The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 16, Number 7-8
Dec 1992

"Prevention" (i.e., Preservation) Gains Acceptance in the Conservation (i.e., Treatment) World

Four international conservation associations have endorsed the principle of preventive conservation in the last year: ARAAFU, IADA, IIC and ICOM. Only IADA is a book-and-paper conservation organization; the others are organizations of museum conservators. All four have shown their commitment by planning or holding conferences on the topic.

ARAAFU (l'Association des Restaurateurs d'Art et d'Archeologie de Forrnation Universitaire) held its third conference in Paris last October, under the patronage of UNESCO and the Ministère français de l'Education Nationale et de la Culture. The theme was "Preventive Conservation: Current Research and Techniques." Speakers included Colin Pearson, Astrid-Christiane Brandt, and Cecily Grzywacz. The report in the December Paper Conservation News, by M.O. Kleitz of the Museés de France, said, "As a result of this conference, preventive conservation has been raised above the level of the minutiae of careful housekeeping. On the contrary, it has become a complex science...."

IADA (Internationale Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Archiv-, Bibliotheks- und Graphikrestauratoren), will meet September 1995 in Tübingen for their quadrennial congress, entitled this time "Preservation--Passive Konservierung: Bücher--Schriftgut--Grafik und andere Informations träger."

IIC (the International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works) will hold its fifteenth international congress in Ottawa a year from this September. The title will be "Preventive Conservation: Practice, Theory and Research." It will focus on preservation methods for groups of objects and entire collections, as well as individual objects, including methods useful in private collections. Sessions will cover general approaches to preventive conservation in both the northern and southern hemispheres; supporting and handling objects for display, storage and transport; lighting, temperature and humidity; atmospheric pollutants and other contaminants; and pest management. Papers are invited. Deadline for abstracts is 30 April 1993. Send abstract by mail to IIC, 6 Buckingham St., London WC2N 6BA, UK, or by fax to +44 71 976 1564.

ICOM (the International Council of Museums) has a Conservation Committee that holds its own conferences. The next one, to be held in Washington, DC, August 21-27, will be preceded by a two-day conference, in Spanish (for the convenience of Latin American conservators), on preventive conservation. Papers have been invited, but they were due March 15. For more information, contact Arnparo Torres and the Library of Congress Conservation Office (fax 202/7073434). Commentary. Although it seems like a sudden change, it did not happen overnight. This is all part of a transition from restoration of individual items, a kind of work in which standards are set by the customer, to preservation of entire collections (with conservation of selected high-priority items), a kind of work in which standards are set by professionals whose whole job is to care for the collection. The first is based on esthetic appearance and other matters important to the individual collector, while the second is based on a growing body of knowledge to which scientists, practitioners and administrators contribute.

The prophets and pioneers have spread the word about preservation of entire collections for a long time, but 1992 seems to be the year that the idea finally caught on with most professionals. Perhaps the evidence favoring preservation finally became overwhelming, or perhaps the current recession has made people more appreciative of measures that give more value for the dollar (because preservation is really cheap, when you consider the alternatives).

This seems to be one case where libraries and archives have been able to show museums something about keeping collections. Over the last 20 years, Peter Waters has done a good job of persuading librarians and book conservators that "phased conservation" makes sense; and Paul Banks has opened many people's eyes to the reality of insidious decay resulting from bad materials and storage conditions. But whether the museum conservators absorbed the idea of preventive conservation from the library world, or came to it on their own, is not important. The same body of knowledge is available to both fields, and the transition to the new viewpoint is not nearly complete in either field. What matters is that preventive conservation now has the momentum to be widely accepted and to benefit collections of all kinds.

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