Museology Master of Arts Program

March 7, 2018

Preservation of Collections II (Course Highlight)

How do you keep outdoor metal statues from corroding in Seattle, known for its rain? What if the flooring in your exhibit or storage spaces is off-gassing and damaging your collections?

Classroom at the Seattle Art Museum

Classroom at the Seattle Art Museum

Nicholas Dorman and Geneva Griswold, conservators from the Seattle Art Museum, teach Preservation of Collections II, a hands-on opportunity to build preventive care skill and to better understand the conservation profession. Each day is a combination of lecture and lab—for example, delving into ethics of collection care, designing a museum facility that promotes object “health,” deterioration risks by material type, and planning museum spaces during capital campaigns. In our labs, we’ve used fabric to build temporary black boxes, and examined objects under UV light, revealing patches of fluorescent oranges and yellows from adhesive residues, inherent material qualities, and past repairs. We’ve also explored the collection care issues of the Olympic Sculpture Park, tested hand held light meters to get immediate lux value readings, run Oddy tests to see if potential casework materials can damage museum objects over time, and visited the Seattle Art Museum’s conservation and mount making spaces.

Discussing the class, it has to be said what a tremendous and rare resource Dorman and Griswold are for emerging collection care professionals. Conservation, a field which includes preventive care and interventive treatment of objects in museums, architecture, and archaeological sites, is a specialized profession with practitioners requiring years of social science, studio art, and chemistry training—prior to beginning conservation training. In the state of Washington, only two institutions currently maintain permanent conservation positions, UW’s libraries and the Seattle Art Museum. Very few students in the Pacific Northwest have the opportunity to learn from and work with people specializing so deeply in the material science, artist intentions, and needs of use and placement of museum objects.

Porcelain Room at the Seattle Art Museum

Porcelain Room at the Seattle Art Museum

Moreover, Dorman and Griswold call on their professional network, providing rare to once-in- a-lifetime opportunities for students such as visits to artist John Grade and Barbara Earl Thomas’ studios and lectures from one of only about three rock image conservators working in the United States. While the focus is primarily on artistic works, the principles, material properties, and techniques covered can be applied to any collection objects. Moreover, artworks tend to incorporate multiple materials, providing an introduction to the complications of care for composite objects.

Perhaps above all, the course is extremely approachable. Conservation is a chemistry-heavy discipline, but the course focuses on preventive care, given that an additional degree is required to be a practicing, interventive conservator. Everyone is allowed their own comfort level with chemistry, and can delve further into that area if they wish, but nobody is required to do so. This is a dynamic class, making use of regional resources, and offering excellent opportunities while still low-key, enjoyable, and flexible to student interests and background.

I would highly recommend that anybody interested in building their skill in physical object care take advantage of this course while in the Museology program. Next time you stand on the shore and enjoy the airborne chloride ions (part of that beautiful sea breeze), you’ll be aware of how they might corrode your metal objects.

-Alaina Harmon, Class of 2018