Volume 8, Number 2, May 1986, pp.16-19

Conferences in Review: A Textile Conservation Symposium in Honor of Pat Reeves

Victoria Blyth-Hill, reviewer

On Saturday, February 1, 1986, after months of planning, a "Textile Conservation Symposium in Honor of Pat Reeves" was held in the Bing Theatre of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Undaunted by the threat of rain and inconvenience of major construction at the Museum, over 200 enthusiastic participants celebrated Pat Reeves' more than 30 years of contributions to the field of textile conservation.

Pat has come to be known as one of the three founders of modern textile conservation in the United States. Along with Kathryn Scott and Francina Greene, Mrs. Reeves helped to set what have become standards for modern textile conservation practice.

In 1956, Mrs. Reeves went to the American Museum of Natural History in New York to apprentice with Dr. Junius Bird, famed American archaeologist, who was to become her mentor. Their friendship strengthened her interest in Pre-Columbian Peruvian textiles, which has been one of her continuing passions.

After working as an assistant to Kathryn Scott in New York City for ten years, Mrs. Reeves came to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1968 to establish a textile conservation laboratory. The first laboratory was furnished with borrowed items: a roll top desk, folding chairs, and a plastic baby bath in which textiles could be washed. Over the next fifteen years the laboratory acquired textile conservation tables and improved washing equipment and finally, in 1982, a state-of-the-art laboratory was built on the ground floor of the Museum's Hammer Building.

From 1972 to 1975, Mrs. Reeves was also the Consulting Textile Conservator at the Museum of Cultural History (MCH), UCLA. In 1975, Mrs. Reeves, Dr. Christopher Donnan (Director, MCH), and Dr. Patricia Anawalt (Consulting Curator of Costumes and Textiles, MCH) planned a volunteer program designed to care for the museum's study collection of Pre-Columbian Peruvian Textiles. The Program Head, Dr. Anawalt, apprenticed in the Textiles Conservation Laboratory of LACMA's Conservation Center with Mrs. Reeves before the program was initiated. From the modest beginnings of a very small budget, volunteer-made tables, minimal supplies, and a forgotten museum corner, the volunteer program that Mrs. Reeves endorsed, supported, and supervised has evolved into an integral professional part of the Museum's programs. Plans for a well-equipped textile conservation laboratory are in the blueprints for the new Museum of Cultural History building on the UCLA campus, scheduled for completion in 1987.

Mrs. Reeves has been the recipient of many awards to travel to foreign countries to lecture on the subject of textile conservation. She has received two Fulbright Fellowships (1976 and 1977) to teach conservation theory and techniques and to establish a textile conservation laboratory and textile storage program and facility in the Museo Nacional de Antropologia y Arqueologia in Lima, Peru. During this time in Peru, Mrs. Reeves also lectured several times at the Cuzco Conservation Center as part of the UNESCO. In 1980 she received a National Endowment for the Arts Museum Professional Fellowship to travel to Eastern Europe for an exchange of textile conservation information. She taught textile conservation in 1981 at the Centro de Restauracion in Bogota by the invitation of the Colombian Government and UNESCO). In addition, Mrs. Reeves is a Fellow in two major professional conservation organizations, the International Institute for Conservation and the American Institute for Conservation.

Teaching has been one of Mrs. Reeves' main interests. Although apprenticeship training is less popular today than a formal graduate school education in conservation, practical experience remains an essential part of a conservator's training. Over the past seventeen years at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, twenty-five apprentices, interns, and fellows have studied under Mrs. Reeves. Publications are another aspect of teaching that Mrs. Reeves pursues. Her articles focusing on textile conservation techniques have appeared in professional journals and periodicals throughout the world.

The day's program began with a welcoming speech and familiarization of Pat's history by BENJAMIN B. JOHNSON, Honorary Chair and former Head of Conservation at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (read by Victoria Blyth-Hill, Program Chair). Dr. Pieter Meyers, Head of Conservation, presented the opening remarks and the first speaker Kathryn Scott, Professor at New York University, one of Pat's dearest friends and colleagues, spoke on "In the Beginning" a personal history of textile conservation as the first textile conservator in the United States and her association with Pat Reeves.

