision Series Model T-2 dry ice dusting machine and its use were also described, and operator experience is important.  Seth described how the dry ice dusting machine works.  For the fine mist, a brick of dry ice is placed in the machine and a blade shaves it to the size of a sugar crystal (or you can go up to the size of a grain of rice) and a compressor blows that through a nozzle.  30 psi was the lowest pressure setting for this machine.  Bigger things like walls and sculpture require pellets to be loaded into the machine.  The dry ice crystals expand to 700X their size and cause the soot or other deposit to pop off.  Dry ice sublimes (that’s right from solid to gas) so there is no moisture unless you are working on something that might have a temperature issue, like metal.  Since there are no residues like from sand or walnut shells, you don’t have the containment issues.  The metrics for describing the results of this study are fairly sophisticated.  The conclusion seemed to be that if you had a little bit of surface abrasion, that correlated to the soot being gone.  The soot sponge was better at removing soot for this reason.  Dry ice was better at preventing abrasion, but didn’t always remove all traces of soot.  However, it outperformed the sponge in dealing with 3-D surfaces like spines, edges and crevices.  Both did well with mitigating odor. 

 

Karen Zukor

Karen Zukor

When I saw the title of Karen Zukor’s talk, “Undocumented Worker” I expected some WPA or CCC-era artwork about some long-suffering 1930’s worker and the rise of unions and the complicated paper treatment she had to do on the valuable print by some artist I wouldn’t know.  In fact, her talk was a fascinating account of three different major projects she has worked on that have challenged her professional ethics because she was forbidden from fully documenting her work.  The talk was full of intrigue, code names, and secrecy.  In one case, it involved working for a wealthy patron.  In another it was the Federal Government.  And the third case was so sensitive I am afraid to mention any details here at all.  Working for the Federal Governement involved bizarre working conditions that limited not only documentation, but also bathroom breaks, supplies available, and even what she wore.  Aside from feeling compromised on AIC ethics for documentation, it has been difficult for Karen because  some of this work has been the most rewarding of her carrer, but she can’t discuss it with colleagues because “I’ve never worked on it and I was never there.”  So you’ll just have to take my word for it that it was a fascinating talk.

 

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 Jennifer McGlinchey presented “Photograph Conservation Internship in Alaska” describing her last few months working in the Alaska State Library’s Historical Collections (including a survey) and doing trainings around the state for the Archives Rescue Corps, a program funded by a Connecting to Collections IMLS grant.  A 2006 Heritage Health Preservation Survey identified only 26 archives statewide in Alaska.  Since Frances Field began working on the ARC project, she has found more than 105.  60% are in poor-to-fair condition, and 90% said they needed training in care and storage.  Apparently, at these trainings Jennifer included a terrific short synopsis of photography as it applies to techniques used in Alaska, and I heard from many people how terrific that talk was.  There was also instruction for the caretakers of these archives on testing for cellulose nitrate, the Beilstein test for chlorides in PVC plastics, pH testing for acidic enclosures and testing for light levels.  I really liked her presentation technique for this talk…she would show images of historical events, and say “I saw the Pipeline built” and “I experienced the Klondike Gold Rush.”  What a clever way of describing both the material and also the effect the images had on her.  She identified some issues on the Alaska State Library’s historical collection, like cellulose acetate netgatives stored with prints, camphor plasticizer recrystallizing on the surface of cellulose acetate negatives, and some silver mirroring and intereference colors appearing as the negatives deteriorate.  The collection also had several thousand gelatin glass plate negatives that were starting to flake around the edges.  She showed library staff how to do basic consolidation around their edges with warm gelatin and a small soft brush.  Monday August 17th was supposed to be her last day, and a small going-away party, but alas that was the day the Archives flooded and she was called upon to lend her expertise.  Her images and description of the event were riveting, and then I realized that somehow between wrapping up her internship responsibilities, helping with the emergency, and getting ready to leave Alaska, she miraculously found time to re-write her WAAC talk to include this info!  Impressive.  Red Bull perhaps?  Jennifer is now in the third-year internship at the MFA in Houston.  Lucky them!

