Jan 2000 Volume 22 Number 2

WAAC Annual Meeting: Presentation Summaries

The 1999 WAAC Annual Meeting was held November 15 - 16 at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
The papers from the meeting are listed below along with summaries prepared by the speakers

Searching for the Ox: Encounters with Impermanence

John Burke

Like the zen parable of searching for the ox, the objective of my journey as a conservator has changed with every landscape. While many of these changes were personal, they also seemed to coincide with changes in our profession. Looking back, I have images of very different terrains, although the analogy is inaccurate since now they overlap like color separations of a single picture. This presentation will consist of musings about my practice over the past three decades, and thoughts about where we might be going.

At first, there was a dance of surfaces, materials, and methods: the smell of melting shellac, the tint of camwood bark, the texture of gampi tissue, and the elusiveness of gamboge and MS2A. The objective was aesthetic and the methods formulaic, almost alchemical. Then came a romance with deeper consequences and the thermodynamics of aging: blue wool cards, saturated salts, UV and oxygen absorbers, the defeat of soluble nylon, and the ascendance of B-72. Searching for the critical reactant and striving for minimal intervention.

And still the landscape changed (or was it the traveler?). The mantle of preventative conservation was increasingly shared, and the role of conservator expanded. The principles of the single standard and reversi- bility evaporated from the code. Issues of access, repatriation, and use stretched assumptions of ownership. In a digital world, with its multitudes of indistinguishable originals, museums are becoming warehouses of inestimable authenticity. Yet as we speak of the power of the original, there is also power in the replica and the fake. Funding is always limited and what survives reflects our values. If we cannot preserve everything, what do our choices mean for marginalized collections, popular culture, or the third world?

As cultural boundaries expand and overlap, it is clear that cultural stewardship must be increasingly shared. The dilemma of preservation and access can best be resolved through a continual process of negotiation and inclusion. There might not be right answers, only a complexity of possibilities. Simply said, the best goal of contemporary conservation may be to choose the path that preserves the most options.

Systematic Interventions, Unexpected Consequences

Jane Wolff

Like other, smaller artifacts, landscapes change over time. The interventions that people make to control their surroundings cannot stop the evolution of the landscape. On the contrary, they become additional, unpredictable forces for transformation.

The kind of complexity produced by the interaction between natural processes and cultural interventions is evident in Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, where the Great Valley of California drains into the San Francisco Bay. The Delta is the largest tidal estuary on the West Coast. Since the 1860's people have been manipulating it for a variety of ends - agricultural reclamation, water export, flood control, shipping, suburban development, and environmental restoration - but engineering has not stabilized the landscape's fluctuating systems. Instead it has produced unexpected and often extreme consequences that require further action and cannot be reversed.

The Delta is a complicated landscape because of the hybrid evolution of its physical geography and because of the range of demands that society places on it. It is critically important to California's economy and ecology, and its future depends on the negotiation of difficult compromises among its varied constituencies. The most urgent task facing interested parties is to find ways of understanding, inhabiting, and caring for the landscape.

Conservation in the Late Twentieth Century: A Personal View

Glenn Wharton

As part of the discussion on Conservation in the Late Twentieth Century, this presentation will chronicle the changes in my approach to conserving monuments and outdoor sculpture over the course of my career. We have witnessed fundamental changes in our perception of cultural materials in recent years. These changes inevitably influence the ethics and methodology that guide our practice as conservators. In my work with monuments and outdoor sculpture, I have learned to respect deterioration that has occurred through interaction with the environment and through history of use. I have learned to incorporate the original intent of the artist into the conservation process. I have more recently learned to appreciate social, political, and spiritual values that contribute layers of meaning to cultural objects over their history. At times these values are in conflict, which present difficult choices in determining conservation measures. In this multi-vocal environment there are no right answers, only the need for negotiating a thoughtful and inclusive process of decision making.

I will attempt to demonstrate these thoughts with examples from my work, including a project in Hawai'i in which I am currently engaged. I am working with a native Hawaiian community to develop an understanding of their relationship with the sculpture of King Kamehameha which was installed at the place of his birth. The sculpture is the center of cultural life for the community, and offers a window into its past, its connection to the land, and its cultural identity. A local tradition of caring for the sculpture has developed that is in conflict with the artist's original intent. We must decide whether to honor the artist's expression or the local tradition that has altered its appearance. My role is to work as a conservator, an ethnographer, and community organizer to develop a conservation program for the sculpture.

