PREVENTIVE CONSERVATION AND THE EXHIBITION PROCESS: DEVELOPMENT OF EXHIBIT GUIDELINES AND STANDARDS FOR CONSERVATION
TOBY J. RAPHAEL
Throughout the 1980s and '90s, conservation requirements for exhibitions were confusing and elusive for the exhibit specialists, the many skilled individuals who focus on planning, designing, and fabricating museum exhibitions;this may include exhibit planners, developers, curators, designers, producers, and installers. No single resource for conservation guidance on exhibitions could be found, no source where alternative techniques or applications could be studied. Lack of awareness and understanding of this body of knowledge took a tremendous toll on the preservation of museum collections. Exhibit specialists were unable to find even simple answers to their conservation concerns, from appropriate exhibit rotation schedules for vulnerable objects to the requirements for silica gel humidity stabilization.
Because of the dearth of information on how to integrate preventive conservation in museum practices, the author began writing technical notes on exhibit preservation subjects. These notes were included in a comprehensive set of guidelines entitled Exhibit Conservation Guidelines: Incorporating Conservation into Exhibit Planning, Design and Fabrication, which was published by the National Park Service (NPS) in 1999. The publication was written with the support and assistance of Conservators Martin Burke and Nancy Davis, and Exhibit Designer Kevin Brooks. Carolyn Rose, one of the founders of preventive conservation, painstakingly edited the manuscript and was adamant that her two principal concerns be emphasized, that conservators must become involved early in the exhibit process, and must be effective team players working cooperatively with exhibit planners and designers. Rose utilized the completed Guidelines extensively in her teaching both in this country and abroad.
This article will summarize the motivation for and development of both the Exhibit Conservation Guidelines and the Museum Conservation Standards for the Development of Object-based Exhibitions, which is currently being written. Due to its diverse goals and audiences, Guidelines includes several different formats: a narrative section provides the framework for introducing each individual guideline and its discussion points; technical notes supplement the guidelines with examples; and technical drawings illustrate conservation details regarding exhibit case design. The Standards are being developed to address the need for more prescriptive requirements that will incorporate conservation concerns into exhibition design.