Art and Analysis: Two Netherlandish painters working in Scotland

It has been very gratifying to see conservation in Scotland making the news this week, ahead of the opening of the new Scottish National Portrait Gallery display. Open the link below to access details of the exhibition and a short film on the technical examination and conservation treatment associated with the project.

Art and Analysis: Two Netherlandish painters working in Scotland

Focussing on the two 17th-century artists Adrian Vanson and Adam de Colone, this small exhibition presents the findings of a collaborative research project between paintings conservator Dr Caroline Rae, the Courtauld Institute of Art Caroline Villers Research Fellow, and the National Galleries of Scotland Conservation Department. On display are a group of paintings from the National Galleries of Scotland collection which have been examined by Caroline using cutting-edge technology,  including X-radiography, infrared reflectography and dendrochronology.

The display will also feature the very exciting discovery of a painting of a woman believed to be Mary, Queen of Scots, hidden underneath a painting by Adrian Vanson. The painting, which is owned by the National Trust, will be in the exhibition alongside more information about the hidden painting.

 

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Alaskan Archaeological Conservation at the University of Aberdeen

Think Alaska, flat open tundra contrasting with mountains and the sea – setting the background to an old frozen village buried for 500 years. Think climate change, melting permafrost, the Bering Sea and its storms eroding the coast – and artefacts leaching out onto the beach. Think Prehistoric times, grass turned into ropes and baskets, leather into garments and pouches, precious foods stored in vessels…

Julie Masson-MacLean, archaeological conservator, is working for the University of Aberdeen Archaeology Department on the grass, leather/fur and ceramic artefacts from the site of Nunalleq (XVe-XVIIe c), Southwest Alaska. The site represents the remains of a pre-contact Yup’ik Eskimo village of sod houses that collapsed quickly on themselves, sealing everything in situ. In 2009, after a severe storm local people from the nearby village of Quinhagak found large quantities of artefacts spilling from the site onto the beach. Concerned that part of their heritage was disappearing, they contacted archaeologist Dr. Rick Knecht, senior lecturer at the University of Aberdeen, who set up a rescue excavation. The loss of coastline due to erosion has been so severe, at an average rate of 1m/year, that the 2009 and 2010 excavation trenches have now gone.

The edge of the site with the eroding coast

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A view of the excavation

An astonishing collection of over 50000 artefacts has been unearthed including approximately 2000 pieces of grass basketry and 200 of leather/fur. The assemblage is in a remarkable state of preservation due to its burial in permafrost and waterlogged soils. Furthermore, the presence of sphagnum moss may also have contributed as it has recognised antimicrobial properties. Ivory, antler and wood artefacts are so well preserved that they resemble their ethnographic counterparts, while leather and grass artefacts require more care, though well-preserved features are observed such as boot sole pleating or basketry twining patterns. Pottery can be in poor condition comprising broken and crumbly, delaminated sherds; this is probably related to its manufacture as the coarse clay is low-fired and tempered with coarse sand, pebbles and hair/fur. However, the deeper the excavation goes the better the artefacts are preserved.

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Dr. Rick Knecht and Julie Masson-MacLean with a sample of the Nunalleq artefacts.

When Julie started working on the collection at the end of 2015, Nunalleq had already yielded an unexpected quantity of significant artefacts. This collection is unique coming from a region where little archaeological research has been conducted, and as a result, some artefacts are unidentified yet.

Wet and muddy, the finds need stabilisation by means of appropriate cleaning and drying. Typically, objects are cleaned with tweezers to remove dirt and pebbles, then washed on a support with distilled water. Grass artefacts are currently controlled-dried in fridges. It has been found that braided ropes made of roots are strong and dry easily while large flat baskets or long bundles made of grass leaves/strands are much trickier. The information available on wet archaeological grass is scarce so Julie is investigating polyethylene glycol (PEG) treatments as initial tests provided encouraging results. Large basketry is being packed in cut-to shape corefoam trays allowing for the safe handling of these fragile finds for cataloguing, study and adequate storage.

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A basket before conservation…

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… and after conservation, with a little braided fragment on its right side.