Preserving the Peace
Resolving the Conflict between Exhibition and Conservation

Kevin Brookes, Toby Raphael

Museum exhibition is where the conflicting responsibilities of cultural institutions collide -- the obligation not only to "preserve" collections but to "use" them as well.

Conflict is no stranger to institutions devoted to the collection, preservation, and use of cultural properties. For most of this century, the mandates for preservation and use have been regarded as inherently incompatible. Exhibition planning, as practiced by most museums, has not adequately or methodically incorporated conservation into the exhibit process. Existing procedures rarely have promoted collaboration among museum professionals or produced innovative, balanced solutions.

A successful museum exhibit fulfills its educational intent, is aesthetically engaging, and conscientiously protects the objects on display. The ongoing challenge is to produce exhibitions that systematically integrate preservation into the exhibit planning, design, and fabrication processes. The end result should be a preservation-responsible exhibit that also attracts and informs the public. Despite popular myth, the safe display of cultural material does not need to compromise sound design or informative interpretation.

The National Park Service, together with several exhibit contractors, is working to resolve this exhibit conflict and to reduce museum discord in this area. It has developed a set of guidelines to facilitate the successful incorporation of conservation into the exhibit process. The aim of the guidelines is to educate all exhibit team members on the key preservation issues. These guidelines are not meant to serve as "Exhibition Standards" but rather as a starting point for integrated discussion and dialogue. The guidelines will be presented during the presentation.

Threads of Light: Chinese Embroidery from Suzhou and the Photography of Robert Glenn Ketchum

Jo Hill

The UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History's exhibition entitled Threads of Light displayed the culmination of fifteen years of creative collaboration between the Suzhou Embroidery Research Institute (SERI) in China and the leading landscape photographer Robert Glenn Ketchum. This presentation illustrates the materials and techniques of the fabrication of these complex, highly detailed embroideries showing the images of the natural world -- images captured on film by Ketchum but executed in silk stitchery by the embroiderers of Suzhou. Most remarkable of the textiles are those that are two-sided, diaphanous images incorporating as many as forty types of stitches and up to three hundred hues of silk thread.

Ketchum's vision, combined with the interpretive and technical ingenuity of SERI's embroiderers, led to a highly unusual and productive artistic collaboration. In the words of Ketchum, "...it is about the fusion of embroidery with photographic illusion, a somewhat unorthodox manifestation of my continuing interest in exploring the photographic image-making process, and the integration of textural surface into my photography." Institute Director Zhang Meifang remarks, "The most important thing for me is to combine invention and tradition. You should walk using two legs...every new effort can show the vigor and vitality of this living art."

As part of the preparation of the Fowler exhibition and catalog, Jo Hill traveled twice to China to study Suzhou's embroidery fabrication methods. She also taught basic principles of preservation to the Institute because some of the aspects of the embroideries' complex fabrication have resulted in a more rapid deterioration in recent years.

Separation Anxiety: The Conservation of a 5th-Century Buddhist Ghandaran Manuscript

Susan Batton

Birch bark (bhoja-patra), like palm leaf, was a primary material used in India for writing before the introduction of paper. Like palm leaf manuscripts, most early birch bark manuscripts have been destroyed, but early accounts in ancient Greek literature reveal birch bark's wide usage by Hindus in India at the time of Alexander's invasion. The oldest extant examples date to the 2nd or 3rd century A.D., written with black ink in variants of the Sanskrit (Gupta) script. A recent publication on these manuscripts from the British Library states: "As the Dead Sea Scrolls have changed our understanding of Judaism and early Christianity, so early sets of scroll fragments promise to improve knowledge of the history of Buddhism."

In the fall of 1998, a client brought a birch bark manuscript to my studio for consultation. The elongated leaves were brittle, compressed together, water damaged, and folded into a tight "S" curve, like a wad of dollar bills after the wash cycle. This manuscript was found in the Buddhist Bamiyan cave region in modern Afghanistan, purportedly from the 5th century, and written in the Kharoshti script. The owner's hope was that the manuscript leaves could be opened and separated, a daunting task for the conservator.

