Volume 12, Number 2, May 1990, pp.5-7

Dear Xylene


Dear Xylene:

As we all know, a little bit of xylene goes a long way, and we all get enough on the job. I have reached my total body burden. Certainly there are weightier issues for the WAAC Newsletter than this vaporous postbag. Continued exposure is going to dissolve my bonds with WAAC.

An exhausted fan

Dear Exhausted Fan:

Ah--there's your trouble. If your fan is exhausted you need a new one. Overexposure to solvents (in addition to Xylene) can often cause crankiness, irritability and loss of a sense of humor. Clearly your judgment has been somewhat impaired if it did not occur to you to simply Turn the Page to avoid overdosing on my column and avoid these WAAC withdrawal symptoms. (Additionally, my Editor assures me that no item has ever been omitted from the Newsletter for reasons of space, so my vapors block none of the other goodies for which you may yearn.) And dear "fan", if you consider my last (and studied) offerings on matters of alcoholism on the job or sexual harassment to be without weight or import, you should be congratulated on your own weightless, trouble-free professional life. (I am aware of xeroxes of that column having been provided to bosses to help institute policies for staff handbooks.)


Dear Xylene:

I have diagnosed myself as having the Too Much To Do Syndrome. Its symptoms are many and I am convinced that other people around me also suffer from this debilitating condition. Is there a cure? Or, does everyone have Too Much To Do to find one? During the past decade, Art Conservators have begun using such terms as minimal intervention, preventive conservation, basic stabilization and less is best when they describe their work. Is this a direct result of the Too Much To Do Syndrome or is it really best for the artifacts?

Longing for the Good Old Days

Dear "Longing": Both.

Busy Xylene

(You may have noticed that the Exhausted Fan above thinks less Xylene is also best.)

No...I have to say more. In some cases, conservators have found that doing less can actually take longer! For instance, in the Good Old Days of Wax, paintings conservators consolidated, lined, flattened all at once--Bingo it was done. Now they hover for hours around the moisture/suction table bringing the canvas ever so gently into plane. Now every little curly paint edge must be consolidated individually .. and next the flaking paint around each tack hole of the tacking edge, etc...and then it's time for the 32-cable-channel choice of lining approaches--which adhesive? or none at all? hot? cold? wet? dry? suction? pressure? etc., etc. Or, back when Xylene was younger, ethnographic objects were routinely nuked with air-abrasive units and dunked into various slimy mixtures. Now hours are spent preserving and documenting every soil, stain, seed and mouse turd--the goal being to make absolutely no change to the object, but to add so much inert (sanctioned) storage material that the object will no longer fit into it's original space. Actually, I'm quite overworked myself from all this hands-off business.

A cure? I recommend pulp fills to your calendars--add an extra day each week.

But, hey, I don't think even the surliest can find words to say against preventive conservation. We could give ourselves more time by going on TV and urging perfect home care--like dentists, we could begin putting ourselves out of business. And we care about prevention. Our field has got to have an unduly high percentage of non-smoking vegetarians out there worrying about animate selves and inanimate others. "I'm O.K., You're O.K., It's O.K.?" O.K.?

Dear Xylene:

I work with a group of conservators, and most of them are not members of A.I.C. I have tried the direct approach to convince them to join but they don't seem to be "embarrassable." They go to conferences occasionally, but they won't join, noting that it's "too expensive." Should I go to the Director of the lab we all work for?

Lonely at Dues Paying Time

Dear Lonely:

Good for you. It seems you have colleagues who--as they used to say--won't buy the cow but want the milk for free. It's a shame they don't feel the need to support the existence of their professional journal, etc., but skim the cream of the new data and jollity from conferences as needed. (I bet they don't give to public television either. But then again, maybe they watch only "Wheel of Fortune.")

You might get yourself inordinately "in the soup" (cream-style, if we continue my high-fat metaphor) by going over their heads. You could tell the following anecdotes in a rather loud voice at coffee break (I'm sure they'll be there, especially if coffee is gratis): I recently received a call (during a typically busy day hovering by the suction table--see above) from an elegant collector seeking a paper conservator in a location where a colleague from graduate school is now located. I raced to my handy AIC Directory, and--alas--she was not listed as she is not a member. I quickly gave another name so I could return to my "doing less." On another occasion, I tried to help someone locate an old college roommate--same scenario. And then there are calls about job opportunities. (These are usually not moments in life when one has time to do deep bibliographic research to unearth addresses.) If your colleagues are impervious to the lure of money, success or friendship, they just may be hopeless.

I may have my own occasional quarrels with certain aspects of AIC, but in my unstoppered opinion, it is not only professionally foolish not to join AIC, but is also shortsighted and selfish. (And are those the characteristics these conservators wish to advertise?) Need I even add: think what would happen to AIC (and public television) if everyone took the stance of your colleagues.

Xylene (a dues payer)

Dear Xylene:

I have a decorating question that I need some help with. I worked sort-of-hard to get into and through a graduate training program in conservation. I now have my own private practice and I cannot decide if I should display my diploma on my studio wall. To do so seems elitist, show-offish, and ostentatious. On the other hand, I like to see a doctor's diploma when I visit. What do you think?

Facing a Blank Wall

Dear "Facing": Since when is elitism bad? (I'm afraid owning and worrying about art works has just the teentsiest streak of innate elitism, wouldn't you say? I mean why aren't we all out helping the homeless?) I say, Hang that diploma! Your clients need to know the difference between your background and that of the guy down the street who was trained by a two-hour framer's videotape. And, as you say, would you go to a doctor trained by video or the University of Matchbook Diploma Mill? Hang that diploma and earn those fees (admittedly less than our medical colleagues may be collecting) and then you can support your family and have enough time to spend evenings and weekends helping the homeless.


Dear Conservators out there in WAAC-land:

The first letter in the group did shake me somewhat. Does anyone else find this light interchange on somewhat heavy ideas offensive? useful? I mean, gee, I could use a few more hours of less-is-best "hovering"...or are too many of you too busy doing less to write in about this?

Your Xylene, shaken but not yet spilled Good-night


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 (i.e. anonymously), the sender must identify themself to the Editor for legal reasons. --Ed.

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