2019 MRCG Symposium Presentation Abstracts

These are the abstracts of the talks to be presented at the 2019 Annual Symposium in New Harmony, IN, November 8 – 10. These are listed in alphabetical order by the author’s surname.


Dancing Around the “Dancers”: Navigating Museum Politics as an Early Career Conservator
Sophie Barbisan, Assistant Paper Conservator, Saint Louis Art Museum, MO

Ballet Dancers in the Wings, by Edgar Degas, is amongst the finest pastels owned by the Saint Louis Art Museum. The institution acquired the artwork in 1935, purchased from the Parisian merchant Vollard, a longtime friend of Degas. The pastel, created around 1900, is amongst the later and freer works of Degas. In the Fall of 2018, Ballet Dancers was requested on loan by a famous Parisian institution, who had already promised significant pieces from its collection, to the museum. Due to the very nature of pastel, the artwork was considered fragile. Navigating museum politics while defending conservation principles for the sake of the art is a fine line to walk. This talk is a candid summary of the communication strategies that were implemented around this project to walk that fine line. A close look at the art and understanding the techniques used was a necessary first step. As with many works of Degas, this pastel was executed on tracing paper and lined overall with a wove paper. The wove paper was then adhered along its edges to a board. With time and variations in HR, the board warped, creating a drum-head situation. This made the pastel particularly vulnerable to vibrations. The second step consisted of asking advice from experts in the field. Information was gathered from different institutions and countries such as America, France and the Netherlands. Matting techniques were particularly investigated during a trip to the National Gallery of Art, in Washington D.C. Lastly, communicating around this artwork remained the biggest challenge. It appeared early in the process that this pastel would be too fragile to travel. A concise report was created, explaining as clearly as possible the conservation department’s recommendation.

 

Tip: “Magic Mounting with[out] Magnets”
Sophie Barbisan, Assistant Paper Conservator, Saint Louis Art Museum
Claire Winfield, Painting Conservator

For a special exhibition at the Saint Louis Art Museum, a 12-piece loaned Kiki Smith print was desired to be installed on open display with no hinging, and magnets were suggested as a solution. After hinging prohibition was lifted, the solution for mounting was a collaborative innovation between conservators, the matter/framer, and the installation crew.

 

Issues in the Conservation and Preservation of Historic(al) Wallpaper
Thomas Edmonson, Photograph Conservator in Private Practice

This presentation will discuss various considerations involving the treatment of wallpaper, including establishing a difference between “historic” and “historical” wall-coverings found in homes and other historic structures. Three case studies will be presented: The treatment of a wallpaper in situ; removal and reinstallation of a wallpaper or papers; and removal of wallpapers as a means of preservation for the record. As will be demonstrated and discussed each approach has or will have its own unique considerations that determine the methods of treatment and anticipated results.

 

Conservation Science as a Pedagogical Theme
Rudy Gostowski, Ph.D. Lead Instructor for Chemistry Triton College River Grove, IL

Topics in conservation science can be very engaging to students, while creating an appreciation of the preservation of artistic works. As an Instructor of Chemistry at an urban Chicago community college, I have incorporated syntheses of pigments into the second semester General Chemistry course, used artificial aging as an undergraduate research project, and hosted talks, which drew attention to conservation science and the broader conservation enterprise.
As a result, students who might not have drawn or painted since elementary school are producing an artist expression using paints they personally formulated. Students seeking to participate in an authentic research project have the opportunity to fabricate an artificial aging chamber, develop analytical methods to assay changes to natural and synthetic varnishes, and present their work to fellow students. Finally, a significant number of students, faculty, and staff are learning about the objectives and methods of conservation science.
The aim of this talk is to discuss my experiences merging conservation science within science education.

