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Conservation Notes: Simon Starling’s Infestation Piece: Musseled Moore

April 22nd, 2014

In this video AGO conservator of Contemporary and Inuit Art Sherry Phillips explains the work she’s doing with U.K. artist Simon Starling’s Infestation Piece: Musseled Moore, part of the AGO’s collection of contemporary art, and the artist discusses how it is aging. For background on Musseled Moore, watch the video below as Starling discusses the creation of this aquacultural work.


Curious about Conservation?
If you have a burning question about Conservation, leave a comment below. We’ll do our best to give you an answer in an upcoming Conservation Notes post.


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Conservation Notes: Kress Fellow Tessa Thomas and posters of the Belle Époque

March 19th, 2014

Tessa Thomas and a Toulouse-Lautrec poster.

Tessa Thomas and a Toulouse-Lautrec poster.

The Samuel H. Kress Foundation provides yearly grants to cultural heritage institutions to support a conservation training fellowship; only nine awards for Kress Conservation Fellowships were presented for the 2013/2014 year and the AGO is pleased that the foundation selected us to receive a grant. Maria Sullivan, manager of Conservation at the AGO, calls the fellowship for emerging conservators — administered by the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation — “a unique opportunity for the AGO and for conservation training in Canada.”

“Having a Kress Fellow here in the AGO Paper Conservation Lab is such a wonderful way to engage with our fabulous collection, with dynamic discussion and sharing of conservation principles and techniques within a large collecting institution,” says Joan Weir, the AGO’s conservator, Works on Paper. Read the rest of this entry »

Conservation Notes: Safety first!

January 24th, 2014

An extractor unit keeps Conservation manager Maria Sullivan safe from solvent vapours.

An extractor unit keeps Conservation manager Maria Sullivan safe from solvent vapours.

By Maria Sullivan, Manager of Conservation

In the AGO Conservation Department, we’re always concerned about the condition of the artwork… but of course we’re very careful about our own health and safety, too.

Visitors to our labs often wonder about the long contraptions that resemble elephant trunks dangling from the ceiling. We do often call them trunks, but they are, in fact, extraction units that we use when working with small amounts of solvents. When the units are on, the trunks suck air away from the working area so that the conservator isn’t exposed to the solvent vapours. We always consult our material safety data sheets (MSDSs) to understand the materials we’re using and what protective measures are needed. We also try to use less toxic materials whenever possible. Read the rest of this entry »

Conservation Notes: Insider’s look at a prayer bead

December 18th, 2013


Credit: Prayer Bead, The Thomson Collection at the AGO, 29365. Courtesy of The Thomson Collection © Art Gallery of Ontario, Sustainable Archaeology at the University of Western Ontario, 2012, and Eric Fournier, Chief Technology Officer, ORS Visual.

In a previous Conservation Notes post we introduced you to work that Lisa Ellis, conservator of sculpture and decorative art, and Sasha Suda, associate curator of European Art, were doing to learn more about prayer beads from the Thomson Collection of European Art here at the AGO. Working with colleagues from the University of Western Ontario, Ellis and Suda used micro tomography (microCT) to better understand prayer beads and how they were constructed.

This time, to create the image above, the Sustainable Archaeology (SA) facility in the Department of Anthropology at Western University, in London, Ont., provided scans using a Nikon Metrology XT 225 microCT scanner.

The video slices through the exterior shell of a 16th-century Northern European wooden microcarving to reveal an intricate interior showing the Last Judgement. The microCT data set has been manipulated with ORS Visual, a program produced by a Montreal-based company. This software transforms the microCT data, which is based on X-ray images, into the comprehensible, animated scenes shown here.


Curious about Conservation?
If you have a burning question about Conservation, leave a comment below. We’ll do our best to give you an answer in an upcoming Conservation Notes post.


Signature Partner of the AGO’s Conservation Program


Conservation Notes: Tea with Diane Borsato

November 18th, 2013

By Sherry Phillips, Conservator of Contemporary and Inuit Art

One of the six bone porcelain tea cups, English, dated approx. 1822-30.

One of the six bone porcelain tea cups, English, dated approx. 1822-30.

Tea Service (Conservators will wash the dishes)

Early 19th-century tea cups were temporarily removed from the AGO’s collection in order to be used for tea tastings by museum staff. Together, a group of conservators, a registrar, an interpretive planner, a curator, an artist and an art critic drank out of the re-animated cups, experiencing them through all of their senses and through shared conversation.

