This year was my first full year serving on the executive committee of the New Zealand Conservators of Cultural Materials Pū Manaaki Kahurangi (NZCCM) as newsletter editor. The role has been a really fantastic way to meet people and try to contribute by compiling information and events from around New Zealand every quarter. The executive committee is just a great group of people to work with which made this years annual meeting all the more special as I have been able to get to know more people and put stories with faces!
The meeting theme was ‘Living Heritage: Materials, Methods and Context’ and was primarily held at the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki with social events, workshops and tours held elsewhere in Auckland. The Gallery was a fantastic location for the event and hosted about 65 attendees from a wide range of specialties. In addition to 20 minute talks, several people gave ‘FLASH’ presentations for 5 minutes.
Unfortunately I was unable to attend the first half of the meeting, but the presentations I did see were really great and showcased the wide variety of projects and perspectives that compose the membership. A summary of the presentations and the takeaways for me are:
Wednesday, October 24
- Ged Wiren, Development and Operation of Anoxic Treatment at Tāmaki Paenga Hira Auckland War Memorial Museum
I just caught the tail end of this talk, but it was fascinating to hear how the staff approached the treatment of pest outbreaks in their stores and exhibition area. The most impressive aspect was their ability to scale up from a shipping container for a collection to a collection store room and then to a whole room at the museum!!! Brilliant engineering!
Takeaway: There is always a solution to a problem and finding the right expertise and input is critical!
- Anne Peranteau, Hanging on the Edge: Using Digital Scanning and CNC Router Technology to Create Bespoke Storage Forms
Anne and her team spent a lot of time researching a method for finding an appropriate mount for several Lindah Lepou dresses. The artist famously ceremonially burned several of her notable designs. The unique shape and dynamic nature of the dresses in the Te Papa collections meant that boxes and dress making forms weren’t necessarily suitable for storage. Inspired by a 2017 American Institute for Conservation annual meeting talk in Chicago, she explored the use of a scanner to profile a modified body shape that was suitable for the designs. There are two general forms of ‘scanning’: a reflected light beam (handheld) and photogrammetry (turntable). The team chose photogrammetry to create images of the modified mannequin forms which were then meshed together and could be used for the routing machine coding. The form was created using a router in two halves and assembled using an aluminium rod. This was then covered in felt and Dacron followed by silk or calico covers over the dressses. Anne’s paper is freely available on FigShare!
Takeaway: Consider ownership and archiving methodology of any digital data produced!
- Mary Kienholz and Joe Mills, FLASH Don’t Take it for Granted: Auckland Council Grants and Conservation Projects
Both with backgrounds in archaeology, Mary and Joe spoke as representatives from the Heritage unit of the Auckland Council. They highlighted that most of their grants go to cemetery preservation projects, but that they hope to break down any barriers between heritage specialists and conservators. Best quote of the meeting: ‘Easier to have good heritage outcomes when we all collaborate.’ They used the Te Muri cemetrary project as a case study where members of the public applied for a grant and Mary and Joe could assist them with navigating the statutory requirements and provide grants that were good tools in encouraging conservation.
Takeaway: Conservators are not doing enough outreach to showcase our abilities or services, even to allied professionals!
- Valerie Tomlinson, FLASH Hands Off? Hands On?
Valerie is officially handling the Oddy testing for Tāmaki Paenga Hira Auckland War Memorial Museum. In this presentation, she focused on gloves in conservation and noted that different departments at the museum use different gloves. Food handling gloves have been used as an economical and mass produced product that allows the public to interact with the collection for some events.
Takeaway: As Valerie said, ‘Gloves are only as good as the last thing you handled!’
