By Melissa King
Thanks in part to the generous award from the Brommelle Memorial Fund, I was able to travel to Turin, Italy in early September to attend the International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (IIC) 27th Biennial Congress—my first international conference. Having studied in Italy as an undergraduate student, I was elated to return to the country and embrace the culture, the arts, the language, and especially the food.
The theme of this Congress was, “Preventive Conservation: The State of the Art.” It was an especially timely conference for me in my studies, as this past spring I declared my specialty at the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation (WUDPAC) to be Preventive Conservation. At WUDPAC, students spend the first year of study covering knowledge and applied science in nine specialties: preventive, textiles, paper, organic objects, wooden artifacts, photographs, library and archives, paintings, and inorganic objects. The second and third years provide the opportunity for students to delve into a specific topic and develop in-depth skills in that specialty. I am the first student from WUDPAC (as well as the first from other art conservation graduate schools in North America) to declare Preventive Conservation as my specialty.
Attending a conference on preventive conservation prior to beginning my 2nd-year studies on this topic was the perfect complement to my academic goals. Traveling with my major supervisor, Dr. Joelle Wickens (Winterthur Museum’s Preventive Conservator, and WUDPAC Associate Director) made the experience even richer as we were able to confer on the topics presented at the Congress while working together to develop a plan for my course of study in the coming year. We paid close attention to the sessions I found especially exciting.
Dr. Wickens presented her paper on the imperative of teaching soft skills in a preventive conservation training program. Her talk set the tone for many others throughout the week, as speakers and participants reiterated the importance of communicating and developing our interpersonal relationships as a means of promoting preventive conservation. We were both excited that she had the opportunity to announce the implementation of the preventive conservation major in WUDPAC, with myself as the first preventive major. The announcement was well received; many conference attendees approached Joelle and me expressing their interest in the program and offering suggestions on technical skills I should develop in the coming years.
One presentation that particularly stood out to me was given by Lynne Harrison of the National Gallery, London. She discussed the development of a cross-departmental team with the unified purpose of promoting preventive conservation within the Gallery. I feel strongly that communication and shared ownership in the stewardship of museum collections can have positive effects in the overall mission of preservation. In a conversation with Lynne after her talk, I discovered that we both agree on the importance of listening to the perspectives of security staff when considering the potential threat of unwanted guest interaction with the art within the galleries. They are, among many others, museum staff members with valuable input that should be heard.
I was riveted by Amber Xavier-Rowe and Dr. Paul Lankester from English Heritage, who presented (presentation) on their use of citizen science and the press to learn more about an increasing clothes moth population in England. As a student who is excited by Integrated Pest Management with a strong background in marketing, I was especially enthralled by this transparent, creative marketing strategy that engaged the public with a topic that is often swept under the rug. On a similar theme of outreach and education, I appreciated Simon Lambert’s (Canadian Conservation Institute) presentation on the evolution of learning and teaching strategies within conservation education and training. Simon’s talk has given me inspiration as I work with Joelle to tailor my curriculum for the coming year.
Since I am in the middle of a literature search for my 2nd-year scientific research project, I listened carefully to talks that posed interesting research angles and topics that could benefit from further examination. It was fascinating to hear Dr. David Thickett (conservation scientist for English Heritage) discuss some of what he considers to be on the frontier of preventive conservation research. I was excited by Sarah-Jane Fox’s technique for monitoring particulate matter deposition, and I am considering other applications of this technology. My interest was piqued by the research being carried out by Patricia Poreira and Nadia Silva (Universidade Católica Portuguesa) on the development of bionanomaterials for antimicrobial properties in cultural heritage. I will certainly be considering some of these techniques and their application in my own scientific research this year.
Aside from the talks and posters, my trip to the IIC Congress in Turin this year offered an invaluable opportunity to meet other conservators from around the world who share my passion for the field of preventive conservation. I am grateful for the generosity of these practicing conservators who answered my questions and offered support and suggestions. The opportunity to network was enhanced by the beautiful settings within the Palazzo Reale, the Veneria Reale, and the Palazzo Madama. One moment in particular epitomized the magic of my trip while I was sitting between Dr. Joelle Wickens and Michael Henry, my professor in building diagnostics at the University of Pennsylvania. We were discussing the various properties of fluid dynamics and surface cooling within an environment, when a musical fountain show erupted in the courtyard of the palace. I feel lucky to be a student in this enriching field and am so grateful for the support that I have already received as I move forward with my studies.
Melissa King is a preventive conservation major in the class of 2020 at the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation. She has specific interests in outreach and communicating with living artists about material choices and preventive care for artwork.