Volume 14, Number 1, Jan. 1992, pp.23-27
The interdisciplinary nature of conservation makes it difficult to identify a standard body of literature to use for the purposes of research. A body of conservation literature does exist, however, and there is also useful primary source material directly relating to the conservation profession. In addition, there exist collections of specimen materials that are invaluable for research. This article will concentrate primarily on English language resources.
The first technical journal of conservation studies was Technical Studies in the Field of Fine Arts, published by the Fogg Museum of Harvard University. The managing editor was George Stout. Included in the journal were abstracts of technical literature relating to archaeology and fine arts, drawn from a wide body of literature. The journal was begun in 1932 and ceased publication in 1942 as a result of the Second World War.
In 1955, Abstracts of Technical Studies in Art and Archaeology was published at the Freer Gallery of Art by Rutherford John Gettens and Bertha M. Usilton to cover the years 1943 to 1952. Repatriation of art objects after the war, and experience from sheltering materials during the war, brought together a number of people who decided to devise a format for continuing to share information. Ultimately this led to the founding of the International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (IIC) and the publication of IIC Abstracts, first published in 1955 with a survey back to 1953.
In 1966, responsibility for the publication of IIC Abstracts was taken on by the Conservation Center of the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University and renamed Art and Archaeology, Technical Abstracts (AATA). In 1983 the J. Paul Getty Trust took over publication of AATA.
Beginning with 1991, the publication of supplements to AATA will be resumed, beginning with The Conservation and Technology of Musical Instruments, edited by Cary Karp. The next supplement will be concerned with the conservation of ethnographic painted objects and is currently in preparation by Sue Walston, Eric Hansen and Mitchell Hearns Bishop.
At this time, AATA continues to be the only abstracting and indexing service for the conservation field and for archaeological science.
BCIN is a collaborative project of CCI (The Canadian Conservation Institute), CAL (The Conservation Analytical Laboratory of the Smithsonian Institution), ICCROM (The International Center for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property), ICOMOS (the International Council on Monuments and Sites), and GCI (the Getty Conservation Institute). While BCIN is primarily a bibliographic compilation, some database records in BCIN represent actual library holdings from CAL, ICOMOS, ICCROM, and CCI. This makes portions of the considerable holdings of these institutions accessible to researchers. The GCI library will be selectively introducing its holdings into the database in the future, and ICOM will also be contributing records. BCIN also serves as an online version of AATA.
The literature of art history is an important resource when researching artifacts regarded as art objects. Conservation literature often does not discuss the working methods of artists. If it is possible to learn what materials an artist used, and why, this can help a conservator understand how the artifact was made and what appearance was intended. A number of very good bibliographic resources exist for art historical literature. Several examples follow.
The Bibliography of the History of Art is the successor to RILA (International Repertory of the Literature of Art) and RAA (Repertoire d 'Art et d'Archeologie). It is a joint publication of the Art History Information Program of the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Institut de l'Information Scientifique et Technique of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique of France. It covers the current literature on European art from late antiquity to the present, and American art from the time of European contact to the present. While an invaluable tool in its field, it does not cover the art or artifacts of other cultures except in a post-western-contact context. This publication is also available in an online format through DIALOG.
Authored by Etta Arntzen and Robert Rainwater, Arntzen and Rainwater is a standard bibliographic source for the literature of art history.
A basic tool concerning art generally. It is available online as a part of DlALOG's databases.
DIALOG is a commercial database vendor that provides online access to a number of publications and information services. Some of these are pertinent to art history. The ARTS and ARCHITEC searching prefixes search databases in DIALOG relevant to art history and architecture. Specifically, Artbibliographies Modern, Academic Index, the Bibliography of the History of Art and Arts and Humanities Search.
The ARCHITEC prefix searches the Avery Architecture Index, the Architecture Database, and Arts and Humanities Search.
Both prefixes can be used at the same time. Because searching multiple databases can be very expensive, it is important to carefully define a search strategy prior to beginning an online search.
