News from the Conservation Lab

BY SUZANNE DAVIS, Associate Curator and Head of Conservation

At the end of May, I attended the big professional conference for conservators in the United States—the annual meeting of the American Institute for Conservation. This was a special meeting for me because I was in charge of the program for the “Objects” group. This group has about 900 members, all of whom focus on the conservation of three-dimensional art and artifacts—in other words, objects.

Usually at a conservation conference, I attend the presentations about archaeological conservation because that’s what will help me most in my work for the Kelsey. But this year, because I was the program chair, I had to be there for ALL the papers. I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy it, but it was great!

Conservator Hiroko Kariya at work at Luxor Temple, Egypt. Photo from the University of Chicago/Oriental Institute Epigraphic Survey webpage.

Conservator Hiroko Kariya at work at Luxor Temple, Egypt. Photo from the University of Chicago/Oriental Institute Epigraphic Survey webpage.

I learned about conservation work at Luxor Temple in Egypt—that’s up my alley—but also about preservation of public art in the Modernist architectural mecca of Columbus, Indiana (who knew?) and about conservation of the Watts Towers in Los Angeles, California, a National Historic Landmark sculptural site created by Sabato Rodia between 1921 and 1954 that’s considered a masterpiece of “outsider art.”

View of the Watts Towers. Photo from the Watts Towers webpage.

View of the Watts Towers. Photo from the Watts Towers webpage.

I also heard about the National Air and Space Museum’s amazing research and conservation of a Nazi Bat Wing stealth fighter aircraft made out of plywood (you can read a recent post about this work here on the NASM blog) and about preservation of animation cels at the Walt Disney Animation Research Library. I learned about how conservators at the Arizona State Museum are treating pine-pitch coated Native American baskets, and about how a team at the Field Museum used CT scanning to virtually restore a skull from the Magdalenian Era.

Magdalenian Era skeleton, with subsequent virtual facial reconstruction. Photo from University of Chicago Radiology webpage. See a Field Museum video about this project, featuring conservator JP Brown, here.

Magdalenian Era skeleton, with subsequent virtual facial reconstruction. Photo from University of Chicago Radiology webpage. See a Field Museum video about this project, featuring conservator JP Brown, here.

I gained a surprising amount of useful information about the treatment of complex, composite objects from these papers. This is knowledge that I can, actually, apply to my work at the Kelsey. Continuing education rules!

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