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:

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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.


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.


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.


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


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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MRCG brings disaster preparedness to the Annual Symposium

This post about the recent MRCG 2018 Annual Symposium is by 2018 MRCG Emerging Professionals Scholarship winner Margalit Schindler. Margalit is a conservation assistant at the Cleveland Museum of Art.


MRCG President Claire Winfield introduces guest speaker Jessica Unger. Photo credit: Hugh Shockey.

The MRCG 2018 Symposium in St. Louis was one for the books. In addition to the session topics spanning a myriad of treatments and technical research, we were excited to welcome Jessica Unger, Emergency Programs Coordinator from the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation (FAIC), for a special session on Emergency Preparedness. Her talk focused on the importance of building relationships with local emergency professionals and answering key logistical questions before an incident strikes. Identifying priority objects to salvage, sharing institutional information (like blueprints, entrances, and potentially hazardous materials) with emergency responders, and understanding the working logistics of your local Incident Command System were just a few of the topics covered.

In addition to her presentation, Jessica also led attendees in a short disaster exercise, where groups were asked to devise a plan after receiving a theoretical phone call that their institution had flooded. Some details of the incident were given, and groups had to decide what information they needed to share and what questions they needed to ask of the emergency responders. Details aside, the most important takeaway from this exercise was the importance of having a predetermined emergency plan. Knowing the priorities of both your institution and the responders beforehand makes communication during and after an incident that much more effective.

Jessica also discussed FAIC’s Alliance for Response initiative, which aims to bring together cultural heritage institutions and emergency responders at the local level. One-day forums are used to launch local initiatives and foster cooperation between institutions and responders in order to better protect material cultural heritage. Many cooperative disaster networks have been formed as a result of these forums and continue to help their members plan for and respond to emergency incidents.

However, the networks are mostly concentrated in large cities on both coasts, leaving the Midwest region somewhat unaccounted for. Starting these alliances is simple, especially with the full tool kit provided by FAIC (link below). As MRCG is already a network of engaged and passionate cultural heritage professionals, we have the foundation to be more proactive and assist institutions and collectors in the Midwest. Consider reaching out to other MRCG members to start the conversation and let Jessica’s talk at the Symposium be the catalyst for starting a network in your area!

For more information on Alliance for Response:


Additional resources:

Alliance for Response tool kit: http://www.heritageemergency.org/initiatives/alliance-for-response/tool-kit-3-2/

Alliance for Response webinar series: http://www.heritageemergency.org/upcoming-webinar-series/

Incident Command Systems: https://www.fema.gov/incident-command-system-resources

FEMA Emergency Management Institute courses: https://training.fema.gov/emicourses/emicatalog.aspx

Connecting to Collections Care: https://www.connectingtocollections.org/


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