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 Valery Monahan presented “The Ice Patch Archaeological Collections: Conserving 9000 years of Yukon Hunting History.”  I was thrilled to hear this talk and finally meet Valery.  The  ice patch phenomenon is yielding some amazingly preserved ancient artifacts. If you haven’t heard about this yet, it is mindblowing.  In 1997, some Dall Sheep hunters were on an alpine ridge in the SW Yukon territory, and got whiff of a barnyard smell.  Coming out of the ice, they saw vast black areas of caribou dung in a place where there had been no caribou for 80 years.  It was a north-facing slope at considerable elevation, and snow had covered it for thousands of years.  Around 100 of these ice patches have been identified in SW Yukon alone…revealing 9000 years of layer stratigraphy of caribou dung.  And where the caribou go, so go the hunters.  Artifacts are being found, as well as the remains of ancient caribou, birds, and small mammals.  Approximately 180 artifacts have been found in cooperation with First Nations representatives.  The youngest artifacts are Gold Rush era, but the oldest artifact is a dart fragment dated 9,450 BP (calibrated.)  Valerie is responsible for the conservation of these artifacts, which have included antler, wood, sinew, hide, feathers and paint.  The preservation is so remarkable, some of the artifacts look to be only 100 years old but are in fact thousands of years old.  The recovery of the artifacts is salvage-only at this point, with helicopters checking the sites during the short thaw period, which may only last a couple of weeks and does not happen reliably every year.  This year, for example, was not a good year despite the warm temperatures in many places.  The artifacts are generally not waterlogged, in spite of the threat of running and pooling meltwater.  Slow drying in the freezer has been successful so far.  The artifacts are of such age and importance it is preferable not to consolidate or add anything that might interfere with later analysis.  While the range of dates for the artifacts covers 9000 years, the artifacts represent a single activity: big game hunting.  They therefore show the changes in that activity over time.  Study of the artifacts also reveals the resources available in the area through time, such as forest succession from hardwoods to softwoods.  As the world gets warmer, ice patches are being found in many other areas, including Alaska, Wyoming, and Norway.  

 

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Susanne Grieves presented again!  This time a talk called “Simple Solutions to Complex Problems: The 2008/09 Ice Mitigation and Artefact Conservation Programme at Scott’s Terra Nova Hut Cape Evans, Antarctica.”  The author of the talk was Lizzie Meek, but she couldn’t be at WAAC, so Susanne was presenting.  Susanne was at the site from February to October of 2008.  She was at Scott base in the Ross Sea area, the New Zealand base…McMurdo is the American one nearby. Scott base is painted green to be visible in an emergency, and McMurdo is red.  Scott base has about 120 people working there in the summer and 12 in winter, and the buildings are connected by hallways.  McMurdo has about 1500 in summer and 150 in winter.  The Antarctic Heritage Trust is a charitable trust begun in 1987…it doesn’t own the huts or the artifacts, it only exists for research, conservation and education.   One way in to the area is from Chile, another is from Christchurch in New Zealand.  The huts were prefabricated in Australia or England and then hauled ashore, which is why they aren’t far from the coast.  The time period is right around 1900…a few years before, and a little more than a decade after.  Last inhabitation of the huts was around 1917.  The conservation challenges are numerous.  From 1950 to around 1980, the area saw a rise in tourism, up to around 3,800 people each year.  Trash was long thrown in the channel, and souvenirs were taken from the huts of the early explorers, especially the huts that were easy to reach.  There is a penguin colony in the area who have also made themselves at home, and unfortunately penguin poo is nasty, stinky stuff that dries hard as concrete.   In the 1960’s and 70’s many potentially historical items were burned during “cleanups.”  Chlorides and salts from the seawater corrode metals and damage wood…seawater has about 35,000 ppm but the snow has almost 33,000.  There are thought to be around 18,000 artifacts, but 10,000 are in the Terra Nova hut.  The AHT lab has treated about 2,538 objects so far.  Susanne described the ethical, personal, and professional challenges she faced working in that difficult environment.  In the hut, there were challenges with the weight of the snow, the snow getting inside, the meltwater flooding, the moisture and humidity,and even ice heaving up under the floorboards.  Manually removing snow and ice was incredibly time consuming…it would take 7 days just to dig out and begin work.  Recently a snow groomer was employed to help with the digging, and a breakthrough occurred when solar gain from dark material was shown to have a huge effect on melting the snow away.  They used volcanic gravel for this purpose.  Amazing futuristic vortex generators were also employed to change the course of the wind and thus minimize snowdrift.  A remarkable project was undertaken to pull up the flooring and floorboards and remove all the snow and ice below that was causing heaving.  They were able to re-lay the flooring materials with such accuracy that they reused the old nail holes.  There is a blog for the ongoing conservation work as well as a website for the work that the AHT does.