My experience with collections affected by earthquakes is limited so I was interested to hear how the Alexander Turnbull Library had experiences different from other institutions. Ruth’s talk was fascinating and I took a lot of notes, but her pictures are what really had an impact. The 2011 Christchurch earthquake (6.2) initiated changes to the Turnbull Libraries collection storage and refurbishment. A lot of the changes focused on earthquake proofing including rolled storage, cabinets, paintings and glass plate negatives that used simple, cost-effective solutions. These measures made a difference for the 2013 Seddon earthquake (6.5) and the 2016 Kaikoura earthquake (7.8) which directly affected the Turnbull collection. Ruth highlighted that the Seddon earthquake shook drawers open, but the Kaikoura earthquake completely dislodged the shelves! Even though they had done so many things right, they still encountered challenges between the two earthquakes regarding different types of cabinetry braced together and having numerous cabinets braced together. The solution was to retrofit drawer handle brackets on the older cabinets and obtain purpose designed cabinets. As Ruth indicated, small changes during the first earthquake indicated possible catastrophic problems that could occur with a larger earthquake. The experience resulted in a high level ‘shelving ownership’ document for all levels of their operations. Ruth ended the talk with examples of the mobile shelving changes. ‘Often staff safety means collections safety.’ Ruth’s paper is freely available on FigShare (along with great images from the presentation)!
Takeaways: As Ruth pointed out, ‘it is important to acknowledge that many objects survive earthquakes’. Also, consider systems that allow staff egress OUT of the storage area. Lastly, even materials that you think will be strong enough, may be compromised in a large event (e.g. shelving bracing, metal book ends, shiny mylar covers were slippery).
- David Ashman, Business Class Treatment: The Long & Winding Road from Loan Request to Installation
The first days talks ended with David’s experience in working with a high profile treatment and exhibition of several early drawings made by Māori, Tuai and Titerree, during a trip to London in the early 1800’s. The last NZCCM newsletter highlighted a Stuff article written on the event. Five drawings were requested from the archive collection of Auckland Libraries to be exhibited at the Royal Academy in London. The project included a large amount of consultation from Māori stakeholder. After careful conservation which included reinforcing areas of loss from the iron gall ink ‘burning’ and unbinding from a non-archival book backing, the drawings were specially packed in archival materials for transport. David highlighted the importance of having clear handling directions on all of the packaging in the event non-specialised staff were to handle the drawings. They used three levels of instructions that were brief and seemed effective. David traveled with the drawings and carried them on to each flight through business class to ensure the highest level of care and security. During the karakia (Māori blessings) for the drawings, someone commented that ‘the taonga had gathered the people together’. We often forget this role of these sacred objects we are charged in caring for.
Takeaways: It is important to do a run through of handling with someone outside of conservation so that any directions provided on the packaging is clear! Observe how the pack and unpack the item(s). Consider the carry on size limitations and logistics of where you may need to wait for connections. Consider how you will archive all of the documents associated with the travel (over 500 emails were generated from this process).
- Reception at The Glass Goose
I was able to attend the beginning of the opening social event at The Glass Goose. It was a great chance to catch up with those I had met last year and to meet new faces. I had some interesting conversations around being in private practice versus the security of institutional positions. These events are always a great opportunity to have those discussions with colleagues that you don’t often see, especially for someone like me who is fairly isolated from other conservators in Taranaki.
Thursday, October 25
- Susanne Grieve, Living Heritage: The Object Conservator’s Role
The morning session started off with my talk on the role of the object conservator in living heritage. Rather than summarise it here, I will refer you to the paper which is freely available on FigShare or my Academia.edu page!
- Elizabeth Charlton, Textiles in the Marist Archives
I must confess, I knew nothing about Marist archives before Elizabeth’s talk. She gave a riveting background on the archives belonging to the Society of Mary in Wellington, a congregation in the Catholic Church. Some of the textiles in the collection were slated for removal; however the archives are required to follow the Canon Law of the church. At the end of their use life, textiles in the collection are deaccessioned, rehomed or repurposed with some textiles being used for re-enactments. I really loved, loved, loved her use of the popes message about regeneration in the natural world where plants have a circular model where the old is allowed to degenerate. Elizabeth gave a staggering statistic that there is 125 tons of textile waste in New Zealand each year. Additionally, she did a cost comparison for the Society on what it would cost to make new textiles versus reusing the old. In her talk, she discussed the rehousing of several of the textiles. One highlight was to consider storing textiles in a way that the ‘diagnostic’ side was visible to viewers to prevent any unnecessary handling. The collection is over 300 linear metres and the rehousing process is ongoing. Elizabeth really highlighted the personal connection that we share with out collections and the people that once owned the items as well!
