JAIC 1998, Volume 37, Number 3, Article 10 (pp. 374 to 380)
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Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC 1998, Volume 37, Number 3, Article 10 (pp. 374 to 380)


Roger W. Moss, Peter Z. Adelstein, & Katherine Singley

IAN C.BRISTOW, ARCHITECTURAL COLOUR IN BRITISH INTERIORS 1615–1840New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1996. 265 pages, extensive bibliography, index. ISBN 0-300-03866-6.IAN C.BRISTOW, INTERIOR HOUSE-PAINTING COLOURS AND TECHNOLOGY 1615–1840New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1996. 276 pages, extensive bibliography, index. ISBN 0-300-03867-4.

Ian C. Bristow's long-awaited two-volume study of British interior architectural finishes draws a clear line between the British and North American approach to restoration or recreation. The British approach favors the documentation of historical practices and materials leading to the cultivation of knowledgeable taste. North Americans—taught in graduate school to be suspicious of “good taste”—are more inclined toward the technical and scientific analysis of surviving surfaces. Bristow began his research in 1975 while he was a fellow at the Institute of Advanced Architectural Studies. This work led ultimately to a Ph.D. from the University of York (1983) with a dissertation titled, “Interior House-painting from the Restoration to the Regency.” In subsequent years, he has emerged as the leading British authority on the use of interior color, practicing as an “architect and specialist consultant in the redecoration of historic interiors.” Bristow admits that when he began his research, “a certain amount had been done in collating documentary references to architectural paint colour,” but “the technical study of historic house-paint had not … been attempted in Britain” (ix). In fact, American architectural conservators, most notably National Park Service architect Penelope H. Batcheler, had begun in the 1960s to apply techniques pioneered by fine arts conservators, such as polarized light microscopy, to architectural finishes. At the same time, young North American scholars, most notably Richard M. Candee (1965) and Theodore Z. Penn (1966), had begun compiling documentary sources on house paints as part of their studies in the Cooperstown and Hagley graduate programs. Within a few years (1971–75), the late Morgan Phillips was publishing sophisticated microchemical analyses to identify paint media and pigments based on his work at the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities. Both the “documentary” and the “scientific” approaches are discussed by several specialists in Paint In America: the Colors of Historic Buildings (Washington, D.C.: The Preservation Press, 1994) to which Ian Bristow contributed a paper. But it is clear that Paint in America is strongly biased in favor of physical examination to establish color, chemical composition, and method of application. In fact, both the “scientific” and the “documentary” approaches are essential and not mutually exclusive. With the publication of Ian Bristow's two books, we now have a worthy and highly valuable expression of the British documentary approach.

In volume one (Architectural Colour) Bristow collates and orders the historical documentation for color usage, beginning with the “Age of Inigo Jones” and moving chronologically through the “Age of Wren” to the Palladians, Adam and his contemporaries, archaeological, and exotic influences in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, ending with the early Victorian color theory that set the stage for the ready mixed paint revolution in the second half of the 19th century. JAIC readers may find this volume of less interest than its companion, because it is essentially a beautifully illustrated architectural survey of the use of paint color in British interiors, 1615–1840, as revealed by a close and exhaustive study of surviving drawings, architectural pattern books, diaries and letters, builders' and architects' specifications, and the surviving accounts of suppliers and painters. By discussing both aesthetics and technology, Bristow reveals the changing taste for color over time, the introduction of new pigments, how colors were placed, and specialized finishing techniques, including graining and marbling. The problems encountered with this approach are legion: black and white photographs that can only suggest differences in value, the limited range of color wash documents, and, most frustrating of all, the difficulty of separating color documents for reproduction in a modern book. We grasp use and placement, but despair of reproducting tint or shade.