 

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Michele Austin Dennehy presented “On Again, Off Again: Conservation Aspects in Accessible Display Case Design”  about the exhibit cases for the artifacts on loan to the Arctic Studies Center at the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center.  The artifacts discussed by Michele are coming from the National Museum of Natural History, with the Arctic Study center exhibit planning to open in spring 2010 and be on display for at least 7 years.  The intent is to allow the artifacts on display to be removed from exhibit and taken behind the scenes for up-close study by researchers.  To accomodate this, the mounts and display cases had to have unusual engineering and planning.  The cases have floor-to-ceiling glass doors that open with actuators.  The mounts are related to vertical rods that tie into the ceiling to meet seismic code.  The cases are double-sided, and objects are displayed at use-height according to the purpose of the artifact.  A stem on the artifact mount fits into a bracket that extends from the vertical rod.  The bracket arm has a thumb screw to hold the mount stem, and mounts have allen screws as well.  The engineers wanted a mechanical tightener, such as a screwdriver.  But that means tools in with artifacts, so tethers were made for the tools, and additional threads were added to the screws to make the delicate task of accessing the hardware without dropping screws easier.  The mount-makers were the heros of the project.  Benchmark did the first phase and then it was Ely, Inc.  Some folks worked for both companies.  Sounded to me like there were maddeningly typical issues where the desires of designers were prioritized over the well-being of the artifacts…not installing double doors to consultation rooms where artifacts would need to go, trying to avoid plexi, trying to avoid any mounts touching the deck, designers wanting things to be as vertical as possible, etc.   But it also sounded like many of the fears of the conservators were unfounded, and the artifacts were not as difficult to access as feared.  Special carts were designed to carry the artifacts to the viewing rooms as well as hold the artifact while viewed up-close.  It will be interesting to hear how this all goes…the exhibit aims to provide a very unusual level of access to the artifacts, and has taken great pains to do so safely.  There is a huge community of Native artists, scholars, and students in Alaska for whom access to this material would not have been possible without this project.  From what I have heard, the concept is pretty groundbreaking and many entities are going out on a  limb to make it happen.  Expect to hear more about this in the coming year.  

 

