Four Institutions Receive National Preservation Award

Heritage Preservation and AIC recognize outstanding commitments to collections care and conservation

The American Institute for the Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works and Heritage Preservation have honored four institutions with the 2000 Award for Outstanding Commitment to the Preservation and Care of Collections.

Fairmount Park Art Association, Philadelphia
turtle.jpg (57781 bytes)The Fairmount Park Art Association has a long history of conservation promotion and advocacy, taking a long-term view of public art and responsible stewardship. Founded in 1872 as the nation’s first public art organization, it initiated a pilot Sculpture Conservation Program in 1982, identifying 25 sculptures of historic and artistic significance to receive initial conservation treatment by a professional conservator. Many of those works are now part of an ongoing annual conservation maintenance plan developed with conservator Steven Tatti to arrest further deterioration and improve their appearance.

As the coordinating agency in Philadelphia and surrounding counties for the national Save Outdoor Sculpture! (SOS!) program, the Association trained over 100 volunteers to survey outdoor sculpture, as well as cosponsoring the 1995 SOS!/National Park Service Preservation of Outdoor Scupture and Monuments workshop. Recently, as part of a series of workshops affiliated with the Art Association’s New•Land•Marks: public art, community, and the meaning of place program, it held Outwitting Time: site, materials, and maintenance, which featured the President of the World Monuments Fund as the keynote speaker, as well as a conservator and two artists.

The Art Association also acts as a conservation information resource, answering queries about conservation considerations for new commissions and providing materials such as the AIC’s “How to Select a Conservator.” It maintains an inventory of public art in Philadelphia containing over 1,400 entries. A printed copy of the document is updated annually and is available to the public for reference in the Art Department at the Free Library.

The Art Association promotes conservation in a variety of ways. Its Annual Conservation Maintenance Condition Report Form has been distributed at a conference in Taiwan; its press materials served as models in the SOS! publication Maintenance Considerations to Save Outdoor Sculpture; and local media report regularly on its annual maintenance program.

The Art Association works with other public and private agencies to encourage responsible care of public art in Philadelphia. Last year, in cooperation with Penn’s Landing Corporation and a professional conservator, the Art Association moved two sculptures to temporary storage from the International Sculpture Garden to protect them from pending hotel construction.

As a result of the Art Association’s advocacy, the City of Philadelphia has established a Conservation Advisory Committee, has completed a condition assessment of its collection, and now has a conservator on retainer. Several of the sculptures formerly maintained by the Art Association are now being maintained by private civic groups in cooperation with the City, helping cultivate responsible preservation stewardship.

Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto
shoes1.jpg (74361 bytes)Conservation and care of collections was an early priority for this museum, which was established in 1979. As one of two employees in the museum’s formative years, the conservator established an organized, climate-controlled storage room in the basement of the Bata international headquarters, even though this was a temporary location. For 10 years, as the collection grew, the conservator performed treatments and established guidelines for the permanent home.

Today the museum contains more than 11,000 artifacts, including shoes as old as 4,000 years, from all over the world. The shoes are made from a variety of materials, including ivory, bronze, wood, and all types of animal skins, including fish skin and emu feathers. In addition to footwear, the collection contains items related to shoe manufacturing (tools and materials, for example) and sales (trade cards, account books, and catalogs). Shoes depicted in art are represented by lithographs, paintings, and polychrome sculptures of St. Crispin, the patron saint of shoemakers.

In 1992, the museum opened a temporary exhibition space in which part of the first gallery explained to visitors what conservation is, why light levels are low, and how temperature and relative humidity are monitored. The exhibit also featured a case containing a pair of shoes: one treated, the other not. Photo panels showed how the collection was housed, and a hygrothermograph was placed on a stand with an explanation of requirements for environmental controls.

In 1995 the museum opened its permanent home, which includes four exhibition galleries, two storage rooms, a library, and work areas. The museum was designed so that the conservation lab is visible to visitors. Conservation staff are available for questions, and a small window display includes before and after photographs of objects treated. Other photographs illustrate exhibition and storage mounts.

The building’s design was based on a shoe box the architect saw being restored in the conservation area at the old location. It features a state-of-the-art environmental monitoring system, a software package that monitors the sensors mounted in the storage rooms, galleries, and public spaces.

In 1998, an exhibit called “Taming of the Shoe” focused on conservation questions from visitor comment cards. There were two main cases, answering the questions “What is a curator?” and “What is a conservator?” The first case showed examples of red rot, deteriorating plastics, glass disease, and tarnishing silver threads in eighteenth-century shoes. The display included specialized storage mounts and addressed the issues encountered in housing a collection composed of mixed media.