Takeaways: Order in bulk with other institutions to save money on archival supplies. Use the expert knowledge and advice around you.
- Lisa Yeats, FLASH IIC-ITCC Scientific Approaches to Textile Conservation Workshop Beijing, November 2017
Lisa gave a flash presentation on her participation in a textile conservation workshop headed up by the IIC in China. She described the ‘Hospital for Conservation‘ at the Palace Museum where the workshop was held which housed over 150 conservators of every specialisation! The workshop itself was an intensive event with 4 international lecturers who discussed preventative conservation, non-destructive and analytical techniques, mounting, storage and display, principals and techniques, and object biographies. Sounded like an incredible experience!
- Sam Ford, FLASH Structural Treatment of a Dutch Panel Painting by Roelant Savery (1576-1639)
Sam was joined on stage by project collaborator, session organiser and paintings conservator Sarah Hillary. Much of the talk focused on the wood panel that the painting was completed on. There was a frame placed on the back of the wood panel likely to stop the warping but over time this worsened any gaps that were present. After facing the painting, Sam manually removed the frame, scraping the wood layer by layer. He really highlighted the intensive nature of the treatment. He also had to remove several iron nails that had been placed in the front of the panel. As an additional treat, he showed images of a painting on hardboard that had a puncture. This is a notoriously difficult material to treat because of the fibrous nature, but by the end it looked as if no damage had occurred!
- Nyssa Mildwaters, FLASH Fiendish Fimo
Our newly elected president for NZCCM, Nyssa, gave a very interesting talk on an artwork in a private collection that was used as an album cover and was slated for exhibition in an upcoming show on The Chills’. The artwork was made from unbaked Fimo, an oven hardening modelling clay. The conservation process included discussions of ownership, creation memory and remounting and the process was filmed. Nyssa really highlighted the challenges and rewards of working with living artists.
- Ingrid Ford, Examination and Conservation of ‘Flight into Egypt’ 1884 by Frederick Goodall or: Why You Shouldn’t Throw Water Over Paintings
This talk started off the second half of the morning presentations. Ingrid discussed the Flight into Egypt painting at the Sarjeant Gallery in Whanganui. Conservators initially treated the super large format painting in situ in a staircase access way of the museum. During development, the painting was eventually taken down (the challenges of which were highlighted by Ingrid) and removed for treatment in Auckland. It was the first time it was possible to do analysis and a close examination. Historical documents indicated the painting had been doused with water during the artist’s studio fire. The treatment then had to address the darkening, losses and retouching, as well as, examining the stretcher and supports. Overall, fascinating glimpse into the painting conservators realm!
Takeaways: While it is always possible to treat materials in situ, you can get a better understanding and treatment outcome in a controlled environment with all of your resources nearby!
William gave a riveting presentation on his restoration of several wood furniture items in his personal and in institutional collections, some of which have been featured in the June 2018 and September 2018 editions of the NZCCM newsletter. He was really successful in highlighting reasons behind his preference for traditional tools and materials and how he tries to ‘address the problem’ in his approaches (i.e. Why has it occurred? What can I do to make it go away forever?). He took a more radical approach with some side boards and a presentation desk and outlined his choice of adhesives and colorants with a preference towards reversible and natural materials. Another highlight was the discussion of the challenges that veneers present again pointing out that the reversibility of original materials is not to be dismissed. It was an incredible treat to see his projects and workshops! William’s paper is freely available on FigShare!
