Announcing the 2017 MRCG Symposium in Cincinnati!

Welcome all Midwest conservators and allied professionals! We are pleased to invite you to join us in Cincinnati, Ohio, for our annual meeting October 13-15, 2017. Click here for registration information and all the rest!


“Cincinnati Sunset” by Chris Thompson   (Source)

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St. Louis experiences the Modular Cleaning Program Workshop

By Claire Winfield, Associate Paintings Conservator, and Raina Chao, Assistant Objects Conservator, Saint Louis Art Museum

From March 13-17, 2017, the Saint Louis Art Museum and the Missouri Botanical Garden hosted the Modular Cleaning Program Workshop, taught by Chris Stavroudis. The workshop was offered at no cost to participants through generous grants by the Library Services and Technology Act administered by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Missouri Secretary of State. Two participants, Raina Chao and Claire Winfield, discuss the workshop and the impact it has on their practice. This post was a featured article in the most recent MRCG newsletter.

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Claire (left) and Raina (center) during the workshop.

The Setup (and what it’s like to host)

CW: It’s more work than I thought to organize and put on something like this! 20 people is a lot to have in one lab space.

RC: There were some unexpected benefits, especially for me as the course took place in the objects lab which meant that cleaning and organizing my lab was a priority, something that’s rarely the case. It was a bit surreal, though, to have my lab empty of all art for a week.

CW: Even though we had gathered what we thought we needed in the objects lab, I kept finding myself running back to my lab to get something helpful, so it was nice to be in your own space and have the option of a secret backup supplies.

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Chris Stavroudis organizing supplies.

RC: It is different being a host as well as a participant. The desire to be a good host and make sure everyone in the course has what they need can be a little distracting.

CW: Also, when you host, it’s much harder to “check out” completely from your normal work duties. While we had been saying for weeks that our department would be unavailable for the entire week for the course, little things kept popping up that needed attention. From that end, it’s helpful to go somewhere for the course so you can really get away and dig in.

The Course

CW: I felt like I had a leg up since I had taken an abbreviated version of the course in 2012 and have been using the system on and off since 2010, but the amount of new material and the greater depth of understanding I had after the full week amazed me.

RC: I had some familiarity with the program but I was really impressed with how much I learned from Chris’s lectures, starting from basic principles and going further into new material. I really feel like I understand the system and can make more informed choices when I work with it.

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CW: I will say, it was a little chaotic in the lab when we were all working on mixing solutions! I do think there is a very practical value in actually making the solutions yourself (in the abbreviated course, Chris made all of the solutions ahead of time in his hotel room à la Breaking Bad). It seems less intimidating when you go home since you’ve made up the solutions before.

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RC: I really liked mixing all the solutions, Chris knows a lot of tricks that don’t necessarily come through in the basic recipes that were really helpful. Simply having observed the kind of weird stages that some of the solutions go through will be really helpful in mixing them up in the future. The only disappointing thing is that by breaking up into groups, there are whole types of solutions that I didn’t get to see or experience mixing.

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Participants testing cleaning solutions.

CW: Chris is a great instructor – he was very patient with all of us! He’s very thorough and happy to explain or revisit concepts and discuss case studies.

Going forward— the future!

RC: I felt that with Chris’s lectures and the advice on thought process that he shared throughout the course, I’m really excited about using the program and materials to solve interesting problems.

CW: I think one of the best things about the course is going home with a full kit to get you started. This of course was easiest for locals and people who drove to St. Louis, because shipping things like solvent gels is frowned upon / illegal. It’s so much easier to get accustomed to using the system when it’s ready and waiting rather than a big endeavor to mix up and set up.

RC: One of the great things is that Chris tailors the workshop to the participants involved. I’ve already used some of the custom chelating solutions that we mixed up during the workshop for a tricky treatment and they worked out great! Even beyond the program, the course introduces new and different materials that I wouldn’t have thought of using. It really expands the realm of possibilities whether you’re using the MCP program or not.

CW: I’m most excited about using silicone solvents and emulsions/gel systems in my practice more. I kept finding myself thinking of alternate solutions for tricky cleanings I’ve had in the past, and wondering how they might have turned out different if I knew then what I know now.

A big thanks of course to our funding organizations. This is a great example of how IMLS and other organizations work to directly impact your career, so make sure you do your part to show your support. Thanks also to the Saint Louis Art Museum and the Missouri Botanical Garden, particularly Hugh Shockey and Susie Cobbledick, who applied for the grant and organized the workshop. And of course, thanks to Chris for being such a wonderful instructor and all of our fellow conservators from near and far who joined us in St. Louis for the workshop. It was great to meet all of you and work with you for the week, and we look forward to seeing you again sometime soon!