Bristow alludes throughout his texts to the “technical investigation of rooms” and the examination of “cross-sections under the microscope” but we are left wondering at the sampling techniques, which are never discussed. We are told that as part of his graduate studies he mixed samples “in accordance with the practices revealed by the documents” and developed a series of color palettes. Such attempts by North American students that have been published in readily available sources such as the Association for Preservation Technology Bulletin suggest that a number of factors, especially the wide variability in pigment purity, call into question the results of such exercises. Bristow does not publish here the results of his tests, although they may be included in his thesis. This does not mean that his technical investigation is suspect, only that we have no way of knowing how closely his recreations relate to the evidence that may have been revealed by analysis.

Volume two (Interior House-Painting Colours and Technology) is most likely to find its way onto the conservator's reference shelf. It is divided into three major sections: a list of materials (that is, pigments, driers, oils, turpentines, solvents, etc.), paint manufacturing and applications (including oil- and water-based paints, varnishes, gilding, graining, marbling, etc.), and a highly useful appendix that includes a glossary of color names, wood and marble imitations, and a section on floor painting and floor cloths. This volume “concentrates on the materials available to the house painter during the period, the ways in which they were combined to make paint of various types, the manner in which the latter was applied, and the different colours which could be mixed” (II, xi). Bristow's lists of pigments and materials obviously overlap texts already familiar to a fine arts conservator, especially Rosamond D. Harley, Artists' Pigments c. 1600–1835 (1970; 2nd edition, 1982). But here we are told, for example, not only that the poisonous green named for the Swedish chemist C.W. Scheele is copper arsenite dating from 1778, but that it may be the basis for the widely used house paint “patent green.” Such discussions based on Bristow's extensive literature search will be particularly valuable to conservators interested in architectural finishes. Also of great use is the appendix of color name definitions Bristow encountered (153–176). For example, the term “aerial tints” used by W. H. Pyne in 1819 means a clouded ceiling and the term may generally have been applied to the bluish cast used by landscape painters “to reproduce the effect of distance.” This reviewer knows of no other source in which so much useful documentation on house paint terminology has been gathered into one readily consulted location. Of less value is the fold-out 48-sample color card at the back of volume two. This must have been demanded by the publisher. Such expensive additions may help to sell books, but are of little use to professional conservators or individuals hoping to recreate an historically accurate paint scheme. Bristow wisely states that “the colour samples are not intended as a range of colours for the redecoration of historic buildings, but are designed instead to illustrate matters discussed in the text of this volume” (facing p. 276). The difference between the North American and British approach to recreating color is here most clear. The reader is left wondering why there are no color standards such as the widely used Munsell System or the newer CIE LAB system, which identifies colors mathematically rather than using color samples in specific arrangements. After discussing the technical problems of reproducing such color cards, Bristow concludes “the samples here reproduced are representative only, and should not be matched directly for restoration work. A true knowledge of historic colour-mixing practice can only be gained by first-hand familiarity with the pigments and mediums then in use, coupled with practical experience of the idiosyncrasies of each.” Thus warned to hire a specialist with “true knowledge,” it would be unfair to criticize these books for what they have not done. Rather, we should treasure them for what they do extremely well: provide a chronologically arranged survey of color use in British buildings during the period when the North American colonies were being founded as provincial British outposts and the subsequent century when British architectural styles and decorative techniques continued to dominate in the United States. We may prefer to confirm our architectural finishes under a microscope, but unless we know what to expect and what is possible, our task is likely to be far more difficult.

Roger W.MossUniversity of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pa.STEVENDAVIDSON AND GREGORYLUKOW, THE ADMINISTRATION OF TELEVISION NEWSFILM AND VIDEOTAPE COLLECTIONS: A CURATORIAL MANUALLos Angeles: American Film Institute; Miami: Louis Wolfson Media History Center, 1997. 246 pages, paper cover, $41.00. Available from National Center for Film and Video Preservation, American Film Institute, 2021 North Western Ave., Los Angeles, Calif. 90027 or Louis Wolfson II Media History Center, Miami-Dade Public Library, 101 West Flagler St., Miami, Fla. 33130.

