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Patience is a virtue when Conservation is the goal: “The Ozette Village”

February 26th, 2015
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Patience is a virtue when Conservation is the goal: “The Ozette Village”

Lori Kay Gross

          As archaeologists we have all learned the delicate and deliberate methods of excavation, recovery and cataloging of artifacts. Time limitations, Mother Nature and funding often dictate the methods of excavation creating a dilemma between archaeologists and conservators.   The Ozette Village is an example where conservators and archaeologists worked as a team to preserve one of the most extensive collections of artifacts through careful excavation utilizing unusual yet appropriate methods to ensure maximum preservation in a challenging environment.

The Pacific Northwest is rich in archaeological discoveries. Among these discoveries is a particularly interesting archaeological site located on the northern tip of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. This site, nestled on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, represents one of the most important North American archaeological sites. The significance of this site is demonstrated by the large number of artifacts recovered their unprecedented preservation and is often referred to as ‘A North American Pompeii’ (Steury 2008). This site is called ‘The Ozette Village’.

This Makah Indian fishing village, occupied from the Middle Pacific to the Early Modern time, was buried by a mud slide in the mid 1700’s, preserving the site and its artifacts nearly unaltered. In the late 1960’s, during a survey of the entire Pacific Coast of Washington, Ozette was identified as an important site by Richard D. Daugherty when he performed a test trench survey revealing radio carbon dating data correlating to approximately 2,000 years ago. He encountered well preserved artifacts which supported its significance but without funding the excavation did not continue. It wasn’t until the early 1970’s, after a series of storms battered the coast that large portions of this ancient village began to emerge (Kirk 2007). The exposure of well-preserved artifacts reignited the interest in saving this important archaeological find and with the support of the modern day Makah Indians and the Washington Archaeological Research Center excavation began (Steury 2008).

Geological evidence and historical records indicate that the most probable cause of the massive mud slide was a 9.0 magnitude earthquake that dislodged a water saturated hill above the village. Although devastating, the composition of the soil contained large amounts of oxygen free clay combined with the water. Excavation findings confirm that these conditions created an up to 10-foot thick clay covering that aided in the preservation of the predominately wooden artifacts. Excavation would require the use of water to continue the careful exposure of the artifacts from the clay and for transportation and final conservation (Daugherty 1977).

Getting the delicate artifacts out of the slide in the first place provided the initial challenge. Most of the wet site was excavated hydraulically. The Ozette archaeologists pumped seawater at various pressures for different stages of excavation. Initial clearing was with high pressure. Once artifacts started to show, lower-pressure garden hoses were used to clean and remove the artifacts. At the end of a nearly eleven year excavation, the artifact inventory exceeded 50,000 items including wooden structural remains, harpoon shafts, hooks, canoe paddles, wooden bowls, whale bones, whetstones, woven baskets and mats (Daugherty 1977).

 

 

Whale Bone Club 2

 

Wood and Whale Bone Fishing Hook

 Photos courtesy of www.makahmuseum.com

 

Many of the artifacts recovered from Ozette are much the same as they were when they were buried. Once they’re exposed to oxygen, however, they begin to get brittle and disintegrate. So everything that came out of the excavation immediately went into a preservative bath of polyethylene glycol which forces the water out, solidifies it and begins the conservation process (Steury 2008).

In reviewing the process and procedures that Richard D. Daugherty followed from his first knowledge of the Ozette village in 1947 through the nearly 40 years of investigation, research and excavation his involvement reveals a very ethical and conscientious archaeologist. Even when faced with this exciting discovery Daugherty knew that disturbing the site before procuring the necessary support could result in artifact decomposition upon exposure.   Although it was certain that this location was rich in artifacts and history his complete evaluation of the site and advanced preparation to ensure the safe and effective recovery was inspiring.

As unique as the Ozette excavation was it also stands apart in that no artifacts from the site left the Makah reservation. Everything discovered is either displayed in the cultural center or stored in a state-of-the-art storage warehouse. The museum is expertly curated and the artifacts are mesmerizing. This is the result of Daugherty’s collaboration with the members of the Makah Nation and his belief that the excavation work should be accessible to the public to participate in the revealing of the collective history of the Ozette Village (Steury 2008).

References

Daugherty, Richard D. The Ozette Archaeological Expedition: A Cooperative Project of Makah Nation, Washington State University, National Park Service, National Science Foundation, Bureau of Indian Affairs. Washington (State): S.n., 1977-. Print.

 

Steury, Tim. “The Home of My Family: Ozette, the Makah’s and Doc Daugherty.” Washington State Magazine (2008): 1-8. Abstract. Print.

 

Kirk, Ruth, and Richard D. Daugherty. Archaeology in Washington. Seattle: University of Washington, 2007. Print.

 

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Warbirds, etc., Part II

February 26th, 2015
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Warbirds, etc., Part II

James Pruitt

            Last blog, I examined the case of two PB2Y Coronado aircraft, and their very different methods of preservation. Both belonged to the US Navy, and the handling of both was legal as defined by the SMCA. Although the restored Coronado at the National Naval Aviation Museum brought up questions about whether it is “right” to erase years of history by restoring an object to like-new condition, the decision to restore it was carefully considered and the restoration expertly completed, and can thus be described as ethical. This post, I will examine the cases of two B-29 Superfortress bombers, and where they fall in the ethical spectrum.

First, however, it is worthwhile discussing restoration as it applies to aircraft. Much like automobiles, restoration of aircraft (especially to flyable condition) is generally undertaken by mechanics as opposed to conservators. A quick internet search for aircraft restoration returns dozens of companies specializing in aircraft repair, maintenance, and restoration. The American Institute for Conservation (AIC) website does not list any conservators with the specialty of “aircraft” (AIC 2015). This leaves the conservation and restoration of aircraft in a gray area—those people who work on aircraft do not seem to be registered with conservation-oriented professional societies (although likely registered with professional societies related to aircraft repair or engineering), and thus may not share the same ethical code we do. This situation is not universal; the United Kingdom-based Institute of Conservation (ICON) Conservation Register lists three companies In the UK that have “professionally qualified conservator-restorers” specializing in aircraft (ICON 2015).

Figure 1_FIFI

Figure 1. B-29 Superfortress FIFI.

Image http://www.airpowersquadron.org/#!b29-schedule/c1yws

            FIFI (Figure 1), the only flying Boeing B-29 Superfortress, is owned and operated by the Commemorative Air Force (CAF, formerly the Confederate Air Force) (CAF Airpower History Tour 2015). The US Air Force, and former Army Air Force, enforces the SMCA quite differently than the US Navy. The USAF declared, “aircraft that crashed before 19 November 1961, and that remain wholly or partially unrecovered, are considered formally abandoned. The AF neither maintains title to, nor has property interest in, these aircraft” (AFI 23-101 2013: 165). This means that groups like the CAF can legally recover or purchase former USAF aircraft. Is the restoration of them ethical, though? FIFI was recovered from the US Navy Proving Ground at China Lake, where it was being used as a missile target (CAF Airpower History Tour 2015). The restoration of this aircraft, and subsequent display through tours and flying shows, certainly brought greater exposure to this rare aircraft. Further, the airshows “allow you to honor the sacrifices of countless men and women who fought and died for our freedoms” (CAF Bombers 2014). This sounds like an honorable, and ethical, cause, and the CAF is chartered as a nonprofit organization (CAF Mission and History 2014). However, they also offer rides in their aircraft at airshows—for a price (ranging from $600 to $1600 for a ride in FIFI). This seems unethical. How can a NPO ethically charge that amount of money to experience something listed as an objective in their charter? Moreover, how is that ethically different than performing conservation work on the Mona Lisa (for which the Louvre Museum charges admission)?