 

Tips for Commercially Available Mobile-Bases for Large and Heavy Equipment for Paper Conservation Labs
Seth Irwin, Paper Conservator, Indiana State Library, IN

Paper conservation labs are often asked to be highly adaptable to the wide range of object that require treatment, and this can be challenging in labs with limited space. In situations such as this, every square foot of floor space and table space becomes precious, and being as adaptable as possible is essential. Large and/or heavy pieces of immobile equipment, such as flat files, sinks, board shears, and book- presses, can work against lab adaptability because they are often seen as immobile objects occupying a permanent spot in a the lab. It also creates a challenge in lab-design in finding the ‘perfect spot’ to set up this type of equipment, and in many cases no matter where a large or heavy piece of equipment is placed it never feels like the ‘perfect spot’, with the equipment always feeling like it is the way. This is also often the case with heavy table-top equipment, like book presses and dry-mount presses, where table-top space is in short supply and cannot be sacrificed to a piece of equipment that may not be used very often. But what if some of this equipment, that is often considered to be an immobile permanent fixture in a lab, could become mobile? Often conservators would prefer to store this equipment away and be able to easily retrieve it when needed. For the larger floor-based equipment, a conservator might want to have some of this equipment be mobile, but often it wasn’t designed that way. Therefore finding ways to adapt such equipment for increased mobility, in a way that doesn’t impact the functionality of the equipment, can often be difficult and expensive. This brief talk will demonstrate three tips on how to adapt three large and heavy pieces of paper conservation lab equipment for increased mobility, the cast iron nipping book press, the Hollinger Phase Box Maker, and the dry mount press, using inexpensive commercially available wheel bases and carts.

 

Tools and Techniques for UV-Visible Fluorescence Documentation
Jennifer McGlinchey Sexton, Lecturer at the Garmin Art Conservation Department at Buffalo State College, Conservator in private practice

UV/visible fluorescence is a powerful, non-destructive diagnostic tool in conservation. The usefulness of this technique can be compromised by inconsistencies in approach and expectations. Increased awareness of best practices and limitations of this technique benefits the entire field of conservation. This talk presents practical solutions for conservators to create high quality UV/visible fluorescence images that can be meaningfully analyzed and shared. Solutions based on budget will be presented, as well as guidelines for evaluating equipment.

 

The Dollyvers: the History and Care of a Family of Rag Dolls
Chandra Obie Linn, Associate Conservator of Textiles, Cincinnati Art Museum, OH

The story goes that around 1900, a frail old woman from Newtown, Ohio, Laura Turpin, walked into the Cincinnati Art Museum and simply placed several of her handmade rag dolls in a display case. In 1920, 24 dolls, household objects and furniture–over 90 individual objects– officially became part of the museum’s collection. The Dollyvers, as Turpin named her doll family, were on display for long periods as late as the 1980s before being virtually retired due to their deteriorating condition. Nearly 100 years later, the dolls are preparing to return to the display cases at CAM.
The Dollyvers are an extended family of 24 dolls including men, women, and children of all ages. Supposedly, they were intended to be portraits of several generations of Turpin’s family, memorializing what Turpin considered an important Ohio pioneer family. From their intricate layers of clothing (drawers, chemise, petticoat, skirt, blouse, socks, shoes, coat, hat, gloves, and handbag for Grandmother, for example, 1920.294) to their accompanying accessories (coffee pot, 1920.353), the Dollyvers tell a story not only about a family, but about the Cincinnati Art Museum. But how much of the Dollyver’s story is true and how much is an imaginative yarn?
This talk will discuss both my research into the history of the Dollyvers and their treatment. We will first explore the history of the Turpin collection, how they were created and how they came to the Cincinnati Art Museum. Next, we will discuss how time has impacted the collection, both in their role in the museum as well as their physical condition. Finally, we will address the conservation of the family currently underway in CAM’s textile conservation lab.

 

Complexities of the Folding Fan
Cecile Mear, Conservator of Works on Paper, Cincinnati Art Museum, OH

Fans have been fashion accessories in many cultures for centuries. Folding fans are mechanical objects composed of multiple materials, making them atypical of most works encountered by paper conservators. Both of these factors contribute to condition problems and affect how treatments are carried out. This presentation will include a brief history of European folding fans and will describe their construction and the materials of which they are made. Examples of condition problems and treatments will be discussed. Preservation through safe handling, display and storage will complete the talk.

