6.4 2015 Annual Conference Program

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This page is maintained by the Sustainability Committee at the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC). It is intended to provide information about sustainable practices for AIC members, conservation/preservation professionals, and other interested parties within the cultural heritage profession. Please send comments and suggestions to sustainability(at)conservation-us.org.


1.1 Conference Theme and General Information

Theme: Practical Philosophy, or Making Conservation Work

Date and Location: The 43rd Annual AIC Meeting was held in Miami, FL from May 13-16th, 2015

Synopsis: All aspects of conservation, from preventive care to in-painting, include both theory and practice. In most cases, theory supports practice. Nonetheless, conservation professionals are sometimes challenged in their efforts to smoothly meld the two. Many factors, ranging from available resources to questions of public access and politics, can thwart even the best treatment plans and noblest intentions. The transition from what we initially envision as ideal to what we eventually acknowledge as realistic often requires compromise. But, are less than satisfactory outcomes inevitable? Or, can better solutions evolve from necessity? Presentations in the general session and throughout the meeting discussed how philosophical principles can be successfully translated into workable—even superior—practice. Because UNESCO proclaimed 2015 the International Year of Light, the Program Committee selected presentations discussing practical solutions that take advantage of optical technology to examine and preserve cultural heritage. [1]


2.1 The Relevance of Traditional Materials in Modern Conservation

Speakers: Frances Ford, Conservator, Clemson/College of Charleston Graduate Program in Historic Preservation; Brien Beidler, Director of the Bindery and Conservation Space, Charleston Library Society

2.2 Abstract

This paper is written from the perspective of two conservation professionals, in two different fields, and at two different points in their careers, who have both come to the same conclusion regarding some current trends in the Conservation profession. In recent years, there has been an increasingly heavy emphasis on the adoption of new materials, science, and technology in conservation. While the concepts, principles, and methods of science are crucial to bettering the conservator’s understanding of cultural properties, historically the integration of new or synthesized materials in conservation in many cases has proven to be more retroactive than progressive, due to unforeseen and undesirable properties that develop as time passes. Many wonder products of the last few decades have now proven to have insignificant benefits or sometimes harmful effects on the items they were designed to preserve, and many attempts to simulate the aging of new conservation materials have proved to be unreliable. In light of the described conundrum of integrating new materials, this paper is an appeal to the relevance of traditional, or tried and true historic materials and their implications for current conservation practices. It seems more worthwhile to seek out more elegant and non-traditional uses or applications of materials that have proven to be reliable through their survival over the centuries and millennia. To illustrate, the authors will present case studies in their respective fields to demonstrate both how in the past the eager adoption of wonder products or technologies can cause future issues and harm the artifact, and also how traditional materials may be used in a non-intuitive way to successfully and elegantly treat and preserve the damaged item. Frances will be discussing cements and grouts and the damage it has inflicted on various works of stone in her field, where as Brien will cover how traditional Japanese paper has been successfully used for leather hinge AIC Annual Meeting 2015 Abstracts12repair on books for two and a half decades. Furthermore, many of the tests and techniques being developed in various institutions seem to be very limited in relevance in that they employ advanced and oftentimes very expensive technologies or hazardous materials that are not readily accessible to many practitioners in a regular field setting. What makes conservation such a unique field is that it inherently has a practical goal: the preservation of cultural property for the future. It is not a science for science’s sake; its principles and methods are necessarily applied to further the conservator’s understanding of the artifact so that they may make a more informed decision regarding the treatment or storage of it. This is not to say that these are not worthwhile endeavors, just that perhaps there should be a heavier emphasis on practical and affordable “field-friendly” means of testing and conserving historic materials that would better equip a larger group of practitioners with the means to successfully and safely preserve our cultural property.