Figure 2_KeeBirdBefore

Figure 2. Kee Bird before recovery efforts, in situ.

Image http://forum.flitetest.com/showthread.php?7046-quot-Kee-Bird-quot-B-29-failed-recovery

            While the case of “rescuing” and restoring FIFI raises ethical concerns about conserving objects that will be used later to raise money, the case of Kee Bird is very different. Kee Bird, another B-29 Superfortress, crash-landed on the Greenland icecap in 1947 after getting lost on a mission (Figure 2). Forgotten to time, a team of mechanics, test pilots, and adventurers set out in 1994 to repair the aircraft in situ to flying condition, fly it out, and later completely restore the plane for a client (PBS Nova 2015). They completely replaced the engines, propellers, and much of the electrical system, making the plane flyable. Then they crashed it (Figure 3). The efforts to recover and restore what would have been the second flyable B-29 in the world resulted in its complete destruction. Ethically, this was a disaster, made more poignant by the fact that it was made by adventurers and warbird hunters. Looking at it in perspective, though, brings up interesting questions. Artifacts are occasionally destroyed by accident on archaeological sites, and not through malice or malpractice by the archaeologists and conservators. Is this different, then? Can all artifacts be successfully recovered, 100% of the time? With great risk comes great reward, but when is the risk of recovering and restoring an artifact greater than the reward?

Ruins of Kee Bird

Figure 3. Kee Bird after recovery efforts.

Image http://forum.flitetest.com/showthread.php?7046-quot-Kee-Bird-quot-B-29-failed-recovery

            These two B-29s highlighted cases that were legal, yet unethical. As conservators, the use of restored items for profit, and the complete destruction of an object through recovery and restoration efforts, seem unacceptable. Are these cases different because those responsible for the restoration were not necessarily conservators but rather mechanics? Is it a difference in fields? Or are they obvious to us because the objects in question, aircraft, are normally outside of the purview of our work; perhaps using examples of artworks, or historical artifacts, would change our viewpoints?

 

References

American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works

2015 AIC. Find a Conservator. http://www.conservation-us.org/membership/find-a-conservator/results/?specialty=05&travel=True&radius=all. Accessed 3 February 2014.

 

Commemorative Air Force

2014 CAF Bombers. http://commemorativeairforce.org/airplanes/91-caf-aircraft/126-caf-bombers#. Accessed 4 February 2015.

2014 CAF Mission and History. http://www.commemorativeairforce.org/aboutus/history. Accessed 4 February 2015.

2015 CAF Airpower History Tour. http://www.airpowersquadron.org/#!history/c66t. Accessed 4 February 2015.

 

Institute of Conservation

2015 ICON Conservation Register. Find a Conservator. http://www.conservationregister.com/PIcon-SpecialismSearch.asp?UserType=1. Accessed 3 February 2015.

 

PBS Nova

2015 B-29: Frozen in Time. http://novabeta.wgbh.org/wgbh/nova/military/b29-frozen.html. Accessed 3 February 2015.

 

United States Air Force

2013 Air Force Instruction 23-101. http://static.e-publishing.af.mil/production/1/af_a4_7/publication/afi23-101/afi23-101.pdf. Accessed 3 February 2014.

 

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Why Archaeologists need Conservators and Conservation Training

February 26th, 2015
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Why Archaeologists need Conservators and Conservation Training

Kathryn Parker

When an archaeologist designs a new field project, they juggle multiple needs and requirements: what is the research objective of the project and how will it be achieved, permitting, transportation, number of volunteers/students, number of staff and specialties and which staff members are needed at the field site. The list seems to go on into eternity. Perhaps one of the most overriding issues faced by all projects, whether purely academic in nature or the ubiquitous “Phase 1 survey” in advance of a construction project, is funding. As all projects have limited funding, all principle investigators (commonly referred to as PIs) must weigh the choices they make in terms of its importance:

  • After permitting, what money is left?
  • How much of this should be used to bring various staff members to the field site and which staff members should only be hired on in a laboratory facility?
  • Can more workers be hired or more students brought in order to excavate a larger area or does the project need to stay smaller?
  • How deep should excavation go and what equipment will be used for this?

One issue that many archaeologists likely consider but may quickly place at the “bottom” of their priorities is the hiring of a conservator. While no archaeologist wants their artifacts to degrade, go unrepaired, or even uncleaned, there are many aspects that they may think make a conservator out of their reach.

The main issue is frequently cost, and many PIs may assume that hiring a trained conservator is out of their reach. While as Siguroardottir (2006) notes that some countries require that a conservator be, at minimum, consulted with, this is not the case in around the world. As a result, many archaeologists must train themselves “on the fly,” when they make a remarkable find, or alternatively call a conservator in a frenzy of excitement and worry. To add to this, few archaeologists receive training in even basic conservation principles. Of twenty-two universities in England and Scandinavia contacted by Siguroardottir (2006), four offered courses in collections, and eight in field conservation techniques. Only one offered a full “unit” at the undergraduate level, another at the postgraduate level, and another offered field conservation as part of a unit at the postgraduate level. Many archaeologists begin professional work after their undergraduate degrees are completed, and may still never learn basic conservation if they continue on to postgraduate work, making this lack of training all the more problematic. The expansion of this training will be slow even if professional organizations such as the American Institute for Conservation were to get behind it with full support, though this expansion is obviously needed. Pearson (1980) was calling for this expansion three decades ago as an essential aspect of training for maritime archaeologists. Despite this, expansion of training has obviously not gone at a rate at which would make this training accessible. As such, archaeologists should at least attempt to consult with a conservator about the expected finds of a site so as to know the possible costs involved of conserving important artifacts.

However, as all archaeologists know, something unplanned always occurs in the course fieldwork. If working at a new site, the PI may have an idea of what artifacts will be found, but with no previous excavation they have a range of possible artifacts to expect. If working at previously documented site, the PI may have anywhere from in depth knowledge of previously excavated artifacts to knowledge only of the location of the site and the estimated time period based on limited finds. This abundance or lack of information can make it difficult to determine the significance of site, or just part of a site, and what might be found in the course of the project. Even sites that we think we know all basic information about can throw a curveball. Unexpected finds can range due to the discovery of a midden full of ritual artifacts to a well-preserved wicker basket in waterlogged site. Through discussion with a trained conservator, the archaeologist can discuss the significance of the item, particularly in the manner that Nason (1987) describes. This can help both the archaeologist and conservator to know which objects are most in need of conservation, and which should have priority. While a rare, ritually important goblet may be fascinating and fit into Nason’s (1987) “inherent significance” (49), wherein the object has an inherent value due to its rarity or raw material, a woven basket of a frequently found type may take priority in its need for conservation, particularly if it is in especially good state of preservation or if other examples have decayed past the point that a conservator could preserve the artifact. Through discussion with the conservator, the archaeologist can prioritize items and the conservator can make known which artifacts would need more intensive treatment, even if its significance is not as intellectually stimulating as another. This process can help to prioritize the funds available for the conservation of the artifacts.

