Volume 7, Number 3, Sept. 1985, pp.11-13

National Institute for Conservation Report, May 1985

by Gary Wade Alden

The Council of the National Institute for Conservation (NIC) met in Washington, D.C. on 22 May 1985. Gary Wade Alden represented both WAAC and the Balboa Art Conservation Center at this meeting. The NIC has released several publications since the 16 October 1984 meeting: "Ethnographic and Archaeological Conservation in the United States;" "A Suggested Curriculum for Training in Ethnographic and Archaeological Conservation;" "Historic Buildings, A Study on the Magnitude of Architectural Conservation Needs in America;" "The History and Future Direction of Conservation Training in America;" "Professional Student Papers Presented at the Tenth Annual Training Program Conference." Council Chairman Arthur Beale stressed, however, that the real work is ahead. NIC cannot just generate reports; it must now act conscientiously to facilitate the implementation of recommendations made by these reports.

A draft of A Basic Reference Shelflist for the Conservation of Cultural Property has been prepared by James Bernstein and Jane Slate and is available at a cost of $6 from NIC. It is stored in NIC computer files and will be regularly updated.

Current NIC Projects

NIC is working with the AAM, AIC, IMS and NMSB on a joint project to examine collections maintenance, collection management and conservation.

NIC has been collaborating with the National Trust on a Public Monument Conservation Project. Work has been interrupted by staffing changes at the Trust, however the AASLH has become a collaborating sponsor for the project. Twenty to twenty-five thousand public sculptures are deteriorating from exposure to acid rain and other environmental problems. Current activities by other organizations complement the NIC study. The National Park Service (NPS) has created a database to document the distribution and physical characteristics of a sample of significant outdoor sculptures in the Eastern United States and the National Museum of American Art has received a grant to computerize the University of Delaware's inventory of American sculpture. The proceedings of a state-of-the-art conference on the treatment of outdoor sculpture has just been released by the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and a valuable database on treated outdoor monuments will be given to the NIC. The Heritage Canada Foundation has developed a project on the damage to cultural resources by acid precipitation and monument surveys on a modest scale have been undertaken privately in Texas and are planned in the Northeast by the Association for Gravestone Studies. The NPS has also just released a huge survey on monuments in the District of Columbia.

New NIC Projects

NIC is developing new projects in library and archives preservation and the NEH has established a new Preservation Office to support such projects. Two proposed projects address critical needs in this field:

  1. the development of scientific research priorities in document conservation and
  2. a seminar and speakers' bureau for library preservation education. The latter project is intended to change the attitude of librarians while they are still in school in order to make conservation concerns a higher priority for archives and libraries. NIC will first sponsor two-day seminars on the importance of preservation education for the deans of accredited library schools. By targeting the deans, NIC hopes to influence educational priorities, curriculum content and faculty credentials. The speakers' bureau will then provide guest lecturers to library schools.

NIC is already working with the Preservation Section of the American Library Association, the Association of Research Libraries, the Independent Research Libraries Association, AASLH and the Society of American Archivists on a study to develop standards for the storage of paperbased library and archives materials. A draft of the standards must now be submitted to the National Information Standards Organization (NISO) for American National Standards Institute Review.

Training Programs

As a result of recommendations made in Care of Collections published last year by AAM, the NIC has also developed a project with AAM and AASLH for the training of collections care and maintenance specialists who work for the most part in small and medium size museums. Although the actual format has not yet been determined, it is intended to be flexible enough to respond to the interdisciplinary and individual needs of a specific institution or group of institutions. Grants will be awarded over a three year period to twelve museums representing four categories: art; anthropology and archaeology; history; natural history/general. Participating museums will be asked to incorporate the following provisions in their programs:

  1. Training programs must combine the expertise of staff or visiting curators, registrars and conservators.
  2. Training opportunities must be available to relevant institutions within the museum's city, region or state.
  3. Training objectives must include the development of better care, accessibility and use of collections through training in six areas:

    a. environmental monitoring and control
    b. storage and exhibition techniques (including matting &
    c. inventory and cataloging
    d. condition reports and technical examination
    e. numbering and labeling f. packing and handling

  4. A mechanism must be devised which assures that training received will be formally recognized and used by the participating institution.
  5. Programs must work towards centralization of responsibilities such as inventory, documentation and conservation assessments in order to avoid duplication of effort and to result in reasonable acquisition and conservation policies.

NIC Membership

NIC intends to substantially expand its membership, especially in such under-represented areas as libraries, archives, architectural conservation organizations and programs, and private (for-profit) conservation facilities. Membership is available to institutions in the following categories:

  1. Existing national organizations representing conservation professionals. At present only AIC and APT qualify.
  2. Training and education programs for conservators and technicians. Such training programs must have existed for a three-year period and have the equivalent of three full-time professional instructors. Training must be provided for a minimum of two years and a degree or certificate must be awarded.
  3. Area conservation membership organizations. Such organizations must have existed for a one-year period and should have a minimum of 25 members. One-half of the membership must consist of conservation professionals.
  4. Institutions with conservation treatment and/or conservation research facilities for various categories of cultural property. These institutions must have been in existence for three years. These include:

    a. Institutions with conservation, research and/or preservation
    facilities organized on a not-for-profit basis.
    b. Cooperative conservation centers organized on a not-for-profitbasis.
    c. Incorporated, private conservation, research or preservation facilities organized on a for-profit basis.

  5. Membership organizations representing users of conservation information and services. Such organizations should have a minimum membership of 150, have a strong interest in conservation of cultural property and be actively concerned about use needs for conservation services and programs.
  6. Funding and policy-making organizations such as foundations or granting agencies. These organizations are to serve at the request of the Board of Directors and they are to be non-voting members.

NIC would like for the membership of its Council to be broadly based, so that every professional concerned about the conservation of cultural property in the United States may find representation. Application forms are available from NIC, A&I 2225, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. 20560.


NIC will also soon publish a brief quarterly newsletter. It will report on NIC projects, new developments in conservation and on the views of NIC council members on particular issues. It is hoped that the newsletter will enhance the interaction of NIC members and keep legislators, foundations and others who do not serve on the Council abreast of NIC and conservation activities.

Gary Wade Alden
Balboa Art Conservation Center San Diego

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