Many museum objects were not created as art objects in the sense that our culture thinks of art objects. When Europeans came into contact with people of other parts of the world, objects from these cultures were collected. Information about how these artifacts were made was not always collected or kept in association with the artifacts, however. Archaeological activity has unearthed enormous quantities of material that also has ended up in museum collections. Understanding objects made by other cultures is difficult and sometimes impossible. However, there are large bodies of anthropological) and archaeological literature that can provide information about these cultures and their technologies. Several important resources of this nature follow.
The author and subject catalogs of the Tozzer Library (formerly the Library of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology) exist in print form as library catalogs and are also available in microform produced by G. K. Hall. The catalog lists books and periodical articles by subject and by author from this major North American anthropological and archaeological library. This represents an invaluable bibliographic resource.
A related publication is Middle American Indians: A Guide to the Manuscript Collection at Tozzer Library, Harvard University, by John M. Weeks, published by Garland in 1985. Other publications listing manuscript or archival holdings concerning other cultural areas may exist in the library. Interested persons should contact the Tozzer Library.
The Tozzer Library also publishes Anthropological Literature, a serial bibliography devoted to the literature of anthropology.
This is an abstracting service of the Council for British Archaeology. It does not cover highly technical articles relating to archaeological science or conservation; the scope has been more general.
As of 1992, this publication will be renamed British Archaeological Bibliography and will be expanded. In the future, it will be located at the Institute of Archaeology, University College, London and will be part of a consortium composed of the Council for British Archaeology, English Heritage, the Society of Antiquaries of London, and the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England. The scope will be expanded to cover the sciences as applied to archaeology. Eventually, it will also be available in an online format.
This work, which covers the field of anthropology, has been published since 1970 by Greenwood periodicals.
This work, which is published by the Institute of Archaeology at UCLA, specifically covers archaeological activity in China.
The literature of science and technology is used to obtain information concerning the physics and chemistry relevant to conservation and the history of technology as it relates to the manufacture of material culture throughout human history. The following have proved quite useful.
The abstracting service for the field of chemistry published by the American Chemical Society since 1907, Chem Abs regularly covers issues directly relating to archaeological science and conservation. It has been abstracted for AATA over the years, and material directly relevant to conservation is available in AATA.
Another approach to obtain scientific and technological information is to survey the literature devoted to the material in question. There are a number of interesting publications devoted to specific materials, for example: Textile Technology Digest, World Textile Abstracts, Forest Products Abstracts, and Metals Abstracts Index.
A large body of literature deals with the history of technology. This includes engineering, medical science, mineral extraction, woodworking, painting and any other aspect of technology that has been used by human beings in the production of food, material objects and the manipulation of the environment.
An example of a publication concerned with this in its broadest sense, and one specifically concerning the history of Chinese technology, follow. Other literature concerning the history of technology, engineering, the chemical industry, the paint industry, and so forth, can be obtained from publications chronicling the history of these industries.
A bibliography published in Holland from 1940 to 1950 covering the history of technology, archaeology, industrial arts and mineral industries. This is an excellent source for older material concerning the manufacture of artifacts.
A massive undertaking by Joseph Needham of Cambridge University to document the history of Chinese science. Volumes currently published cover such matters as the history of textile production, chemical industries and papermaking. A discussion of traditional methods of paper preservation and conservation of old manuscripts is included. The project has been underway since 1954. Needham is 91 years old.
Primary sources involve a greater commitment by the researcher than secondary sources. Access to material is usually restricted to advanced researchers, and legal considerations such as confidentiality and copyright are often involved. Finding out what is available in archives is done by consulting catalogs of archives or through the use of computer databases of archival holdings. While these sources are not available to the public, reference librarians can search them on request. In some instances, the correspondence of well known artists has been published. It should be noted that such compilations are never comprehensive due to the ephemeral nature of letters and personal papers, and the large volume of the material.
Many artists have written about their techniques, attitudes and working methods. While this is not true for all artists of all periods, there are many instances where artists took particular care to express their opinions. The following are examples in the collections of the Getty Center.
In a letter dated May 22, 1892 Camille Pissarro wrote to his wife from Paris on his way to London. Pissarro had forgotten to take his paint brushes and gave instructions as to which brushes he wanted and how to pack them. He makes small drawings in the letter to elaborate. This sheds light on his attitude toward brush care and the type of brush he preferred.