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Albrecht Gumlicht presented “Sand or Snow? Preparation of an Archival Model by Renowned Modernist Architect John Lautner for a Traveling Exhibition.”  The Getty Research Institute was recently given a huge collection of sketches, drawings, photos, and architectural models from this important artist, who died in 1994.  He was famous for modernist, geometric, often futuristic-looking buildings in both sandy desert and snowy mountain environments.  The buildings played to their surroundings beautifully.  The collection came with some issues, both in terms of conservation and because many items were committed for a traveling exhibit through the Hammer Museum, “Between Earth and Heaven: Architecture by John Lautner.”  The model Albrecht discussed was very futuristic, with a veranda living room that swivelled outdoors James-Bond style by push button.  It also had a tent-like roof with three points of contact with the ground.  The roof  on the model was detachable, and the conservators left it that way to make transport easier.  The building was sited in a mountain environment, so the artist used table salt to indicate snow on the roof and the surrounding topography, but much salt had been lost or turned a disfiguring splotchy yellow by the adhesive used to make it stick.  There were many aspects to the treatment, but the most fascinating was how to reintegrate the look of the snow, since it looked rather ugly as it was and could easily be mistaken for sand.  Because the architect had buildings in both sandy and snowy locales, it was really important to get the snow right.  But maintaining the original material and adding more without facing the same adhesive issues was a big challenge.  The eureka moment was provided by colleague Nancy Yacoo Turner, who suggested that the new “snow” did not need to be permanently attached…a method was simply needed to apply an appropriate product when interpretation or exhibition was desired.  The magic substance ironically was white Sonora desert sand sold as “Vita-Sand” for pet lizard enclosures.  The product has a white color, similar grain size to the salt, and was easy to apply with a sieve.  For the curved roof, a “wig-like” secondary cover was made of Tyvek with the sand attached with PVA adhesive.  After exhibition, the “snow” could be removed in about 20 minutes with a soft paintbrush and a Nilfisk equipped with a rheostat.  The packing job was really nice, too, employing Tyvek straps that attached to foam bumpers with stainless steel T-pins and foam disk washers.  Near the end, Albrecht had a hilarious statement that went something like, “We used sand to cover up salt that was meant to look like snow that we didn’t want to have mistaken for sand but that tempted the visitor to taste it because it looked like sugar…”

The WAAC business meeting went very quickly, since many officers were not present and many reports were not submitted.  Marie Laibinis-Craft is the new President,  Dana Senge is the new Vice-President, Brynn Bender is the new Secretary, Natasha Cochrane continues as secretary, Chris Stavroudis (aka Mr. WAAC) will continue as a member-at-large (and a sort of untitled and unpaid Executive Director, it seems?) and new members-at-large will be Rhea Carter and Bev Perkins.  Apparently, elections this year were very close.  It is a rather strange experience to agree to run for the board and then not get elected, but I have to admit I take elections much more seriously when I have a choice of candidates.  Next election will try to incorporate an electronic ballot, from what I hear.  Perhaps some paper ballots, some electronic ones?  And next year’s meeting?  September 1-3, 2010 in Portland, Oregon.   And finally, even though the out-of-the-way-gosh-the-economy-is-in-the toilet-right-now conference in Juneau had only about 40 attendees, it didn’t lose money for WAAC.  WHEW!


WAAC 2009 in Juneau: Aug 20 Sessions

September 7, 2009
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Breakfast and breaks sponsored by Optium and University Products. Thank you!!

There’s a benefit to being married to the person who determines the order of the talks: you can get your over with right away!  My paper, “PEG Treatments at the Alaska State Museum” started the talks with a description of the challenges to treating waterlogged archaeological basketry with polyethylene glycol (PEG.)  I’ve written about that elsewhere on the blog, so won’t repeat it here.  I have to admit, I was so intent on taking notes on the next two talks (also involving PEG) that I neglected to capture even fuzzy images of them to add visual amusement to the blog.  So above I show you a bit of one of the coffee breaks.  We had two sponsors for the breaks, Optium and University Products.  WAAC was very grateful to them for their sponsorship.

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I don’t know if you can make it out, but this was the weather in Juneau’s local newspaper: hot and sunny throughout the lower 48, but chilly in all of Alaska, and rain for us all week.  The real temperate rainforest, live.