Leather artefacts are cleaned with a squeeze bottle, brushes and small tools, and an airbrush for well-preserved fragments. Their shape is recorded and then they are PEG-impregnated and atmospheric freeze-dried. Atmospheric freeze-drying is cost-effective but has a longer drying time – which is, in this case, feasible for the project as the leather collection is yet to be investigated.

An atmospheric freeze-dried leather boot showing two types of stitches: a running stitch with paired holes in the pleated front area and an overcast stitch along the sides.



A leather boot with a grass insole before cleaning…

…and after cleaning. It is currently undergoing atmospheric freeze-drying.

A fur clothing fragment showing possible decorative triangle pattern on the left

The fragment showing sewing on the right

With coarse arctic pottery, washing followed by quick air-drying can trigger further breakage as the cracks open and the clay splits following the large inclusions. To avoid this potential consolidation problem, the sherds were blocked-lifted when possible and then slow-dried, with gentle cleaning undertaken during the process. Several vessels were reconstructed and to quote R. Knecht it is like reconstructing a potato from … crisps! For one large pot (see photo below), missing areas were filled with Plaster of Paris and retouched for an aesthetic appearance while remaining distinguishable from the original sherds.

Large pot after restoration (left) from fragile sherds sensitive to splitting due to the use of coarse temper (right).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Slow-drying proved very successful and allowed for an excellent drying of two complete clay lamps, where previously, such finds would have crumbled away. The lamps and numerous sherds are being packed by prospective conservation student Sandra Toloczko in foam trays carved to shape and acid-free paper. Sandra is also being trained to clean sherds, small grass fragments and to treat wood.

Two complete lamps: after slow-drying…

…and in an acid-free paper nest inserted in a carved foam tray

This project interweaves archaeological conservation with actuality: on the one hand, the community in Quinhagak is committed to preserving its Heritage as it underpins Yupiit culture. On the other hand, the current work performed on the Nunalleq grass artefacts could help conservation at future well-preserved Arctic sites threatened by increased coastal erosion and melting permafrost due to global warming.

All the finds belong to the village and are due to return to Quinhagak in Spring 2018 to be stored and displayed at the Nunalleq Culture and Archaeology Center.

Julie graduated from Paris I University-Panthéon Sorbonne with a Master’s degree in Archaeological Conservation after completing her internships at The British Museum and the Canadian Conservation Institute where she worked on artefacts from the Canadian Arctic. She now works as a freelance conservator for the University of Aberdeen among other institutions.

 

 

Material Futures Conference 2017 – A review

Material Futures: Matter, Memory and Loss in Contemporary Art Production and Preservation
 28th – 30th June 2017
 Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow

Speakers from both the curatorial and conservation professions came together in Glasgow to share their experience of exhibiting, documenting and preserving contemporary art in its many forms [by artists living and dead] and the ethical issues therein. How can conceptual and performance art be preserved and how can it be replicated? Ownership… who retains the copyright and control? How can the loss of digital art [particularly that of women] through media obsolescence and patriarchal systems be prevented? The breadth and diversity of the questions under discussion and the commitment of the speakers in grappling to find answers was enlightening and very stimulating.

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Karla Black giving her keynote lecture

It was insightful to begin the conference from the perspective of a leading contemporary artist. Karla Black, with great articulacy and honesty, described the creative drives and processes involved in the creation of her work. She clearly defined the importance of the materiality of her sculptures, which by nature are often almost entirely ephemeral and site specific, but have permanence for her, even if completely destroyed after an exhibition. She explained that commercial success and the inclusion of her works in national and international collections while gratifying and important brings with it difficulties and frustrations; the necessity of compartmentalising a sculpture into a series of recipes and measurements, the creation of detailed documentation and the impossibility of working while scrutinised by conservators and museum technicians can, she explained, kill the creative process.

Here in lies one of the many issues under discussion over the following two days. How to solve this difficult, sometime, seemingly diametric relationship between artists and museum /institution professionals? As Simon Fleury described it, ‘…the gap between the existential and the systematic.’ It became apparent as the conference progressed, that at this early stage in the development of this new field of conservation, a common language with which artists and museum professionals can communicate and an accepted protocol of how to observe, record, store and re-create works of art appears yet to be standardised. The lexicon of terms that emerged, over the course of the conference, to describe the re-display of contemporary art illustrates this point: re-enactments, re-interpretations, re-activations, versions, re-makes and iterations.