This paper will illustrate the history of early birch bark manuscripts, and detail the labyrinthine research process, colleague consultations, conservation treatments, and subsequent translation of this rare manuscript by a UCLA scholar. The translation revealed that the manuscript was actually two books, a well known 30+ leaf sutra, and a previously unpublished seven-leaf Buddhist text of great interest to scholars, now known as the Los Angeles Manuscript. Written in Calligraphic Gupta script, further details of the translation process and importance of this work will be discussed and illustrated.

16th and 17th-Century Rustic Grotto Architecture. Historic Research and Conservation Issues

Leslie Rainer

The rustic garden grotto, as developed in Italy in the 16th century, inspired by the classical Roman nymphaeum, imitated the underground chambers of natural caves thought to be sacred. Roman examples such as those found in the Domus Aurea in Rome, and the House of Neptune and Amphitrite in Herculaneum incorporated artificial grottoes into the villa plan, often featuring mosaics and encrusted shell and stone decoration. This tradition was revived in the 16th century, and remarkable examples survive at Villa Giulia in Rome, the Boboli Gardens in Florence, and Villa d'Este in Tivoli, among others. The grotto was an integral feature of the architectural plan, characteristic of the Italian renaissance garden. The many extant examples of 16th and 17th-century grottoes exhibit diverse and complex decorative schemes. The original materials employed and the techniques of execution combine the encrustation of calcite concretions, pebbles, shells, ornamental plasterwork, mosaic, and bas-relief. Decorative elements consist of grotesque designs, caryatid columns, and sculptures of mythological figures.

Research on the conservation issues of rustic grotto architecture was the topic of a Kress Foundation Rome Prize Fellowship in Conservation and Historic Preservation at the American Academy in Rome. The project combined site visits and research in libraries and archives, material research, and construction of a grotto model using materials and techniques historically employed in the period. The information on extant grottoes was entered into a database created for the survey.

Historic sources provided comparison of the original design with the present condition of the surviving grottoes, and information on those that have been lost. Material research identified the diverse materials used in grottoes of the 16th and 17th-centuries. Mortar tests and sample panels were made to model the grotto using materials available today--calcareous concretions, shells, and decorative pebble paving, laid in a traditional lime based mortar. The scheme was derived from historic treatises and grottoes around Rome.

This paper discusses the findings of the project and addresses the conservation issues of these 16th and 17th-century artificial grottoes, which cross over areas of conservation specialties including stone, plaster, mosaic, paint, and other materials and techniques. Common problems include water infiltration, plant growth, and loss of applied surface decoration, all of which lead to material degradation and structural weakening. On a larger scale, many grottoes and the gardens in which they are found have undergone alterations over time, and, in the worst cases have lost any connection to the villa they originally embellished. There is, however, a growing interest in the conservation of artificial grottoes, and treatments have been carried out on some of the finest examples.

Factors to Be Considered in the Evaluation of a Traditional Lime Plaster Technology: Use of an Aqueous Extract of Nopal (Opuntia spp., Cataceae)

Eric F. Hansen, Susan Baron, Andrew Kindon, Joy Keeney, and Michael Schilling

There has been a renewed interest in the use of nopal in several areas of Latin America and the southwestern United States as a natural organic additive to lime plaster mixtures to "improve" the properties of the final surface layer. The cactus is sliced and stored underwater for several weeks (sometimes initially cooked) and then strained, a very difficult procedure as the resulting liquid is extremely viscous with a strong, annoying odor. This liquid is then either used as is or diluted with water to slake the quicklime. Additionally, the liquid may be used to make a putty with commercial hydrated lime. In both cases, the resulting plaster is believed by some practitioners to be more durable, less prone to cracking, and more water repellant than lime plasters made from commercial hydrated lime and water alone.

Several mechanisms for the observed improvements resulting from the addition of natural organic additives have been suggested in the conservation and building materials literature. These include, but are not limited to, the following: acts as a binder or a glue to prevent dusting; forms a gel which could stabilize sand and lime mixtures until the carbonation process has been completed and the final strength obtained; acts as a water repellant; increases adhesion of the plaster layer; improves workability of the plaster mix; acts as a humectant (slows the drying process); for sugars, increases the solubility of calcium hydroxide in water which may affect the portlandite crystallinity in the lime putty; and allows for polishing-sealing pores.