In recent decades, the importance of preserving the photographic film and videotape produced for the television news media has become increasingly apparent. More and more archives, libraries, and institutions are acquiring television news collections and now have the responsibility of providing proper care. As a result, many archivists and librarians are faced with questions and problems that are new to their experiences. This manual addresses some of these concerns and it should serve as a very valuable reference for these professionals.

This manual consists of 14 chapters, each written by an expert in the field. The manual covers a wide range of topics of importance to the archivist. Subjects include: a history of television newsgathering, collection acquisitions, film and videotape preservation, cataloging, reference services, licensing, and outreach programs. Each of the contributors is obviously very knowledgeable and the writing is clear although not always concise.

The editors indicated that they have endeavored to let each author retain his own style and perspective. However, tighter control by the editors would have resulted in a somewhat smaller but even more effective publication. It reinforces the old adage that sometimes less is more. There are numerous examples in which the same topics are discussed in more than one chapter. Examples are: labeling, identification of tape content, film to video transfer, different videotape formats, equipment obsolescence, and copyright problems among others. Confining each topic to only one chapter would have made it easier for the reader to focus on a single reference.

Several of the chapters make very interesting reading but it is doubtful if they will contribute to answering many of the archivists' questions. Chapter 5 provides a fascinating account of a project completed by the State Historical Society of North Dakota but does this description belong in a manual? Chapter 12 is an excellent description of material sought by film producers including several interesting examples of footage used in different productions. Does this help the archivist or librarian? Chapter 14 is a useful discussion of outreach programs that should be of interest to collection managers. Unfortunately, the message is diluted by too many descriptions of projects.

No attempt will be made to review all the other chapters but several key points are worthy of comment. Chapter 1 offers cogent reasons as to why TV records deserve to be retained. This is followed by a very good introduction to the history of TV newsgathering, including the different media and tape formats that have been used. A chronological table is especially helpful. Problems associated with the acquiring of news collections and determining the origins of the information are described in Chapter 3. Chapter 4 addresses a related topic concentrating on agreements between archives and donor stations.

One of the most useful chapters for a collection manager is Chapter 6, which deals with the preservation, maintenance, copying, and repair of photographic film. Unfortunately, this chapter is marred by the author's lack of familiarity with the science and background of film degradation, thus resulting in a number of erroneous statements. For example, the “vinegar syndrome” problem was not first reported by Brems in 1987. Laboratory studies by the Eastman Kodak Co. showed the superiority of polyester base over triacetate in 1965. A follow-up paper was published in 1981. This was actually prior to the coining of the term “vinegar syndrome.” Initially it was thought that this defect only occurred at high humidities, but in the 1980s it was even found on older film stored at moderate conditions. This resulted in basic studies by two additional laboratories, the Manchester Polytechnic Group in Great Britain and the Image Permanence Institute (IPI) in Rochester, New York. The experimental approach of all three laboratories was similar and there was general agreement on the conclusions.

It should also have been emphasized in the “vinegar syndrome” discussion that it occurs only on acetate base films. This chapter states that there is a “consensus” that polyester base film is much more durable than triacetate. It is much more than a consensus; it is an established fact. At moderate storage conditions triacetate can last from 50 to 100 years whereas polyester lasts more than 500 years.

Other points of disagreement with the author are his concern that both paper and magnetic oxides emit gases that are harmful to film. The problem of silver oxidation and migration should have been discussed at greater length because it results in microblemishes, silver mirroring, or fading.

The discussion on film cans might be misunderstood. The possible harmful effect of metal cans on triacetate stability is not universally accepted but metal cans do suffer from rust and consequent dirt when stored under adverse conditions. Film cans are not made from polyvinyl chloride and there is no evidence that polypropylene cans break down over time and contribute to film degradation.

It would have been helpful in the discussion of storage if the author had referred to the American National Standards document (ANSI, PIMA IT9.11) and included many of those recommendations.

Despite a number of areas of disagreement, this is a very instructive chapter that will be a helpful reference to the film collector. Many of the points of disagreement deal with historical background and with explanations of film behavior. However, these are less important to the archivist than the bottom line recommendations, which are generally sound.