Out of a staff of 12, two positions are dedicated to conservation, and conservation articles are regularly featured in the members’ newsletter, Footnotes.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
mfa1.jpg (36502 bytes)The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, demonstrates its commitment to conservation by devoting substantial resources to collections care, both in its organizational structure and in the quality of its conservation staff. The museum adopted a mission statement declaring conservation “a primary responsibility” in 1991. A joint staff/trustee committee’s 1992 Conservation Assessment Report contained imperatives for periodic reassessment of the condition of the collections, noted successes in upgrading the care of objects, suggested future initiatives, and identified areas of continuing need. The report still provides benchmarks against which progress is measured.

One of the report’s outcomes was a new trustee/staff committee charged with carrying out frequent reappraisals of conservation needs, as well as monitoring the implementation of the other major recommendations in the report. This committee developed the museum’s first formal Collections Policy. Also, the conservation facilities were reorganized into one administrative unit overseen by the Director of Conservation and Research.

A disaster preparedness committee has completed a broad-ranging plan for museum-wide response to disasters and emergencies. A state-of-the-art fire detection and evacuation annunciation system has been installed throughout the building and is tested at regular intervals, while $100,000 has been invested in new drainage and emergency pumping systems for flood mitigation.

Storage has been substantially improved for the collections of prints, drawings, and photographs (approximately 300,000 to 500,000 works); decorative arts; and Ancient Egyptian, Nubian, and Near Eastern Art. Objects have been rehoused in new storage furniture and new HVAC systems installed to provide proper environmental control. Condition surveys have been completed for all photographic materials, tapestries, and special collections within the Department of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.

Two endowed positions of collections care specialists have been established. Conservation staff regularly present lectures within the context of the programming organized by the Department of Public Education, including tours of the conservation studios, workshops on the care of art objects, and showing public school teachers how to incorporate conservation components into school curricula. The museum has also emphasized public outreach by including research done by the conservation and scientific staff in many of its exhibition catalogs.

Service to the conservation field includes the 1996 conference “The New Museum Climate: Standards and Technologies” and a 1998 workshop on emergency preparedness in museum and cultural institutions.

Alden B. Dow Home and Studio, Midland, Michigan
alden1.jpg (44731 bytes)Conservation has been an important part of the Alden B. Dow Home and Studio’s work since its inception. Architect Alden B. Dow, one of the earliest participants in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin Fellowship in 1933, is best known for his residential designs, especially his own 28,000 square foot Home and Studio.

In 1988, when his family began setting up an archive of his work, staff began sorting through documents and photographs. They found drawings whose mountings were deteriorating and called in the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts in Philadelphia to stabilize a group of nine drawings adhered to masonite.

As records were transferred from the architectural firm to the archives, the condition of all documents was assessed. Those in the worst condition were sent to the Northeast Documents Conservation Center; remaining documents were processed by staff trained in standard archival techniques. All metal was removed and replaced with stainless steel staples; all wood pulp paper was removed and reformatted; and everything was stored in acid-free folders and acid-free archival storage boxes.

Motion picture films were removed from enclosed metal cabinets and metal cans and transferred to open shelving and plastic cans to help dissipate the acid that had built up over the years. Reels of film were examined by staff, who then indexed them and repaired splices.

In 1997, arrangements were made with the Oberlin Inter-museum Laboratory for a conservation technician under the direct supervision of a professional conservator to remove adhesive tape from drawings and make repairs with Japanese tissue and wheat paste. To date about 150 drawings have been sent to the laboratory; the project will continue for at least three more years.

In addition to the archival materials, the house contains a collection of mid-century decorative art, which has been inventoried and photographed. A collection of model trains is also being restored.

Extensive maintenance on the home’s interior and exterior is performed by staff, and several major restoration projects have been undertaken, including repairing the three chimneys, replacing a wall, restoring all exterior wood to natural finish, and restoring the original drafting room to its 1934 design.

In 1998, the Home and Studio hosted a three-part lecture series that discussed the restoration of the building structure, the resources available for research in the archives, and the conservation work that had been performed. The lectures were selected to reinforce the importance of preservation activities.

An ongoing program with a local high school trains student researchers on the unique nature of archival materials and the importance of preserving the information with proper care, conservation, and holdings maintenance. The Home and Studio also hosts high school humanities classes when they study 1930s and 1940s culture. A program of study for fourth grade social studies classes is being developed as part of the required curricula on Michigan history.

Although the scale of the conservation program at the Alden B. Dow Home and Studio may be small in comparison with other institutions, their efforts are certainly as valuable and in some ways more laudable, due to the difficult conditions imposed on small institutions.

Recipients from other years

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