Three types of tea were served: Bai Hao Yin Zhen white tea (China), Tung Ting oolong (Taiwan) and a dark, 2001 Lahu Wild Trees 1,000-year-old Pu-erh (China). Before and after the action, a museum conservator washed the dishes. The action was documented by photography.

—Diane Borsato

Read the rest of this entry »

Conservation Notes: Don’t spill the Beans

September 16th, 2013

Beans, 2000. Chris Hanson and Hendrika Sonnenberg. Overall: 43 x 33 x 35 cm (16 15/16 x 13 x 13 3/4 in.), polymer clay, wax, kraft paper, plastic. Purchased with financial support of the Canada Council for the Arts Acquisition Assistance program and with the assistance of the E. Wallace Fund, 2001

Beans, 2000. Chris Hanson and Hendrika Sonnenberg. Overall: 43 x 33 x 35 cm (16 15/16 x 13 x 13 3/4 in.), polymer clay, wax, kraft paper, plastic. Purchased with financial support of the Canada Council for the Arts Acquisition Assistance program and with the assistance of the E. Wallace Fund, 2001

An example of packing and crating at the AGO

By Sherry Phillips, conservator of Contemporary and Inuit Art

Hendrika Sonnenberg and Chris Hanson’s artwork Beans is a large quantity of double-bagged, handmade kidney beans crafted of polymer clay, an artwork that sits quietly on a gallery floor when installed. The piece is fairly heavy but well balanced if installed correctly. However, the paper bag and handles of the plastic bag are not strong enough to be used to lift the artwork. Fortunately, the materials used to make the bags are still robust enough to contain the loose beans.

We received a loan request from the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia about a year ago to include Beans in the upcoming exhibition Chris Hanson and Hendrika Sonnenberg: The Way Things Are, running Oct. 25, 2013, to Jan. 26, 2014.

The assessment-for-loan process began with a conservation report on condition, to determine if it’s fit to travel, and a consideration of installation plans and schedules here at the Gallery, to make sure we don’t have plans to install the artwork over the course of the loan request. After we confirmed our support of the loan, we needed to determine how best to transport, handle and install the artwork. Knowing that the paper and plastic bags should not and could not be expected to support the weight of the piece during a lift, I devised yet another bag to contain the artwork and chose materials that would not damage the artwork now or into the future. It can be used to handle, transport and store the artwork, and it’s modelled on the familiar, reusable canvas shopping bag. Read the rest of this entry »

Conservation Notes: Magic numbers and dongles

September 9th, 2013

Part four of a series on the conservation of Max Dean’s As Yet Untitled. Get up to speed on the project.

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By Sherry Phillips, conservator of Contemporary and Inuit Art

This week, we sent off As Yet Untitled to VOX, Centre de l’image contemporaine, where it will be included in Le Mois de la Photo à Montreal, running Sept. 5 to Oct. 5, 2013. It was a hectic week leading up to packing the installation, and every day that we ran the robot program we learned something new: usually something quirky, possibly undesirable, but something that had to be addressed nevertheless.

There is a certain amount of imprecision in programming and teaching the robot. Much of the process is trial and error and repetition and running out to the local electronics store for supplies (see below). We spent long hours simply turning the control unit off and on, repeating robot actions by manually moving the arm back to its zero point, testing alignment marks, and watching and waiting for discrepancies, anomalies and tics. Once those arose, we began the long process of looking for and correcting the potential source of the problem, which could be as simple as a misplaced period within a line of code.

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As Yet Untitled is time-based media and performance art. We needed to patiently teach it how to move through its performance by establishing the coordinates for each of its five joints: the shoulder, arm, elbow and two wrists. To get a sense of how it moves, check out another famous Canadian robot, the Canadarm 2, which has an impressive seven joints in all.

I eavesdropped with interest and admiration to the telephone chats between Marcel and Richard, and although they were speaking English, I really never fully understood what they were saying. One conversation was particularly engaging for me as an outsider: this is where I learned about the concept of a “magic number.” It’s kind of a calibration number; it could be zero but may not be, it can show up out of the blue and may have no real meaning, it might be specific to only this robot and can be critical to know in order to calibrate the robot.

