Great video from the National Gallery of Art up on Art Babble on the cleaning of a 17th c. Dutch painting which held a little surprise for the curators.

Update: if the video below isn’t loading, try the link above.


Removing pressure sensitive tapes would be the part of my job that I would most like to automate, perhaps with a machine like this?

Via NPR’s Planet Money Blog

Very exciting news out of New Haven:

Yale University President Richard C. Levin today announced the creation of the Yale Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage, funded by a gift of $25 million from Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin ’78. The Institute, to be housed on Yale’s West Campus, will unite the vast resources of the University’s museum and library collections with the scientific and technological expertise of Yale’s academic departments to advance conservation science and its practice around the world.

“This extraordinary gift enables a breakthrough in the global practice of conservation and preservation,” Levin said. “Through their philanthropy, Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin have already established themselves among the world’s foremost custodians of cultural resources. I am deeply grateful that their support will allow Yale to combine the resources of its three museums and its library to develop new approaches to conservation and to engage in new international collaborations in research and education…”

The work of the Institute will be supported by two core facilities in conservation and digitization: The conservation core will provide specialized research tools and focus on new technologies and methods to reduce threats common to many objects. The digitization core will apply new technological tools to capture, store, curate, and share material in digital form. As it works to meet these basic goals, the Institute will pioneer areas of research and analytical techniques that are at present unknown to the world of conservation.

On top of the Mellon funding of library and archive conservation training, this new research institute could offer a very exciting addition to the development of the field.


There has already been great coverage of the proceedings at this year’s Library and Collections Conservation Discussion Group in Philadelphia by Jeff Peachey on the newly revamped AIC Blog, Beth Doyle at PCAN, and Suzy at Digital Cellulose.  So might I ask you to click through for the background and notes on the meeting while I dive right in on my thoughts and concerns.

First the good news:

  1. I am not concerned that there will not be enough book conservation graduates from the three pilot programs. Despite the fact that graduate students at the three American art conservation programs are not locked into maintaining their interest in book conservation, I suspect that there are substantial financial and enough prestige incentives to “encourage” the programs to find ways to graduate book specialists.
  2. I am not worried about the quality of the conservators that will be trained: they will be excellent. The programs have long proven that they can produce students of outstanding quality. No training regime is perfect. And the curriculum will evolve as the programs see how their students are progressing.
  3. I am not bothered that they will not receive MLS degrees as part of their formal training. Some jobs will require MLS degrees, but I suspect that number will shrink with time and the new graduates will have the opportunity (and yes added time and financial burden) to earn additional qualifications if they find that they need them.
  4. I strongly suspect that the students will have superior technical and analytical research training than many of my fellow Kilgarlin graduates.  It was a strategic short-coming of our program, but I have high hopes for the papers that the new graduates will be presenting at AIC in 5-7 years times.

Now for the…concerns. (Worries might be too critical a word.) My hope is that perhaps there is just a linguistic obstacle that perhaps the programs haven’t been able to hurdle yet in explaining their curriculum in the various forums in which I have heard them, but if not then:

  1. First and foremost, I question whether the curricula will focus too much on preparing the students for the “super” special collections’ work of illuminated manuscripts and incunables.  The Morgan and the Huntington may find themselves flush with qualified applicants (for entry level positions?), but far more collections are more…modest in scope and even more modest in the range of materials that will be treated.  It is not just that we need conservators with the ability to tackle these projects, but we need to graduate conservators who want to go and work at these more modest institutions.
  2. Judy Walsh said that the graduate coursework was like getting a “learner’s permit.” Now I am not always one for metaphors, but to follow this one, I would say that new graduates need to be closer to their trucker’s licenses than learner’s permits. There simply aren’t enough post-graduate fellowships to build up skills that should be learned while in school. Graduates need to be ready to be the only conservation (and maybe preservation presence) at a small institution with big problems.
  3. Will admissions criteria be broadened to include more coursework and pre-program experiences that would be relevant to library conservators?
  4. How will the programs integrate the essential emphasis on treatment speed and efficiency necessary for most library work without compromising the training approaches of the other specialties?

All this said, I am very excited to see these pilot programs in action.  Or in graduates.  I don’t doubt that there will be weakness in the curricula (as there are everywhere), and they will evolve to better provide the skills that the programs and the field believe are needed.

What we’ve been reading

February 4, 2010

I would apologize, but this is the occasional nature of the Conservation Occasional.  To wit:

