News from the Conservation Lab — Chairing a Conference … Remotely

By Suzanne Davis, Curator of Conservation

For the past three years, I’ve had the privilege of chairing the annual conference of the American Institute for Conservation. It’s an interesting job in which I get to work with a lot of amazing people, read about all the cool research my colleagues are doing, and — once a year — stand up on multiple different stages, introduce people, hear and see their great papers, and then moderate discussions with them. Every year I get nervous about this because our biggest sessions have around 1,000 people, and both our speakers and our audience members are super smart (and also very opinionated). But then, every year, it’s a great experience and I’m so glad I got to be part of it.

This year, however, there’s a new twist. I bet you can guess what it is! Yes: this year, for reasons of health and safety, we’re holding the conference online. Thankfully, there is a great team at AIC managing all the actual logistics, because I still have a paper copy of the newspaper delivered to my door each morning, I’ve never been on the book of faces, and I don’t tweet or ‘gram. So we’ll see how this goes. Fingers crossed! I’m cheering myself up by thinking about the ~100 hours of great content we’re going to have.

The AIC Board members sitting virtually for our pre-conference board meeting. Screenshot by Kate Lee.

In our opening session this Thursday, we’ll have a talk by NEH Chairman Jon Parrish Peede, and then five presentations by AIC members on topics of importance to the direction of our discipline: how conservation is / should be presented in public outreach, collections care practices that can help us navigate change, considerations for the future of African collections, reworking science curriculum in conservation training, and methods for ensuring pluralistic, values-based decisions in conservation and collections-care. I’m looking forward to this and many other sessions, and will report back on how they go. Wish us luck!



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 of Natural History in Chicago used CT scanning to virtually restore a skull from the Magdalenian Era.

Magdalenian Era skeleton
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!