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Conservators from NGS and Glasgow Museums with Carol Campbell, wife of the late artist Steven Campbell

Many talks supported the idea that, in the case of contemporary art, the role and influence of the conservator is changing. For example, conservators are central to the development of new methods of documentation and forms of recording or mapping of modern artworks [for example: the use of Go-pro technology, Tate Live List and the mini archives created by Japanese art handling company Higure 17-15 cas].  In undertaking rigorous documentation and dialogue with a given artist, conservators can, in some instances, be the only people who know how to construct [often extremely complex] work of arts. Fascinatingly, several speakers cited cases where conservation documentation was the catalyst for brand new works of art.

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The creation of new art: an artist’s response to a condition report photograph as described by Simon Fleury

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Ulrich Lang describing his work as a conservator in realising the vision of Maurizio Cattelan at the MMK in Frankfurt, 2007

The idea of the trajectory of an artwork was discussed as was the notion that the collective memory of the piece changes irreversibly each time it is re-enacted or exhibited; as conservators, the tenant of reversibility is paramount… it is an interesting thought to consider preserving the integrity of the collective memory of a work.

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Clare M. Holdsworth discussed the work of performance artist Stuart Marshall’s piece Mouthworks from 1976

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Obsolete forms of recording equipment as discussed by Adam Lockhart, DJCAD

Keynote speeches from Tiziana Caianiello from the Zero Foundation in Dusseldorf and Annie Fletcher from the van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, illustrated the depth of thought and respect for artwork and artists that their respective institutions give to the both the display of art, the collection of art. and the role of the modern art museum; it was particularly fascinating to hear about the Picasso in Palestine loan of 2011.

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Annie Fletcher from the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven discussing the Museum Index : thumbnail photographs of every artwork in the collection, colour coded to denote location.

The aim of this conference was to engage with the issues surrounding preserving concept, performance, digital and transient, ephemeral modern art.  As an observer from the field of traditional oil painting conservation, I felt that with each talk the complexity of this field of conservation became more stark and seemingly insurmountable and at the same time so very progressive and exciting. It was an important meeting of minds and demonstrated that Scottish institutions are at the heart of the debate.

Hazel Neill

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Event: Towards a Collection of Artists’ Moving Image in Scotland

The National Galleries of Scotland are hosting this free event organised by LUX Scotland.  LUX Scotland is an agency with an international remit to support and promote artists working with moving image in Scotland.  The complexity of the preservation of digital technology will form part of the discussion, ‘How does the growing complexity of digital technology and its lack of materiality create risks for preservation?’ It should be fascinating evening. All welcome.

http://luxscotland.org.uk/collection/event-towards-a-collection-of-artists-moving-image-in-scotland-edinburgh/

 Tuesday 25 July, 6-9pm Hawthornden Lecture Theatre, National Galleries of Scotland, Weston Link, The Mound, Edinburgh EH2 2EL (Please enter through the back door of the Royal Scottish Academy Building) Free, ticketed via Eventbrite

Following the launch of the LUX Scotland Collection project in Glasgow in January 2017, this event continues a series of public dialogues around the establishment of a new distribution collection of artists’ moving image based in Scotland.

The LUX Scotland Collection is intended as a public resource to map and consolidate a lineage of moving image culture in Scotland; to make this work publicly accessible through distribution; and to enhance the national and international profile of this work through exhibition, touring, research and publishing. LUX Scotland is developing the collection as an open research project, working in consultation with the arts community across Scotland on the question of what it means to build such a collection and what it might comprise.

This event will analyse how artists’ moving image has been collected in Scotland, excavating the reasons and motivations behind decisions made around the development of public collections. Through a series of presentations tracing the processes, aspirations and issues that institutions face as a moving image work passes through its doors and into its collection, the event will aim to address some of the following questions:

How does a collection come into being?

What does it mean to bring works together in a collection?

Why should artists’ moving image works be collected?

