The theme of the meeting this year was Ethos, Logos, Pathos: Ethical Principles and Critical Thinking in Conservation. Barbara Applebaum kicked off the talks with “Conservation in the Twenty-First Century: Will a Twentieth Century Code of Ethics Suffice?” I agreed with her that yes, it will. I think the Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice are among the best things ever to come out of AIC. Lori Trusheim’s paper in the Objects Session a few days later illustrated that…she used those core AIC documents extensively in navigating treatment decisions in private practice. I myself relied on those documents heavily when I was (briefly) in private practice, and I refer to them several times a year when educating the public and my constituents. AIC’s written code is the most explicit of all the conservation organizations (did you know that back in the day IIC refused to ratify the original document?) and ours is the only one with commentaries. I think of the commentaries as rather like the “rationale” section of a treatment report. Barbara also suggested that after a decade or so of AIC being focused on internal affairs like certification, we ought to shift our view toward the outside world. We ought to celebrate the 50 years of training programs and accomplishments. We ought to be more people-centric, too. Interestingly, when she said we should push for courses about examination in art history training programs and complained that art history has a problem of being taught from photographs alone there was spontaneous and vocal support from the crowd…
The AIC continues a happy trend of including non-conservators as general session speakers in philosophy professors James Janowski’s “Restoring the Spirit and the Spirit of Restoration: Dresden’s Frauenkirche as Model for Bamiyan’s Buddhas.” Huge stone statues of Buddha, including on 50m high, were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001. The UN declared it a World Heritage Site in 2003. There are now just empty niches where the 6th century sculptures stood. The fragments of the interior sandstone are mostly available for reconstruction, but the outer layers of clay that made the surface and clothing were largely pulverized. However, images and information about the statues exist, making reconstruction to an astounding 1.6cm accuracy possible. Each sculpture would cost at least $30 million to reconstruct, but Professor Janowski compared that to the cost of a Formula One racing car, and apparently there is international support for rebuilding as well as an overwhelming majority of Afghans who want to see restoration. There is a dilemma about the power of the site as it is with the empty niches, and also the question of whether or not there is enough stability in the region to prevent destruction from happening again. The iconic Dresden Protestant church the Frauenkirche was used as an analogy. Destroyed in WWII, it was a ruin and memorial to some 30,000 who died. After the Berlin Wall came down, there was momentum to have it restored. In 1993 they began to sort the pieces, in 2003 it was rebuilt (45% of the original stones were exactly placed) and in 2005 the church was reconsecrated.
Textile conservator Deborah Bede’s talk, “Legacies from the Past: Previous Repairs” included some fascinating historical repairs on flags, including the “Fowler-Ritchie Method” where Mrs. Fowler and her daughter Mrs. Ritchie would place a linen backing behind a textile such as a flag, then a silk net over the top and stitch them together with rows of buttonhole stitches over the entire flag, in essence creating a secondary net. The examples Deborah showed looked quite acceptable. There were also less successful historical treatments, such as Thomas Welter’s method of adhering the textile between layers of brown silk crepeline with ethyl acetate, stitching on a machine with nylon monofilament, washing out the adhesive, and then ironing. Hmmm…not so good. Contamination from the treatment would also make dye analysis tricky. Here are some of the aspects Deborah considers before making treatment decisions on textiles: original maker’s repairs, repairs during the item’s useful life, historic repairs, desired interpretive state, cost, potential damage in removing old repairs, the aesthetic look, retreatability, potential for future analysis, time, and priority in the collection as a whole.
Gabrielle Beentjes of the National Archives of the Netherlands gave a presentation, “Digitizing Archives: Does it Keep or Destroy the Originals?” We all know that digitizing archival collections can aid greatly with access and help preserve the original with less handling. In this way digitization is a preservation activity. Often, archival materials may be unbound to meet the needs of digitization technology. However, there may be some situations that ought to give us pause. Gabrielle has a flow chart for decision-making, as the value of the appearance of archival documents is not well researched. Original binding, original stitching, and the original archival order and information about ways that people archived in the past may be destroyed by digitization requirements. She used the archives of the Dutch East India Company as an example. Another caution: will the digital records be accessible in 50 years?
At any conference, there are talks you miss and wish you could’ve attended. Here are the top ones I’d like to track down later on the AIC blog :
“The Off-Grid Museum” by Dr Poul Klenz Larsen from the National Museum of Denmark and Tim Padfield, who has written great stuff http://www.conservationphysics.org/ on museum climates.
“Evaluation of Cleaners for Removal of Crude Oil from Historic Structures” by Payal Vora at the University of Texas at Austin.
“The January 12, 2010 Earthquake in Haiti: Building a Conservation Foundation from the Ground Up.” By Stephanie Hornbeck, Chief Conservator of the Smithsonian Institution Haiti Cultural Recovery Project.
“Comparative Study of Commercially Available Rust Converters” by Jason Church, Anna Muto and Mary F. Striegel of the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training.
“A Comparison of the Use of Sodium Metabisulfate and Sodium Dithionite for Removing Rust Stains from Paper” by Seth Irwin, who did this research during his many months traveling around Alaska doing paper conservation and preservation training.