Chapter 7 is a companion to chapter 6 and is an informative treatise on the preservation of videotape. This also is a valuable and necessary part of this manual. As in the previous chapter, the discussion of tape storage should have referred to the ANSI standard (IT9.23), which gives more recent temperature and humidity recommendations. This standard also discusses the possible harmful effects of freezing although there is only anecdotal evidence on this point. There is the implication in the manual that temperature and humidity fluctuations are prime concerns. However, their absolute levels are of equal or of even greater significance. Although the Van Bogart 1995 article on tape storage is given in the bibliography, it should have been discussed in this chapter.

One author recommends rewinding tape periodically, or at last once a year. This is a very debatable point even if it were a practical procedure in an archive. The author also comments on making duplicate tapes. Because the inherent stability of tapes can differ, a warning would have been appropriate to use tapes only from reputable manufacturers and avoid those in unmarked white boxes.

This chapter would have been more complete if it included a discussion of tape cleaning, the possible merits, and problems associated with tape “baking” to allow temporary playback, concerns about tape splices, and the availability of commercial laboratories to recondition or reformat magnetic tape. In summary, this chapter is sound, readable, and provides excellent guidance. Its sins are those of omission.

The chapter on arrangement and description offers some advice that is generally impractical (e.g., talking to the camera crew and producers). There is also overlap with other chapters in discussions of tape formats, inspection, verification, and description of contents. The authors have a fixation on the unfamiliar word “provenance” which is used repeatedly.

Chapter 11 on licensing is an excellent example of good writing. It is short, concise, and only deals with the single subject.

Separation of the references in the bibliography by chapter would have been a practical benefit to the reader who might want to dig deeper into any topic.

This manual is physically attractive, is printed on glossy paper, and has very helpful marginal headings describing the contents of each paragraph. There is a very liberal display of appropriate photographs that add to the book's enjoyment. The only physical criticism is the soft cover, which was easily damaged by use. This manual is strongly recommended for archives and collections that house TV materials.

Peter Z.AdelsteinImage Permanence Institute, Rochester Institute of Technology, 70 Lomb Memorial Dr., Rochester, N.Y. 14623–5604DONNY L.HAMILTON, BASIC METHODS OF CONSERVING UNDERWATER ARCHAEOLOGICAL MATERIAL CULTURE. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Defense, Legacy Resource Management Program, 1996. 128 pages. Softcover. Available free from Robert Nayland, Naval History Center, Building 47, Washington Navy Yard, Washington, D.C. 20374–0571. Tel: (202) 433-9784.

Basic Methods of Conserving Underwater Archaeological Material Culture is a revision and an expansion of Donny L. Hamilton's monograph, Conservation of Metal Objects from Underwater Sites: A Study in Methods, which was published jointly by the Texas Memorial Museum and the Texas Antiquities Commission in 1976. Now out of print and hard to locate, this earlier publication was a valuable contribution to a newly emerging specialty in conservation, preserving artifacts from underwater environments.

Hamilton, trained as an anthropologist, frequently tackles problematic, large-scale artifacts from saltwater, which more mainstream conservators would avoid. His techniques often are innovative and effective. Over the past 20 years, students and research associates in the Nautical Archaeology program at Texas A & M University have investigated using sucrose as a bulking agent for the pre-treatment of waterlogged wood, experimented with silicone RTVs for casting, and, more recently, investigated the effectiveness of silicone oils for stabilizing waterlogged organic and inorganic artifacts. Additionally, Hamilton insists that his graduate students have at least one year of conservation theory and/or practice during their graduate training at Texas A & M, and many of his former students are now well-positioned underwater archaeologists, maritime historians, museum curators, and state administrators.

The new publication has been underwritten by the Department of Defense as part of the Legacy Resource Management Program. As a free government publication, it will be readily available to a diverse audience of non-conservators: students, scuba divers, salvage operators, resource managers, and contractual firms. Such an audience will not be as discriminating as trained conservators. Therefore, there is a risk that non-conservators may turn to Basic Methods for the quick-fix and do more damage than good.

