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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Under My Nose: Tour of St. Louis Botanical Gardens’ Conservation Lab and Library

Today’s post is by 2018 MRCG Emerging Professionals Scholarship winner Greg Niemann, who is the Conservation Technician at the Missouri Historical Society.


Growing up about an hour north of St. Louis meant many long bus rides on class trips to many of the landmarks around the city. As a kid, you never truly appreciate all of your surroundings, all that makes up your world and everything that influences you. I can remember touring the Botanical Gardens, admiring all the flowers in full bloom as I walked by, or seeing the Climatron and being amazed at the grandeur of the structure and what it held inside. I never stopped to think of all that went into the preservation of flora that I so relished.

When I returned home from college, my friends and I would regularly attend the concerts the gardens would host every Wednesday during the summer. My drive to and from would take me past all these buildings, one of which was the Botanical Library, but I had never given them a second thought. Thankfully, through the kindness of MRCG to grant me a scholarship, I was able to attend this year’s symposium and see what I had been missing out on.

Upon entering the foyer of the building, there were several beautifully carved pillars made from the trunks of various trees. Our building guide was Doug Holland, Library Director at the Botanical Gardens, who discussed the anti-seismic features that were incorporated due to the concern posed by the proximity of the New Madrid Fault. We were then led upstairs to the library and conservation lab. Susie Cobbledick, book conservator at the Botanical Gardens, talked about the challenges in maintaining historical books not just for exhibition but for use. We were shown some of the current projects she is working on, including the largest book in their collection, weighing approximately 40 pounds, which contained beautiful color images of flora.

We were then next led to the Rare Books section where several examples of the collection were on display for us in their reading room. Books ranged from elaborate and ornate, such as a floral illustrative book for Madame Bonaparte, to more humble, mass produced books of the Industrial Revolution era. Susie also showed us some of the oldest books they have, dating as far back as the late 1400’s.

For our final stop on the tour, we were shown a small fraction of the collection of botanical samples they have. Upon entering, I was overcome with the intense smell of what I could best describe as tea. Their collection spans the entire globe and is considered to be one of the largest such collections the US. Susie discussed the fact that many other collections have become ‘orphaned’ due to a cut in their funding and were absorbed by the institution, a problem that they themselves are dealing with since one of their biggest sponsors, Monsanto, was sold to Bayer.

I only know now of the dedication and effort in the preservation of not only our gardens, but of the knowledge of flora from around the world. I wish that I would’ve known sooner so I could’ve already been exploring the vast catalog of knowledge that have been so close to home. It’s time to make up for some lost time.

 

 

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Ceramics and glass workshop announcement (Chicago)

March 18 – 22, 2019
The Conservation Center, Chicago, IL
Instructor: Stephen Koob
Organizers: Heather MacGregor and Joshua McCauley

Learn about the materials science of ceramics and glass and gain understanding in loss compensation, cleaning methods, and adhesives used for these materials. Participants will engage in a series of lectures and increase skills through practical lab work in each of these areas. The workshop will also include a discussion on proper storage, highlighting temperature, humidity, and climate controls, as well as packing and handling techniques for glass and ceramic objects.

Participants will learn how to set up the lab for the conservation of glass and ceramics, choose appropriate adhesives and consolidants, and use B-72 and epoxy adhesives. Demonstrations on loss compensation (including direct fills, detachable restorations, casting, and gap-filling), assembly of ceramics and glass, finishing of plaster and epoxy surfaces, and mechanical and solvent cleaning will be conducted. Each participant will practice the demonstrated techniques on glass and ceramic objects in the lab.
This workshop is aimed at practicing conservators, specifically those with a background in ceramic and/or glass conservation.

Register at:
https://learning.conservation-us.org/products/glass-and-ceramic-conservation#tab-product_tab_overview

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MRCG visits the Missouri Historical Society Library and Research Center

Today’s post is by 2018 MRCG Emerging Professionals Scholarship winner Keara Teeter, a Winterthur/University of Delaware Art Conservation Program graduate student and third-year intern at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Here she describes the reception and tour enjoyed by MRCG Annual Symposium attendees this November at the Missouri Historical Society Library and Research Center. 


