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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1 Response to 2019 MRCG Symposium Presentation Abstracts

  1. Watt Restoration says:

    A Big Thank You for a great 2019 MRCG Annual Meeting.
    Terrific variety of presentations brought about the usual spirited dialogue of techniques and materials. A beautiful, relaxing weekend in New Harmony, Indiana. Thanks especially to Claire, Sophie, Raina, Christine for all your planning. Hope all got home safely.
    Ellen Watt
    Watt Restoration
    St. Louis, MO

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