3.1 Conscientious Conservation: The Application of Green Chemistry Principles to Sustainable Conservation Practice

Speakers: Jan Dariusz Cutajar, Grad Student/Presenter, University College London Institute of Archaeology

3.2 Abstract

Our tangible heritage is exposed to an increasing number of climate and pollution-related risks, which threatens its integrity and values. A primary means of mitigating against this involves subscribing to the concept of sustainability, which has its concerns rooted in the balance of relationships between society and the environment. There is still much work to be done in incorporating environmentally sustainable practices within the conservation field. Nevertheless, there do exist parallel streams of research which may serve as a guiding foundation to achieve successful implementation. In light of this, this study has attempted to apply one such stream, green chemistry, to conservation laboratory practice, with an emphasis on the safe use of chemicals. In doing so, it proposes an adapted set of green chemistry principles to be applied in the conservation laboratory that may be summarized by the proposed mnemonic, TO CONSERVE. The talk shall introduce the mnemonic and its underlying principles and further demonstrate that a green chemistry approach to conservation is viable due to a great overlap of common interests and working environments. It is also beneficial in reducing waste generation, exposure to chemical hazards, and impact on the environment. A survey was launched to qualitatively assess how ingrained such environmentally sustainable practices are across three professional sectors, i.e. heritage institutions, private practice, and university laboratories. Results, which shall be presented, indicate that, despite several obstacles (namely, cost concerns, lack of time, and lack of resources), conservators possess an overall marked awareness of the consequences of chemical use on environmental sustainability. Ultimately, further improvements will require stronger communication of sustain-ability principles and a cohesive change in attitude and habits.


4.1 The How and Why for Reusing Rare Earth Magnets

Speakers: Gwen Spicer, Spicer Art Conservation, LLC

4.2 Abstract

The use of rare earth magnets has grown in popularity among art conservators, particularly for mounting. The small size-to-strength ratio of magnets has allowed them to be adapted to solve many formerly challenging tasks. Rare earth magnets, Samarium and Neodymium are the latest two to be developed. However, in the last decade the neodymium rare earth magnet, the most commonly used in the conservation field, has gone from an inexpensive material to one that has become more expensive. In addition, some environmental issues have come to light in the last few years. Compared to the electronics and automotive industry, conservators are minor consumer of these magnets, however we as a community need to understand their impact in our world. This talk will briefly discuss the environmental issues of mining of the rare earths, as well as the effect of China’s monopoly on trade. This will serve as an introduction to the need in the field to create / develop mounting systems that reuse magnets. The talk will give a few examples of basic magnet systems to be used for mounting, display, or storage. More complex systems can be developed from this basic knowledge. The importance of proper care of rare earth magnets will also be discussed in order to ensure their long life.


5.1 An Investigation and Implementation of the Use of Sustainable and Reusable Materials to Replace Traditional Wood Crates

Speakers: Kevin Gallup, Owner, Studio 3D; Burrus Harlow, Director of Collections, Yale University

5.2 Abstract

Modern materials that are made from recycled or re-purposed materials, and are recyclable or are reusable in the construction of archival quality crating systems for the museum industry have been sought after for some time. At the same time, the use of these materials would need to possess an improvement over the standard construction techniques in performance and pricing in order to be embraced by the museum industry. The traditional method of construction for such crating systems has generally been made from wood and built to be object-specific. These crates have settled into a standard construction style and performance. The object specific size of the crates reduces the ability to reuse the crate as objects are varied in size and the construction technique of the traditional wood crates does not allow for the crates to be easily modified to accommodate these different sized objects. While there have been attempts to store used crates and re-purpose them, they are generally destroyed after General Session - Three Tracks13their purpose is complete as storage can be problematic. This short lifespan creates an economic situation where features in the crate design that would improve the performance and ease of handling become cost prohibitive for single use applications. Yale University began an investigation to integrate a crating system within their institution that would be a modular and reusable system that would overcome the problems of traditional crate designs. The use of sustainable materials in the construction of the crates would be a priority as well as increasing a crate’s performance. These features as well as decreasing the costs of the crates were the goals of this investigation. The investigation led to variations of types of materials used in crate construction and testing of materials to evaluate performance based on established criteria of the museum industry and found a crating system that would achieve these goals. There were many factors to take into account to obtain an accept-able system. Availability and price of materials, construction techniques, compatibility of materials, and the unique archival material requirements the museum industry requires are some of the features of the crating system that had to work together to produce a crate design. The fabrication and creation of the parts within the design would need to be obtainable either by utilizing their own facility in making the parts or having the parts being able to be made locally. This system would need to be easily put together utilizing as many common parts as possible and thus reducing the size and complexity of the system. The purpose of this presentation and documentation will provide the details of the investigation of material use, design considerations, and quantitative analysis of the performance of this crating system that were discovered during this investigative process. The results will show that a superior crating system can be made from recyclable and reusable materials that perform better that traditional methods and reduce costs.