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Participants in the workshop.

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Revisiting Cooperstown: Memories from David Miller

By David A. Miller, Chief Conservator and Senior Conservator of Paintings, Indianapolis Museum of Art

The 2016 MRCG Symposium convened in Cooperstown, New York, an idyllic former resort town on a mountain lake in the center of the state. Cooperstown was also, for many years, the home of the Cooperstown Graduate Program in Art Conservation. Its proud alumni are still active members of the conservation community locally, nationally, and worldwide.

David Miller, a graduate of the program and attendee at our 2016 meeting, revisited his old stomping grounds and shared his trip down memory lane with us. This post was a featured article in our most recent MRCG newsletter.

Nearly 40 years following graduation, I was back in Cooperstown, New York, to attend the 2016 MRCG Annual Symposium at the Otesaga Hotel on beautiful Otsego Lake, where I had attended the second AIC annual meeting in 1974. That meeting was memorable for several reasons, including the reception entertainment being a play written and performed by Sheldon Keck, Richard Buck, Rutherford Gettens, and George Stout in the same room where MRCG now enjoyed bountiful buffet breakfasts.


The Otesaga Resort Hotel bar fire pit

The building the Art Conservation Program occupied from 1970 to 1985 still stands on its idyllic location on the lake. The Cooperstown Graduate Program in Museum Studies now occupies the old labs. It was strange to enter the building, some parts still recognizable, with a timeline mounted on a wall of the history of the programs that have called it home.



This building formerly housed the labs of the Cooperstown Graduate Program in Art Conservation.

Walking through the building, it was easy to recall what seemed like (and often was) the 24/7 spent there with classmates. Being a very small town, there wasn’t much to do there other than to study and work in the labs, so we tended to stick together. Cooperstown hasn’t changed much, except for having a few better restaurants than it did back then, but we probably couldn’t have afforded them anyway, preferring to meet at “The Pit” (Tunnicliff Inn, still there) for drinks when we had all done enough in the labs. Winters were difficult, with access to the labs sometimes best by cross-country skis or snowshoes, although our class did enjoy winning the ice sculpture contest on Main Street every year. Some of us did try our hands at ice fishing or doing car wheelies on the frozen lake.

The contrast between the stately and genteel Sheldon Keck and the uncensored, highly opinionated Caroline Keck was interesting to observe, with Sheldon able to redirect her with a look if things went too far for him. “Ma Keck” loved her students and treated us like her children for better or worse but you never wanted to be on her bad side. She was a very hands-on teacher, sharing anecdotes about colleagues (or rivals) related to painting treatments as teaching tools. Mr. Keck focused on examination, documentation, and the history of painting techniques and would magically appear behind you without making a sound if you were doing something wrong, especially in the photo suite. His early morning slide lectures in a darkened room were particularly challenging for overtired students. Both of them had a wealth of knowledge, and in retrospect, there was so much more to have learned from them.

Chris Tahk gave his very first, and nervous, conservation science lecture to my class, performing his “electron dance” that day. Katie Eirk taught paper conservation and Professor Rotislav Hlopoff (he insisted on Professor) taught objects conservation. In my second year, Jose Oracca taught photo and paper conservation. We had guest lecturers who regaled us with stories of the early days of conservation and we sometimes even got to enjoy dinner (and drinks of course) at the Keck’s house with them afterwards.

Cooperstown was full of bittersweet memories for me of classmates who have retired or unfortunately passed away far too young, but I was glad that MRCG chose it for our Annual Symposium, especially watching new generations of enthusiastic conservators and students present wonderful talks, and continuing to expand the body of knowledge and skills beyond anything we could have imagined at the time, in the place we once strove to become professionals in a relatively new field.


Sunset on Otsego (Glimmerglass) Lake


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Announcing a Symposium: “The Codex: History, Art, and Practice” by the Ohio Preservation Council and the State Library of Ohio

An opportunity for the book lovers within the MRCG community:

The Ohio Preservation Council and the State Library of Ohio are pleased to offer a full day symposium in celebration of the book. This symposium will highlight the history and art of the book with panel discussions, concurrent talks, and hands-on learning.
Keynote speaker, Julia Miller, will discuss various topics including the urgency of historical book description and why conservation and preservation is everyone’s responsibility.
Book Artist, Macy Chadwick, Assistant Professor in Medieval Studies, Bonnie Mak, and Book Conservator Jim Reid Cunningham will speak about the future of the Codex in a post codex panel.

A curated set of breakout sessions will further the registrant’s knowledge and appreciation of the codex in a number of creative and historic applications. These sessions include a presentation by Kyle Holland from the Morgan Paper Conservatory, a dramatic history presented about the 1748 Ephrata Martyrs Mirror by Carrie Phillips and a discussion about the conservation and preservation of scrapbooks by conservators Jayme Jamison and Ashleigh Ferguson Schieszer.