After I chatted about PEG, Susanne Grieve presented a paper “Conservation of Waterlogged Wood from the USS Monitor” that was co-authored with Elsa Sangouard.   The talk was similar to the one she presented at the 2009 AIC annual meeting in Los Angels, so I think you’ll be able to find a published version soon.  Don’t be mixing up the Monitor with the Hunley...that’s a different project.  Up until recently, Susanne was part of the treatment team, but now she teaches in the graduate Maritime Studies program at East Carolina University.  The Monitor is an 1862 ironclad vessel famous for its rotating turret that became the precursor to all subsequent turrets.  It was also part of a famous battle against the Merrimack.  In addition to complicated treatments for the metal and the sensitive issue of human remains found in the turret, wood treatments have been challenging.  Susanne described how hydroxide groups released by the degradation of cellulose make wood more hygroscopic as it deteriorates.  Acid-base issues are catalyzed by metallic salts in the water.  Bacteria lead to hydrolysis, and the cellulose reacts with seawater, eventually leaving only lignin.  In wood associated with iron, sulfur-reducing bacteria are catalyzed by the iron to make sulfuric acid.  Amazing that wood survives from the marine environment at all!  The sulfur problem has been well publicized by those fighting it on the Swedish warship Vasa, but the Monitor seems to have even higher levels.  Susanne described a treatment for a wooden chest that was horribly deteriorated.  It was made of poplar, walnut and pine.  It was impregnated with 20% PEG 400 and 5% PEG 1000 for 2 months.  Ammonium citrate was used to chelate the iron.  Three other artifacts, a hardwood shot ladle, a gun sponge, and some  oak gun carriage parts were treated with a low concentration of PEG 400, around 10%.  Some of the info relating to treatment of composite artifacts with PEG in a way that wouldn’t corrode metal seems to be part of someone’s thesis, so I won’t blab about that here.  Likewise, it seems that information about treating Lignum vitae, a very hard wood sometimes used on ships, might be part of an upcoming WOAM conference and I shouldn’t jump the gun on that either.  I was relieved to hear that Susanne prefers not to use biocides in the water if she can avoid it, which is my preference as well.  

Monica Shah from the Anchorage Museum discussed the challenges of treating objects in Barrow, Alaska in a talk titled “Treating Ipiutak Objects Remotely: A Work in Progress.”  Areas of coastline in Northern Alaska are actively eroding into the sea during winter storms due to changes in the climate.  This has led to some stunning discoveries near Barrow by archaeologists and scientists working for the local Native corportation.  Among these discoveries were artifacts found below a Thule-era cemetery.  The Thule are the precursors of the modern Inupiat inhabitants of the area.  However, the artifacts dated back even further to the Iputak era instead, and the previously known extent of the Iputak territory was considered to be Point Hope and not Barrow.  So this discovery extended the range of the known Iputak territory, making these very important artifacts.  They included the only known intact Iputak sled runners, each made from a single log.   There were also some associated long wooden poles and a paddle.  This wood was wet, not fully waterlogged.  Dr. Claire Alix of the Univeristy of Alaska Fairbanks happened to be on site.  She is a wood specialist and archaeologist studying driftwood in the area.  Her research sounds very interesting.  The interpretation possible for Native artifacts if we knew patterns of driftwood distribution might be really groundbreaking.  Apparently, the sled runners, a wooden plank, and the paddle were spruce.  The poles were willow.  The facilities available for treatment of the wood had some wonderful walk-in freezers of different temperatures, but there were challenges in the availability and cost of supplies.  For example, it would cost more than $1000 to get a 30% solution of PEG to treat one sled runner.  Clean water was also a challenge.  Monica had to mix various molecular weights of PEG together to get up to a workable concentration, which might not have been more than 10% in the end.  However, since the wood was not fully waterlogged, this was enough.  For the treatment of the poles, which sublimated quite a bit in the freezer and were no longer wet enough for PEG nor robust enough physically, Rhoplex was available and worked well in conjunction with teflon tape and distilled water from a spray bottle.  One image showed what seemed to be a long skinny piece of wood hopelessly splintered and shattered, but then the next image showed it all back together again and bandaged up extensively with the Teflon tape, as if Monica reassembled a big 3-D jigsaw puzzle.  From what I understood, Monica was able to work with these artifacts in person twice so far, with the rest of the work and monitoring done remotely through email and telephone conversations.