How are acquisitions and curatorial research financed and supported?

Who decides what to acquire and how are these parameters defined?

How does a moving image collection sit within the context of the broader museum collection?

What are the particular challenges faced in documenting, caring for and ensuring the longevity of artists’ moving image works?

How does the growing complexity of digital technology and its lack of fixed materiality create risks for preservation?

What considerations need to be taken into account in the lending and exhibition of artists’ moving image?

How can museums’ standard loan practices better accommodate the specific needs of moving image works?

Each presentation will provide an in-depth focus on one aspect of the collection process – from funding and strategy, to acquisition, preservation and exhibition – followed by a panel discussion. Speakers include Brian Castriota (time-based media conservator and doctoral candidate, University of Glasgow), Will Cooper (Curator of Contemporary Art, Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow), Julie-Ann Delaney (Curator, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art), Robert Dingle (Contemporary Projects Manager, Art Fund), Rachel Maclean (Artist, Scotland + Venice 2017British Art Show 8), and Kirstie Skinner (Director, Outset Scotland and editor and lead researcher, Collecting Contemporary: Curating Art Collections in Scotland).

 

Conference Review: “Fail to Plan, and Plan to Fail” (Icon Care of Collections Group AGM and Conference)

Interesting review of the Icon Care of Collections AGM and Conference “Fail to Plan, and Plan to Fail” held in October 2016. The event delivered a forward-thinking approach to disaster response including talks on having an emergency plan on a smart phone and the Museum of London’s emergency planning e-learning tool. Read now and reassess your own disaster plan!

The Book & Paper Gathering

The dreaded call from a colleague with a collections emergency is one that no conservator wants to receive; but it has happened to many of us. Small-scale incidents are more common than major emergencies, but planning for an emergency situation of any scale involves a great deal of work to ensure a plan is in place, the right equipment is available and the response will be effective. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Florence floods; and with more recent disasters like the fires at Clandon Park and Glasgow School of Art on our minds, emergency preparedness seems more necessary than ever.

On 3rd October 2016, Icon’s Care of Collections Group (CCG) held a conference ominously titled “Fail to Plan, and Plan to Fail”, followed by their AGM. The event was held at the British Library and included a tour of the book stacks and salvage equipment…

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Conservation in Scotland and Brexit

The Icon Scotland Group were asked for details on what leaving the EU might mean for conservators.  Rather than shrug and say ‘No Idea’, we thought it best to see if we could find some specifics to comment on. Carol, Ylva and Rob put together the below response with help from Alison and Siobhan at London HQ. Our response goes to Built Environment Forum for Scotland (Icon is a member of this) who collate it with others and send to the Scottish Government. Please do let us know your thoughts on this!

Institute of Conservation response to the Built Environment Forum Scotland (BEFS) information request

Icon is delighted to be able to respond to the call from BEFS to inform a response to the Europe and External Relations Committee’s call for evidence on Scotland’s relationship with the EU. We provide information below on the connections, initiatives and relationships that Icon and our profession have with Europe currently.

The Institute of Conservation (Icon) is a registered charity and the professional body for the conservation of cultural heritage. Icon raises awareness of the cultural, social and economic value of caring for heritage and champions high standards of conservation. Icon Scotland Group is one of Icon’s 16 special interest groups.

Heritage Science research funding

The science of heritage conservation is a relatively new field and is a field where the UK has a global standing and reputation. This research is essential to inform the care and preservation of our cultural heritage. Around 50% of funding for heritage science comes from the EU. This compares to about 7% of total public research funding being from the UK. (Source: conference on Science and Engineering in Arts, Heritage and Archaeology (http://www.seaha-cdt.ac.uk/seaha-conference-2016/), Dr Adam Cooper, Lecturer in Social Science and Public Policy at UCL)

Ongoing research is needed to develop improved ways of looking after our historic buildings and museum collections that are continually in need of conservation and maintenance.

If EU funding for this research is removed without replacing it we will lose the ability to care for much that is of value to us as a country and much that is the primary reason for overseas visitors to come to the UK.

