Volume 3, Number 2, May 1981, pp.1-4. illustrated with 3 photos & 1 floor plan

Setting Up a Conservation Studio

contributions by Ron Tank, Carol L. Young, Janet N. Davenzer, James Alkons, Elisabeth Cornu, F. A. Hogrebe

Every region of the WAAC membership seems to be bustling with activity and growth. We thought it would be interesting to share with you experiences and recommendations from your colleagues. A few new labs, in the process of setting-up, will report in later issues on their facilities. They include Balboa Art Conservation Center and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art Conservation Center.

Developing a Paper Conservation Lab at the Huntington Library

The building of our new paper conservation lab involved a certain lack of communication with the architect and engineers throughout the building project. There were problems in the makeup of the lab obvious to a conservator but not to a building engineer.

It is important to be able to explain to each engineer the need for all special plumbing, ventilation (fume hood and vents to the roof), electrical outlets (including three phase), overhead and localized lighting of surfaces and their exact locations in your lab.

Allow for more than adequate space in the floor plan for equipment, storage, clean and dirty work areas, and chemical and nonchemical treatment areas. Remember to plan working areas for projects in progress as well as projects not immediately being worked on, but which need drying or set-up space. To increase storage space we had deep, wide shelves built below our work tables and beside our light table. Our three new cabinets are each 3' x 4' x 8' to make use of corner and wall space.

Some special considerations for laboratory conditions can be facilitated before and while moving things into new permanent locations. Doors should be large enough to be operable for moving and transporting all machinery and objects. Lighting usually needs to be more localized over work areas than a new building's standard fluorescent lights. The work surfaces and sinks should be built at a comfortable height, Cabinets, work surfaces and flooring should be resistant to chemicals. A medium-dark, scuff resistant tile is ideal for a lab floor. Floors should be able to take the weight of heavy equipment or many objects stacked in a storage space.

Our contractor's venting installation required a custom-made duct for the fume hood and thymol cabinet out-take because of toxicity of the fumes. Check with the engineer on this subject, for the proper installation of this duct took much longer than necessary and involved unnecessary reworking of the ducting.

Our new lab sink and counter (4' x 8') has an electrical element built into a recess in the bottom of the sink with a removable plate that fits over the hole. A thermostatic control is on the front of the cabinet supporting the sink. This works well for our needs, but another possibility would be to have a portable coil to remove when not in use. This would allow a flat surface in the bottom of the sink for washing and sponging the paper. An adequate flat counter should be built onto the side of the sink for supporting large, flat objects while examining them.

If equipment is being built for the lab, get a written agreement as to what working parts are guaranteed and for how long. Discuss what optional features a piece of equipment may include for added safety or easier operation, e.g. explosion-proof motor.

Ron Tank and Carol L. Young
Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery
San Marino, CA 91108

The Installation of a Textile Conservation Lab at the Skirball Museum

The Hebrew Union College Skirball Museum (HUCSM) Textile Conservator, Janet Davenzer, has designed the Lazareck Textile Conservation Lab for the treatment of the HUCSM collection of over 1200 predominantly European-Judaic ritual and folkloric textiles dating from the 16th century to the present. The collection is being conserved through the processes of wet cleaning, mending, exhibit and storage preparation.

The lab facilities are in an area of approximately 25' x 15'. (Most of the features discussed below can be seen in the accompanying photograph.) Along one wall is the stainless steel sink (3' x 4' x 10") used to wet clean average size textiles. Next to the sink is an apartment-size stackable washing machine used for washing modern fabrics, towels and sheets. The dryer is located in the nearby boiler room for proper venting. Oversize textiles are wet cleaned in a large "tray" formed by an interlocking wood frame supporting a nylon reinforced tarp. (See P. Reeves' article in "Curator," 18/3, 1975.) This "tray" can be set up on the largest work table (see below) and rolled next to the sink to be filled and drained. All dry cleaning of textiles is done out-of-house. For health reasons, a high powered fan is used to eliminate fumes when dry-spotting with toxic chemicals.