Henry Morland in an undated document writes to his paint seller listing supplies he needs and their prices. This tells us exactly what materials he was using in his paintings and what it was costing him.
An undated letter by Dante Gabriel Rossetti to his framer, Mr. Murcott, discusses his preferred technique for the fixing of some drawings. He requests Mr. Murcott to use the "Fixatif du Rosier" and remove any smudges on the drawing prior to application of the fixative. This is a fixative that was used by a number of artists at the time, among them Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt.
The American sculptor Malvina Hoffman is probably best known today for the bronzes in the Hall of Man in the Field Museum in Chicago. She also published a book on the techniques of sculpture titled "Sculpture Inside and Out." In preparation for the book she took photographs of the Limet brothers, master patinateurs, at work applying the patinas to her sculptures. These are a remarkable document of the working conditions and practices of the time.
Art historians have also left papers which can provide unique information. Again, the examples are taken from the collections of the Getty Center.
The Mexican art historian Ricardo de Robina collected documentation of Mayan sites from the late 1940s to the early 1960s. These are a valuable record of the condition of the sites during that time.
The papers of Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, the architectural historian best known for his work chronicling the buildings of Britain, are also housed at the J. Paul Getty Center. Pevsner visited buildings all over Britain while preparing his books. He was one of the earliest architectural historians to take a serious interest in Victorian architecture and the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Glasgow school. Among Pevsner's papers is a scrapbook concerning the memorial exhibition of Mackintosh in Glasgow in 1933.
A task force was formed by the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC) to address the issue of the fate of the records of conservators in private practice and those of small museums. Locations were identified to house records, and some clarification of the legal issues regarding ownership of treatment records was determined.
A number of conservation documentation collections are presently housed in public institutions. Recently, for instance, the records of Russell Quandt were donated to the Winterthur Museum Library.
In the collections of the Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities are the records of Italian restorer Mauro Pellicioli. Pellicioli was a restorer active in Italy primarily in the 1930s. He worked on a number of important commissions, including Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper. The nature of the documentation is photographic with a number of albums of photographs and related press information.
Also in the Getty Center is documentation of the work of William Suhr. Suhr was the paintings conservator for the Detroit Institute of Arts beginning in 1933. He then moved to New York City where he was the conservator for the Frick Collection for over 40 years. During this period he also cared for paintings in museums and private collections in a number of major cities. The collection consists of photographic documentation of conservation treatments done by Suhr.
The records of anthropologists and archaeologists can contain information relating to the creation of artifacts that have found their way into museums. Three examples of this type of material follow.
The University Museum formed The University Museum Archives as a means of caring for and conserving the records of archaeologists and anthropologists associated with the museum. The University Museum has a large and quite old collection of this material. Material of this nature represents an invaluable record of sites and cultures as they were in the past. Repositories such as this can be an excellent source of information for archaeological conservators and ethnographic conservators. The University Museum has also published a manual entitled "Preserving Field Records, Archival Techniques for Archaeologists and Anthropologists" to raise awareness of social scientists of the need to curate their records.
The University of California at Los Angeles formed the Rock Art Archive in 1977. Prior to this, there was no repository for rock art in the United States. Emphasizing the rock art of California, the Great Basin and the Southwest, the Rock Art Archive contains published and unpublished material about this subject.
Films made by anthropologists sometimes document the making of objects. As such, they are a unique resource, although restrictions have been placed on viewing films of some ritual activity by certain cultural groups.
Museum archives contain documentation on their collections including how and when the objects came into the museums' possession. Increasing awareness of the importance of documentation about museum objects has led to the formation of archives by many museums to house and care for this material. Museum registrars have been instrumental in this activity.
Industrial activity and the smaller scale manufacturing typical prior to the industrial revolution generated records of various kinds documenting manufacturing processes and products. Two categories of this type of reference material follow.
Manuscripts containing information relating to artists' techniques and industrial processes go back as far as 3000 BC and Egyptian papyri. Even after the advent of printing books of "secrets," household recipe books with information ranging from preserving food to colorfast dyes and pigments were very popular. These can provide insight into materials used and techniques of manufacturing.
Trade catalogs are an excellent source for architectural conservators concerned with the original fittings for buildings. Catalogs exist for art supplies, tools, locomotives, paints and any other conceivable product. Few of these survive, for obvious reasons, but some institutions have collections.