Skills Training and Provision across the UK and EU

There are a little over 3000 conservators working in the UK.2 This small field relies on cross-border training and the movement of specialists between nation states. For example, a book conservator may train in Germany and practice in Scotland or a textile conservator may train in Scotland and practice in France.

The sector is too small for the UK to provide education and training in all specialisms at all levels within its borders. We need, for example, the ability to import stone conservators from Germany who get a level of training that is simply not available in the UK.

The profession of Conservator is included in the EU Free Movement of Regulated Professionals legislation which formalises the ability of UK trained conservators to use their qualifications across the EU and vice-versa. This free movement of expertise also gives us the opportunity to take skills acquired in the UK and use them overseas. For example, stained glass conservators could provide expertise to projects in Ireland.

The training of conservators that is available in Scotland (primarily the Textile Conservation Centre at Glasgow University) relies on having non-UK students. This specialist post-graduate training will be less attractive to potential students if these students become unable to use their training in the rest of the EU (if they are UK citizens) or in the UK (if they are EU citizens). It will also be less attractive to EU students if they are required to pay non-EU tuition fees (currently about double EU fees). This would result in less demand for the courses and might risk their viability. This in turn risks further undermining training provision for the UK and the EU.

We hope this is useful to the Forum, and look forward to hearing about progress in due course.

‘Adhesives for Parchment Treatment’

This fascinating blog on a workshop hosted by the National Records of Scotland was originally posted on ‘The Book and Paper Gathering’, an excellent resource for the book and paper conservation community. Check it out now!

The Book & Paper Gathering

‘Adhesives for Parchment Treatment’

A training day at the National Records of Scotland Conservation Services Branch with Antoinette Curtis and Yuki Russell

Author’s note: I am very grateful to Antoinette Curtis for generously offering to review the lines that follow. It is now a few weeks since Antoinette retired (congratulations!) and I feel so glad to have had the chance to benefit not only from the latest fruits of her smart research, but also from the example of the craftsman’s attitude with which that research has been pursued. I owe the same degree of gratitude to Head of Conservation Linda Ramsay and colleagues at the National Records of Scotland.

Following on from the success of the ARA training day on adhesives held at General Register House of the National Records of Scotland (NRS) on 5 November 2014, Antoinette Curtis and Yuki Russell, from the Norfolk Record Office (NRO), were invited to visit…

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Eventswatch – “Fire in the Archives”

If you missed out on the recent ‘Fire in the Archive’ training day hosted by the Scottish Council on Archives (SCA) in Edinburgh, you can read all about it in this excellent post, originally uploaded on the Archives and Records Association (ARA) New Professionals Blog ‘Off the Record’. You can also view the presentations from the day on the Scottish Council on Archives website. http://www.scottisharchives.org.uk/preservation/fire

Off the Record

“Fire in the Archive” is not generally an expression that most Archivists want to hear in their day to day work but an exception was made on the 30th September 2015 as it was the title for the Scottish Council on Archives (SCA) annual meeting and training day.

SCAThe SCA are a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation, which supports the Scottish Archive sector by providing training and guidance on collections development, records management and outreach. The day was held at New Register House (part of the National Records of Scotland) in Edinburgh and as the title suggests, the day centered on sharing experiences by those who had experienced fire in their repository and knowledge sharing to help delegates guard against potential fires as best they can.

After a short welcome by the SCA Chair, Dr Irene O’ Brien, the day began with an introduction from Linda Ramsay, the SCA Preservation…

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Join the Conservation!

Since we launched this blog in January, we have gained over 350 followers and the website has been viewed over 3000 times. We have received and published lots of fantastic articles about conservation and conservators in Scotland, but we are always on the look out for more!

Do you want to join in the fun and see your name in (digital) print? A page long description of your project, some photographs of an interesting object or just a paragraph on something that’s got you excited, we accept them all!

It’s a great way publicise what you are doing and looks great on a CV. Want to have a go, but stuck for ideas? Have a look at this article for some inspiration. So what are you waiting for? Check out these simple guidelines and send us your article to join the conservation!

Painting of Russian writer Evgeny Chirikov by Ivan Kulikov, 1904.

Painting of Russian writer Evgeny Chirikov by Ivan Kulikov, 1904.