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!

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