Materials Working Group
The Materials Selection and Specification Working Group (MWG), formed in 2018, is a community of collection care, conservation, natural and applied science, as well as allied professionals united in developing guidelines and best practices for selecting, evaluating, and disseminating materials used in collection care.
Goals & Objectives
The MWG's goals are to:
- Create a working group of allied professionals representing relevant fields, materials, and institutional types
- Develop a proposal for an approach that will support end users in the selection of materials for long-term collection care.
- Develop a proposal for a resource ‘bank’ that will support and be of interest to the broad spectrum of constituents the MWG intends to serve.
- Identify potential partners with related initiatives within organizations and institutions to support shared goals.
This will be accomplished by:
- Working collaboratively to address the complex nature of materials selection in the field of cultural heritage preservation;
- Identifying and developing best practices in materials selection to advance preventive care in institutions of all types and sizes, locally, nationally, and globally;
- Providing resources relevant to a wide user base to support collection care initiatives involving materials selection;
- Working with related professional groups to further complementary goals in materials selection.
The first meeting of the MWG was held on February 8-9, 2018, sponsored by the Smithsonian’s National Collections Program, Museum Conservation Institute and National Museum of Natural History. Subsequent meetings include:
- November 1-2, 2018, hosted by the American Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
- November 7-8, 2019, hosted by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY. (Read the AIC News summary of the 2019 meeting) and the associated MET International Symposium on the Testing of Materials for Storage and Display of Cultural Heritage
- November 12-13, 2020, virtual meeting
This group developed out of discussions at the 2017 annual meeting of the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections (SPNHC) which focused on effectively making resources available to describe and recommend best practices in choosing materials for storage, transport, and display that suit the required demand and are long-lasting and non-damaging. As discussions proceeded over the next few months, it was quickly realized that many related, parallel efforts were actively pursuing similar goals. Some examples include:
- Conservation and Exhibition Planning: Material Testing for Design, Display, and Packing, sponsored by The Lunder Conservation Center and the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation, 19-20 November, 2015
- The Museum, Archives and Library Materials Working Group held at the Smithsonian Institution, NMNH, 7 March 2016
- The Technical Committee for Materials – Association for Preservation Technology International annual meeting, Ottawa, 13 October, 2017
The MWG proposal for an exploratory group under AIC's Collection Care Network was approved by the AIC Board in May 2018 with a two-year exploratory charge. The MWG will underscore the directive in the AIC's Guidelines for Practice to "recognize the critical importance of preventive conservation as the most effective means of promoting the long-term preservation of cultural property" and further the museum professional’s ability to “select methods and materials that, to the best of current knowledge, do not adversely affect cultural property or its future examination, scientific investigation, treatment, or function”.
At the 2018 inaugural meeting three sub-groups were set up to direct initial activities:
Each subgroup developed a mission statement as well as Short (1-2 years), Medium (3-5 years) and Long-Term (5+years) Goals listed below. The MWG is led by a volunteer Steering Committee chaired by Rebecca Kaczkowski, Museum Conservation Institute, Smithsonian Institution. The point person for each subgroup is listed in Italics below.
Selection & Specifications
Develop an approach (decision-making process) to help end-users in the selection of appropriate materials for use with collections.
The S&S sub-group has further divided to focus on two projects:
1. Best Practices for Exhibition Guidelines
The working group determined that there are two existing that help end-users evaluate materials and make decisions on use. Both require updates and expansion:
- Exhibit Conservation Guidelines (1999, NPS CD-ROM)
- Conservation Standards & Guidelines for Exhibitions Utilizing Museum Collections (2005 FAIC Kress fellowship project - unpublished)
Participants from the MWG are working collaboratively with National Park Service staff to:
- Merge the two texts and adapt them for optimal functionality by integrated them within AIC's wiki platform.
- Update and expand the content, including both general concepts and detailed materials information which will dovetail with the MWG Fact Sheets.