The reasons for the use of organic additives and implications for conservation applications are being studied at the Getty Conservation Institute as part of a research program evaluating formulations for repair or replacement materials for high-lime (non-hydraulic) mortars, plasters, and stuccos. The chemical and industrial literature and instrumental analysis (gas chromatography-mass spectrometry) of the nopal liquid indicate that it contains a large amount of pectin and various sugars. Further laboratory observations and the initial results of instrumental analysis (X-ray diffraction, scanning electron microscopy and N2 surface area measurements (BET)) of the portlandite in the putty produced by slaking quicklime with nopal extract suggest that both a gel is formed and the particle morphology and size of the portlandite crystals are affected.

These results will be augmented by additional instrumental analysis and the application of ASTM tests to both putty and hardened plaster. The data will be compared with the analysis and testing of plaster made with quicklime slaked with water alone, in order to both elucidate and quantify the effect of the addition of nopal extract.

Conservation of Edward James' Las Pozas Monument

N.J. Bud Goldstone

A conservation team, headed by Bud Goldstone, completed a comprehensive architecture & engineering report (A & E) of Las Pozas in February 1999. Edward James' surrealistic monument, Las Pozas, is located in the rain forest of the Sierra Gorda Mountains near Xilitla, Mexico. A Philadelphia family foundation funded the A & E report which includes a description of the problem, proposed solutions and techniques, costs and a schedule. The study began in December 1997 and the on-site inspection was performed in October 1998.

Goldstone, conservator Zuleyma C. Aguirre and two photographers, though favorably impressed with the beauty of the site and sculptures, were forced to perform on slippery, muddy terrain during an almost constant rain, local electrical power outages, and instrumentation problems caused by the rain and high humidity. The team found damage from fungi, lichen, flooding, mud slides, rock slides, and rusting rebars.

The site surrounds a river with waterfalls West of Tampico, 2,000 feet up in the Sierra Madre range and was expected to contain 32 or 36 sculptures as previously published in reports over the years in the Smithsonian Magazine, Los Angeles Times, Texas Monthly, ArtNews and House and Garden. Even with the unfavorable weather and terrain, the discovery of more than 200, mostly undocumented, sculptures created the largest obstacle to the team.

They identified, photographed, and assessed on-site these unorthodox structures, ranging in height from four to thirty feet. The surface area of the sculptures is estimated at 110,000 square feet with approximately 5,500 cracks. The planned work will be 47,000 hours. Phase One of the A & E Report includes physical repairs and conservation of elements nearest the public road. The structures are named: the Giant Column, Peristle House and its 42 columns, House of Plants and its 32 columns, Homage to Max Ernst, six Utility Columns, the Disco, and Cave to the Disco and Bamboo Wall and its 32 columns. The web site shows part of the truly incredible monument (http://www.junglegossip.com).

The Conservation of Outdoor Murals: Has the Profession Done Enough?

Will Shank

A large, highly visible, outdoor mural in San Francisco's Mission District was recently whitewashed, an act which caused huge public uproar and a lawsuit. Using this case as a starting point, the matter of painted surfaces exposed to the elements will be considered. Has the conservation profession addressed, in any consistent and systematic manner, the matter of contemporary mural paintings and their deterioration? Do standards exist to determine at what point intervention should be undertaken, and by whom? Should we, as professionals, create and control standards for the restoration and/or conservation of these artworks, or are they in some manner intrinsically a "special" case?

The Destruction of Two Architectures?
Large-scale Contemporary Art Deinstallation and Reinstallation

Duane R. Chartier, Susanne E. Friend

This two part paper deals with ethical, aesthetic, and technical issues involved in a large-scale deinstallation and reinstallation of art. These problems are just emerging in developed countries and historic paradigms do not seem to be sufficient to guide contemporary architectural conservation.