In 1972, the ICOM Working Group on Reference Materials published a report listing a number of collections of pigments, binding media, dyes, textiles, paper and other specimen collections of artists' materials: "Second Report on Reference Materials," by Rutherford J. Gettens, Stephen Rees Jones, Marisa Tabasso Laurenzi and Robert Feller. To my knowledge, this report is the only publication that has attempted to compile information as to where these collections are and what they contain. Subsequently, the ICOM Working Group on Reference Materials has merged with the Documentation Working Group. While many institutions maintain reference collections, no further effort has been made to list them. Two fairly well known examples of collections of reference samples are the Gettens Collection and the Dard Hunter Paper Museum's collections.
The Gettens Collection, specimens of pigments and binding media, is housed at the Fogg Museum of Harvard University. Samples from the Gettens Collection form a part of a collection of pigments and binding media that is housed in the Getty Conservation Institute's scientific department. Samples are still actively being collected.
The Dard Hunter Paper Museum is a collection of materials related to the history of paper and papermaking, currently located at the Institute of Paper Science and Technology. A new facility for the Institute is currently under construction which will also house the new museum.
Botanical gardens and herbaria contain samples of the foliage and seeds of plants and will sometimes also contain artifacts made from plants, gums, resins and other plant-based substances. The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, is the most famous.
Kew was founded in l772. Its first director was Sir Joseph Banks, who accompanied Captain Cook as the ship's naturalist on Cook's first voyage. Sir Joseph initiated the practice of sending botanists all over the world in pursuit of plants of economic, scientific or horticultural interest.
Recently, the Joseph Banks building was completed to house the Economic Botany collection and library. The collection contains specimens collected since Kew's inception. Botanical discoveries were of enormous commercial importance to the British empire, and the search for new dyes, paints or any material of commercial importance was vigorously pursued. Kew is the leading institution of this kind in the world.
Natural history museums of all types contain collections of plant, animal and mineral material that can help to elucidate the use of natural resources in the manufacture of artifacts.
Understanding of the context in which an artifact was created is critical to understanding the artifact and to a successful preservation plan or conservation treatment. Understanding and respecting the material also makes the work far more interesting.
Defining a methodology for bibliographic research in the field of conservation must be guided by an emphasis appropriate to the object or material that the researcher is investigating. There are so many different topics possible that the topic must always dictate where the researcher looks for bibliographic information. During this process, it becomes apparent that perhaps the most important use of the information the researcher finds is in creating a context in which to view artifacts. Bibliographic research will not always yield a concrete answer, but the inability to find an answer can be extremely important, in itself, as a means of defining an area where research is needed.
While the use of secondary sources is a standard research procedure, experience in working with primary source material has made me aware how an incorrect reading of this material can lead to the endless repetition of errors and misinterpretations. The usefulness of primary source material in research concerning the works of Western artists has been amply demonstrated. The potential for the use of primary source material concerning artifacts of other cultures remains largely unexplored. The potential for using the actual records of anthropologists and archaeologists in documenting the manufacture and subsequent history of artifacts appears to be excellent.
Collections of reference samples in museums and botanical gardens constitute an irreplaceable resource for research of all types. Scientific analysis of some of these substances has only begun, and the matching of this data to analytical information derived from analysis of artifacts is yet to be done in a systematic way. Historically, analytical information on these substances derives from methods that use sample sizes that are too large to be acceptable for the analysis of artifacts. Recent advances in technology make impossible to use smaller samples or non- destructive methods of analysis. Further advances may make it possible to form compilations of analytical data from these reference collections that could then be used to compare with data derived from the analysis of objects. This may permit positive identifications of materials, information which could be used in determining authenticity, making treatment decisions or determining storage conditions. Compilations of this data could then be published as a standard reference source.
I am indebted to many people who very generously provided me with information. Among these are Jessica Brown, Eric Hansen, Paula Volent, Toby Raphael, Kevin Mulroy and Nancy Jackson of the Gene Autry Museum. Much of the material concerning primary sources was discovered by the staff of the former Archives of the History of Art while formulating exhibitions at the Getty Center.Mitchell Hearns Bishop, Research Assistant