Volume 12, Number 1, Jan. 1990, pp.26-28

Conferences in Review

Mary Hough, column editor

Four conferences are reviewed in this column:

  1. "Utah Focuses on Photographic Preservation," review by Randall Butler.
  2. "Restoration of Leather Bindings," review by Joanne Page.
  3. "Workshop on New Methods in the Cleaning of Paintings," review by Chris Stavroudis.
  4. "An Introduction to New Methods Used in the Cleaning of Paintings," review by Mary P. Hough.

Utah Focuses on Photographic Preservation

The Utah Preservation Consortium (UPC) sponsored a "Preventive Care of Historic Photographic Prints & Negatives" workshop on September 18-19, 1989. Hosted by the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, the two day workshop was conducted by Debbie Hess Norris, Assistant Director of the University of Delaware/Winterthur Museum Art Conservation Training Program.

Approximately 120 participants from seven states attended the workshop. The daily program consisted of slide illustrated lectures and hands-on laboratory sessions. Identification and deterioration of historic photographic processes, and the preservation of photographic materials were the main themes.

Identifying photographic processes and deterioration factors requires an understanding of the three basic components in historic (pre-1965) and contemporary (post-1965) photographic materials. The three components are: final image materials, binders, and support materials. Debbie thoroughly explained how these elements combined form a complex laminate structure. Final image materials include metallic silver, platinum, iron complexes, pigments, and organic dyes. Because the largest portion of historic images in collections are composed of silver image materials, Debbie emphasized the ability to distinguish between the photolytic printing-out papers (POP) which generally have a sepia or purple tone, and the filamentary silver developed-out papers (DOP) with distinctive black and white tones. The binder layer holds fast the final image material in suspension on a support material (e.g., metal, glass, leather, paper or polyester). Binders include albumen (egg whites), collodion (a form of cellulose nitrate), and gelatin (animal protein). Understanding the composition and use of the basic components in photographic materials is essential for dating, defining the causes of deterioration, and determining appropriate preservation measures. Afternoon and evening lab sessions supervised by Debbie stressed learning how to identify final image materials, binder layers, and support materials under raking light and using microscopes or light scopes (small 30x hand held microscopes illuminated by two AA batteries).

Preservation issues discussed by Debbie included environmental controls, storage and handling, and exhibition concerns.

Maintaining a constant 30-40% RH and a temperature preferably between 55-65 degrees F, but never exceeding 77 degrees F, is essential for preserving materials that are fragile laminate structures and often hygroscopic. Housing images in neutral acid- free containers, sleeving in Mylar D (available from conservation material supply companies), and separating prints from negatives, were recommended. Debbie reminded participants that clean, soft cotton gloves should always be worn when handling photographs.

Exhibition lighting should not exceed 50 LUX (5 ft. candles) for most photos and unique images, nor should they be exhibited for extended periods of time (over three months). Decomposition of silver halides, cracking and flaking emulsions, fading pigments and dyes, and "weeping" (decomposing) glass are problems that require immediate attention and often the services of a professional photographic conservator. Debbie kept a most complex subject consistently in perspective to her goals of teaching participants the basic skills and knowledge required to identify photographic components/processes and providing an overview of preservation standards. Her enthusiasm for the topic and knowledgeable presentation enhanced the learning experience and made the workshop a resounding success.

Randall Butler, Visiting Professor, Brigham Young University

Restoration of Leather Bindings

In August, Bernard Middleton taught a week-long Master Class on the restoration of leather bindings at Soundwell Technical College in Bristol, England. This is the second year of International Bookbinding Master Classes at Soundwell, a technical college specializing in the book arts and graphic design. Past classes have been conducted by Anthony Cains, David Sellars, and other prestigious binders on topics ranging from repairing vellum and parchment manuscripts, to the design of fine bindings. The college has also sponsored shorter workshops on a wide range of subjects such as edge gilding, paper marbling, and Oriental bindings. According to Greg Harrowing, the Bookbinding Coordinator at Soundwell, their goal is to continue the development of an extensive international program which will attract the top people in the field, both faculty and students.

Bernard Middleton's class was a good example of how well their goals are being accomplished: Bernard is among the most prominent book conservators and historians, and is the author of definitive texts on the subject of bookbinding; the sixteen members of the class were professional conservators and/or binders from Australia, Holland, England, Wales, and the United States. Each participant was asked to bring pre-1800 bindings to work on in the class. The techniques Mr. Middleton demonstrated included cleaning, lifting of fragile spines, reinforcing the attachment of the covers, etc. He made it look so easy - but when the class began to work on their own books, they realized (again and again) just how masterful he is! The congenial staff at the College made every effort to make the class as pleasant as it was stimulating: the college van transported us to and from our lodgings, in addition to lunches at lovely country pubs each day, and to lectures and special events in the evenings. The bookbinding lab was very well equipped, with ample supplies and work space for everyone. At the end of the five-day session all agreed it had been a wonderful experience. The program next year will emphasize creative bookbinding, and in 1991, restoration binding. For further information, contact Greg Harrowing, Bookbinding Coordinator, Soundwell Technical College, St. Stephen's Rd., Bristol, Avon BS164RL, England.