Of course, the best option would be to hire a conservator that comes to the field site for the duration of the project. However, due not only to limited funding, but to the limited number of conservators in the world, this is not possible at all times. Though conservation of an object as soon as it is excavated would be the best option, this is not always possible either. As such, as mentioned before, archaeologists should receive basic training in conservation; particularly how to handle artifacts as they are excavated and how to transport them back to the field house, storage site, or lab. This first step is something that could be taught to trained archaeologists in a seminar setting, either face-to-face with hands on examples, or simply a webinar with visual examples. This would help to ensure that archaeologists can properly store their excavated artifacts, rather than watching them degrade due to preventable causes.

Artifacts found during excavation present archaeologists with intellectual, technical, and financial problems. But with a little extra training, archaeologists can be part of the solution to the preservation of cultural heritage.

 

References

Nason, J., 1987. “The Determination of Significance.” In Material Anthropology, pp. 47-51.

 

Siguroardottir, K., 2006. “Challenges in Conserving Archaeological Collections.” In Of the Past, for the Future: Integrating Archaeology and Conservation, Proceedings of the Conservation Theme at the 5th World Archaeological Congress, Washington, D.C., 22-26 June 2003, edited by Neville Agnew and Janet Bridgland. Getty Conservation Institute Symposium Proceedings Series. Los Angeles: Getty Conservation Institute. 220-223

 

Pearson, C. 1980. “Conservation and maritime archaeology.” The International Journal of Nautical Archaeology and Underwater Exploration, 9(2): 147-150.

 

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Conservation Among the Stars: In Situ Extraterrestrial Conservation

February 26th, 2015
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Conservation Among the Stars: In Situ Extraterrestrial Conservation

Ian Hazel

            Space has been famously referred to as the final frontier; the last realm of human exploration. However, while in many ways human forays into space are only in their fledgling form, it is time to begin considering the ramifications that must come from the preservation of early space exploration materials. In some cases, these objects have returned to Earth either under human power or via gravity — the Apollo command modules are an excellent example. They have historical and archaeological relevance, are clear museum pieces, and hold substantial interest for academics and the populace alike. With that in mind, there are considerable resources still in space or on other planets that deserve consideration for conservation (Space Archaeology 2015). Some archaeologists have started to call for this form of conservation, but it is still a burgeoning field of interest (David 2013).

There are currently two possible relevant areas of human-made space artifacts. The first is terrestrial archaeology on other worlds. These sites would include the Apollo lunar landing craft and the Mars rovers. The other artifacts encompass those currently adrift in space, such as the Voyager craft — one of which has likely passed the heliopause and has concordantly left the solar system. Positing that these constructs may someday be reached, they are important artifacts in the most modern form of human exploration, and thus would merit conservation for the future generations of humanity. While there are artifacts that may come from non-human sources and many have advocated for searching for those, that is not the focus of this blog post (Freitas 1983).

It is also important to consider the methodology of conservation for these valuable artifacts. Some are likely to remain in situ, similar to the explorers’ huts in Antarctica. This will allow retention of the historical value of the site while avoiding disrupting the environment that it is in. Some artifacts, however, mostly encompassing the items currently in orbit or floating progressively farther away from Earth, cannot be conserved in situ. If they remain in their current environs, they are on a trajectory toward eventual destruction, probably collision with an object of not-insignificant mass, such as a planet or sun. Thus, any attempt to conserve such objects must involve removing them from their current environment and placing them into a new one. This is unlikely to be a destructive act, but it would require committing significant resources to hauling artifacts back to Earth or some other terrestrial environment for conservation. In some cases, this might require trained conservators to be part of the retrieval crew, which would necessitate their instruction as astronauts. Such training takes years in each field, and would commit considerable resources to be qualified in both areas. The proposition of conserving space resources that are not terrestrial is a ludicrously expensive venture.

Extraterrestrial conservation is certainly cost-prohibitive at this point, and entirely unfeasible as humans have not been on the moon since 1972, nor on any other extraterrestrial body at any point. The issue, however, is almost certain to come up at some point, and is such a difficult task that conservators and archaeologists should begin thinking about what actions to take.

 

References

David, Leonard

2013     Space Archaeologists Call for Preserving Off-Earth Artifacts, Space.com, <http://www.space.com/20743-space-archaeology-artifacts-preservation.html> Accessed 3 February 2015.

 

Freitas, Robert A.

1983     The Search for Extraterrestrial Artifacts (SETA), The Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, 36:501-506 <http://www.setv.org/online_mss/seta83.html> Accessed 3 February 2015.

 

Space Archaeology

2015   Space Archaeology, “our future is in ruins,” <http://spacearchaeology.org/> Accessed 3 February 2015.

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Differences and similarities between the AIC’s Code of Ethics and the E.C.C.O. Professional Guidelines

February 26th, 2015
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Differences and similarities between the AIC’s Code of Ethics and the E.C.C.O. Professional Guidelines

 Chelsea Head

            Conservators around the world have guidelines and codes of ethics to lead them in their professional lives. These documents hold the conservator to certain standards and promote the protection and preservation of historical objects and places. In The United States, the Code of Ethics that conservators follow is outlined by the professionals of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC). In Europe, conservators follow guidelines set up for their profession by the European Confederation of Conservator-Restorers’ Organisations (ECCO). These organizations and other professionals in the field, hold conservators to these rules and guidelines. Conservators are mainly judged by their peers and their clients, and it is most beneficial for conservators to stick to the rules of conservation.

In the American Code of Ethics and European Professional Guidelines, there are similarities and differences to the rules that conservators must uphold in their professions. Susan I. Rotroff states in her article that, “No society is an island, however, and often the codes of one set of professionals have important implications for members of another. Such is the case with conservators and archaeologists. Conservators have their own ethical guidelines and standards of practice, but they work within a variety of frameworks, and the standards of those frameworks inevitably have an impact on how effectively conservators can practice their profession” (Rotroff 2001). Conservators hold themselves and others accountable for their professional lives by acting within the guidelines and codes.

One of the differences between the AIC’s Code of Ethics and the E.C.C.O. Professional Guidelines is that in the E.C.C.O. guidelines, they point out that in order “to maintain the standards of the profession, the Conservator-Restorer’s professional education and training shall be at the level of a university Master’s degree ( or recognised equivalent ) in conservation-restoration” (ECCO). The AIC never mentions that a conservator has to have professional education and training at a Master’s degree level. Many American conservation specialists are professionally educated, but there are still some conservators who have been self-taught or have apprenticed. Many conservators would not be included in the AIC if there was a rule that stated that conservators had to be formally educated with a Master’s degree.

It is also interesting to note the first rule or guideline listed for conservators for the AIC or E.C.C.O. In the AIC it is stated that, “The conservation professional shall strive to attain the highest possible standards in all aspects of conservation, including, but not limited to, preventive conservation, examination, documentation, treatment, research, and education” (AIC). The first guideline according to the E.C.C.O. is, “The Code of Ethics embodies the principles, obligations and behaviour which every Conservator-Restorer belonging to a member organisation of E.C.C.O. should strive for in the practice of the profession” (ECCO). Both principles enforce the idea that conservators maintain professionalism and that they strive to meet all the standards that are required of them.