After lunch, Dave Harvey presented, “Things Shouldn’t Go Bump in the Night!  Paranormal Research and Investigations in Museums and Historic Sites.”  Certainly this was the most exotic of the papers following the conference theme:  “Where the Wild Things Are: Conservation in the Extreme.”  Dave described some of the ground rules that are helpful in protecting collections and historic structures, not the least of which is taking into account that some people want to wander about in the dark.  But he went on to describe the mutual benefits possible.  These patrons of course want access to your facility, and could be well served by our assistance with the fundamentals of the scientific method and the rigors of documentation.  But many of them are rigorous themselves, and copies of their documentation may enhance the files at your institution.  Furthermore, some researchers have expensive equipment that might have applicability to our work.  Dave demonstrated how a thermal sensing gadget revealed locations of windows that had been covered over, or leaks in a historic building.  I was also taken with the idea that whether or not one believes in whatever presence is being hunted, it should not be permitted to be removed without the thoughtful consent of the caretakers/ owners of the property.  It would be part of the history of the site.  Paranormal tours are very popular, and creative public programming takes advantage of this interest.  There are over 700 paranormal research teams around the country.  Some of the hallmarks of good paranormal research are worth thinking about: recording all possible versions of oral history, since some change and some capture various aspects of the same tale.  Appreciating the value of historical images, but being skeptical since images can have contaminants like light, dust, bugs, silvering on mirrors etc that could give a false image.  Not making assumptions (so important with ethnographic material!) but in this case, just because something feels creepy doesn’t mean it is.  Some things to beware of when working with these paranormal research teams: touching, cords/cables, walking around in the dark, insurance, food/drink, public use of confidential information, and their habit of sitting on historic chairs and beds. Finally, Dave mentioned I book I want to read: “Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War” by Drew Gilpin Faust.  Dave mentioned it in the context of understanding the time period of the site or event, but it just sounds like a good read!

 

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The next talk, Repair and Restoration of Two Sculptures by Benny Bufano,” was presented by Jonathan S. Fisher, an objects conservator in private practice in the San Francisco area.  The talk began with a little art historical info about the artist, who I must agree is quite wonderful.  Apparently the Mondavi Winery put out a nice catalog of his work, but he deserves to be more widely known.  The first sculpture treatment involved a painstaking fill to hide the crack in a stone bear that had broken in half.  Adhering the two halves with Akepox epoxy was the first step, but it took considerable patience and skill to prevent the fill area from “spreading.”  His studio took advantage of a turntable for rotating the sculpture and socks full of old pennies as sandbag weights.  Simple but effective.  Chalk pencils were an especially useful tool in his arsenal of materials for hiding fills.  He needed to match color, sheen and translucency in all angles in different light.  I was especially taken with the whole debate on how far to go and when to stop.  Where is the line where “better is the enemy of good?”   The second treatment involved fabricating a faux marble ear on a very large owl sculpture.  It began with a cleaning, using steam and towels.  Jonathan likes to collaborate with artists in his treatments, in this case a sculptor he knows.  The two of them were pondering a solution at lunchtime, and the local tradition of pouring the salsa over the chips instead of dipping led them to experiment with casting chunks of polyester resin mixed with pigments in ice cube trays, then smashing them up to serve as inclusions in a translucent matrix.  It reminded me of Tony Sigel talking about marble or alabaster chips in some of his fills to give the desired translucency.  Another good tip: cutting off a paintbrush to make a “stubby ” brush is an excellent tool.  The shape for the ear was first made from plasticine, smoothed with rubbing alcohol and  the coated with vaseline so the mold-making material would not stick.  He used RTV silicone bulked with cabosil, a couple of coats’ worth, to make the mold.  He likes Akepox 5010 because it is a water-clear gel often used as a stone epoxy, quick setting and doesn’t shrink or drip.   I need to check with him about posting this information…even though it was discussed in public, the etiquette of blogging is still new to me regarding the conservation field and if Jonathan isn’t comfortable with it being here, I’ll pull it.  

