TSLAC Conservation recently attended the 45th annual meeting of the American Institute for Conservation (AIC.) The meeting’s theme, “Treatment 2017: Innovation in Conservation and Collection Care,” was embodied in several sub-themes, including a focus on conservation documentation. Though documentation may not be the exciting part of treatment, it is an ethical necessity to record how physical intervention may change the nature of a historical artifact to prolong its life.
In her talk, “That Poor Cousin of Treatment: Documentation and Possibilities for Simple Innovation,” Cybele Tom of the Art Institute of Chicago presented a case study in thorough documentation as multiple conservators treated one object over many years. She found that documentation of past treatment greatly influences current treatment decisions, and she considered detailed documentation as a “love letter to a future conservator.” For highest accuracy, documentation might include both quantitative, objective measurements and qualitative, journal-style musings on decision making. However, these idealized practices require judicious application. In a higher-volume, collections-based workflow like TSLAC’s, a different approach is needed.
More representative of TSLAC’s workflow was the talk “Medium Rare: An Innovative Treatment Approach to the Space between Special and General Collections.” Quinn Ferris of the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign discussed issues familiar to many conservators who work with materials that fall somewhere between general collections and special collections. Documentation presents a special challenge for these materials: it should be careful and methodical, while still promoting quick turnaround.
TSLAC’s solution is to create written documentation for all items using a check-box-based database, which provides a searchable, controlled vocabulary. Additional descriptive fields allow customization and qualitative musings like those advocated by Ms. Tom. We pursue photographic documentation only for treatments that are especially invasive or that involve items that are especially unique. As seen at the AIC meeting, balanced solutions like ours are pursued in other, similar collections.