History & Ethics: Although architectural conservation has made many strides in countries with an appreciation for historically accurate representation, the situation is considerably different in the United States and developing countries. There are strong tensions between the forces of development and the relatively weak community of those interested in historic preservation. A recent example of the destruction of an entire architectural and public art project by Edward Carson Beall, executed in Huntington Beach, CA in 1972-76, will be used to discuss many thorny issues of public art, architectural conservation, "immovable art," and land redevelopment. This segment of the talk will deal with the historic precedents and some of the legal and technical aspects of the general question of removing "immovable art."

The "Nitty Gritty" - Theory Meets Reality: Despite their best attempts, the Huntington Beach City Council could not negotiate or coerce a sensitive redevelopment of the site. Instead, it was decided to reinstall much of the salvaged art on the exterior of the Civic Center, a Richard Neutra building, thereby changing another work of contemporary architecture in a relatively arbitrary manner. This presentation deals with technical aspects of removal and reinstallation and seeks to present some suggestions for the implementation of approaches and legislation that may help all parties concerned better to deal with such problems in the future.

The Appearance of Weathering Steel Sculpture

W. Patrick Gallagher

The term "weathering steel" designates a family of steel alloys that contain low concentrations of alloying elements that increase the atmospheric corrosion resistance of the steel. The alloy content also significantly increases the tensile strength of the steel. "Cor-ten," a term often used generically for weathering steel, is U. S. Steel's brand name and only one of several proprietary weathering steels.

When unpainted-weathering steel is exposed to atmospheres in which the steel is alternately wet and dried, it becomes covered with a layer consisting of mixed metal oxyhydroxides. This oxyhydroxide film is more adherent and protective than the rust of similar composition that forms on ordinary constructional steels, and it retards the loss of steel due to corrosion in the atmosphere. In circumstances where weathering steel is continuously wet, a protective film is not formed and the steel corrodes as rapidly as ordinary constructional steel.

Sculptors and architects have taken advantage of weathering steel's corrosion resistance, availability, fabricability, and appearance to create many striking and appealing works. Many of these uses of weathering steel have been successful. However, others have inadvertently provided water traps that lead to continuous wetness and excessive corrosion. The color and texture of the film that develops on bare weathering steel depend on a number of factors related to the exposure of the steel. These factors include the length of time that the steel has been exposed, as well as the orientation of surfaces in regard to exposure to wetting and drying influences such as rain, condensation, and the sun's heat. On any one sculpture these factors usually vary significantly, leading to weathering steel exhibiting a variety of appearances on the same work.

Microscopic study and an analysis of the optical properties of the oxyhydroxide film on weathering steel show that the change of color of the film is related to the crystallite morphology of the film. As the film ages its crystallites become more massive. The color changes from the characteristic dull red hues of finely divided iron oxyhydroxide to the specularly reflecting blue of massive forms of the material. Other characteristics of weathering steel's appearance are related to the persistence of active corrosion sites on the steel. Still other variations in appearance are due to the persistence of construction markings and manufacturing scale on the material.

The knowledge of factors that cause the appearance of weathering steel to vary can be used to understand the dependence of its appearance on its exposure history and to determine care and conservation strategies.

The Conservation of Animation Art

Ron Stark

The presentation will begin with a brief overview of the technical production of animated works of art and the animation cel. In contrast to more familiar art forms, the animated feature or short cartoon, and the cels and backgrounds that are used to produce it, generally have no single artist and are produced using the techniques of mass production.

Animation art itself does not represent the artistic product, but is a means to the artistic end: the finished motion picture. These considerations have direct influence on the techniques and ethics of the conservation of animation art. Abstract notions such as artistic intent and originality can be replaced by notions of functionality: for example, could this cel function as was originally intended when made for production? The talk will examine the intersection of the intention, use, and history of the animated cel with the goals of preservation, conservation, and restoration. These special needs mandate the special research, instrumentation, and techniques necessary to treat these works that are very different in so many ways from works of art on paper and conventional paintings.

The Efficacy of Using Boards Containing Zeolites in Passepartout for Works of Art on Paper

Terry T. Schaeffer, Chail Norton, Victoria Blyth-Hill

The ability of zeolite-containing papers and mat boards to remove volatile pollutants such as NO2 from the atmosphere in closed containers, and thereby lessen fading or discoloration of ligneous paper, photographic materials, and colorants on paper, has been demonstrated by the original manufacturer of these conservation materials.