On another occasion I accused Marcel and Max of making up the term “dongle” to describe a piece of hardware on the back of the control unit. But it really is a word, probably arbitrary in its coinage (did someone think it was more descriptive than “thingy”?). As it turns out, it refers to a piece of hardware in the computer industry that acts like a key. Without the dongle the program/robot will not run; in this robot’s case, the dongle is attached to the auxiliary emergency-stop switch.

as yet untitled connections (13)

At the conclusion of the loan in Montreal, the robot will return to the AGO. I’ll need to establish a maintenance program and schedule for the robot and the installation’s various components; the arm should be occasionally manipulated, the compressor operated and the conveyor motor occasionally turned to prevent seals from desiccating and leaking. I’ve also requested that some space be found at the Gallery in order to install at least the robot and control unit so we can continue refinements of the program while the process is still fresh in our minds.

One of the most challenging aspects of the project was the identification and, in this case, numerical qualification of the movement in part and in whole — in other words the “performance” of the piece. The robot is capable of subtlety, and its actions should be precisely replicated each cycle, unlike a human performance, when there will be variations between each cycle. We spent many hours discussing and adjusting each joint, especially the wrist joints, where the movement could be most fluid and very delicate. In the end, however, the robot’s performance is still only as good as the information its human programmers can give it.


Curious about Conservation?
If you have a burning question about Conservation, leave a comment below. We’ll do our best to give you an answer in an upcoming Conservation Notes post.


Signature Partner of the AGO’s Conservation Program


Conservation Notes: Photo-storage tips from a conservator

August 26th, 2013

By Katharine Whitman, AGO Conservator of Photographs

Photographs are often a family’s most precious objects. Whether they are of your great-great-grandfather or your daughter, they act as a record of your family for generations to come. What follows are some pointers for ensuring that your photograph collection will still be around — and in good shape — for many years.

One of Jack Chambers' photographic studies for  Lunch, part of the AGO archives. Two photos are layered, and when the one on top is pulled back, you can see the protected image and the original colour of the bottom print. The top of the print has been faded by exposure to light.

One of Jack Chambers’ photographic studies for Lunch, part of the AGO archives. Two photos are layered, and when the one on top is pulled back, you can see the protected image and the original colour of the bottom print, its upper portion faded by exposure to light.

DO:

  • Store your photographs in acid-free, PAT (Photographic Activity Tested) materials. The PAT logo should be on the packaging of the material if it has been approved.
  • Keep your photographs in areas that have controlled temperature and stable humidity, like your living room.
  • Photos on display (framed or otherwise)should be kept out of direct sunlight and behind UV-coated Plexiglass. They should also be backed with acid-free materials, not regular cardboard.
  • Photographs should only be held by the edges to keep fingerprints from forming in the image. Handle photographs with cotton gloves whenever possible, for the same reason.
  • Store your negatives in a separate place from your photographs — if something happens to your photographs, you want your negatives available to make more prints.
  • If you are shooting exclusively digital photographs, make sure you back up your collection regularly to an external drive and store that drive in a separate place from your computer.

Read the rest of this entry »

Conservation Notes: Robot parts on the GO

July 31st, 2013

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In May our conservator of Contemporary and Inuit Art, Sherry Phillips, introduced you to Max Dean’s As Yet Untitled and described the work being done to restore and upgrade its parts. Last month, she reported that while most of the piece’s mechanical components were in good shape, its air compressors were shot and the conveyor-belt motor needed a tuneup. Here is Sherry’s latest update on the team’s progress: Read the rest of this entry »

Conservation Notes: So you want to be a conservator…

July 24th, 2013

Art conservation is rewarding but challenging work. Conservators have a broad range of skills and knowledge — and a whole lot of patience! Below, read how staff members on our Conservation team made their way into their current roles, what keeps them excited about coming into work and what advice they have for those entering the field.


Sandra Webster-Cook, Conservator, Paintings

Sandra Webster-Cook

What do you do at the Gallery?
I am responsible for the preventive care and conservation or actual restoration treatment of the paintings in the AGO collection. I am responsible for the care of artworks when they are on exhibition, in storage or travelling to an outside exhibition.

What education and training got you here?
I have an honours degree in science (chemistry specialization) and studied art history and studio art before entering the art conservation program at Queen’s University, Kingston. Several years of internships in the U.S., Canada and France were critical to the development of practical manual skills, analytic interdisciplinary thinking and problem solving. The interpretation of the artists’ original intention and the process of change can be very complex.

Any tips for aspiring conservators?
The work and the formation require a lot of time and patience. Fine manual dexterity is essential, as is the ability to see subtle differences in colour, texture and finish. One must first and foremost love art and acquire a large knowledge base upon which to base decisions for treatment and/or preventive care.

What’s the best thing about being a conservator?
It is a great privilege to work so closely with beautiful objects, to see even at a microscopic level the craftsmanship and skill of the many artists’ work entrusted to our care.


