Volume 16, Number 3, Sept 1994, p.5
Douglas Adams died in an automobile accident on May 20, 1994. The following are some memories of him.
I had heard from my colleague, Jim Druzik, while we both worked at the Norton Simon Museum in 1978 that somebody may actually be trying to start a business in the U.S. that would attempt to put under one roof many of the specialty supplies that we currently had to order from various sources, especially from abroad. This seemed too good to be true. For some time the specter of dealing in foreign currency (monetary and electrical) and customs forms for a product that may not live up to published claims had been a real handicap for many of us. One day the phone rang and a large, congenial and slightly nasal sounding male voice with the lilt of a salesman yet the sincerity of a research scientist began asking all kinds of questions about our needs for products as conservators. After about an hour of this, including more information about his past and present life experiences than one normally gets from a first encounter, I felt sure that if anyone could make a business like this go, it would be Doug Adams. And it would be because of the passion I could feel exuding from him, even over the phone. In fact, Doug said that the field of art conservation had an attraction to him because of the similar passion he could hear in the voices of the conservators he had talked to. This, he said, was sadly lacking in most industries.
Two instances having nothing directly to do with conservation stick in my mind whenever I have thoughts of Doug. One concerned his role as a potential 80's parent. Seems he came from the "father-to-be in the waiting room" school. Though I have no problem with this, I had recently chosen the path of more active involvement and I put a bug in his ear. Forever after, listening to him talk about his kids, it was clear that he'd taken to it wholeheartedly. The other instance involved his security device for the van that carried all those goodies to the various meetings. Walking through the parking lot on my back to the hotel in Cincinnati in 1989, I happened to observe a person rather suspiciously opening the door of a van nearby. As I paused in my momentary panic of deciding what to do, I heard a very loud noise from the van and the man literally flew out the door, slamming it behind him and disappearing rather quickly from the lot. Nearing the van I saw the source of the noise. It was Joska, Doug and Dorothy's very large Hungarian sheepdog. Later when I told Doug about it, he roared with laughter.
And so it was these qualities that I came to associate with Doug over the years: a good business sense, a concern for the client as a fellow human being and professional, a robust (and sometimes ribald) sense of humor, and an unending passion for whatever he was doing. If he chose to do it, he would succeed and be happy at the same time. We should indeed celebrate such things.
Anyone who has dealt with Conservation Materials remembers Doug Adams. He was friend to a great many conservators. His easy laugh, his broad knowledge and interests, his love of our profession, and his personal warmth are enough for us all to remember him by.
But of course, there is more. Douglas, Dorothy and Conservation Materials, Ltd. changed conservation in the United States. I remember the old days when most of the discussions between conservators were not about subtleties of treatment, nuances of surface or other arcana. All we talked about was "what are you using and where did you get it?" These discussions were enjoyable � supplier info was embellished with stories which had all the intrigue of a detective novel, but they weren't very professional.
Douglas and Dorothy bought the extant Conservation Materials in 1978. Their combined experience in retail and marketing (Dorothy) and chemistry and chemical engineering (Doug's Masters from the Illinois Institute of Technology) enabled them to build Conservation Materials, Ltd., into the institution we rely upon today. Beyond that, I believe that without Douglas' personal commitment our profession wouldn't have evolved, matured, to what we today recognize as conservation.
Douglas was always interested in new developments in conservation research and practice. Over the last few years, he and I had numerous long and enjoyable discussions about the new techniques for cleaning paintings. Most recently, we were discussing a substitute for the costly and difficult to obtain triammonium citrate used to surface clean paintings. We agreed that my idea was valid and worth writing up, but I kept procrastinating, not wanting to deal with the math and the ionic equilibria equations. Every month or two I would get a phone call, an enjoyable chat about current events in conservation, and somewhere in the midst of it a gentle reminder that I should get to work.
I will miss those conversations profoundly.
When Conservation Materials Ltd. was born in the 1970's I was working at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California. Doug was just building the business then and eager to know what conservators wanted. I think we talked weekly, sometimes daily, about materials and methods. It seemed like every time I'd mention some odd piece of chemistry, it turned out he had worked for a company, in some former reincarnation, that had made it or something damn close to it. It's odd to see comments in his catalogue that I made a decade ago.
Doug was always helpful in supplying things even if they ultimately represented questionable business expansions. Some of these real losers still stick out in the catalogue, others have mercifully disappeared. Someone else can talk about the WAAC Labels but I take the blame for n-methyl-2-pyrrolidinone (Cat. # 9885-032 and -128).
I was then working for Victoria Blyth-Hill at LACMA. The Armand Hammer Foundation had just purchased a last remaining manuscript by Leonardo di Vinci and Dr. Hammer wanted it disbound and mounted so the illustrations and text could be viewed recto/verso. He brought Michael Warnes, paper conservator to the Queen of England, to Los Angeles to supervise the treatments. At some point he brought up this miracle organic solvent for starch paste that Eric Harding had published in 1977. I was immediately on the "horn" to Doug. I don't know how much Doug purchased but we got a gallon from him and it worked magnificently on our experimental samples. Regrettably, we never had a real opportunity to use it and, evidently, neither did anyone else. Guilt ridden, I ordered another gallon or two in after years, having the singular distinction of being the only customer he ever had for it. (I purchased a lifetime supply of WAAC labels for the same reason.) My shame at having coaxed Doug into buying all that n-methyl-2-pyrrolidinone has been assuaged by Richard Wolbers' incorporating it in his formulations albeit the stuff will now only leak away in milliliters, not gallons.
I established a relationship with Conservation Materials Ltd. in the fall of 1978 and it wasn't long afterwards that my friendship with Doug and Dorothy Adams ensued. It is difficult to separate out Doug from Dorothy, as the two remain twined together whenever I try to think of either individually. They both determined the type of service Conservation Materials would provide the conservation profession and jointly they attended to our needs and wants. Doug, however, was the one with whom I had regular contact. I got in the habit of placing my orders by phone so that we could keep in touch with each other's news. I'd picture him leaning back in his chair as we wended our conversation around a variety of subjects: rural living, family psychology, extracurricular reading suggestions, general health, and, always, politics. For him being an avowed conservative and me an unrepentant liberal, it was surprising how often we agreed on both the root of various social problems and their solutions.
Professionally, I viewed Doug as a primary resource. Whenever I had a treatment problem, he was the one whom I would inevitably call. As a hub in the wheel of conservation he knew who I should talk to about similar undertakings. He helped me design numerous procedures for projects which fell outside the usual conservation pale. By constantly gathering anecdotal information about materials used in our profession, he gave invaluable advice as to which products to choose for specific situations.
Above all, what came through in my conversations with Doug was his love: his love for conservation and his love for us who are in the profession. This love enveloped our relationship, making me feel important and special because I am a conservator. I know this is his enduring gift to all of us who were fortunate enough to know him. Losing him has left a hole in our field which will not soon be filled.