Some framers and collections care professionals have begun to use this matting material routinely as a general preventive conservation measure in framing two-dimensional paper and photographic art. However, conservators have expressed concern for possible unknown effects of long-term storage and display of art objects in sealed configurations in the presence of the zeolites.

The need for use of the specialized, more costly mat board in a museum environment has also been questioned. We have addressed these questions with a long-term investigation, using samples sealed in passepartout as designed by Victoria Blyth-Hill (Book and Paper Group Annual Vol. 10, 1991). The appearance of the samples, as measured by a portable spectrodensitometer, was used as the indicator of change.

Six sets of samples were prepared, three using 100% cotton rag museum board containing Microchamber® zeolites (Alpharag Artcare Museum board from Nielsen & Bainbridge) and three using plain 100% cotton rag board from the same manufacturer. One set of each board was kept in the dark for 15 months. Another set of each board was kept in a north-facing window of the Paper Conservation laboratory for 15 months. The third set of each board was kept in the north-facing window, but opened periodically in order that appearance of the sample materials could be measured. After each measurement, these samples were resealed into the passepartout and replaced in the window. The total exposure time for these samples was also 15 months.

The sample materials used in the passepartout were ISO Blue Wool standard cards, newsprint, 100% cotton rag artists' paper with black oil stick coated onto one-half of the sample, and black and white resin-coated gelatin-silver photographs. The photographs were mounted using PhotoRag board with and without zeolites, from the same manufacturer as the other boards. Erythrosin-dyed, gelatin sized Whatman #1 paper was also used for samples, but because the dye in all the exposed samples bleached almost completely in a few weeks, these samples were not monitored over the 'long-term.'

The appearance of each sample was measured with an X-Rite Model 938 Spectrodensitometer before the sample was originally sealed in the passepartout, and again at the termination of the experiment at the end of summer 1999. No gross differences in appearance between samples matted with the zeolite containing boards and those with the plain mat boards were detected by eye. The data collected with the spectrodensitometer will be presented.

A Partly Non-aqueous Enzymatic Removal of Silk Gauze Linings from Iron Gall Ink Corroded Manuscripts

Dirk Schonbohm

Part of my recent graduate work in paper conservation involved research into the use of solvents in amylase-containing methylcellulose and polyethyloxide poultices, to aid in the removal of silk gauze linings from manuscripts damaged by iron gall ink corrosion. This project included studying the effects of historic silking treatments on iron gall ink and the risks of aqueous treatments in removing these linings.

A number of solvents in enzyme poultices were tested on sample materials and applied in various forms. The goal was to find a poultice structure that avoided the migration of soluble ink products during treatment. Research was undertaken utilizing microscopic photography, accelerated aging, electron microscopy, determination of amylase activity during treatment, and the measurement of amylase residues in the treated samples.

Testing resulted in the development of a technique that successfully removed silk linings from 19th-century parish register manuscripts. In addition, a new testing method was discovered which reveals cellulose degradation by simple means, using an iodine-potassium iodide stained, starch-filled filter paper.

Rebacking Leather Bindings

Dominic Riley

In the British Library there are many beautiful books bound in calf or goat with run-up gilt backs. The craftsmanship displayed by these British Library style regulation bindings is of a level that is almost gone from the trade. However, many of the textblocks are one or two centuries older than their bindings. The books must have been considered important enough to warrant fine new bindings, but the original bindings were themselves simply thrown away. Such practices might still prevail, had it not been for a major disaster that took place thirty years ago in a picturesque Italian town. Since the Florence flood, book restorers have reevaluated the importance of binding structures, and have devised more suitable approaches to the repair and conservation of historical bindings.

The talk will focus on the historical differences between restoration and conservation, paying particular attention to the ways in which restorers can augment their knowledge of craft bookbinding with the use of sound material, chemical and structural techniques pioneered by leaders in the field of conservation over the last thirty years.

The slide presentation will show the conservation treatment of two leather bindings, one eighteenth century "tight back" binding and one late nineteenth century "hollow back" binding. Two different approaches to the restoration of these binding structures serve to illustrate the various techniques currently being practiced by conservators and restorers as they address the challenges of book repair.

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