Volume 11, Number 3, Sept 1989, pp.4-5

Dear Xylene


Dear Xylene:

My wife and I like to go antiquing. Recently we found a truly fab 17th century Dutch charger in a church yard sale in New England. It was on sale for $5.00. (A great deal, right?) I figure since I'm on vacation I don't have to tell my museum. Anyway, the dec arts curator is a real louse. But my assistant says I have to offer it to the museum first, because of the Code of Ethics for Curators. I say, "Hey--I'm a conservator, not a curator--it doesn't apply to me." Whaddya say?

Born to shop

Dear Born:

Your "dec arts curator" ain't the only insect in your museum. Number one, whether you're on vacation or not, you represent your museum twenty-four hours a day, every day of the week as an employee; you don't get to shed your association at 5 p.m. (More's the pity for your institution, I would suspect.) And what kind of loophole seeker are you anyway? If your curator treats furniture on the weekends do you think he's free from your code? (I'm sorry, I have to calm down here.) If you want any sort of good relationship with your museum, you should follow the Museum Ethics in toto--disclose your private collection in full, and make a point of offering any scurvy little antique you find in an Ann Arbor garage to your museum first to show your Good Faith. (If you have any at all.) And golly gee, it was a church you were going to short change?? (Remind me never to stand next to you during an electrical storm.)

Dear Xylene:

Is it all right to send Christmas cards to my clients?

Private and shy

Dear Private:

Why not? (I would, however, go easy on the fuzzy Santa Clauses and the big-eyed angels, that is, if you care about making a Good Impression with regard to what may be perceived as your Taste in Art.)

Dear Xylene:

I am a conservator for an archive. I was recently horrified to discover my assistant trying to return to the collection some important photographs which he has stolen. He told me he had never stolen before and would never do it again. I forgave him and didn't tell anyone. I thought that was the humane thing to do, but now I'm not so sure.

Trying to do good

Dear Trying:

Kindness is great, but unless conservators have been promoted into the New Testament while I was out of town, I'm afraid you don't have the power to forgive on that level. A museum or archive is a public trust, and you have the responsibility to your Director and Board (let alone all the citizens of your state, etc.) to conserve the collection in more ways than just humidity control. (And I'll bet the guy has done it before and will do it again. But I'm a cynic.) Quietly consult with your boss...yesterday.

Dear Xylene:

How about I give the church $10.00? (That's double what they asked...)

Born to shop, again

Dear Born--Yeah, and you can deduct it from your taxes too. Listen, why not tell them you're from the Whatever Museum and that you think they have something REEEALLY valuable and suggest they have it appraised. Then they'll be grateful to YOU and your museum, and maybe even donate it to the Whatever Museum and maybe you'll even get mentioned in the Whatever Annual Report, you charming rogue.

Dear Xylene:

My husband is a very talented artist who wants to get into a conservation training program. The problem is that I am the only conservator with whom he has worked. It doesn't say anywhere in the AIC Code of Ethics that I can't write a recommendation for him, but should we admit our relationship in the application?


Dear Private:

It doesn't say "Thou shalt not kill" anywhere in the AIC Code of Ethics, either, but that doesn't mean you're off the hook there (even if your talented spouse did put his foot through the painting you just lined). I doubt you would be considered an unbiased reference; get him a volunteership with some other conservator who can write him a rec--someone old and misshapen if you're the jealous type. Anyway, by all means tell the truth on the application. Conservators are supposed to be trusted with pricey things behind closed doors, and besides, it's a Small Field! (Remember, even if you DON'T let on, they'll find out anyway.)

Dear Xylene:

How about I buy the charger, sell it at a very high price to my museum and donate the proceeds to the church?

Born to shop, once again.

Dear Born (again? I doubt it.):

Sure, and cut me in on your commission. And while you're at it, have a fund raising dinner for the museum at which you serve corrosive anchovies on the charger. Jeez.

Dear Xylene:

How toxic are you anyway?


Dear Cautious:

Well now, as you know, you must consider your Total Body Burden. If you read my column in your workplace and then go home to de-toxify for at least 16 hours, things aren't so bad. If you read my column while you work in a small apartment in which you also live, use no ventilation or exhaust system, smoke, and have two gin and tonics before dinner (and you used to work in an asbestos factory), I would make sure your heirs know where all your records are and the owners' addresses for the treatments you have in progress. More inquiries welcome, (especially if quite different from the above!)



Xylene is an otherwise well respected conservator. Send your questions, comments, answers, or whatever-bugs-you to: Chris Stavroudis (for Xylene); 1272 N. Flores St.; Los Angeles, CA 90069. While questions will be forwarded to Xylene with only the pseudonym signature present, the sender must identify themself to the Editor for legal reasons.--Ed.

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