Takeaways: Keep it simple in your treatments! Know the materials you are working with well and don’t be afraid to stick to the tried and true ones.
- Damen Joe, Auto-Box-O-Matic or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Robot
Always a treat to see speak, Damen gave a talk on a new box making machine that was acquired by Auckland Libraries. The preservation department provides services to the main libraries, as well as, 55 community libraries which means they have, as Damen put it, ‘a lot of people with a lot of items that need a lot of boxes’. He described the box making process and highlighted that traditional box making takes up space and time. He went on to highlight the CNC driven mat cutting machine and how they have adapted it and used templates for box making. Several box templates are available with designs from a variety of institutions. First the machine scours the surface, then cuts with an average box taking about 7 minutes to make. The staff has made several types of boxes and sizes from the machine with success so far!
Takeaways: The cost of new technologies should be evaluated against the staff time and resources that it would take to do the same work.
- Sarah Hillary and Georgina Whiteley, FLASH Message in a Bottle: Investigation Into a Still Life Attributed to Frances Hodgkins
This fascinating talk discussed an artwork on paper by Frances Hodgkins, an artist I knew nothing about. What a truly fascinating woman artist! The piece was the only example of an oil painting when she had taken a class in alternative media. Sarah and George showed the pigment analysis and paper background. During this process, they discovered a female nude underneath the fruit. Great case study!
- Dr. Catherine Smith and Ranui Ngarimu, Dressing for Survival and Success: How Early Māori Textiles Show Adaptation to Aotearoa
The short session of afternoon talks kicked off with Catherine and Ranui’s presentation on Māori textiles. First off, Catherine really promoted more conservators applying to the Marsden Fast Start Grant programme which assisted this project. Think about who you could partner with! The goal of their project was to: a) explore early Māori textiles and compare with other Pacific textile collections, b) use science to identify the plant materials and c) establish provenance and dates. I was quite surprised when Catherine stated, ‘most Māori taonga don’t have dates or provenances’ because of the way they were collected. She went on to describe two types of Māori textiles: kaho rānanga pūputu (sp?) (a defunct form of dress) and tapa (barkcloth). She highlighted that many cloaks are classified as Pacific when they are actually Māori; therefore, additional reviews of collections will reveal more examples. The second part of the project that focuses on provenance is ongoing and it shows promising results using strontium isotope analysis. Lastly, Catherine discussed a fascinating new project aimed at investigating the only known Māori sail in the British Museum collection obtained originally by Captain Cook. Check out this Māori television interview on the project!
Takeaways: There is funding available for conservation research in NZ! Otago University is really at the forefront of a lot of the textile research in NZ.
- Camilla Baskcomb, Artworks Can Be Deceiving: Taking a Closer Look
The last talk of the annual meeting was by Camilla. She gave a fascinating overview of artwork examples that she found to be inauthentic or not originals as described (much to the dismay of the client or patron). She really highlighted that a lot of what she did to investigate these artworks was using simple visual examinations, not analytical! Not being a paper conservator, I found it really helpful when she described the history of paper making which was highlighted in the context of her recent trip overseas (in the September 2018 newsletter). Some interesting points: Paper originally comes from China in the form of rags beaten with wooden mills. Paper maker marks were made with copper wire impressed in the paper. Woven paper was made in England in the 1750’s which produced a smoother texture. Wood pulp papers were produced in 1893, but the quality was greatly reduced. The 20th century saw a variety of woven papers made. Camilla finished by highlighting some of the more prominent ‘fakes’ on paper she has seen. She asks, whose responsibility is it to inform the collector? Conservators are often the ones to demonstrate something is not original; however, we are not authenticators!
Takeaways: An experienced conservator can detect anomalies in what are thought to be originals.
- Annual General Meeting
The annual general meeting was held to close out business for the year. The new website was promoted and new executive committee members were elected. Luckily, I have at least one more year in my role so look out for next years annual meeting review!