Following the first full day of talks at the Saint Louis Art Museum, symposium attendees were treated to an evening reception hosted by the Missouri Historical Society (MHS) Library and Research Center (LRC). The LRC is a major repository for both the local history of St. Louis and the state of Missouri, as well as for regional history about the Louisiana Purchase and the American West. The reception was held in the main lobby and was catered with delicious refreshments including a variety of cheeses, meats, fruits, and wines.

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Touring the Missouri Historical Society Library and Research Center: the Reading Room.

After people had an opportunity to eat, drink, and mingle, Christopher Gordon, Director of Library and Collections, invited the MRCG members into the Margaret Blanke Grigg Reading Room. He introduced everyone to the MHS library collection, which encompasses over 100,000 volumes, 7,900 linear feet of documents, and over 1 million photographs and prints. In addition, this center houses over 175,000 culturally valuable artifacts. The LRC genealogical records are a particularly cherished resource as many guests have scheduled research appointments to review them.

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The Reading Room’s original plasterwork dome. 

The historic building housing this collection was originally constructed in the 1920s as a Byzantine-style synagogue. One of the prominent features of this synagogue was the 40-foot copper dome, which is visible from Skinker Boulevard and across the street in Forest Park.  The building was sold to MHS by the United Hebrew Congregation in 1989, and MHS spent the following three years working on the renovation and restoration.  One major project was to restore the Judaic plasterwork and gilding inside the dome; this was exquisitely carried out by Tom Sater of the firm Artisan Decorators. The restored dome is now the centerpiece above the Margaret Blanke Grigg Reading Room.

After Mr. Gordon’s introduction, MRCG members were divided into smaller groups and brought downstairs on two behind-the-scenes tours. In museum storage, we were able to see collection items such as historic Missourian looms, a dog sledge used on one of Admiral Robert Peary’s expeditions to the North Pole, and a 9’x12′ hand-carved frame from the Charles A. Lindbergh donation. Upon arriving at the conservation lab, we encountered a variety of objects including an Aztec incense burner, Native American beaded knife sheath and belt, Mexican silver bowl, tortoise shell necklace and pendant, and a steamboat ship model. There were also X-radiographic images from the technical examination of Alfredo Ramos Martinez’s oil on canvas Flores Mexicanas, which will be featured in an upcoming exhibition at the Missouri History Museum.

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Conservator Crista Pack gives a behind-the-scenes tour of the Objects Conservation Lab at the MHS Library and Research Center.

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Conservator Alice Paterakis explains her research during a tour of the Objects Conservation Lab at the MHS Library and Research Center.

This Saturday reception was made possible by generous support from the Missouri Historical Society. MRCG would like to thank the MHS employees who helped organize the event: Christopher Gordon, Crista Pack, Darlene Sugerman, Shannon Meyer, Randy Blomquist, Amanda Bailey, Hattie Felton, Greg Niemann, and Alice Paterakis. This was an experience that provided a quintessential look into the history of St. Louis, the city that hosted this year’s MRCG Symposium. You can learn more about the Missouri Historical Society, the Library and Research Center, and the Missouri History Museum by following @mohistlibrary and @mohistmuseum on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

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Job listing policy change: salary information required

MRCG is pleased to be able to share listings for conservation-related positions to benefit our conservation community. We accept job and internship postings that are relevant to our members, and we do not charge a listing fee.

The MRCG officers have recently added a new requirement: all job and internship listings must include information on the monetary compensation (salary range, stipend amount, or hourly wages) and benefits associated with the position.

We feel strongly that it is in the best interest of our members to have this information provided up front, as it enables all prospective applicants the opportunity to evaluate a crucial aspect of employment without both parties wasting resources on the application process, and it encourages transparency and equity in the hiring process.

This move was prompted by recent efforts to encourage salary disclosure for jobs at museums and other nonprofits, including the letter-writing campaign by the National Emerging Museum Professionals Network. MRCG learned about this movement via the AIC Objects Specialty Group, which made a similar policy change in October. We encourage other organizations with job boards and distribution lists to follow suit!

For more on why salary and compensation information should be required, especially in the nonprofit sector, please check out Vu Le’s article “When you don’t disclose salary range on a job posting a unicorn loses its wings.”

 

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