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Art Conservation Symposium Celebrates Collaboration

The symposium will be held at Northwestern and The Art Institute of Chicago.

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October 28, 2008 | by Megan Fellman
EVANSTON, Ill. --- Paper, pigments and colorants, ceramics and glass, stone and metals. These materials -- and the conservation challenges related to their deterioration -- will be the focus of a special symposium to be held at Northwestern University and The Art Institute of Chicago Oct. 29 to 31.

"Productive Affinities: Successful Collaboration between Museums and Academia" expects to draw more than 150 attendees representing museums, libraries, universities and foundations from around the United States and Europe who will share ideas on art conservation and discuss collaborative scientific research on cultural heritage materials.

The symposium celebrates the collaboration begun four years ago between the two institutions with support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation: the nation's first multi-year collaboration in conservation science to involve an art museum and a university.

"Continued progress in conservation science is increasingly dependent upon collaborative efforts amongst several different disciplines and effective partnerships involving a wide range of scientific perspectives," said Francesca Casadio, Andrew W. Mellon Conservation Scientist at the Art Institute. "Through the program with Northwestern University we are very fortunate at the Art Institute of Chicago to be able to foster and enjoy a deep engagement of conservation science with scientists in academia and industry, vastly improving our capabilities to study, preserve and care for our collection."

The partnership lends the advantage of combining resources and knowledge to make strides in art conservation and learn how to best preserve works of art. The cutting-edge tools of materials science, chemistry and computer science can be used to unlock the secrets of a material's aging behavior and how it was made.

"A critical component of our collaboration has been education," said Katherine Faber, Walter P. Murphy Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Northwestern, who organized the symposium with Casadio. "University researchers require education on the critical problems in conservation science, while museum conservation staff benefit from lectures on new analytical techniques or old techniques that have not normally been used to address conservation science problems."

Top scientists and researchers will present their findings and offer advice at the symposium. A sampling of topics and speakers include:
  • "Nondestructive Analysis of Gelatin Sizing and Volatiles Associated with Historic Papers" (9:15 to 10 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 29), Mark Ormsby, senior scientist, The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
  • "Funding and Collaborative Research in Europe: General Policies and Selected Examples" (3:50 to 4:25 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 29), Hannelore Roemich, associate professor of conservation science, New York University.
  • "Materials Issues in Conservation of Stone" (11:45 a.m. to 12:35 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 30), George Scherer, W. L. Knapp Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Princeton University.
  • "Is Our Research Relevant Outside the Museum World? Developing Surface Enhanced Raman Scattering into a Practical Analytical Tool, in Collaboration between Museum and Academic Chemists" (2:30 to 3:15 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 30), Marco Leona, David H. Koch Scientist-in-Charge, department of scientific research, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
  • "From Matisse to Picasso -- Compositional Analysis of Modern Bronze Sculptures" (11:35 to 11:55 a.m. Friday, Oct. 31), David Dunand, James N. and Marjorie M. Krebs Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, Northwestern University.
A panel of experts will discuss strategies for establishing and maintaining conservation science partnerships between museums and universities (4:30 to 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 29). Paul Whitmore, director of the Art Conservation Research Center at Carnegie Mellon University, will moderate the panel.

The panel will be comprised of distinguished scientists, professors and foundation leaders from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, the Getty Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the Field Museum and The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Monica Olvera de la Cruz, professor of materials science and engineering, will represent Northwestern.

The symposium, supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, will be held Oct. 29 and Oct. 31 at The Art Institute of Chicago's Price Auditorium, 111 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago, and Oct. 30 at Northwestern's Chambers Hall. 600 Foster St., Evanston.

For additional information, visit the symposium's Web site.

(Melissa Kreitner, a junior in the Medill School of Journalism, contributed to this story.)