IIC turns 70: a history from the Monuments Men to the age of climate and Covid-19

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Brussels Preparatory Meeting, September 1948 From left -back row: Helmut Ruhemann, John Gettens, Stephen Rees Jones, Arthur van Schendel; middle: Ian Rawlins, Harold Plenderleith, René Sneyers; front: Madeleine Hours, Paul Coremans,
Mme. C. Anglade. (Photo © KIK-IRPA, Brussels www.kikirpa.be)


Our Story

“For those pioneers, those unexpected visionaries, the destruction of war only sharpened their convictions that the preservation of cultural artefacts was too important to be left to chance”.

Source:  A Short History of IIC – Foundation and Development (2000) Former IIC Secretary General David Bomford

Many of the founders of IIC witnessed dramatic and difficult events during the Second World War. In the UK Harold Plenderleith helped organise the removal of objects from The British Museum and lived on its premises for the duration. In Belgium Paul Coremans not only undertook a huge photographic project to record the country's culture, but also hid young resistance fighters and those evading forced labour in Germany. American George L Stout was among the 'Monuments Men', and in Europe, 1944-45, he supervised the recovery and inventory of thousands of artworks hidden in salt mines, churches and other secret locations.

As the dust settled, they picked up conversations with dozens of other colleagues, including several women within the profession —such as Evelyn Ehrlich, Minna Horovitz and Madeline Hours. These acknowledged pioneers held several meetings across the US and Europe with the goal of defining what the modern conservation profession should look like. They imagined a group of people who knew not just 'what to do but why they did it', combining technical expertise with scholarly understanding.

The Articles of Association for IIC were formally signed on 21st March 1950, many of the founding members and fellows have since been central to furthering the field on all fronts, from refining practical techniques to defining ethical practices, as well as addressing major historical events from the 1966 Florence floods to the controversial, yet pivotal, 1974 Greenwich Lining Conference. 

Seventy years on, we had intended to mark the occasion by announcing a very special anniversary project to include the cataloguing  and complete digitisation of IIC’s archives with a resulting touring exhibition. These projects were planned not only with public outreach in mind, but also to remind our profession of its own inspiring past. That, of course, was before the world ran into another big, historical event in the shape of Covid-19, upending lives and bringing personal and economic grief, imposing social distancing and also closing cultural heritage collections and sites across the globe. Suddenly we are a little closer to our founders in 1950, facing a world where many former certainties are now on shaky ground as we learn to work within a structure of rationing—not of food, but of personal contact. 

Our Anniversary edition of News in Conservation

title says my favourite congresses since 1970


With the help of many members, what we were able to produce during 2020 was an extended edition of News in Conservation, with invaluable support from the long memories of some of our members extending back to the 70s, and a wealth of photographs discovered by friends across the world, capturing the changing technology, ideas - and fashions across our lifespan so far.

Read the Anniversary edition here.

We do eventually intend to get back to our archive digitisation and touring exhibition plans - although we are taking the long view, and have pencilled it in for the run up to our 75th birthday.