  • Technically not reading, but NCPTT has released their latest podcast on 3-D Rock Art Documentation and Preservation which provides some great insights into the development and deployment of 3-D image capture in the preservation of rock art.  Are there other fields that might be able to effectively utilize similar technology?  Could the image capture and stitching process be used to create 3-D models of tooled leather bindings to add some cultural presence and weight to the decidedly 2-D presentation in emerging digital libraries or exhibitions?
  • Perhaps the people to answer the above questions will be found shortly at the Library of Congress’ new Optical Properties Lab.
  • NYU’s Material World blog asks many insightful questions about the Wittelsbach Diamond, not the least of which is “Does the recutting of a famous gemstone—improving its luster and increasing its market value—fundamentally alter its identity as a historical artifact by erasing signs of use?”blue diamond large comparison
  • What is more ethically troubling, possibly contributing to the destruction of cultural patrimony or re-appropriating said patrimony as cultural imperialism?  (I think that the commenters point out the obvious that this individual most likely acquired a modern fake, but the question of re-appropriation is an interesting one that may or may not mean as much in our globalizing culture.)
  • Harvard Magazine has excerpted a nice piece about George Stout’s role in the Monument Men’s recovery of art during World War II from the new book The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History, by Robert M. Edsel.
  • A nice piece about a small institution fundraising to undertake the treatment of an historic map by NEDCC.
  • Are ruins a condition or a process?  Should we treat ruins as a final state to be preserved bereft of a future or a temporary state that we determine to preserve for our own edification?
  • With the much heralded release of the iPad and the ebook revolution, will libraries look to a rental-type program to provide continuing service to their users?  If this means decoupling preservation from access, will there need to be a national (or international) repository to ensure permanent retention, like LOCKSS?
  • Finally, Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s thoughts on the emergence of a competing duality in Digital Humanities and the problems of the disciplinary departmental model in universities, prodded me to consider the impact of multi-disciplinarity upon the field of conservation.  At least in the US, the field is fractured at the foundational level by the specialty group structure of AIC, with the spread of knowledge retarded by the limited outlets (SG post-prints, JAIC, and Annual Meeting talks).  Beyond that, the field is so multi-disciplinary that published works are scattered over dozens of equally fractured and specialized fields, art history, material studies, archaeology, optics, librarianship, chemistry, the arts, that it takes not only a dedicated researcher (in addition to AATA) to identify relevant works, but a truly top-flight research library to provide access to all the obscure journal subscriptions needed to see these works.  I can’t say that I see an easy answer, but my hope is that web 2.0 can help to bridge some of the chasms and help to build a more readily accessible body of (written) knowledge.

Making my own contributions, one little bit at a time.

Future of CoOL II

October 18, 2009

With the successful transfer of Conservation Online to its new home under the auspices of FAIC, the stakeholders in CoOL held a meeting at the Library of Congress to discuss its future.  The rest of us seized the opportunity to hold another conversation on Twitter of our own.

Up to this point, CoOL has served two major purposes: publishing and archiving the Cons Distlist and hosting of a handful of conservation related websites.  In its next iteration, I think that it is clear that these tasks need to remain at the core of the site, but what other offerings would benefit the field and what structure would best achieve our goals?

Clearly, the core postings in the Distlist need to keep their home: event postings, job listings, calls for paper, general announcements, and professional queries.  Some thoughts that arose on Twitter (or my own head) include an events calendar, public outreach in the form of FAQs, conference post-prints and presentations, curated links to relevant web content, and original content in the form of blog posts or articles.  What I would most like to see as a natural extension of the Distlist is an unmoderated forum in which subscribers (or everyone) can more readily discuss issues that arise in the mailing.  The current structure serves as a fine method for finding answers to basic inquiries or pointers to further readings, but it fails to build a deeper body of material, in part because many of the conversations take place over private emails, while other conversations are stilted because of the irregular publication schedule of the list.  The most active discussion that I can recall in my time as a subscriber came out of the certification vote, a discussion that I think could have benefited from an easier give and take.  A forum would provide that ease of communication, while allowing the field to build a more accessible body of literature.  But perhaps the release of the AIC Specialty Group Wikis will lessen the need for that second point.

A minor practical change to the Distlist would be to publish the moderated announcements on a continuing basis on the front page of CoOL, like a blog, and then mail the list out to subscribers on a weekly basis. Daniel Cull, if I am reading his tweets correctly, would like to see CoOL become an unmoderated wiki-style web-page with the info creation crowd-sourced to willing participants.  I suspect that this is a basic philosophical difference between the two of us, but I think that the curation/moderation aspect of the Distlist (ably handled by Walter Henry for the past 15? years) is the key to its success.  The authority of a moderator adds to the trust of a professional resource while maintaining the focus necessary to keep CoOL relevant to the field of conservation.

A more visionary though to transform CoOL is to use the site as a place to host original content, in the form of blog posts or articles (is there a difference?), and curated links to outside web content.  This could be formatted as a single page, like the newly started AIC News, or if there is enough new content, a network of pages that could provide individuals or institutions to control their own content.  From the Twitter conversation, it sounds as if CCI has materials that they would like to make available, but aren’t sure how to do it or what the appropriate IP rights should be.  This imaginary CoOL site could offer CCI a forum to publish their data while maintaining authorship rights under a Creative Commons license. Regardless, the new CoOL needs to find an effective means to balance the moderation of information with the addition of content from interested and informed parties.

With CoOL still in a state of transition, now is the time to create and implement a vision for CoOL in the 21st century.  The stakeholders have important decisions to make, but I think that it is clear the the field of conservation needs to take better advantage of the Web to improve communication and strengthen the field.

Join the discussion

May 14, 2009

I doubt that I have any readers here that are not aware of this already, but I feel that I would be remiss in not encouraging everyone to read the series of posts that Richard McCoy, Ellen Carrlee, and Dan Cull have up (or are soon to post) to stir up some thinking in preparation for the AIC Annual Meeting and its theme of “Conservation 2.0”.
Don’t be bashful about leaving your own thoughts.