The Conservators go to Austin

One of the many awesome things I get to do as the paper conservation fellow is to visit conservation labs around the country. There is so much to learn when touring other conservation labs. Space is always a limiting factor in an institution, and looking at how other conservators maximize their space, as well as the equipment and tools they choose to incorporate, is always informative.

This month, my colleague Jodie and I got a chance to snoop around several conservation labs in Austin, including Carrabba Conservation, the School of Information at The University of Texas at Austin, and the Harry Ransom Centre (HRC). Each lab represented a different facet in the conservation field: private practice, an educational institution, and a cultural institution.

In each of these places, we were given the grand tour (much like what I gave you on my last blog post but slightly more. . . . technical). Each institution had their current projects set out so we could see what they were up to. The most fascinating thing was how open all the conservators were with sharing their knowledge and experience, and how willing they were to collaborate, often asking us for our opinions. There is always more than one way to treat an object, and it is refreshing to hear other treatment ideas, methods, and materials.

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In private practice, conservators work on a large number of objects at a time. Here at Carrabba Conservation, you can see a print being washed to remove degradation products and discoloration.

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The book conservation lab at the School of Information at The University of Texas is used for students who take courses in conservation, preventive conservation, and material science. They also have a paper conservation lab on site.

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Examples of different book bindings for students taking courses in book conservation.

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The paper conservation lab also has a reference collection of photographs to help students identify different photographic processes.

The bulk of our time was spent at the HRC, known for its world-class collection that ranges from the first photograph to a Gutenberg Bible to storyboards from the 1929 film Gone with the Wind. Coinciding with our visit was the special exhibition Frank Reaugh: Landscapes of Texas and the American West, which was a treat as the Amon Carter recently acquired a pastel drawing by Reaugh, and research conducted by HRC’s exhibitions conservator Kenneth Grant (in collaboration with the exhibition) was valuable in providing insight to our example by the artist. Naturally, we spent a great deal of time learning everything we could from him.

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Exhibitions conservator Kenneth Grant giving us a guided tour of the Frank Reaugh special exhibition at the Harry Ransom Center.

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Our very own Frank Reaugh. Double Mountain from Salt Fork, 1930s, pastel on board, Amon Carter Museum of American Art, 2015.1

The versatility of the HRC’s collection is reflected in their conservation department. Not only do they have a designated lab for paper conservation, they have one for photographs and one for books, too. Their labs house seven conservators and two conservation interns who were extremely welcoming, engaging in tabletop discussions of different tips and tricks they’ve picked up over the years.

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When two conservators get together, they talk about bugs! Left: Jodie Utter, our Paper Conservator; Right: Mary Baughman, Book Conservator at the Harry Ransom Center

All in all it was such a great experience to meet so many knowledgeable individuals in the conservation field. Unfortunately, we spent all our time in the labs and did not get a chance to try all the amazing food I heard so much about in Austin. Time to plan a second “work trip”!