Volume 16, Number 2, May 1994, pp.21-22

Conference Reviews

Mary Piper Hough, column editor

Two conferences are reviewed in this article:

  1. Dry-Cleaning Theory and Techniques for Textile Conservators, January 8-9, 1994, Sacramento, California. Review by Denise Krieger Migdail.
  2. College Art Association, February 1994, New York City. Review by Aneta Zebala.

Dry-Cleaning Theory and Techniques for Textile Conservators

January 8 - 9, 1994
Sacramento, CA

On January 8 and 9, 1994, a group gathered at Rytina Fine Cleaners and Launderers in Sacramento for a Dry Cleaning course conducted by William Seitz, President of the New York School of Dry Cleaning. The course, coordinated by Sarah Gates of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, covered the theory and techniques of dry cleaning and was aimed at addressing the needs of textile conservators.

The weekend was divided into two day-long sessions. The first day examined basic theory, covering fundamental stain removal methods, standardized stain groupings, stain removal procedures and their related chemicals. The second was a day of review and discussion of bleaching techniques. The afternoon of the second day was spent with a hands-on demonstration of spotting techniques. The participants watched as Mr. Seitz removed an assortment of stains from contemporary, pre-stained fabric swatches while using a conventional spotting board.

Once the experimentation progressed to more fragile samples brought in by course members, it became clear that standard spotting techniques must be adapted to be of use to the conservator. The intense pressure of the air-and-steam gun readily abrades and distorts aged fabric, and not all of the chemicals commonly used by the commercial cleaners are considered appropriate for use on tender historic materials. The use of many dry cleaning agents also raises questions of health and safety. Read the Material Safety Data Sheets! Most of this stuff is not good for you. If the MSDS does not scare you away from treatment, make certain that you have proper ventilation (there are legal issues regarding emissions as well). Many dry cleaning facilities may consider allowing you to use their space or spotting board for small projects.

At the end of the weekend it was agreed that while dry cleaning had applications within the field of textile conservation, gentler methods of spotting should be investigated. Mr. Seitz pronounced Rytina, the host institution, a state of the art facility, one of the best in the country. He informed all participants that they would be receiving a certificate from the New York School of Drycleaning for passing the course.

For further information on dry cleaning techniques, you may contact the Neighborhood Cleaners Association (NCA) at 252 West 29th Street, New York, New York 10001, (212) 967-3002. If in need of a good drycleaners, Rytina comes highly recommended. Their machines are capable of regulating the amount of solvent, the length of cycle, and the degree of agitation. In addition, they have an excellent support staff, including a very experienced fabric care specialist. Rytina is located at 630 Fulton Avenue, Sacramento, CA 95825, (916) 485-4700.

Denise Krieger Migdail
Textile Conservator in private practice
San Francisco, California

College Art Association

February 1994
New York City

The 82nd Annual Conference of the association presented a rich and demanding program of papers from "Cosmology and Art in the Pre-Columbian Americas" to "Internet and the Arts" and "The 4 'Cs' of Public Art: Collaboration, Cooperation, Quality [sic] and Calamity, or, When the Community Becomes the Enemy and Why." The simultaneity of all these panels made it impossible to attend but a few.

An interesting panel titled "Artist's Intent as an Issue in Conservation and Art History" and chaired by Jim Coddington was held during the first day of the conference. Several professionals spoke on this topic from a variety of perspectives. Three papers were given by conservators. Joyce Hill Stoner, Winterthur, University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation, spoke on "Heuristics in Whistler's Brushwork and Technique", and concentrated on the in-depth description of the palette knife technique in "The White Girl", 1862, coupled with the historical circumstances of the period. Michael Panhorst, Fredericks Sculpture Gallery, Saginaw Valley State University, spoke about "Artist's Intent for Outdoor Bronze Sculptures in the United States". In view of increased conservation efforts in private and public collections and lack of reliable information about the original appearance of individual works, he focused on those instances where information on the intent is available. Discussion followed on recent efforts to restore monumental statuary and on the developments of new technologies and materials. Mark Stevenson, a private conservator in Princeton, spoke about "Restorer's Intent: The Role of Theory in Historic Print Restoration Practices". His was an approach to evaluate antique restorations as divided into three restoration traditions: collector, domestic, and artistic.

One of the remaining two papers was given by an independent scholar from New York, Pepe Carmel, on "Cubism: Visions and Revisions", addressing the issue of reworkings of the painting surface, and the cubist's rejection of varnish for the sake of texture visibility. Kimberly Davenport, a curator at the Wadsworth Atheneum, addressed the oeuvres of Duane Hanson and Sol LeWitt, among others, in her paper, "Time and Intent in Contemporary Art". Hanson's suggestion that his "works remain current rather than become period pieces, by being re-dressed in contemporary clothes" does not begin to illustrate the complexity of the issue at hand. K. Davenport summarizes the panel succinctly in these words: "A rigorous methodology to determine intent is, therefore, inseparable from an equally correct judgment about the enduring authority of that intent". All the papers were thorough and very well illustrated.

Another panel titled "Authenticity in Art History" seems of particular relevance to our field. It was chaired by Philippe de Montebello and addressed the question of whether, or how far, conclusions are being drawn about works of art based on false attributions, incorrect datings, or misunderstood condition. Among the distinguished speakers were Jonathan Brown, Institute of Fine Arts at NYU, Ann Sutherland Harris, University of Pittsburgh, and Hank van Os, from the Rijksmuseum.

Participation by conservators was not visible and I hope that we will better represent our profession at the next annual CAA conference, which will be held in San Antonio, Texas, in January 25-28, 1995. James Coddington will again chair a panel specifically focused on artist's intent, i.e. it is worth going to. For further information, you may contact the College Art Association, 275 7th Avenue, New York, New York 10001, (212) 691-1051.

Aneta Zebala
Painting Conservator in private practice
Santa Monica, California

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