Dr. Anne Paul, Professor at Dallas University, art historian and anthropologist, enthralled the audience with her research on "The Coloring of Figures and Tears of Rage on a Paracas Mantle". Her investigation attempted to unravel the "signatures" of the different workers responsible for the embroidered images on a Paracas Mantle.

Max Salzman's presentation continued the "Peruvian Connection" theme with "Analysis of Dyes in Museum Textiles (or, You Can't Tell a Dye By Its Color)." Max is a research specialist in the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics at the University of California at Los Angeles, in charge of a lab for the study of historical colorants. He gave a detailed, diagrammed discussion on the subject of dyes with a special focus on Pre-Columbian Peruvian dyes.

Sharon Gordon Donnan, a textile conservator in private practice in Los Angeles and former apprentice to Pat, then traced Pat's history and contributions to the National Museum in Lima, Peru.

"Textiles and Time Travel: Continuities in Mexican Folk Costume", by Dr. Patricia Anawalt, Museum of Cultural History at the University of California at Los Angeles, took us through a fascinating journey in the development of a specific style of Mexican Indian hand-woven man's simple jacket - the use of which has continued from the prehispanic past to today.

Jeanne Brako of the Rocky Mountain Regional Conservation Center, concluded the morning's ethnic survey with "Examination of Pueblo Textiles: Evidence of Use & Wear" detailing the construction, use and wear of Pueblo Indian textiles. This provided useful information to the textile conservator about the deterioration and treatment needs of these textiles.

After a buffet lunch, the audience was brought to attention and Mary Hunt Kahlenberg, former Curator of Textiles and Costumes at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and now President of Textile Arts, Inc. of Los Angeles, delivered a fascinating story on "Collecting Considerations". Mary traced the history of a ceremonial textile made by the Ibans, one of the headhunting tribes of Borneo in the 19th century. She followed the textile's beginnings as a sacred Pua, as it is called by the Iban, to its resting place in a Museum.

Anna E. Svenson, Assistant Textile Conservator at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, intrigued us with her engaging knowledge and love of Kuba textiles. Her graphically illustrated lecture on "Africa, Zaire, Kuba: An Introduction to Raffia Textiles" showed the manufacture, utilitarian use, exquisite designs and conservation treatment of these woven, embroidered and appliqued cloths.

Catherine C. McLean, Associate Textile Conservator at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, took us to a part of the world, India, with her thorough discussion of the "Conservation and Mounting of a Large Mughal Textile". After beginning with a brief history or the early Moghul Dynasty, she described and illustrated the textile's construction, condition and complicated conservation treatment, including an unusual framing system.

Sharon Shore, Textile Conservator at "Caring for Textiles" in Los Angeles, shared her experiences of setting up a private practice in her talk "Establishing a Private Textile Conservation Lab". Sharon outlined many practical considerations from which others working in private practice could benefit.

Nancy C. Wyatt, former Associate Textile Conservator at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and now in private practice in Texas, spoke on "The Conservation of Embroidered Samplers". Nancy reviewed the history of samplers (embroidered pieces of fabric that contain examples or illustrations of stitches and designs), the origins of framing samplers and her techniques for treatment including the importance of non-intrusive repairs.

The last lecturer of the day, Edward Maeder, Curator of Costumes and Textiles at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, entertained the audience with his lively discourse on "Solving the Problem: A Joint Effort" or "On the Bias: A Case Study of Attitude Development" He wove his personal history and Pat's together creating a lovely picture of Curator/Conservator co-operation and mutual respect.

The long, but rewarding day closed with a standing ovation to Pat Reeves from her openly appreciative admirers, followed by a buffet and cocktail reception.

Immediately after and for weeks following the symposium, we received a tremendous amount of positive response for the high quality of the papers presented and the well run program. Credit for the conception, organization and smooth running of the symposium goes to Catherine McLean, Ann Svenson, Sharon Donnan, Pieter Meyers, and Edward Maeder.

A hardbound publication of the proceedings will be available this summer for $15.00. To reserve a copy, write to:

Catherine McLean
Conservation Center
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
5905 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, California 90036

Reviewed by Victoria Blyth Hill, Los Angeles County Museum of Art

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