Overall, both the AIC and the E.C.C.O. have similar guidelines and codes of ethics that conservators must follow in order to be considered a conservation specialist. The main point is that conservators in America and Europe have to maintain respect for themselves, others, and the objects that they are entrusted to preserve and restore. If conservators do not adhere to these codes of ethics, then they are doing a disservice to our history, our cultures, and historical artifacts that need to be preserved for future generations.

 

References

 

“Code of Ethics,” American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works: 2014.         Accessed February 2, 2015.http://www.conservation-us.org/about-us/core-  documents/      code-of-ethics#.VNFcilfF9Fp

“E.C.C.O. PROFESSIONAL GUIDELINES,”European Confederation of Conservator-    Restorers’ Organisations: 2011. Accessed February 2, 2015. http://www.ecco-        eu.org/ about-e.c.c.o./professional-guidelines.html

Rotroff, Susan I., “Archaeologists on Conservation: How Codes of Archaeological Ethics and       Professional Standards Treat Conservation,” Journal of the American Institute for        Conservation, Vol. 40, No. 2 (Summer 2001), pp. 137-146

 

 

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What’s it Worth Part 2: Monetary Value

February 26th, 2015
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What’s it Worth Part 2: Monetary Value

William Fleming

In my last post, I breached the topic of the values placed on objects, and I introduced three main types: monetary, cultural, and personal. As part of a continuing series, I will present each of these values in more detail, and I’d like to begin this week with the monetary value.

When someone asks another person what an object is worth, more often than not they mean the monetary value of the object. While it is certainly true that every object can probably be assigned a monetary value, based on a number of defining factors (which are readily available online), most professional conservators and archaeologists will refuse to place a price tag on an artifact. To do so would be to doom one’s reputation among professional and amateur archaeologists (Hranicky 2014:6). On top of that, the Society for Historical Archaeology, one of the leading professional organizations for archaeologists, definitively states that it is unethical for archaeologists to establish any “commercial” value for archaeological artifacts, or to trade, sell, buy, or barter artifacts as commercial goods (SHA 2007). Any persons who do engage in such activities are appropriately deemed treasure hunters, and regrettably, any artifacts acquired illicitly by such outfits are essentially blacklisted (along with those who acquired them and anyone who attempts to help) from conservation. Despite the stigma, it is still important to understand the monetary value behind an object, as money is typically the driving force of society, and artifacts are the physical manifestation of any given society.

In general, the monetary value of an artifact will be highest immediately after its creation, and will decrease over time until it has outlived its usefulness. However, some artifacts reach a point at which their monetary value begins to increase once again. Generally, this takes several decades or generations, and depends upon several other factors as well. For example, older artifacts that are well preserved are considered to be worth more money, and collectors will be willing to pay greater sums to acquire them. Similarly, as the number of a certain type of artifact decreases over time, the rarity increases, and therefore the value does as well; an artifact can fetch a king’s ransom regardless of its condition if it’s the final known example, or a unique work, such as those of artists.

Fleming Blog 2 image

This one-of-a-kind 18th century Florentine ebony chest, known as the Badminton

Cabinet sold for $36 million in 2004, the most expensive piece of furniture ever auctioned.

Source: Time Magazine

 

Whether an artifact has a distinct price tag or not as far as being an artifact in and of itself is concerned, the monetary value of the artifact must also be considered for one other important reason: conservation. As unfortunate as the reality is, not every artifact can be conserved. Therefore, several criteria must go into the selection of worthy artifacts, and several agencies consider the most “expensive” items worth conserving over those which may hold more cultural or informational value (Appelbaum 1994:185-191). Not only that, but artifacts can sometimes only be acquired through purchase, and afterwards continue to cost money to the conservator due to the necessary routine maintenance. It is tempting, then, to consider it necessary to appraise an artifact so that its conservation worth can be assessed, however it is important to keep in mind that the artifact itself is not being appraised, but the time and effort of the conservator assigned to preserve the artifact.

Monetary value is typically the first and foremost thing that comes to mind when someone wants to know the value of an object, especially to the general public. Trained archaeologists, however, understand that there are more important values in artifacts, and will refrain from placing a price tag on any artifacts brought to them. Next time, I will look at the cultural value of artifacts and how that has an impact on their conservation.

 

References

Appelbaum, B. (1994). Criteria for treatment of collections housed in historic structures. In

Journal of the American Institute for Conservation 33(2):185-191.

 

Hranicky, J. (2014). North American Projectile Points . Bloomington, Indiana. AuthorHouse.

Society for Historical Archaeology. (2007). Ethics statement.

http://www.sha.org/index.php/view/page/ethics

 

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Conservation Challenges for Museums: Tactile displays for the Visually Impaired Patron

February 26th, 2015
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Conservation Challenges for Museums: Tactile displays for the Visually Impaired Patron

Lori K. Gross

 

While visiting museums I’ve often wondered how it would be possible for persons with disabilities, specifically visually impaired individuals to have the same opportunity to ‘experience’ the artifacts that are displayed. For instance, at the Field Museum of Natural History and the Art Institute in Chicago they have elaborate collections of artifacts on display but they are encased in glass surrounded by velvet ropes or labeled ‘Do Not Touch’. For those of us that have the gift of sight these barriers are rarely questioned and it is understood, on some level, that the items displayed are rare, valuable or irreplaceable and their safe keeping is important to ensure that others can enjoy them as well. During my visits I have observed visually impaired patrons accompanied by another person who describes the displayed items, often in great detail, but I have to wonder – is that enough?

While researching this topic I found out I’m not alone. Museums have begun to recognize the need for a more interactive experience for visually impaired patrons. Tactile interactions are becoming more popular at museums in an effort to provide enriched opportunities to these individuals. One of these museums is The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts that has incorporated a guided tour allowing blind patrons to touch a select group of ‘contemporary’ sculptures. Utilizing cotton gloves individuals can experience the art form ‘first hand’ feeling the fine details and recreating its shape in their mind (Plamondon 2014). After reading this article I was glad that there was some effort being made towards tactile displays but it seemed limited to those items that were easily recreated, identified as popular and held little diversity. No ancient artifacts were included, which led me to think – “Are conservators too conservative – is there another way?”

Basic conservation techniques of artifacts recognize that merely touching an artifact can begin a destructive process through the transfer of oils, salts, moisture, bacteria etc. from a human hand. These concerns must be addressed when the conversation turns to tactile displays with ‘ancient’ artifacts. Professional conservators understand that it is a far more complicated process to maintain the vast collections displayed in museums. Lighting, humidity, acidity and even bacteria can damage an object that appears to the lay person as ‘just sitting on a shelf’. Most patrons have no idea of the hours of conservation treatments, techniques and decisions required to merely display the artifact let alone the actual handling. However, if museums and conservators are dedicated to the education and enrichment of every individual then they must overcome these challenges.

The Penn Museum is also taking an important step to address the issue of how to provide vision impaired guests with meaningful experiences in museums, where touching the objects has been traditionally discouraged. The conservators and curators of the museum launched an initiative called the ‘Touch Tour’ a two hour guided and innovative approach to dealing with issues of vision and accessibility in the museum context. A program called Insights into Ancient Egypt” combines education and gallery tours where patrons are invited to explore replicas of smaller ancient Egyptian artifacts and enhance the experience with tactile diagrams and opportunities to smell some of the oils used in mummification: frankincense, myrrh, and cedar oil. The experience evokes a range of senses that are often neglected in museum experiences. In the gallery portion of the tour the patrons experience through touch, ancient artifacts that include Egyptian stone artifacts, including a seated statue of Ramesses II, the Goddess Sekhmet, and two sarcophagus lids.   To mitigate the impact on the artifacts, each participant utilizes hand sanitizers to remove dirt and oils (Alton 2015).

