One of the things I’m most enjoying about the WAAC Annual Meeting is the variety of the papers that have been presented. I usually attend conferences that focus on my area of specialization or have to pick and choose which talks to go to maybe missing something that could be very interesting or relevant. The other advantage of having such a mix of topics and professionals presenting is that you can get non-conservators presenting about work relating to the preservation of art. We had two talks today from specialists who work with conservators or are interested in the field of conservation. It was great to see them take part in this conference and want to share their work with us. Conservation is a very collaborative discipline and for some of us, working with different experts is not something that is very surprising. It is always helpful, however, to be reminded that this kind of participation in conservation conferences is valuable because we can learn from another area of expertise and see information from a different perspective.
In the morning session, Jamie Hascall, a preparator with the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs, Exhibits Division, presented a talk titled The multipurpose mount: An adjustable support for photography and radiography of fragile Dinetah pottery. A group of Navajo ceramic vessels, that were seized by the Bureau of Land Management, were brought to the conservation department of the New Mexico Dept. of Cultural Affairs for examination and conservation. The vessels were generally intact, though some were damaged and had a few missing areas. What was most interesting about these vessels was that some had been repaired when the vessels were in use. Cracks or broken areas had been reinforced with plant fiber ties and then had some kind of resinous material, thought to be pine resin, applied. The conservators were tasked with documenting the vessels through photography and x-radioagraphy, but because the vessels had a pointed bottom, positioning them for photography was difficult.
Having worked with conservators, Jaime was aware of the needs of the conservators in regards to documentation and the needs of the vessel in terms of stabilization. He worked with the conservators to come up with a mount that would sufficiently support the vessel but be unobtrusive in a photo. He designed an acrylic telescopic stand with a movable arm that inserts into the vessel to hold it in place. A Volara form sits at the end of the insert and expands to support the interior of the vessel. Nylon clips at the base of the stand supports the bottom of the vessel. The stand was made out of acrylic so that it could be used when the vessels were x-rayed and not appear in the xray. Instead of questions at the end of the talk, Jaime and the conference attendees started brain storming about ways to modify the mount if increased support was needed on the bottom or interior (this turned into a discussion about the use of weather balloons!). Jaime mentioned he is working on a book about mountmaking, and after hearing his creative ideas for supporting these vessels, we are all eagerly awaiting it.
In the afternoon session, Michelle Bushey, a chemistry professor at Trinity College, and one of her undergraduate chemistry students, Madeline Corona, presented on a series of interdisciplinary research projects combining art and science in a talk titled Have (XRF) gun, will travel-To museums and historical sites! Interdisciplinary studies at the San Antonio Museum of Art and the Alamo. Like the presentation we heard yesterday by JoAnn Peters, Michelle also teaches a course that introduces undergraduate chemistry students to conservation science. The projects discussed included collaborations with chemists, geologists, curators, conservators, art professors and students. Michelle talked a bit about the course and then Madeline took over to talk about the 3 projects they worked on: the study of markings on Greek pottery, the analysis of a marble sculpture of Antinous, and a study of Spanish colonial pigments at the Alamo. The department was able to purchase a portable XRF unit and used that technique for most of the analysis. Though the work on some of these projects is still ongoing they’ve already obtain some interesting results, such as finding the remains of gilding on the back of the head of the sculpture. This is another great example of the way conservation, art and science come together and can create great collaborative projects between chemists, conservators and museums. This is also a wonderful opportunity to educate students about conservation and chemistry. As a result of her work with Michelle, Madeline has decided to pursue a degree in art conservation.
These two presentations are just a sampling of the types of collaborations that occur in the field of conservation between conservators and other experts. They certainly highlight the interdisciplinary nature of the field. They also illustrate the importance of working with other specialists and the value their expertise has to our work, conservation education and outreach.