2. Materials Fact Sheets
MWG's Materials Fact Sheets are quick reference sheets with material information relevant to all stakeholders involved in exhibit and storage planning: designers, fabricators, conservators, preparators, scientists, collection managers and more. The Fact Sheets bring together information that is currently scattered among a variety of online resources linking the AIC wiki, Conservation and Art Materials Encyclopedia Online (CAMEO), and Preparation, Art Handling and Collection Care Network (PACCIN) sites to allow users to more easily research materials for use in storage, exhibition and transport.
Fact Sheets are intended to:
- Promote discussion and understanding between colleagues
- Provide practical information for design and construction
- Highlight preservation issues and provide links to more data
- Develop Case Studies that illustrate the process and interaction of the various stages between materials selection and specification.
- Determine and implement best method for obtaining community feedback (develop a listserv, product rating mechanism, etc.).
- Highlight potential research projects.
- Identify and present upcoming trends that impact material selection (sustainability, technology, etc.).
- Educate by identifying topics that the community should understand better when considering specifications (i.e. what to test, when to spec., etc.).
Leadership and Participants
Exhibition Guidelines Leadership
- Carolyn Leckie, Conservator, Canadian Museum of Nature
- Luci Cipera, Conservator, Canadian Museum of Nature
- Theresa Voellinger, Conservator, National Park Service
- Lisa Goldberg, Goldberg Preservation Services, LLC
Materials Fact Sheets Leadership
- Jennifer Bosworth, Exhibitions Conservator, National Museum of Asian Art, Smithsonian
- Jamie Gleason, Exhibits Conservator, National Gallery of Art
- Michele Derek, Scientist Emeritus, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
- Antje Neumann, Supervisory Conservator, National Museum for African American History and Culture
Testing & Standards
Identify and refine methods for evaluating materials and to improve means for their implementation and interpretation for the end-user within the collections care community.
1. Round-Robins for Test Protocol Repeatability Assessing the repeatability of microchemical, Oddy, and volatiles analysis via gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GCMS) by using agreed upon protocols and testing the same materials at different institutions. The first sets of tests were completed in 2019 and were largely in agreement. A second round of tests is underway to address inconsistencies in protocol interpretations and also whether slight variations in materials preparations from the same source batches will lead to appreciable differences in the results. The test protocols being used are:
- Microchemical tests - pH pen, A-D strips, surface gel pH, LoC TAPPI, Beilstein chloride, and lead acetate paper for sulfur
- Oddy tests - British Museum, IMA/Wintherthur, and Metropolitan Museum protocols
- GCMS - solid-phase microextraction (SPME) and direct thermal desorption (DTD) with data from different institutions being compared 1.) traditionally by examining individual chromatographic peak mass spectra, and 2.) by constructing a single weighted-composite mass spectrum from an entire chromatographic run.
2. Updates to materials testing and instrumental analysis fact sheets The AIC’s Wiki pages concerning materials testing, testing protocols and results, and instrumental analysis methods are being updated together with the other MWG subcommittees to provide a wide range of museum professionals with an overview of materials testing, protocol and instrumental details, sample types, applications, and budgetary considerations for nearly all analytical tools used in conservation and conservation science. Case studies will also included.
Short Term Goals
- Identify core group of tests and materials (focus on methodology and protocol rather than results, conduct round-robin testing)
- Update analytic tool information sheets for posting on the MWG wiki
- Determine partnerships - Partner with European and UK groups (e.g. IAQ meeting in Cologne 2018, ASTM, ISO)
- Write case studies – select a few (three to four) materials that are commonly used yet problematic (i.e. give conflicting results – such as polyethylene foam, expanded PVC). Determine how best to discuss and present materials, tests, and results
- Develop standardized protocols for tests
- Coordinate research between labs
- Evaluate low tech vs. high tech methods (increased confidence with increased test levels) and present results
Medium Term Goals
- Continue work on case studies and protocols
- Work with Resources & Dissemination group on how best to present data, information, and interpretation on AIC wiki (or other online platform)
- Determine how best to test interactions between materials
Long Term Goals
- Broaden outreach – develop an international consortium that will expand beyond the existing group
- Work to create a practical guide for end users
Committee Leadership and Participants
- Eric Breitung, Research Scientist, Metropolitan Museum of Art
- Chris Maines, Conservation Scientist, National Gallery of Art
- Catharine Hawks, Museum Conservator, National Museum of Natural History
- Susan Heald, Textile Conservator, National Museum of the American Indian
- Emily Kaplan, Objects Conservator, National Museum of the American Indian
- Julia Sybalsky, Objects Conservation, American Museum of Natural History
- Elena Torok, Associate Conservator, Dallas Museum of Art
Resources & Dissemination
Gather, package, and disseminate data, information, and best practices to aid in choosing materials for storage, exhibition, and transport for the benefit of collecting institutions and cultural heritage communities.