E

“Not many people, either sighted or visually impaired, would ever have the opportunity to place their hands where craftsmen’s hands toiled thousands of years ago” (Alton 2015).

E

 

Museum programs with interactive and tactile approaches will continue to bring new challenges to the professional conservator. However, if our goal is to educate, inspire and enrich the lives of the museum patrons, then it is a challenge that conservators must embrace.

 

 References

Alton, Elizabeth. “Touch Tours: The Penn Museum Offers Hands On Programs for Blind Visitors”. Entertainment Designer, January 3, 2014. http://entertainmentdesigner.com/news/museum-design-news/touch-tours-the-penn-museum-offers-hands-on-programs-for-blind-visitors/#sthash.zCOEPpGa.dpuf

Plamondon, Judith. “Hands on art for blind at Montreal’s Museum of Fine Arts”. London Free Press, January 11, 2015. http://www.lfpress.com/2015/01/11/hands-on-art-for-blind-at-montreals-museum-of-fine-arts

Image credits: Daily Herald, Stuff.co.nz

 

Ethics and Theory, General Conservation, Museum Studies, Public Outreach , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Conservation and Indigenous Peoples

February 26th, 2015
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Conservation and Indigenous Peoples

Kate Thomas

 

The 1991 passing of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act put in motion a way for archaeologists and native peoples to deal with the ownership of native artifacts. This had been a decades long battle, with the disenfranchised Native Americans desiring input into their own history, and archaeologists arguing that this was information for everyone. The politics of being an archaeologist dealing with indigenous groups have been a longstanding debate, but what about being a conservator for indigenous groups? Do conservators offer a side that archaeologists alone cannot?

The major criticism of archaeology by indigenous peoples, at least in the United States, has been that archaeologists tend to view their methodology as the ‘truth’ and ignore the input of Native histories (Deloria Jr. 1969). This, along with Red Power movement and the justified criticisms of the American government’s policy towards Native Americans led to the creation of NAGPRA. This law has allowed for legal proceedings regarding the repatriation of Native artifacts, the most famous of which has been Kennewick Man (Bruning 2006). Although legal battles have been heated, a large section of archaeology’s response is to embrace NAGPRA and attempt to change the archaeological process. This is even truer for the archaeologists who started studying archaeology after the implementation of NAGPRA, as for us it is not a change but rather the norm. An example of this is in Janet Spector’s “What this Awl Means” in which she involves the local community of indigenous peoples in order to better understand awls at a Dakota site in Minnesota (Spector 1993).

NAGPRA, and the debates preceding and proceeding it, is focused mainly on archaeology. However, conservation is a vital portion of this discussion. One of the major portions of NAGPRA is that all federally funded depositories had to inventory and repatriate human and cultural remains to the appropriate federally recognized tribe. Some of these item have already been conserved, could have been in the process of being conserved, or need to be conserved. The other portion of the law is that archaeological excavations must be approved and overseen by a tribal member, often times the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer or THPO. The tribe can then choose to repatriate their cultural items if they so desire. In both instances conservators are not mentioned directly in the law, but can be involved in the process.

If archaeologists can work with indigenous groups to interpret material remains, conservators should have an ethical duty to work with indigenous groups to ensure their cultural heritage is not destroyed. Archaeology has had to change its focus to being advocates for the disenfranchised, and conservators should follow suit. This, however, brings in another set of problems. The major criticisms of the involvement of archaeologists in native heritage has been overriding native input and the disturbance of Native American artifacts. This holds true for conservators as well. At the Arizona State Museum, conservators have been dealing with NAGPRA compliance in relation to their pottery collection. Their methodology has included consulting tribal representatives for every aspect of conservation, from treatments to the artifacts to artifact storage (Moreno et al 2009). This has been an ongoing process, and could provide a model for conservators to work with indigenous peoples towards the conservation of their cultural heritage.

Archaeologists and conservators alike often speak of the power of holding a tangible connection to the past in your own hands. Preventing the destruction of indigenous artifacts is beneficial to the community in this way. Perhaps even more importantly, having tangible historical evidence is an important tool in the battle for public recognition. Too often historical erasure is an important tool in subjugation and disenfranchisement, and conservation holds a unique position to prevent this from happening.

 

 

References

Bruning, Susan B. 2006 Complex Legal Legacies: The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, Scientific Study, and Kennewick Man. Society for American Archaeology 71(3): 501-521

Deloria Jr., Vine 1969 Custer Died for Your Sins. New York, New York: MacMillian

Moreno, Teresa Chris White, Alyce Sadongei, and Nancy Odegaard. 2009 Integration of Tribal Consulations to Help Facilitate Conservation and Collections Management at the Arizona State Museum. The SAA Archaeological Record 9(2): 36-40.

Spector, Janet D. 1993 What This Awl Means: Feminist Archaeology at a Wahpeton Dakota Village. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press

 

 

 

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Warbirds and Wordplay; or Restoration, Preservation, and Conservation

February 3rd, 2015

Warbirds and Wordplay; or Restoration, Preservation, and Conservation

James Pruitt

            Conservators, much like other specialist professionals, assign specific meanings to words that lay people might commonly use synonymously. One such example is the titles conservationist and conservator. To someone not actively involved in the conservation of the environment or artifacts, the two terms seem the same. However, call someone working on artifacts a conservationist and a likely response is “Conservationists work with birds. I’m a conservator—I work with artifacts.” Further complicating matters, the meanings of some words are open to interpretation even amongst those within the profession. For example, William Murtagh (1997) defined the terms preservation, restoration, and reconstruction, yet gave no clear meaning for the word conservation. For the purpose of this discussion, I will define conservation as the short-term stabilization of an object, preservation as the long-term preventative management of an object, and restoration as the process by which an object is restored to its original or working condition.

Conservators may sometimes work with “birds” too: warbirds. A warbird is a World War II aircraft, usually referring to fighting planes. Wreck sites of these aircraft, especially those of US Navy aircraft, pose significant management challenges. A special type of treasure hunter, warbird hunters, search for intact parts such as the control column, either as souvenirs or for the restoration of museum models or working warbirds (Wessex 2002:2). Some of the adventures and exploits of “warbird hunters” are captured, in detail, in popular books like Hidden Warbirds (Veronico 2013) and Hunting Warbirds (Hoffman 2002). Stories in these books show not only the measures warbird hunters will take in recovering aircraft or parts, but also the financial motivation driving them—a flyable B-17, for example, might sell in the $2 million to $3.5 million range (Veronico 2013:88).

This series of blog posts will examine a few of the issues surrounding the recovery, conservation, and exhibition of warbirds. This blog post will do so through a comparison of two Consolidated PB2Y Coronado flying boats. Designed in 1935 to meet the US Navy’s preparations for a long-range war in the Pacific, the Coronado was a large, four-engine flying boat capable of conducting round-trip patrols of up to 3,000 miles (Hoffman 2009:18). While fairly successful during the war, changing tactics and increased infrastructure made the Coronado obsolete, and they were scrapped by 1946 (Andrews 1989:23). Today, only two remaining Coronados are known: one, wrecked and heavily salvaged lying at the bottom of Tanapag Lagoon, Saipan, and the other, restored and on display at the National Naval Aviation Museum at Pensacola, Florida.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Tanapag Lagoon Coronado: photograph by author, 8 November 2014.

