Monday, September 21, 2009

Conservation Glossaries

Okay, Katie and Rose – you’ve convinced me to answer the call!

Hello fellow ECPNers! Allow myself to introduce…myself. My name is Crista Pack and I am currently employed by the
Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art in Indianapolis as their Conservation Technician. Some might find this odd considering that there are no conservators at the Eiteljorg…in fact there isn’t a conservation department or lab either. I’m it. I like to joke that I’m the head of the department and the lackey all rolled into one.

I’m at the Eiteljorg because two years ago they were awarded an
IMLS grant to conduct a condition survey of nearly 5,000 objects in their collection. The money is being used to bring in Conservators specializing in objects, textiles, paper, paintings, and sculpture. I get to work with these conservators to survey and photograph the objects and then enter this information into our database. It’s a great gig and I’m happy to have it.

However, today as I was entering my
2,437th survey into the database it occurred to me how nice it would be to have a conservator type sitting across the room who I could just shout out questions to spontaneously and then get an immediate response. Sure, I’m lucky to have Richard McCoy as my mentor extraordinaire…but he’s all the way across town at the IMA. And even though I imagine that he is usually just sitting by his phone, anxiously awaiting my phone calls - sometimes he’s not.

But, I digress. The point is, as a person still learning the field; I often have random questions about simple things. Like, what the heck does “skinning” mean when referring to a piece of paper? Or, what is the difference between cockling and buckling? What exactly is Silly Putty made of?

So, I turned to my trusty Google toolbar. I figured I would at least get hits on a half dozen dictionaries, and from those I should be able to decipher a conservation-related meaning for “skinning.” But I got something much better. I’m sometimes the last person to figure out tech/web-y things, so bear with me if you’ve known about these websites for years, but holy friggin’ cow…I feel like I hit the motherload today!

The first one is the Fine Arts Conservancy website:

There you will find glossaries for paintings, works on paper, furniture, and decorative furniture elements. This is also where, by the way, I found my answer:

Excessive intervention resulting in losses of the original media; also called “over-cleaning”, or “excessive cleaning”.

Yay! Very handy. The only way the website could be any better is if they had a glossary for ethnographic objects. Which made me think, “hmm, what other glossaries might be out there?”

Well, in my search I found these gems:


Scientific Research:

(Go Nebraska!)

But the cream of the crop really has to be the MFA, Boston’s CAMEO website:

I’ve heard of this one before and have used it a few times in the past….but I don’t think I truly appreciated just how great it really is. C’mon….any glossary that includes
Silly Putty in its list of definitions with an IR spectrum of it has definitely got it going on:

Material Name: Silly Putty®

[Binney & Smith] A bouncing, rubbery polymer developed in 1943 by James Wright at General Electric. Silly Putty® is made from silicone oil
polymerized by the addition of
boric acid. Peter Hodgson gave the bouncing rubber the name Silly Putty® in 1950 when he introduced it at the International Toy Fair in New York. Binney & Smith purchased the rights to the product in 1971. To celebrate its 50th anniversary, Silly Putty® was put on display in the Smithsonian Institution.
Synonyms and Related Terms: Potty Putty (Br.); Tricky Putty
Hazards and Safety: May leave silicone oil residue on contacted surfaces.

Additional InformationSilly Putty: Website

IR spectrum of silly puttyTransmission spectrum. Sample prepared on zinc
selenide crystal. Credit: Infrared Spectroscopy Lab, Analytical Answers, Inc.,
Woburn, MA.

Surely, there must be others out there. If you have websites that you use regularly, or that you’ve heard of, please post them here! I would love to find out what other resources people in the field regularly use.

Of course, it still might be nice to at least have a cardboard cutout of a conservator I can prop up on my back wall. I’ve been thinking about adding this paper conservator to the department:

She was posted by

Rachel on the ECPN blog before and I’ve been told that she kind of resembles a mini-me. Frankly, I don’t think my head is quite that square.


Richard McCoy said...

Ha, ha. I can't believe someone had the time to analyze silly putty.

Conservators 1
Silly Putty 0

Nice post, PaCK!

Rachel K said...

"skinned" means something slightly different for paper: it refers to loss of the surface of the paper caused by peeling something off (like a sticker, stamp, or piece of tape).

Anonymous said...

Hi Crista,

Nice post.. lots of interesting conservation resources... but what I was really after were some sharks with frickin lasers attached to their heads.

Cheers, Dan

Katie Mullen said...

Of course someone has analyzed silly putty! What else would one turn to when there's no archival book tape left?

Here I thought I was the queen of the google toolbar! Crista, these are really neat resources - and I was previously unfamiliar with most of them! Thanks!

Katie Mullen said...

And to add a glossary to the list, I use Etherington and Roberts
Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books: a Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology.

Beth Doyle said...

AATA from the Getty is a go-to resource.

I second Don Etherington's glossary, I use that a lot. The problem with using words like "skinned" is it can mean different things to different people, even amongst conservators. I always try to use plain English, not conservation-speak, especially for surveys. Those will be most often read by non-practitioners so the easier to understand the better.

Unknown said...

Crista~ Thanks so much for writing this post, it is really great, informative, interesting, and fun.

All the best with your survey, I was part of a 2-year, 9,000 photograph survey when I was pre-program, it's a lot of work but really great looking back at what you've accomplished