Sherry Phillips, Conservator, Contemporary and Inuit Art

A-91417 Sherry Phillips alternate.jpg[1]

What do you do at the Gallery?
As a conservator I promote, advocate and actively provide for the preservation of works of art in the permanent or temporary custody of the Gallery, specifically from the contemporary and Inuit art collections.

What education and training got you here?
I have a bachelor’s degree of science in microbiology and zoology, then I went back to school for several art history and art studio courses while simultaneously volunteering with conservators, before studying conservation in the master’s program at Queen’s University.

Any tips for aspiring conservators?
Patience and perseverance. Admission to the program is competitive and finding employment afterwards can be difficult.

What’s the best thing about being a conservator?
Every day is different. It’s a privilege to work so closely with an object that represents history — to think about the person who made the object, the environment in which the object was made and how best to preserve the original intention into the future for others to appreciate and understand.


Lisa Ellis, Conservator, Sculpture and Decorative Arts

What do you do at the Gallery?
My job is to care for these collections. Essentially, I try to make sure that sculpture and decorative art objects are safe from accidents and the ravages of time — and fix them when things go wrong.

What education and training got you here?
Bachelors of arts from McGill in English literature and art history, M.A.s in art conservation (Queen’s) and art history (U of T). I also studied arts and crafts: spending a year in OCA’s (now OCAD U’s) glass program, for instance. I did internships at lots of museums in Canada and abroad: at Parks Canada, the Redpath and McCord Museum in Montreal, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Getty Museum, Historic New England, and the MFA, Boston. I spent some time with archaeological material at the Agora Excavations in Athens, Greece, and at the Institute of Nautical Archaeology labs in Bodrum, Turkey. Any and all experiences with art and artifacts help being an object conservator: we are faced with many different materials and manufactures all the time.

Any tips for aspiring conservators?
Learn lots about art and science, be interested in history and the art scene and be prepared to travel to get on the job experience.

What’s the best thing about being a conservator?
The best thing about working as a conservator is a sense of satisfaction in preserving wonderful objects. Conservators tend to be interesting and thoughtful people and make great colleagues. Museums and art galleries can be terrific places to work, surrounded by superlative art objects and artifacts, interesting and challenging projects and many committed and engaged museum professionals with whom it is fun to work.


Maria Sullivan, Manager, Conservation

A-96861 Maria Sullivan.tif

What do you do at the Gallery?
I oversee the day-to-day operation of the Conservation Department, including delivery of Conservation services, development and implementation of conservation procedures, systems and standards. I’m trained as a painting conservator. Although administration takes much of my time these days, I occasionally work with paintings more directly.

What education and training got you here?
I have an undergraduate degree in art history and a master’s degree and certificate of advanced studies in painting conservation from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. I have done a number of internships, advanced internships and fellowships at different institutions: Simonis & Buunk (The Netherlands), The Alaska State Museum, Baltimore Museum of Art, Carnegie Museum of Art and Andy Warhol Museum, the Intermuseum Conservation Association and here at the AGO. Working with a variety of different collections and approaches was incredibly valuable experience. In conservation, you’re always learning something new.

Any tips for aspiring conservators?

  • Learn as much as you can: paint, read, look at art, visit conservation labs and take science courses.
  • For most master’s-level programs, some experience working in the field is a prerequisite for admission.
  • Be persistent: it’s a small field and often difficult to find full time employment — but we love what we do.

What’s the best thing about being a conservator?
Working so closely with the art and with others who care about it passionately.


Katharine Whitman, Conservator, Photographs

Katharine Whitman

What do you do at the Gallery?
As a photograph conservator, I assess condition and treat damaged photographs when necessary, whether it’s for loan to another institution, for exhibition in the AGO or for accession into the AGO’s collection. I work with all kinds of photographs, such as photographs on metal, paper, plastic and glass.

What education and training got you here?
Bachelor’s of Science in biology, a bachelor’s of fine art in fine art photography (both a science and fine art background is necessary), a master’s in Art Conservation from Queens University and a two-year residency at the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film.

Any tips for aspiring conservators?
While in a conservation program take courses that are outside your discipline — as a conservator you are bound to encounter many materials that may seem to be outside your field. Make sure you love what you are specializing in: the field is constantly changing and as a conservator one needs to keep up on the latest developments.

What’s the best thing about being a conservator?
Taking a work of art and being responsible for its preservation and seeing a treatment that you have done prolonging the life of the work.