6.1 Sustaining Georgia’s Historical Records: NEH Sustaining Cultural Heritage Collections Implementation Grant at the Georgia Archives

Kim Norman, Conservator, Georgia Archives; Adam Parnell, Assistant Director of Operations, Georgia Archives

6.2 Abstract

Who knew that state budget cuts and scheduled system shutdowns in our building would lead us to the AIC Annual Meeting? In 2011, the Georgia Archives was awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant to expand the energy saving measures initiated during the previous two years. The Archives proposed to update and further automate the heating ventilation air conditioning system (HVAC), upgrade lighting in the exhibit gallery, research library, and original document reading area, as well as recommission the building HVAC system. The fundamental goals of the project were to continue to maintain a preservation environment that provides the best possible conditions for the permanent storage of the state historical records with the least possible consumption of energy, and continue to gather data that would inform other cultural organizations undertaking similar projects. With NEH grant support, the project has been a collaborative effort of the Archives facilities, preservation, and administrative teams, placing the institution in a unique position to serve as a model for other organizations striving for sustainable stewardship while balancing pressures to reduce energy usage in their facilities. Through social media, articles, and public presentations, the Archives agreed to disseminate widely the results of this project, both locally and nationally, helping others create sustainable environments for their collections. Georgia is one of the original thirteen colonies, and the Georgia Archives holds a rich collection of colonial and state records, the majority of which are unpublished, original source materials in their original format. Preservation of the permanent records of Georgia’s government is integral to the mission of the Georgia Archives, and dates back to the 1940’s. Today, the Archives preservation staff participates in state, regional, and national preservation initiatives, regularly working with emergency management and responding to disasters that may affect state records. In 2003, the Georgia Archives opened its doors to the public in what is the fourth facility of the organization since its inception in 1918. The building is located about twenty miles south of Atlanta, neighboring the southeastern branch of the National Archives and adjacent to Clayton State University. The highest priority of the new building design required it to be an archival facility that met current standards, providing a high level of security and environmental protection for the state records. The mechanical system of the Archives building is a complex, multi-zoned, constant air and variable volume HVAC system. It includes eight air-handlers, two chillers, and desiccant dehumidification systems to combat the high humidity prevalent in the Southeast. With collection preservation as the top design priority of the new building, specifications required environmental conditions that could be constantly monitored to meet these heavy demands. Given this, it became difficult to economize the function of this system, resulting in substantial and often unnecessary energy consumption, excessive costs both monetarily and environmentally. Because dehumidification and constant volume were the principal design objectives of the HVAC system, sustainability was not the primary concern during the building construction. Georgia Archives staff anticipated that the early energy saving measures would continue to increase as plans outlined in the NEH grant proposal were implemented. These savings were documented through environmental monitoring of the conditions as well as the tracking of electric and natural gas usage. It was well-understood that many other institutions may be facing similar circumstances, forced to balance the conflicting signals of reducing operational costs while striving to protect collections. Believing that others would benefit from the Georgia Archives grant project and ability to demonstrate such measures with this outlined systematic approach, the ongoing collection of empirical evidence would help justify implementation of similar strategies for other organizations.