The comparison of these two cases illuminates several interesting points in regards to US Naval policy. The Coronado lying in Tanapag Lagoon is a typical example of the Navy’s desire to leave wreck sites in situ. The Sunken Military Craft Act (SMCA), properly Division A Title XIV of the Ronald W. Reagan National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2005, basically reasserts the US government’s ownership of sunken military craft and prohibits disturbance of those sites. The US Navy’s regulations declare that Department of Navy ship and aircraft wrecks will be left in place (in situ) unless otherwise justified (32 CFR Ch. VI Part 767.3(b)). While the evidence of heavy salvage on the Tanapag Lagoon Coronado violates the SMCA, the in situ conservation of the site is clearly in line with Naval regulations pertaining to the SMCA.

An alternate example, the Coronado housed in the National Naval Aviation Museum (NNAM), exposes a different side of Navy policy. The NNAM’s policy is to “select, collect, preserve and display historic artifacts relating to the history of Naval Aviation” (About the Museum, 2014). The Coronado housed there, BuNo 7099, was purchased from the navy in 1946; upon the death of its owner, it was donated to NNAM in 1977. The aircraft sat on the flightline for over 20 years, apparently following the aforementioned in situ policy, until a restoration project began in 2007. Four years later, the fuselage and center wing section were restored to their original 1945 appearance and placed on display in the museum (Hoffman 2009:107; Seaplane Walkaround 2011).

Pruitt-NNAM_CoronadoNNAM Coronado: courtesy of National Naval Aviation Museum

website, http://www.navalaviationmuseum.org/attractions/aircraft-exhibits/item/?item=pb2y_coronado

These two aircraft demonstrated conservation and restoration. Both actions were legal according to the law of SMCA, and the restoration was sanctioned by the Navy. But were they “right”? Is it right to leave an aircraft at the bottom of a lagoon, unknown except by a few, to slowly deteriorate (calling that process “in situ conservation”)? Conversely, is it right to restore an aircraft with 30 years of postwar civilian use back to brand-new condition, as if it was just made? These are examples of ethical decisions cultural resource managers and conservators must make. In these two cases, they were carefully considered, and determined to be ethical. In the next post, I’ll examine cases that may not seem ethical from a professional standpoint.

 

 

References:

Andrews, Hal
1989     PB2Y Coronado. Naval Aviation News 72(1):22–23.

Hoffman, Carl
2002     Hunting Warbirds: The Obsessive Quest for the Lost Aircraft of World War II. Ballantine Books, New York.

Hoffman, Richard Alden
2009     Consolidated PB2Y Coronado. S. Ginter, Simi Valley, Calif.

Murtagh, W., 1997, Chapter 1: The Language of Preservation. In: Keeping Time: The History andTheory of Preservation in America, pp. 15-24.

National Naval Aviation Museum

2014     About the Museum. National Naval Aviation Museum. http://www.navalaviationmuseum.org/attractions/museum/.

Travel for Aircraft Blog
2011     Seaplane Walkaround — Consolidated PB2Y Coronado. Travel for Aircraft. May 25. https://travelforaircraft.wordpress.com/2011/05/25/seaplane-walkaround-%e2%80%94-consolidated-pb2y-coronado/.

Veronico, Nick
2013     Hidden Warbirds: The Epic Stories of Finding, Recovering, and Rebuilding WWII’s Lost Aircraft.

Wessex
2002     Military Aircraft Crash Sites. English Heritage.

 

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Inside Tips from Museum Professionals

October 23rd, 2014

One of the most valuable courses that ECU offers is HIST5920 Techniques of Museum and Historic Site Development. The class includes readings and discussions in museum theory, as well as, several field trips to a variety of museums and organizations. The field trips are often the best environment to see how our theoretical discussions are applied…the “real world” of museums.

This year we have been touring the Department of Cultural Resources/ State Historic Preservation Office (Eastern Branch), Greenville Museum of Art, Tryon Palace, Bentonville Battlefield, Tobacco Farm Life Museum, NC Museum of Art, The Mariners’ Museum (VA), Colonial Williamsburg (VA), Jamestown (VA), and Yorktown (VA). Museum professionals have given us a variety of tips so we thought we would share them here!

What are the #1 skills/experiences that museum professionals should have?

  • Project management: The ability to manage multiple projects and budgets at the same time.
  • Ability to communicate with a variety of levels: Everything from school groups to board members to politicians.
  • Writing skills: Grant writing is increasingly more important.

 

Since grant writing has featured so prominently in our discussions with museum professionals, we asked for three tips for those who are starting from scratch. They are:

  1. Read the guidelines carefully and make sure that our project is compatible with the type of projects they fund!
  2. Contact the granting agency early and often!
  3. Keep your project descriptions and goals concise, but general. Don’t restrict your project so much that you can’t be flexible in getting what the project needs (within the limits of the grant).

We also asked an exhibit designer that we spoke to, what his top three tips were for museum professionals that have to design exhibits with no formal training. His top three tips are:

  1. Really know your content. Know the subject matter and truly understand what the exhibit is about and the overall message.
  2. Really know your visitors! Too much text causes fatigue and too many artworks or objects can be overwhelming. Provide areas to sit and reflect.
  3. Color and lighting are the two most important features to an exhibit. Consider these carefully!

 

Nothing beats first hand experience and as we are reminded by Dr. Tilley, Director of the ECU Public History program:

“Any experience is better than no experience!”

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What’s it worth? How historical objects are viewed in our society

April 3rd, 2014

What’s it worth? How historical objects are viewed in our society

Melissa Price

old_shoeVase

Which is more valuable?

We see them everywhere behind glass in museums, in a dim room with a spotlight on them, a guard standing around telling you not to touch: historical objects and artifacts on display for our viewing pleasure. To a museum visitor, the objects may be nice to look at or learn about from the brief informational placards. To a conservator or archaeologist, the objects may be a key to unlocking information about our human past and need to be preserved for future study. Different people view historical objects in various ways, and sometimes this can cause problems, especially when objects are seen for their monetary value only.

To an archaeologist, the context of an object is just as important as the object itself. After all, one can only learn so much about a single ceramic pot. If that pot, however, is found within a burial an archaeologist can make interpretations about the culture that made the pot: ritualistic behaviors, societal hierarchies, and the function of the pot can all be gleaned from its context.

The general public is less likely to understand the importance of context. This is understandable since most of their interactions with historical objects occur when they are standing in front of a glass case in a museum. They see the object at the end of its journey: after it has been removed from the field and been cleaned, preserved, and placed on display. The public sees these objects as valuable: they know they are behind glass cases for a reason and that museums pay (sometimes large) amounts of money for certain objects. The very circumstances surrounding museums place value on the object alone, rather than historical context (especially since accompanying informational text is brief).

In line with this concept is the idea that mundane or common objects are less worthy of being studied, collected, or placed on display in museums, which creates a bias of what is seen behind glass cases, as Caple mentions in “Reasons for Preserving the Past” (2003, 21). Unique, famous, rare, or beautiful objects are prized over everyday objects and are sought after for their monetary value. They are also more likely to be displayed in a museum in the hopes of attracting more visitors.