 

Flood Recovery: A Decade Later
Candida Pagan, Project Conservator at University of Iowa Libraries, IA

In the immediate aftermath of the 2008 flood in Cedar Rapids, Linn County, IA, staff from the UI Libraries’ were onsite volunteers in recovery efforts for several institutions. Items from the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library, and the African American Museum of Iowa were treated at the UI Libraries’ conservation lab from 2008-2015.
In 2015, UI Libraries was approached by the Linn County Recorder about assuming treatment for over 430 record books in storage that had been flooded and freeze dried. Time, cost, and storage concerns post-treatment were determining factors for Linn County in seeking out an alternative treatment strategy for their active archive. UI Libraries’ and Linn County reached an agreement, and after completing a survey, the conservation lab at UI Library began work on the collection.
Project Conservator, Candida Pagan, works with graduate and undergraduate students to complete flood recovery work for this large-scale collection of county record ledgers. She will provide a brief overview of the history of the UI conservation lab with flood recovery efforts, types of treatment that have been required by this collection, factors in considering treatment, implementing batch treatment strategies when items within a collection face similar but unique challenges, and working with student specialists in a lab setting.

 

Restoration of Henry Gassway Davis Bronze in Charleston, West Virginia
Christina Simms, Assistant Project Manager and Conservator of Objects and Sculpture, McKay Lodge Conservation Laboratory, Inc.

In the summer of 2019, Christina L. Simms, Conservator of Objects and Sculpture, performed a conservation treatment to restore the original appearance of an early 20th century bronze equestrian figure of Henry Gassaway Davis. Davis (1823-1916) was an important business and political figure in West Virginia during his lifetime. The large sculpture and granite base was treated in-situ. Scaffolding and containment was installed before treatment. The layers of corrosion and grime on the sculpture and base were reduced using the JOS media-blasting system. The sculpture was then repatinated to a statuary brown color. A protective wax coating was applied with heat, and the base was repointed to complete the treatment. The presentation will briefly discuss safety and logistic considerations for restoring a large outdoor bronze onsite, but it will focus primarily on the treatment procedure.

 

Cleaning Mantegna’s A Sibyl and a Prophet with Evolon® CR
Serena Urry, Chief Conservator, Cincinnati Art Museum

A Sibyl and a Prophet by Andrea Mantegna (c. 1430-1506) in the collection of the Cincinnati Art Museum is a fragment of a larger distemper work on canvas that was thought to have been created for an architectural setting. The monochrome bronzo finto, or mock bronze, painting is comprised of particulate gold and a limited number of earth pigments, bound in a glue medium, on a thinly prepared, finely woven canvas. It is generally agreed that the painting was never intended to be varnished. Rather the matte surface was designed to allow the gold to reflect light. However, both before and after the painting’s acquisition in 1927, its surface had been coated several times with natural resin varnishes. The thick coatings were extremely discolored, and furthermore, significantly altered the character of the distemper by glossily saturating it. Multiple linings had also impacted the appearance of the paint surface. Varnish removal was undertaken employing the strong capillary action of Evolon®CR, a spun polyester/ polyamide microfilament fabric. After some experimentation, two successive and timed applications of solvent through the fabric allowed the varnish to be almost completely removed without any mechanical action on the paint surface. After some minor inpainting, A Sibyl and a Prophet was left unvarnished. It will continue to be displayed under glazing.

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Call for Papers: MRCG symposium 2019

Summer is almost over, Fall is approaching fast and with it, the MRCG Annual Symposium!

We are currently accepting proposals for presentations. We are encouraging you to share your experience with your colleagues and friends. We welcome topics from all specialties and on any aspect of your work. You may speak about this awesome treatment you have been doing, an interesting research project or this ethics concept you’ve been thinking about!