Joanne Page, Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Workshop on New Methods in the Cleaning of Paintings

The Getty Conservation Institute organized a two week long workshop on new methods in the cleaning of paintings developed by Professor Richard Wolbers from the 14th to the 25th of August, 1989. The course was taught by Richard Wolbers, Associate Professor in Art Conservation at the University of Delaware. Mark Leonard, Associate Conservator of Paintings at the J. Paul Getty Museum, assisted as lecturer; and James Martin, now at the Williamstown Regional Art Conservation Laboratory, was the course assistant. The class brought together nineteen professional, experienced conservators, from as distant environs as Moscow and Auckland, and as near as Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Sample paintings were provided for the conservators, broken into groups of two, to apply the new concepts as they were being taught. The mornings were devoted to lectures based on case studies of paintings while the afternoons served as practicum. The class began with a discussion of the use of water as an additional tool for cleaning paintings not well suited to conventional solvent solutions. Quickly immersed in the water world, the participants became more and more comfortable and conversant in the importance of controlling pH, ionic strength, buffering capabilities, and gelling of the re-acquainted solvent, water. Discussions followed on the use of enzymes to digest specific layers. The addition of soaps and detergents to further enhance the solvent ability of water became the focus. Resin soaps, their preparation, advantages and disadvantages were presented. We were introduced to the tens of thousands of detergents commercially available and told how to narrow that choice down to select materials that we could exploit in service to our problems. Characterization of a painting's structure is crucial in applying the new cleaning methods. Sample cross-sections stained with a variety of reactive fluorescent dyes can aid in developing a cleaning strategy that will allow the conservator to understand and "unpack" the surface of a painting. James Martin, the course assistant, worked with each group of conservators on the fluorescent microscopic techniques introduced to our field by Professor Wolbers. Just as everyone was beginning to feel comfortable in the aqueous world, solvents were re-introduced. The combination of water, suitably buffered, and detergent and organic solvent forms an emulsion.

The intimate mixing of water and solvent allow yet more vexing cleaning problems to be overcome. Solvent gels comprised the final family of cleaning possibilities, bringing us all back closer to the more familiar solvent world, but with new perspectives, sensibilities, and sensitivities. The course was remarkably non-scientific, considering how easy it would have been for Richard to overwhelm all of us with chemical formulae and diagrams. The presentation was practical, informal, and used chemistry only where absolutely necessary. His easy disposition, and willingness to repeat himself, always revealing slightly different nuances, over again until we participants got-it, made for a pleasurable and exciting two weeks. The staff at the Getty Training Program who provided the easy environment and saw to all those little crises must also be congratulated. Participants in the course included WAAC members Marcelle Andreasson, Elizabeth Court, Elisabeth Mention, Thomas Peteus (Studio of the Western Sweden Conservators Trust), William Shank, Chris Stavroudis, Dusan Stulik, Aleksei Tivetsky, and Rosamond Westmoreland. Also participating were: Stephen Bonadies, Cincinnati Art Museum; Mads Christensen, Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts; Sarah Fisher, National Gallery of Art; Teri Hensick, Fogg Art Museum; Sarah Hillary, Auckland City Art Gallery; Sandra Lawrence, Art Gallery of Ontario; Gillian McMillan, Guggenheim Museum; Cornelia Falkenberg-Peres, Vincent van Gogh Museum; Margaret Sakhnova, Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts; and Tine Stynen, University of Louvain, Belgium.

Chris Stavroudis, Paintings Conservator

An Introduction to New Methods Used in the Cleaning of Paintings

Professor Richard Wolbers of the Art Conservation Training Program at the University of Delaware presented a lecture entitled "An Introduction to New Methods Used in the Cleaning of Paintings" on Friday afternoon August 11, 1989 at the Getty Conservation Institute. He used a burned 18th century American painted case clock as a sample treatment to illustrate his problem solving process. The clock is an example of the Japanning technique in which multiple layers of shellac, resins, and oils, some of which were pigmented, were used to mimic Japanese decorative finishes. This clock had a leathery black opaque tough surface due to the accumulation of surface grime, multiple layers of discolored resin and the fire damage. Mr. Wolbers discussed the use of cross sections taken from the surface of the clock to determine the degree of fire damage, and to identify the layers.

Some of these cross sections were stained and examined under UV, others were examined under IR, visible light, etc. The results were compared to samples from a similar clock in the Winterthur collection, and to historical recipes for the Japanning technique. After determining the various layers on the clock, he devised multiple cleaning solutions and discussed the use, recipes for and the importance of solvent gel mixtures. The numerous slides were wonderful and the after treatment slide revealed a stunning case clock, a remarkable transformation.

Mary P. Hough, Column Editor, Associate Painting Conservator,
Tatyana M. Thompson & Associates, Inc.

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