One example of highly sought after objects are those classical artworks such as Greek or Roman marble statues and vases. The modern aesthetics of these types of objects is sometimes seen as more highly prized than the object’s original context. The objects, according to Sarah Scott in “Art and Archaeology,” are displayed “as art rather than archaeology” (2006, 629). This has caused, and is still causing, looting or damage to archaeological sites as people try to find and sell such objects (628). They know there is a market for them and market value is given more importance than contextual detail (629). Archaeologists should stress the importance of context lest looting occur. Placing a high value on objects can lead to the “continued prioritization of a select range of objects, most notably classical sculpture” (636). Our modern view of what is considered “art,” such as classical statues, causes them to be considered as commodities to be bought and sold, rather than ancient objects that can lend information about the past societies in which they existed.

In conclusion, keeping objects in their original context, rather than applying value and aesthetics to them, is ideal. Archaeologists and conservators alike have a responsibility to make the acquirement of objects without context unacceptable both academically and socially. For example, archaeologists can refuse to help treasure hunters or salvors with excavation. Similarly, conservators can refuse to work on objects that have been obtained through less desirable means. Museums must be very careful when buying objects and place an importance upon integrity of objects. Finally, placing significance upon the study of seemingly mundane or common objects also helps to decrease the mindset of historical objects as commodities. 

Photo credits

Vase: https://www.beazley.ox.ac.uk/tools/pottery/painters/keypieces/redfigure/niobid.htm

Shoe: http://www.armenianow.com/features/25224/world_s_oldest_leather_shoe

 

References Cited

Caple, C. 2003. Chapter 2: Reasons for Preserving the Past. In: Conservation Skills: Judgment, Method and Decision Making, pp. 12-23.

Scott, Sarah. 2006. Art and the Archaeologist. World Archaeology 38(4): 628-643.

Ethics and Theory, General Conservation, Museum Studies, Public Outreach , , , , , , , , , ,

The Need for More Archaeological Conservation Programs in the U.S.

February 12th, 2014

The Need for More Archaeological Conservation Programs in the U.S.

Michell Gilman

            Within the United States, there are select programs designed strictly for archaeological conservation.  Historically, conservation has been viewed as a designation for the fine arts and most programs in the U.S. are geared towards the preservation of artworks.  Archaeological conservation is as necessary and important as art conservation.  Archaeologists often find organic and inorganic objects in dire need of preservation.  They find things made of leather, textiles, wooden objects, paper, basketry, and various metals, to name a few kinds of materials.  It is likely many archaeologists do not realize some of the artifacts they excavate need specialized care in order to preserve those objects’ integrity, and either simply neglect to provide the attention necessary or do not plan for this possibility within their research design.  This can be because they do not think they will find materials needing conservation, or do not know of the necessity of conserving some things until it is too late.

Currently, the only educational opportunity specific to archaeological conservation is at the UCLA Cotsen Institute of Archaeology.  This is a three-year program and applications are accepted every other year.   Other opportunities include New York University History of Art and Archaeology, the University of Delaware, an Archaeological Conservation program at the Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute, and a few courses at ECU.  Admissions requirements vary with each institution and studies are closely aligned with a focus on artworks or build upon the existing training of conservators and archaeologists.  With the abundance of artifacts and collections already housed in museums, universities, and other laboratories, it is clear that additional prospects are required in order for these materials to have a chance at being conserved.

An increase in the amount of educational opportunities is necessary for archaeologists to learn how to properly excavate and care for these objects due to the fact that they are typically untrained in conserving the delicate artifacts they sometimes excavate.  Granted, most artifacts excavated from archaeological sites are inorganic materials that do not require the degree of protection as organic materials such as wood which can deteriorate almost immediately after being extracted from the soil.  Better preparing students seeking degrees in archaeology would ensure fewer losses of unexpected finds that need specialized treatment.  Additional programs would also bring a greater awareness to students interested in pursuing archaeology and archaeological conservation, as well as allow undergraduates to better prepare themselves for this career goal.

When undergraduates are contemplating a graduate education in archaeology, they are typically focused on learning excavation methods, the laws governing archaeology, or learning more about particular cultures of the past.  It would be safe to say that archaeologists are typically concerned with saving past material culture and knowing that archaeological conservation is a possible education and career focus would more likely lead them to taking the proper courses in chemistry and art history while studying at the undergraduate level.  This would better prepare them for applying to archaeological conservation programs upon completion of their undergraduate degrees.  More archaeological programs would likely provide more volunteer and internship opportunities, further preparing students for graduate work and eventually careers in archaeological conservation, or at the very least better prepare them as archaeologists in general.  It is not reasonable to suggest nor is it necessary that every archaeologist be trained in archaeological conservation, however having the greater availability of accessing archaeological conservators would surely ensure fewer losses of delicate artifacts.

More programs designed to focus on archaeological conservation would benefit the field of archaeology in the U.S. because this would lead to an increased awareness of the specialized care needed to preserved artifacts in danger of eroding away.  It would also lead to more archaeologists conducting fieldwork capable of implementing the proper procedures for beginning the conservation process upon discovery of fragile artifacts.

 

Sources:

http://blog.ecu.edu/sites/eastcarolinaconservationlab/blog/2013/09/03/conservation-advising-faqs/

http://www.ioa.ucla.edu/conservation-program/

http://www.nyu.edu/gsas/dept/fineart/academics/index.htm

http://www.si.edu/mci/english/professional_development/archaeological_conservation/index.html

Archaeological Conservation, General Conservation, Museum Studies , , , ,

Tips on Exhibition Design

December 28th, 2013

On a recent tour to the North Carolina Museum of Art, we were able to meet with some of the “behind-the-scenes” staff including conservators and the exhibition designers. In North Carolina, we have  a large amount of small museums with small staffs that have to fulfill numerous roles including exhibit design, but many times staff don’t have prior training in this area. We asked what the top four tips are when designing a new exhibit! They are:

1) create connections w/ vendors

2) everything you purchase should be an investment that you can reuse

3) everything is a learning experience

4) you always need a scope, schedule, and budget for a successful project

 

Excellent words of advice! What are some of your tips? Other good advice we received was that teamwork in project management is a major part of museum work. So taking courses on project management and teamwork will help you in any workplace. Also consider the type of museum you are working with. Art museums are all about the visual, history museums are about the experience and science museums are about the process.

Additional Resources:

http://www.collectioncare.org/pubs/Dec152013.html#LETTER.BLOCK11

 

Museum Studies, Public Outreach , , ,

What is worth conserving: Preventative conservation today or Conservation tomorrow

February 14th, 2013

What is worth conserving: Preventative conservation today or Conservation tomorrow

 Hannah Piner

There are two types of preservation methods that can be applied to objects: interventive, which interacts with and potentially changes the artifact in conserving it; or preventative, meaning conserving artifacts by doing everything but interacting with it, mostly by changing its environment. Both have their benefits and their failures, but, once the object becomes historically or archaeologically relative, which one is better suited for future analysis of the artifact using science and for future historical interpretation?

Cost becomes a problem no matter when the object is conserved; if it is conserved using preventative measures there are upkeep costs, if the treatment is interventive then there is the cost of time and treatment. Which of these is more cost efficient depends on the condition of the artifact and the financial state of the museum or patron. It is initially less expensive to use preventative conservation, because the artifact does not have to be handled, cleaned, or otherwise tampered with. If the artifact is in bad condition (i.e. is cracking, corroding, or flaking away), however, the cost of interventive conservation will only increase with the degradation of the objects condition.