Presentations should be no longer than 20 minutes. Additional time will be reserved for questions.

Please send a brief abstract (maximum 300 words) including the title of your talk, your name and contact information, and title to claire.w.winfield@gmail.com by September 15, 2019.

Additional conference details will be published soon on the MRCG website here.

We are also currently accepting applications for our Emerging Professionals Scholarship. Applications must be submitted by September 10, 2019. For more information, click here.

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Job posting: Paper Care Specialist at the Detroit Institute of Art

The Detroit Institute of Arts has an open position for a Paper Care Specialist, reporting to the Conservation Department, and working closely with the Prints, Drawings, and Photographs Departments.

The position is primarily concerned with hinging, matting and framing works on paper, exhibition preparation, and managing the PDP art storage areas.

The salary range is $45,000 to $55,000. Applications should be made online at www.dia.org. The posting will remain open until the position is filled.

For more information, please click here to get the full job post.

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Take the MRCG Disaster Preparedness Survey!

Are you prepared to respond to disasters at your institution or practice? If not, what resources and support do you need that you don’t already have? How would you like the Midwest Regional Conservation Guild to help you become prepared?

Please take our brief, anonymous survey, below. Your feedback will help MRCG create relevant, useful programming and resources for its members. Thanks for your participation! (Special thanks to the 19 people who have already completed it!)

For information on MRCG’s recent disaster preparedness symposium session and possibilities for future initiatives, you can read the article “Disaster Preparedness and MRCG,” by Katherine Langdon (Deputy Vice President), in the recently distributed Spring 2019 MRCG Newsletter. (If you didn’t receive this, please renew your membership and request your copy today!)

 

 

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Watt Restoration — a Virtual Tour

Today’s post is by 2018 MRCG Emerging Professionals Scholarship winner Elizabeth Robson, a conservation student at the SUNY Buffalo State Garman Art Conservation Department. She is currently a third-year intern at the John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, FL. Here Elizabeth shares her experience touring Ellen Watt’s painting conservation studio in Saint Louis, MO, as part of the 2018 MRCG Annual Symposium in Saint Louis, MO.


One of the activities generously offered to attendees of the MRCG Annual Meeting was a tour of the private practice studio of Paintings Conservator Ellen Watt. She is the owner of Watt Restoration, located in the Central West End district of St. Louis, her hometown. Ms. Watt graciously offered three emerging conservators both a ride through the snow and a personal tour of her lab on the first day of the symposium. The lab is located in the charming Pierce Arrow Building, which is also occupied by various other artists and creatives. The building itself was once part of an automobile factory and has been updated with attractive finishes and glass-front studios.

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Ellen’s studio consists of a well-lit, large main space and a back room for UV examination and solvent storage. Her display of personalized posters, showing examples of paintings before and after treatment, welcomed us into the space. There were a variety of paint samples and books displayed throughout the room, which gave it an academic and professional vibe.

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Ellen then showed us the treatments she is currently working on, including an oil on canvas portrait of a young girl by Mary Louise Fairchild (American, 1858-1946). It exhibits blistering and flaking characteristic of fire damage, and may be hiding another painting behind it! There was also a small Venetian scene which she had removed from its uniquely-shaped stretcher, and two 20th-century paintings on board that need minor cleaning. We were intrigued to examine the surface variations in these paintings, and to see the tools and spaces Ellen was using to treat them.

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During this visit, the emerging conservators in attendance were able to discuss treatment dilemmas and the realities of working in private practice with Ellen. She was very positive and encouraging in this aspect, and has found success in her practice without encountering much trouble from clients. We were all thrilled that Ellen was willing to share her experiences with us as we consider our future plans in the conservation field. Establishing contact with a person who has years of expertise and could help emerging professionals who may end up going into private practice is an invaluable resource. This opportunity to network in a small group at the MRCG conference was greatly appreciated. Many thanks to Ellen Watt for her kindness and hospitality! Please visit wattrest.com to contact her or learn more about her practice.

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