Bo Kyung Brandy Shin, Assistant Conservator, Painting, OPT

Bo Kyung Shin

What do you do at the Gallery?
I preserve and conserve paintings in the AGO collection or paintings coming into/ going out of AGO for loans, in house exhibition and acquisitions.

What education and training got you here?
I have a bachelor’s in fine art, a diploma in collections conservation and management and a master’s in art conservation.

Any tips for aspiring conservators?
Try to broaden your knowledge and experience, even though you know what specialty you want to go into. A good conservator must have a curious mind, persistence and patience. Also, one has to be able to function well in collaborative work environments.

What’s the best thing about being a conservator?
Each work brings completely different challenges, most every time, and you are surrounded by art every day of your work.


Joan Weir, Conservator, Works on Paper

What do you do at the Gallery?
I conserve both historical and contemporary artworks such as prints, drawings, watercolours and installation works as well as archival documents and books. I really enjoy caring for such a wide variety of materials and techniques which can be quite challenging at times and always so interesting.

DSCN2776a

What education and training got you here?
I have an undergraduate degree in fine art (studio). As an art student I studied printmaking, photography and sculpture. After graduating from NSCAD, I returned to school to study the necessary chemistry that is required for admission to art conservation programs. I received a master’s of Art Conservation from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., with a specialty in the conservation of paper objects.

Any tips for aspiring conservators?
My advice would be to take some courses to learn more about materials and techniques of whatever area of conservation you are interested in, such as painting, sculpture, printmaking, drawing, bookmaking, metal work, stone work, textiles or architectural materials, to mention a few. Conservators work is slow, thoughtful work that requires steady, focused hand skills and a lot of patience. Be prepared to travel to study and to gain needed experience to be competitive in a small job market.

What’s the best thing about being a conservator?
I feel fortunate to be next to art every day and to be able to examine works in great detail. It’s a continuing source of intrigue and delight. The sharing of information, skills and research among colleagues means a job with lifelong learning built in, and it’s a great feeling to be preserving art now for future generations!


Margaret Haupt, Deputy Director, Collections Management and Conservation

What do you do at the Gallery?
I am a senior manager responsible for several departments, but we’re all focused on stewardship of the AGO art collections. I was hired 23 years ago as a paper conservator. Circumstances have changed with time. To the extent that I still have an active conservation practice, I work on “preventive conservation” or preservation management.

What education and training got you here?
One of my most formative experiences was working for a number of years just with contemporary art here at the AGO, at a time when there was a lot less professional information available on how to do that. It taught me always to think about the broader context of my work. It was a great thing!

Any tips for aspiring conservators?
I don’t know of a single conservator who doesn’t love what they do and who doesn’t largely define themselves in terms of their work. There are some people don’t keep with it for a variety of reasons. Do your homework before you apply for one or more of the training programs, especially about employment prospects.

What’s the best thing about being a conservator?
It’s interesting, it’s fun and I believe that it matters.


Christine Fillion, Conservator, Paintings OPT (occasional part-time)

What do you do at the Gallery?
My role involves the examination and treatment of paintings in the collection of the AGO for in-house exhibitions and loans to other Canadian and international institutions (museums and art galleries).

What education and training got you here?
A bachelor of fine arts degree with a major in visual arts and minor in art history; bachelor of science with major in chemistry and minor in geology; a master’s degree in art conservation Queen’s University: conservation of works of art on paper and conservation of paintings; internships in paintings conservation and museology in the United States, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Belgium and Italy.

Any tips for aspiring conservators?

  • Get a university undergraduate honours degree in either the natural sciences and/or fine arts, which includes studio art and history of art.
  • Try to do a three- to six-month internship at a museum prior to advanced studies in conservation at the master’s level to see if you really like this kind of work.
  • Receive a master’s degree in conservation from a recognized institution in Canada, the United States or abroad.
  • Do internships for a few years before applying for an assistant position in conservation in a museum where highly qualified conservators are employed.

What’s the best thing about being a conservator?
It’s a stimulating area to work in with an interdisciplinary approach where art, science and working “hands-on” with artworks/artifacts are all important components. Also those interested in writing texts and speaking to the public will be happy in this profession. Also don’t forget studying other languages: this is useful for communicating with other professionals and for reading conservation literature.


Curious about Conservation?
If you have a burning question about Conservation, leave a comment below. We’ll do our best to give you an answer in an upcoming Conservation Notes post.


Signature Partner of the AGO’s Conservation Program