Another part of preventative conservation is keeping objects from today, that are in good condition, so that they can be used as teaching tools and artifacts for future generations. This way a museum would have a concrete history of the object and could keep it in working order, however, we do not know significance of every object in use today and deciding what is significant enough to keep is subjective. There also needs to be a large storage area to house the objects that are in this limbo period of use and historical significance.

Preventative conservation is also popular because so many scientific methods are destructive to the artifact; with more advancements in the field come new and better ways to study artifacts that have not been tampered with.

This is contrasted with interventive conservation, where artifacts have survived and (in most cases) outlived their technological descendants. These artifacts are relevant upon discovery, and can be n a variety of conditions, from excellent to poor. These objects have had years to interact with their environmental surroundings uninhibited and unprotected. They are rotted, corroded, disintegrated, and in pieces. The conservator must spend time and money to restore this artifact to a stable condition. Unfortunately, stability and aesthetic authenticity are not always the same. Often times an artifact will look very different after burial or submersion. The object will, also, most likely never be able to be used for its original and intended purpose again.  This makes the artifact an excellent teaching tool, but takes away its functionality.

I would argue that interventive conservation is more logical overall. This allows the artifacts more immediate stability, which in turn provides the object  a longer life and provides researchers with easier access, because it is more accepted for people to access and touch stable artifacts. Preventative conservation, on the other hand, should be used on artifacts that are originally in excellent condition and are low risk for becoming unstable. This is also a decent option for organizations that do not have the money to interventively conserve an artifact right away.

The view on preventative conservation is changing. The more the field grows and the more advanced science becomes the more it is accepted to leave artifacts like they are, but interventive conservation is still the most accepted and practiced form of conservation.

 Caple, Chris. Conservation Skills: Judgment, Methods, and Decision Making. New York: Routlege; 2000.

 

Ethics and Theory, Museum Studies

A Fine Balance: Presenting Conservation to the Public

February 6th, 2013

A Fine Balance: Presenting Conservation to the Public

Stephanie Croatt

 

            In the conservation field’s struggle to become more visible and better understood by the general public, there exist some difficulties in how to present the profession to the layperson. It seems that museums may be the key to this dilemma. Museums are often viewed as places for learning and offer the perfect venue for seeing the end results of conservation. Examples of museums that have made attempts to give visitors a glimpse of how conservators stabilize and prepare objects for display and how the museum environment is specially designed and maintained to ensure the objects’ well-being include:

 

 

The discussions of conservation in each of the museums above exhibit a variety of methods of attracting the public’s attention and eliciting thought about conservation. It seems that the three most effective devices by which museums can present conservation to the public are making the information accessible to the viewer, offering concrete and hands-on examples, and cutting romantic stereotypes of the field.

 

            That conservation is a very technical field with its own extensive set of jargon is undeniable, and presenting the key concepts and techniques to the layperson in an intelligible way is a sizeable task. Nonetheless, museums should strive to unpack the language and ideas for the average person. Adding layers of information that go from simple to more complex might be a good way of adding detail and complexity for viewers who want more information or detail about a certain idea or technique. Having trained “facilitators” that can discuss elements of the exhibit in more detail or give out bibliographies for further research might also be an effective way of deepening the subject for those that are interested and not overwhelming those who are not interested in more detail (Podany and Maish 1993, 102).

 

            In addition to making the ideas easy to understand, having concrete examples and hands-on activities may help to reinforce the main message of a certain part of the exhibit, as well as engage visitors who are otherwise not attracted to reading. In their exhibition, entitled Preserving the Past, Jerry Podany and Susan Lansing Maish included interactive opportunities for visitors. One such hands-on activity invited visitors to reassemble broken pottery sherds and then identify the vessel from a chart of Greek vessel shapes (Podany and Maish 1993, 104). Such interactive opportunities allow the public to experience some of the techniques used in conservation, and may excite the interest of more visitors.

 

            Hands-on opportunities that allow the viewer to follow the step by step procedure to conserving artifacts may also work to dispel unrealistic and romantic perceptions of conservation. Indeed, simplifying language for the layperson sometimes leads the exhibit creator to draw analogies between the conservator and the noble doctor, or present before and after photographs that may give the public a false notion about the realities of conservation (Podany and Maish 1993, 105). While sometimes attractive, the romantic view of conservation tends to lead the public to think that the conservator’s job is to swoop in and permanently save objects from certain deterioration. This perception tends to lead discourse away from the sometimes mundane reality of the field and the ideas of reversibility and minimal intervention, which are the main tenets of conservation.  

 

            Although it may seem that any public education about conservation is good, there are certainly pitfalls that can lead the public to misunderstand the field. Pitfalls may be avoided by making information accessible to the visitor, offering hands-on activities, and by dispensing of romantic notions of conservation. While these extra steps may increase the expense of creating and running exhibitions focusing on conservation, it is well worth the cost because a public that is better informed about the importance and realities of conservation is a public that is better prepared and more willing to fund conservation projects in the future.

 

References

 

Podany, J.C. and S.L. Maish. 1993. Can the Complex Be Made Simple? Informing the Public about Conservation through Museum Exhibits. Journal of the American Institute for Conservation 32(2): 101-108.

Ethics and Theory, Museum Studies , , ,

Displaying the Dead: Disrespecting or Honoring the Past?

February 4th, 2013

Displaying the Dead: Disrespecting or Honoring the Past?

Kate Clothier

Going to museums has always brought me happiness. After spending countless hours lost in their different exhibits I would come out feeling more connected to the past cultures and curious to learn about the different societies on display. This interest led me to become an avid history reader and museum patron. When I was older I was shocked to learn that there was one specific controversial issue surrounding museum exhibits internationally. The ethics of displaying human bodies. Should museums be able to put the deceased on display for the public and who has the rights to the bodies once they are discovered?

I was always torn on the answer to these questions. For me, the people on display spurred reverence and curiosity, for others the displays served as symbols of disrespect to our ancestral heritage. This division of thinking persists today and was even the subject of ethical debate at the 2010 conference of the International Council of Museums (ICOM)- Committee for Conservation conference. Large nationally recognized organizations are facing the ethics of displaying the deceased in attempt to find common ground but the debate rages on. There is no ‘cure all’ for the questions at hand.

It has been suggested that the direct descendants should get the finally say on whether the bodies should be on display, but what if there are no direct descendants? Who then has the right to decide? Where is the quest for information on the human past to stop and, would we dig up cemeteries for knowledge? To me, the best solution is to stick to the ethical guidelines created by organizations like the ICOM in reference to past societies and what they left behind (Brajer, I. 2010. “Human Remains in Museums.” International Council of Museums- Theory and History of Conservation Working Group, Accessed: Web. 21 Jan. 2013). These bodies can offer us insight to the past that would otherwise be unknown and can even spark interest the societies themselves, as was the case for me. I believe the bodies should be treated with upmost respect and if a direct link to a current society is found or known of, those people should get the final say in whether the body can be displayed or not. The ethics surrounding human remains being put on display is sure to persist for many years to come and museums will continue to be at the forefront of this debate.

 

 

Ethics and Theory, Museum Studies , , ,