Members of the R&D subgroup develop resources while also working in coordination with the other two subgroups on projects to facilitate sharing their information online. The short term goals of the R&D group have focused on:
1. Surveying the field
- A survey assessing the desired needs and tools of those choosing materials for use with collections was completed in 2018. This work provides a framework to guide development of MWG activities. The survey results were visualized in Tableau for analysis.
2. Developing an initial online presence for MWG content
- Three initiatives have been launched on the AIC wiki:
- The Choosing Materials for Storage, Exhibition & Transport page introduces essential concepts that underpin the work of the MWG
- The Image Gallery of Damages presents images as a visual learning to to demonstrate the damage caused by the use of inappropriate or incompatible materials for the storage, exhibition, and transport of cultural heritage artifacts.
- Content from the National Park Service's 1999 Exhibit Conservation Guidelines was mounted online and is being linked to other MWG content.
3. Gathering citations and references
- An online annotated bibliography is available through Zotero to facilitate research and future reading. New abstracts written by MWG members will be shared with AATA to enhance access to the literature.
While current work is presented on AIC's wiki the R&D group is examining whether a new online resource will be needed to meet the expansive goals of the group. Future goals include:
- Outline a proposed site/resource profile and information architecture for a future online portal/tool
- Develop an estimation of costs, potential funders, income streams and appropriate grant opportunities for funding a new online platform
- Coordinate additional content production as needed
- Create a plan for continued development and sustainability
Committee Leadership and Participants
- Rachael Arenstein, Conservator, A.M. Art Conservation, LLC & e-Editor, American Institute for Conservation
- Lisa Elkin, Chief Registrar and Director of Conservation, American Museum of Natural History
- Lisa Goldberg, Conservator, Goldberg Preservation Services, LLC & Editor, AIC News
- Samantha Springer, Conservator, Art Solutions Lab, LLC
Participants in the MWG Subgroups are continuing their work via virtual meetings, throughout the year. The group plans to continue to meet annually with the next (virtual) meeting scheduled to take place November 12-13, 2020. For more information on the group, how to get involved, or to spread the word on the group's activities, please download the group's flyer.
The best place to start for an overview of the issue is the Choosing Materials for Storage, Exhibition & Transport page. Quick links to other key resources are listed below:
Additionally, the MWG Resources and Dissemination subgroup has created an annotated bibliography on the Zotero platform to collect resources focused on choosing materials for storage, exhibition, and transport, for the benefit of collecting institutions and cultural heritage communities. The library can be found here, and any questions or comments can be addressed to the Zotero administrators via email.
- Materials Testing and Materials Testing Results Tables on the AIC wiki
- Image Gallery of Damage from Improper/Unsuitable Materials
- Mountmaking on the AIC wiki courtesy of the Mountmakers Forum
- Exhibition Standards & Guidelines
- Storage Techniques for Art, Science and History Collections (STASHc) Materials, Tools & Supplies page
- Conservation & Art Materials Encyclopedia Online (CAMEO) by the Museum of Fine Arts Boston
- Preservation Self-Assessment Program (PSAP) by the University of Illinois
- Preparation, Art handling, Collections Care Information Network (PACCIN)
- Image Permanence Institute
- OSCAR: Online Sustainable Conservation Assistance Resource by the Association for Preservation Technology (APT)
- Prēserv'Art by Centre de Conservation Québec
- Users Group for Mass spectrometry and chromatography (MaSC)