INTRODUCTION: UPDATE ON CONSERVATION SCIENCE
ERIC F. HANSEN, & CHANDRA REEDY
The seven invited papers assembled on pages 91–184 were presented at the update session, Conservation Research and Technical Studies, held during the general session of the AIC annual meeting in Denver, Colorado, in 1993. The session was organized by the Conservation Science Task Force of AIC (active 1990–93), whose aim was to examine the current dynamics of the relation of conservation science to conservation practice and to suggest means for furthering productive communication and collaboration between scientists and conservators. The papers were selected to address some issues raised by conservators in response to formal and informal surveys and discussions with the task force as well as some issues specifically related to the current state of the art of conservation science that the task force considered important to the membership at large, both conservators and scientists.
The task force concluded that many conservators felt the results of much scientific research recently conducted were not relevant to their practice or rarely coincided with what was observed in the field when objects were treated and that specific topics urgently in need of research to resolve practical conservation problems were not currently being addressed. In addition, many conservators expressed a strong interest in being more informed about, and possibly participating in, conservation research and technical studies. Thus papers describing the problems involved in scientific research in general and conservation science in particular were included, along with papers concerned with analytical studies, specifically optical microscopy techniques, that could be conducted by conservators within the budgetary constraints of museum laboratories.
A further consideration in the selection of papers was the recognition that the entire field of conservation, including both conservation practice and the research and technical studies conducted to support conservation activities, is changing, maturing, and growing. In reference to conservation science, it is now possible to examine to some extent the history of the effect of research on conservation practice and, with such hindsight, to evaluate what may be the most effective ways to proceed in the future. Two papers (Stoner and Drayman-Weisser) are included that explore the ways in which technical developments have affected paintings and objects conservation practice. In reference to the growth of the profession, AIC has had a 9% increase in membership during the past year alone. Recognizing that summaries of useful or important information will become more needed as the interest and active participation of professionals in allied fields or members of AIC new to the profession continue to grow, two papers (Mecklenburg et al. and Derrick et al.) focus on new techniques that have already been of benefit to conservation research efforts, two others (McCrone and Reedy) review the progess and prospects of older techniques used by the field.
Robert L. Feller discusses the wide range of research objectives and activities that exist, noting that in the past there were not many efforts in conservation devoted to developmental research. Walter C. McCrone reviews the variety of diverse substances that can be characterized and identified with the polarized light microscope, an instrument that is accessible in cost and in practice (with proper training) to most conservators. In a similar manner, Chandra L. Reedy reviews the number of functions that thin-section petrography can serve in studies of cultural objects, primarily stone or ceramic materials.
Joyce Hill Stoner presents an overview of the impact of research on the lining and cleaning of easel paintings through a review of the literature of the last 100 years and through a current survey of paintings conservators. Terry Drayman-Weisser reviews the practices and aims used in the conservation of archaeological copper alloys, relying heavily on records ranging over the last century available at the Walters Art Gallery.
In regard to new techniques, Marion F. Mecklenburg et al. discuss the use of numerical methods and computer analysis to determine the effects of temperature and relative humidity on the mechanical response of paintings and photographs; this type of information adds greatly to our understanding of the elements responsible for the deterioration of objects and of means to prevent it from occurring. Michele R. Derrick et al. discuss new techniques or types of equipment needed to answer some analytical questions that are very specific to conservation: infrared mapping microscopy to provide a “picture” of components in a small sample; environmental scanning electron microscopy that can be used at near atmospheric pressures; organic elemental analysis that can be used for the characterization of organic materials in a small sample; and photo-induced chemiluminescence that can be used to determine evidence of oxidative degradation before it can be quantifiably measured physically.
The AIC membership is interested in pursuing similar follow-up activities to the work of the Conservation Science Task Force, which will promote communication between scientists and conservators. To this end a new subgroup, Research and Technical Studies, was formed in 1993. This group, having an all-inclusive membership consisting of both conservators and scientists (or other technically oriented AIC members), will further this aim.