|City Of Angels Conservation||
I thought it would be fun to share with you the thought process - the "method in our madness" - of a conservator.
When someone first brings me an object, or the first time I see a sculpture, monument, historic structure, or artifact, I walk around it physically, visually, and mentally. My mind registers millions of subtle details about form, color, and texture on my journey around it. I personally find taking photos helps me immensely in this initial examination. I start with the object in it's overall context on all sides and the move in to see sections and details. I look for evidence of how it was made, how it has lived to this point in time, and evidence of any alterations, repairs, refinishing, and damages. When it comes to damage I look for physical damage that can range from small abrasions to cracks to the entire object being smashed or in fragments large and small. I also look for chemical damages ranging from being over-cleaned to corrosion, salt damage, sulphates, bio-films and fungal growth, and more. We use light - raking light across a surface will show you it's topography and relief. Using bright direct light on dark object will show you surface and things like corrosion on metals; using soft bounced indirect light on highly reflective objects like glass or silver will allow you to see the fine details of their surfaces down to fine abrasions under the microscope. We also often use other sources in the electro-magnetic spectrum such as UV light and IR examination that can range from a UV flashlight to an expensive IR thermal video camera. These sources allow us to see and document what may be largely invisible to our eyes from previous repairs and fills, stains and adhesives, under-drawings and paintings, to even seeing where moisture seeps into monuments and historic buildings. And often it can be very helpful to look with a binocular microscope - starting at low power and then moving to higher magnification for areas of interest.
The result of this deep looking at an object or building is a survey -we make pages of notes - and in some instances this can lead to deeper forensic investigation and testing with both chemical and high tech methods from x-ray and gamma ray sources to ultrasound and CAT scans, and x-ray diffraction, Fourier transform spectroscopy, and neutron activation analysis. The depth of analysis and method you use really depends on the need to understand the object and how precisely you need to measure it's condition, as well as the questions that need to be answered about it. And honestly how much money is available to pursue those questions.
All of this doesn't stop when we have our treatment plan and put it into action. Conservation is a hands-on discipline, We hold the objects, use many specialized hand tools, apply chemicals, we clean, align, mend, and fill. We are continually in Deep focus on every minute part of the surface and making millions of judgements in our "seeing" which guides our process - how soft or how hard, how long, when to stop, when something isn't working, when to try a different method.
And then we enact the visual dance again when the treatment is finished. We walk around the object at the end as we did at the beginning. Duplicating as precisely as we can the photographs we took before - just so. Shown side-by-side you can see exactly how the object or component of a building was affected by the treatment.
I am often asked by curators and collectors what is the most important thing they can do to preserve an object or building of art and history. My first reply is "Don't Break It!" - but after we laugh about the obvious the real answer is: "Look. Deeply Look..."