Three customized work tables have been designed for examining, block and mending textiles. These tables (one 13' x 7' and two 6' x 4') built on castors have a homosote surface covered with Con- Tac paper for pinning during the blocking procedure. The tables can be butted together for handling extra long or over-size textiles, or can be separated when more than one textile is being worked on at one time. Outlets around each table accommodate rolling magnifying lamps, the hand-held vacuum cleaner, blow dryers and other small appliances.

The various facilities adapted for storage of supplies are built- in shelving, the filing cabinet and a small metal cabinet. Silks and cottons used in mending are stored on the shelves as are Velcro tape and muslin necessary for exhibition preparation. The shelving also accommodates sheets of acid-free tissue paper and tubes used or storage. Small supplies needed in mending, such as silk and cotton threads, straight and curved "intestinal" needles, entomological pins, and the like are stored in trays in the department's filing cabinet. All chemicals are stored in the small metal cabinet. Conservation records are kept on every textile. Photographs are taken when necessary by the conservator using a 35 mm. camera, macro-lens, and electronic flash or studio lighting. This documentation includes a typed copy of the work sheet which is filed on permanent record in the Museum.

Established as a short-term project, the Lazareck Textile Conservation Lab conserves only those textiles in the collection deemed to be of the highest priority. Ms. Davenzer has been working with Doris Sosin, Textile Coordinator, and Alice Greenwald, Curator, to prioritize the collection according to aesthetic, ritual, and historic criteria. The Conservator is currently assisted by a student volunteer, Judith Richards, who is completing her B.A. in Home Economics at California State University. L.A. and by Elsie Harris and Matty Seligman, two dedicated supporters of volunteer projects at the Museum

Janet N. Davenzer
Textile Conservator
H. U. C. Skirball Museum
3077 University Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 30007

Developing a New Paintings Conservation Lab

The following description outlines the evolution of a small conservation laboratory by and for an independent paintings conservator.

The raw space available was 2400 square feet. The immediate task for improving facilities was to install daylight fluorescent and incandescent lights.

The next step was to build a vacuum hot table with a working top that is five feet by nine feet, which will accommodate paintings up to four feet by eight feet. The working temperature at the table top is controllable in a reasonably narrow band (plus or minus 4° F) up to a temperature of more than 200° F. The effective vacuum may be stabilized at a constant pressure anywhere within a desired range of three inches mercury down to twenty-four inches mercury below ambient atmospheric pressure. A U-tube mercury manometer is provided at the table exit port to monitor working pressure as desired. Figure one shows the table during construction.

A fortunate acquisition was a used Bausch and Lomb binocular zoom microscope. This was equipped with ten power eyepieces for a zoom range of seven to thirty power, useful for many purposes. As received, it had the usual pedestal and mirror for use with Petrie dishes, etc. and included a low voltage lamp and a power transformer. It was modified for mounting in an upright position for viewing paintings that may be mounted in a special post- mounted easel made for this purpose. (See figure two.) The easel provides the usual side-to-side freedom of movement as well as vertical positioning. The microscope adapter is installed on a camera tripod which provides additional mobility and fine-tuning is built into the adapter by means of three rack and pinion traverse devices to include precise control in either the X, Y, or Z axes. Small details of paintings may be studied within the magnification range described above with relative ease from a fairly stable platform. The range of magnification may also be extended by the substitution of fifteen or twenty power eyepieces.

Initially, one 35 mm. camera with a 50 mm. lens was available for photo-documentation. This was eventually extended to include two more camera bodies with 35 and 85 mm. lenses. All of the camera bodies and lenses are interchangeable and capability is further enhanced with a Soligor bellows extension for macro-photography

Other equipment includes photo floods, strobe lights, tripods, a teleconverter, close-up lenses, and various filters.

