January 200X Volume 24 Number 1

President's Letter

J. Claire Dean

I am not the first WAAC President to point out that one of the most daunting tasks of the office is the writing of the "President's Letter". A quick look back at past volumes (also an old tactic admittedly used by many past presidents) reveals various strategies for finding additional words to add to the thank you's, annual meeting announcements, election pleas and other such necessities of each letter. One of the more memorable and most mentioned tactics was Pauline Mohr's accounts of the books she was reading at the time of writing.

Although imitation is said to be the most sincere form of flattery, I couldn't use that one if I wanted to. These days it seems to take me the best part of at least 6 months to get through a bedtime book as sleep invariably descends within minutes of cracking the cover. This has nothing to do with the quality of the literature I have at hand, but everything to do with simply being too tired to read.

With my work patterns, the most obvious tack for me would be to find the oddest place from which to write each letter (past president John Griswold and I have been indulging in a variation of this game for several years involving cell phone calls to each other resulting in many amusing moments). At first glance this is a rather self-promoting approach, even if it truly reflects my regular way of working. But with a second look I think it helps underline the importance of what all conservators do, regardless—and often in spite of—the places we choose to toil in.

Belief systems and cultural property form the frame around which groups of people create their sense of personal and global identity. All cultural property, whether judged to be good or bad, and regardless of its form (be it literature, poetry, dance, music, theatre, language, or its physical manifestations of artifacts and structures), is an outward key to a people's sense of "being". Without it otherwise distinct cultures are forced to exist without identity, purpose, or meaning—a fact that has been used in the past and present by one culture to oppress, and potentially eliminate another.

As I write the notes for this letter I am sitting in the middle of a dusty, hot plain in central South Africa, sharing my lunchtime with an ever present hot wind, a few flies, some snakes and several hundred petroglyphs created by this land's first inhabitants, the Bushman or San. It is post-apartheid South Africa and yet even here in a country rightly revered globally for its progress, racial injustice is still a daily occurrence. I am acutely aware of the inhabitants of the Bushman township, only a handful of miles away, that now own this site and plan to move here in the near future. With luck this will be an improvement on the "temporary"tent-city where they were forcibly settled over eleven years ago by the apartheid regime, and in which they still live with no improvement despite a new government.

Meanwhile I am also sitting in the midst of the aftermath of September 11th, 2001 and beyond this spot people in New York continue to pick up their pieces, a war rages in the shell of Afghanistan, and on and on it goes. As conservators we should understand and be proud of the fact that the fragments we gather and the repairs we do are in the long run as important to the recovery of humankind as any other relief work. We help restore and retain human identity and dignity, and with luck we can also help promote tolerance and respect. A rather grandiose idea? You bet, but one I hold to be true and part and parcel of our jobs.

And now to the necessities: Huge thanks and congratulations are due to retiring President Marc Harnly for his tour of duty and for organizing a terrific meeting in Los Angeles. The setting of the Getty Center was uniquely stunning and for those members that had not yet had the opportunity to visit the new facility, the gathering served a double purpose. Marc would be the first to tell you that the success of the meeting was due in no small part to the work of our out going Secretary, Teruko Burrell, who throughout her year in office never failed to make sure things happened in the way we all wish they would as a matter of natural course. Thank you to out going Members at Large, Camilla Van Vooren and Holly Anderson for their service and invaluable input, especially Holly who stepped into the breach to complete the term of Ulrich Birkmaier who resigned earlier in the year due to relocation to the east coast. We are also grateful to Ulrich for the time he was able to give to the organization. Last but never least, I would also like to thank our Treasurer, Chris Stavroudis, for yet another year of service. Every past President and Board member will tell you that without him we would fall off the rails at numerous points along the track.

The recent WAAC election took place with relative ease. After assembling what the Nominating Committee (Debbie Evans, Roz Westmorland and myself) felt was an excellent and diverse slate, I am glad to say that the voter turnout was good and the voting very close. As a result, on behalf of the Board and membership, I am delighted to welcome Mitchell Hearns Bishop as Vice President, and Jane Hutchins and Molly Lambert as our two new Members at Large. Many thanks to the Nominating Committee and to all the candidates, plus a special word of appreciation to those who were unsuccessful this time round. No candidate was left in the dust as far as votes went, which means that all of you were considered by the membership to be up to the task. Please consider running again in the future. I'd like to ask everyone to remember that WAAC relies on its members to step up and take a turn at helping to run the show. It is your association after all. Later this year when the nomination form goes out again, please consider nominating a colleague or yourself for one of the posts.

Also new to the Board for this year is Hiawatha Johnson who fills the post of Secretary and will be crucial in helping me with the planning of this year's annual gathering. The 2002 meeting will be held in Portland, Oregon, starting with an opening social event the evening of Sunday 6th October. The exact details are obviously not yet finalized but I am happy to report that arrangements are well underway.

Portland is well served by most major airlines and the airport is a short drive or cab ride from downtown. We are also blessed with great public transportation, including a light rail line, known as "the MAX", that now runs from the airport to within two blocks of the intended conference hotel for a small fee. An added convenience is the area served by MAX known as "Fareless Square". This section of the system covers the general downtown area and part of the east bank of the Willamette River, opposite downtown, and travel within this area is free.

We are close to securing rooms at the Paramount Hotel in the heart of downtown Portland, and at rates that are extremely reasonable for its central location. Although the Paramount does have parking, there is a daily fee for this facility and members should be aware that in general parking in the downtown area is tough, so you will be encouraged to use public transportation. We are still looking for a suitable place to present papers, but have several options at hand. These include the Portland Art Museum (provided planned renovations to the building are completed before our meeting dates as we do not want to be competing with the buzz of power tools or worse), various historic churches, and spaces on the Portland State University campus—all within easy walking distance of the hotel.

Besides the usual sessions of papers and regular social gatherings (the annual banquet may be a floating one), we are hoping to introduce a couple of new events with a community outreach focus. Of course we will also need lots of great papers, so start thinking about a possible contribution, and if you have questions please feel free to contact me at any time. A prosperous and peaceful New Year to one and all!

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