Additionally, attendees will have an opportunity to purchase one of a kind materials from local craftsman, bookbinders and artisans at the exhibitor hall.

Located at:
The Jessing Center
7625 N High St, Columbus, OH 43235

Please visit the Ohio Preservation Council’s News and Events for registration and symposium information. See also:

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The El Kurru Heritage Project

By Suzanne Davis, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, University of Michigan

For the past four years, I’ve spent part of the winter in the small Sudanese village of El Kurru, and every year I fall a little bit more in love with it.  I’ve written previously about conservation and documentation work at the site, which was a royal cemetery for the Napatan kings. But for the past two years, I’ve also been involved with a project designed to forge stronger links between the local community and the ancient site, and that project – The El Kurru Heritage Project – is what I’ll report on here.

Our broader heritage work has evolved slowly and organically, beginning from plans to present the site to tourists (of which there are a surprisingly large number). Archaeological sites in Sudan have a wilderness feeling; there are no demarcated pathways or informational panels, and site museums are few to none. Here is how your visit would work: You’d show up and walk around the desert, vaguely aiming to visit the visible standing architecture. If you’re lucky, you’d have brought your own guide, who might or might not give you accurate information about what you see. To remedy this situation at El Kurru, we wanted to create pathways with didactic panels to direct and inform visitors about the most important parts of the site, not all of which are visible above ground.

El Kurru is an interesting site, with a big pyramid, two beautifully-painted subterranean tombs, and a large rock-cut temple. But to be honest, it’s not even close to being the best looking or most interesting archaeological site in Sudan.  Those of us who work at El Kurru like it so much not because of the ancient site, but because of our relationships and experiences in the adjacent modern town, where we live with a Sudanese family and work alongside a variety of Sudanese colleagues. Tourists to the site, however, enter from a desert road and never have a reason to visit the town. As we planned the site itinerary for tourists, my colleague Geoff Emberling (the El Kurru project director) and I kept saying to ourselves – wouldn’t it be great if visitors could keep walking and go into town, down through the date palm groves, and see the Nile? What if they could drink some Sudanese coffee, or cold hibiscus tea? That would be great, wouldn’t it?

As our ideas for the walking tour expanded to include modern Sudanese culture, we began to wonder if village residents would actually appreciate an influx of tourists. In 2016, we worked with several other University of Michigan colleagues to assemble a variety of local focus-groups in El Kurru to talk about this. Not only did village residents think it was good idea – an exciting idea, even – but our neighbors had definite opinions about what visitors should learn about their village, and what experiences make El Kurru special. Local music and arts were at the top of the list, as was food. The Nile and agriculture were also deemed very important. El Kurru is a date-farming village, and the palm groves along the river are beautiful. We are still working with our local colleagues to identify, document, and brainstorm about the presentation of El Kurru’s special cultural features. But in the meantime, here are photos of a few you might enjoy.

WeaverWeaver: Mohammed Ahmed Al-Makee, who is in his nineties, is one of El Kurru’s last traditional weavers. His wife dyes and spins cotton into yarn, and from this he weaves scarves, shawls, and bed coverings on a pit-loom in the courtyard of his house. I own two of his beautiful, warm scarves. He allowed my colleague Jack Cheng and I to talk with him about his work and to record the sights and sounds of his loom, which he inherited from his grandfather. And yes, in case you are wondering, he has trained the next generation to carry on this work.


MusiciansMusic: Once or twice a during the field season, we are treated to a riverside concert of traditional music. There is singing and dancing, and the primary instrument is the tambour, a stringed guitar-like instrument. These instruments are made in the village and are often decorated by the town’s henna artist. In this group, the musician I know best is Abdel Bakee, the drummer.


BakerBaker: Bread is the backbone of every meal in El Kurru. There are several popular kinds of bread in Sudan, but the one shown here is a very gently yeasted, pita-type bread made from wheat flour. This bread is used as the primary utensil for eating, which is usually done with your hands in Sudan. It is baked fresh every day in multiple village bakeries and is delicious right out of the oven.  The baker pictured here is Ahmed Ibrahim. Photo courtesy of Jack Cheng.


Palm grovesPalm groves: El Kurru is an agricultural village focused on date farming. The date palms grow in beautiful gardens along the Nile. Families own a plot of land and work together to irrigate it, care for the trees, and harvest the dates, of which there are many kinds. The town itself is just on the edge of this irrigated strip of land. From the house where we live, we can walk across the street and through this section of trees to get to the Nile. It is about a five minute walk to the river.

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