With the exception of heat for the cooler months, no environmental controls exist. A dial-type hygrometer and a dual- scale thermometer, however, help to at least monitor atmospheric conditions within the facility.

By careful arrangement, the work area now includes a large carpet-covered work table (five feet by nine feet) with ample storage underneath, both drawers and shelves, ample room for easels, and space for other types of storage. In addition, wall space accommodates book shelves for a modest reference library and one corner has been reserved for study. With the encouragement of the local fire inspectors, a sturdy, large, and secure storage cabinet has been provided outside for safely keeping hazardous materials that are either toxic or highly flammable.

A new item of capital equipment has been contracted for and should arrive in the near future. This is an exhaust system that will include a large flexible duct that may be moved around the work table and a limited range around the easel work area. It is anticipated that this device will eliminate the necessity of the tortuous face mask, at least most of the time. Projected for the near future is a combination clean-room/ spray-booth for varnishing paintings.

So as not to give rise to misconception, however, the path towards setting up a paintings lab is not an easy one, particularly if it is imperative that one earn a living at the same time. Even for a modest facility as he one described herein, it takes a good deal of capital and a willingness to regard work as its own reward.

F. A. Hogrebe
Art Restoration Studios
255 Avenida del Norte
Redondo Beach, CA 90277

Setting Up a Conservation Studio
The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

Three of our four laboratories, textiles, paintings and objects, were completed in September 1977 in the basement of the M.H. deYoung Memorial Museum. The fourth, the paper lab, has been housed for some time at the Palace of the Legion of Honor. The laboratories are located across the hall from the respective storage areas, as you can see from the floorplan. The objects lab and the paintings lab share a photo studio which is also the x- ray studio and contains a spray booth for varnishing paintings and performing intensive solvent work on objects. None of the labs are equipped with a fume hood, but we do have an exhaust system utilizing exhaust hoses suspended from the ceiling.

The objects conservators have recommendations for improvement of their present space. Presently, the lab is divided into two areas--a work space for woodwork and conservation on large objects; and a smaller lab for examination work and work on small objects. We would recommend constructing a special room for heavy work such as wood sawing, sanding, milling, metal work of any kind, and any work involving abrasive tools. A separate chemical analysis and examination space is necessary which could also double as work space for dustfree work. An additional large workspace should then exist for the main conservation work on objects. A special art lock-up for objects awaiting conservation is also necessary. Finally, a separate office and record-keeping area would be most helpful. In terms of equipment, like many conservation labs, we find that we do not make much of our ultra- sonic cleaner nor the air-abrasive cleaner. We do find much use for the large tanks and waterbaths and would probably allow more space for them if we could redo the lab. Our exhaust system is functional but very noisy; this could be improved through better insulated motors.

Elisabeth Cornu

Ventilation Considerations

The best source of information regarding setting up a private conservation lab undoubtedly comes from each conservator who has gone through this process. Since working labs are individually tailored to a person's own work load, finances and type of services performed. it is impossible to generalize in enough detail to be immediately useful. However, by observing facilities or talking with the conservators, much can be learned about specific problems.

One problem of great importance, especially in painting conservation, is adequate ventilation and organic vapor control. Many conservators I have talked with are aware of the problems but do not always know how to solve it. Having recently revised my own ventilation system, I discovered that many technical questions and problems can be answered by people who market industrial ventilation equipment. I contacted the Binks Corporation, a major supplier of spray painting equipment, and found that for no fee a representative will visit, make scale drawings of the proposed facility, survey types of chemicals and solvents used and submit these to an engineer who makes recommendations for the type and size of ventilation equipment needed. I found these people extremely helpful in answering questions and have had favorable responses from other conservators who have done the same.

Consulting a company for information does not absolve the conservator from responsibility to observe safe handling of organic materials but it does provide practical information that is often needed.

James Alkons

 [WAAC]  [WAAC Newsletter]  [WAAC Newsletter Contents]  [Search WAAC Newsletter]  [Disclaimer]

[Search all CoOL documents]