The monograph is organized into chapters by material (pottery, glass, wood, leather, textiles, iron, non-ferrous metals). There is also a chapter covering ethics, record-keeping, and preliminary examination of artifacts. Four pages are devoted to explaining the chemistries and selections of Hamilton's most commonly used adhesives and consolidants: PVA emulsions and solutions, Acryloid B-72 (Paraloid B-72), cellulose nitrate, polyvinyl alcohol, and epoxies. The book does not include a list of manufacturers and available suppliers. Also absent from Basic Methods is a well-illustrated chapter on molding and casting that should have been retained from the 1976 publication and updated. Perhaps the author would be willing to add these items to the Internet version of this monograph (see below).

The chapters on metals, which comprise more than half the new publication, are largely unchanged from the earlier work. Hamilton favors a regimen of electrolysis, hot washing, tannic acid, and microcrystalline wax for iron. Other treatments used during the last 20 years, including alkaline sulfite reduction, plasma reduction, and hydrogen reduction, have been added summarily and are largely dismissed because of cost and equipment required. Titration using mercuric chloride is discussed at length as a qualitative method for determining chloride in wash water, although other easier methods, including the use of specific electrodes, are not covered. Nevertheless, strong points in this chapter include information on large-scale electrolytic set-ups, passive storage, vat construction, and choices for electrodes and electrolytes. Accompanying diagrams are clear and useful.

Treatments for non-ferrous metals, as in 1976, are rather aggressive. Mechanical cleaning is overshadowed by electrolysis as well as alkaline chemical treatments such as sodium sesquicarbonate, sodium carbonate, and alkaline dithionate all of which alter patinas. Again, an allowance must be made because of the large scale and time constraints in which Hamilton works, but these treatments are not appropriate for every artifact. The section on consolidative reduction for lead and silver is quite useful.

The chapters covering ceramics, stone, wood, leather, and textiles seem lean in comparison to metals, which appear to be Hamilton's particular interest. Perhaps a second author could have strengthened these chapters. Better explanations of the chemistries of various cellulosics (cotton, hemp, bark) and proteins (bone/antler, leather, wool and silk) would have improved these sections. A more thorough discussion of the chemical and biological agents of degradation, such as sulfate-reducing bacteria, is needed as well.

Additionally, certain key references from the 1980s and 1990s are missing from the chapters on organics. Hamilton's avoidance of PEG is evident as alternative treatments are presented that use dehydrating baths of ethers and alcohols, as well as heated acetone-rosin. These treatments, while valid, need stronger caveats for the health and safety problems associated with them.

Finally, the problems and ethical dilemmas faced in retrieving and conserving large-scale artifacts, and large-scale composite artifacts, could have used a special chapter, especially because the Legacy Program often deals with projects of this type. The costs of larger projects and the dangers inherent in them (waste disposal, weight, explosive fumes) should have been more clearly addressed and emphasized.

Basic Methods evolved not only from Hamilton's 1976 monograph, but also from hand-outs and bibliographies prepared for his students over a 20-year period. Besides being freely available from the government, Basic Methods may be downloaded from the Internet (http://nautarch.tamu.edu/class/ANTH 605/File0.htm). Those of us in archaeological conservation welcome this sharing of information, and Hamilton deserves to be commended for his openness.

To create a monograph that conveys conservation principles responsibly to non-conservators is a difficult undertaking. Too much information can be as problematic as too little. Colin Pearson's exhaustive Conservation of Marine Archaeological Objects (Butterworths, 1987) will remain the bible for the discipline for some time. But a simpler publication is still needed for those who, at some point in their careers, will have to make informed decisions about what to do with artifacts retrieved from underwater sites. Unfortunately, Basic Methods only partially fulfills that need.

KatherineSingley1083 Oakdale Road, N.E., Atlanta, Georgia 30307

Copyright � 1998 American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works