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I was greatly looking forward to Dennis Calabi’s talk, “Backward Glances: Radical or Conservative” and I was not disappointed.  As a paintings conservator for the past 40 years, he has seen many new products come into use, and many old ones disdained.  He emphasized the need for more tools in our toolbox, not fewer.  The old methods had flaws and limitations, but at least those were known and could be compensated for in a skilled treatment.  New products are embraced enthusiastically, but often at the expense of the previous method.  One example was the traditional wax resin lining.  Knowing little about paintings, I did my best to follow him, but it sounds like wax resin was largely replaced by BEVA.  Dennis says BEVA has a tendency sometimes to auto-reverse and the problems that arise when it does so can be difficult to correct.  Furthermore, it seems that wax resin allows a certain amount of control in application not afforded by BEVA, requiring a lower temperature, allowing a person to line a painting by hand, and more reliable in unstable environments.  Dennis was particularly disturbed when artworks with perfectly serviceable wax resin linings were removed in order to be replaced with more modern materials…putting the artwork at risk for little gain.  The talk was illustrated with various photos of wild critters, for the amusement of multi-taskers in the audience, and some great shots of the interior of Dennis’ studio.  I could look at images of other people’s studios all day…it is kind of like window-peeping or reading somebody’s diary…a workspace can be a little bit of a glimpse into someone’s head and from what I could tell, inside Dennis’ head is a whimsical, thoughtful, lovely place indeed.  Dennis thought the profession could sometimes be too quick to dismiss those who place a premium on hand skills and intuition, labeling those who don’t rapidly embrace experimental new materials and techniques as “tired old hacks.”  He reminded us that we are all building on the experience of our elders, and some treatments by those much-maligned “restorers” saved countless artworks from total loss.  Some materials have been eliminated from the toolbox because of their homespun nature…saliva for example, was often avoided before Richard Wolbers made it acceptable again.  Another excellent example involved the use of linen to line paintings instead of synthetics.  Linen requires a lot of labor, like removing the slubs and sizing with rabbit skin glue (which is later drowned in wax.)  But you can achieve a range of stiffnesses and the wax bonds well.  With synthetic materials, sometimes it is difficult to come up with the right stiffness/thickness combo, and they sometimes fail to adhere.  I’m sure we’ve got many analogies in the objects conservation world for old stuff we might have thrown out of the toolbox too hastily.  At the end of his talk, he showed a cartoon of a man tied to the railroad tracks, saying to a plein air artist, “Dammit man, does it look like I have any yellow ochre?!”

Dana K Senge AV queen

Dana K Senge AV queen

When Scott Carrlee found out Chris Stavroudis wasn’t going to be attending the WAAC conference, he panicked a bit.  The first thing I said was “you’ve gotta assign somebody to do AV!”  He assigned Dana Senge, and that was one of his best decisions of the whole conference.  This woman actually read the manual for the powerpoint projector before she arrived!  At one point, a speaker said “Can I lighten this image??” and without missing a beat, Dana just reached over, clicked a few buttons through a couple of menus, and POOF she took care of it.  Damn impressive.  As far as I could tell, AV went off without a hitch.  Well, except for my laser pointer finally dying after a dozen years of reliable service.  Thankfully, Susanne Grieve lent hers to the cause.

The talk after the coffee break was “The Conservation of the Frances Davis Paintings from the Holy Trinity Church” by Carmen Bria, Camilla Van Vooren, and Hays Shoop.  Carmen presented.  This was the most locally relevent of all the talks, and the granddaughter of the artist was there.  The treatment of the paintings was fairly straightforward…some cleaning, relining and putting a rigid backing in place.  But the story of the artist and the chain of coincidence that saved these paintings was quite dramatic.  The six large liturgical paintings had been in the Holy Trinity Church, and shipped to the Western Center for the Conservation of Fine Art in Denver for treatment after many years of fundraising. They were slated to be shipped back when the church burned to the ground.  These paintings are one of the few things that survived from the original church…a historic church where the artist was a founding member.  I knew this story well and was even a bit player in the drama, but an unexpected treat was the very friendly joking Carmen did with Dennis, since Carmen used all the new-fangled materials on these paintings that Dennis had been discussing in his own talk just before the break.