Thanks to generous support from ISU Library’s staff development funds, I recently attended Gawain Weaver and Jennifer Olsen’s Photograph Conservation Workshop for Book and Paper Conservators, hosted by Head of Conservation Beth Doyle and her team at the Duke University Libraries Conservation Department.
Duke University proved to be a wonderful workshop location, boasting a spacious conservation lab, beautifully landscaped campus, sunny weather (after that first day of rainstorms!), and lots of great eateries.
A few years ago, ISU Library hosted one of Gawain Weaver’s excellent Care and Identification of Photographs Workshops, so my expectations were pretty high for this week of study. Gawain and Jennifer did not disappoint: they came armed with an impressive arsenal of photographic materials for us to experiment on, as well as tools, specialized equipment, chemicals, and resource materials. I appreciated their balanced approach, which included some instruction in the history of photography, the chemistry of photographic print processes and their deterioration, broad trends in the fine art photography market, the ethics of treating photographic materials, and — of course — plenty of hands-on treatment activities.
Our group of twelve workshop participants hailed from all over the U.S., and represented institutional labs, regional conservation centers, and private practices. The workshop targets “mid-career” book and paper conservators, and assumes a solid knowledge base in paper conservation techniques.
Our hands-on instruction included some controversial “don’t try this at home” demos to impress upon us the irreversible and extreme repercussions of some types of chemical treatments, followed by dry and wet cleaning methods, silver mirroring removal techniques, separation of photographs stuck to glass, and tape removal. We also learned to mount and unmount photographs with various types of drymount and various mechanical, heat-based, and solvent-based techniques. We practiced resin fills on albumen prints, and inpainted with watercolors. Throughout it all, Gawain and Jennifer were on hand to discuss our questions and concerns, encourage us, and share stories of their real-life photograph conservation successes and challenges.
Four days, thirty-plus pages of lecture notes, and countless hours of hands-on practice later, I will certainly not be putting any photograph conservators out of business. On the contrary, I believe my fellow participants and I all left with a healthy respect for the risks and challenges particular to photograph conservation. Even so, I’m grateful to have spent the week in the company of talented and generous colleagues, and to have acquired some new skills and resources to help me more judiciously care for the photographs in our collections at ISU Library.
Visit Preservation Underground to read Beth Doyle’s summary of the workshop from the perspective of the host institution.