Unexpected fame 2018: Conservation approaches to the preparatory object
At the start of my career, I chose book and paper as my conservation discipline as it seemed to me it encompassed almost boundless variety: documents, printed books, manuscripts, scrolls, miniatures, ephemera, wallpaper, globes, parchment, photographs, papyri, even papier mâché, architects’ models and theatre set designs. However, beyond the material aspects of these objects there is also a wealth of different purposes to be found: postage stamps, fine art watercolours, illuminated antiphonaries, private diaries. Some of these items were made to be used, some made for the public eye, some for a limited audience and some meant for no-one’s eyes at all. Although we carefully consider the material characteristics we encounter when planning our treatments, I was interested to know how much we let the raison d’être of an object affect our approach.
Thinking about a possible conference topic along these lines coincided with conserving a number of Franz Kafka’s notebooks at the Bodleian Library. Famously, Kafka asked his friend Max Brod to burn all of his manuscripts after his death, yet I found myself working to preserve every torn and ink-blotted leaf nearly a century later. This led me to consider how our interventions may colour the perceived meaning of an object, especially when we may be working directly contrary to the artist’s or author’s original intentions in attempting to preserve certain evidence. For example, if our research and treatment uncovers erased words in a literary draft, how does this intersect with the author’s control of their own legacy, as represented in their edited, approved, printed texts?
The conference topic we arrived upon for Unexpected Fame focused on how we conserve objects which were never intended for the public eye, and this theme was deliberately meant to be thought-provoking. It poses the question of how we value different types of object, but also the worth we ascribe to marginalia, crossings-out, corrections and all things amended, unfinished, or preparatory. The papers we received on this theme ranged across conservation of fine art, archives, library materials, and beyond, and revealed a wealth of fascinating projects including authors’ drafts, artists’ sketches, musical and cinematic archives, and even a giant theatre prop. The mixture is eclectic and will surely generate many interesting dialogues and further questions worth pursuing. I hope that some of these ideas will be taken on and progressed further by those who came to Oxford for the conference and those who are taking the opportunity to read these papers now.
Fiona McLees ACR
In 2015 the Icon Book & Paper Group held its first conference, Adapt and Evolve: an ambitious venture that included international speakers, breakout sessions with talks and demonstrations, a trade fair, and corporate sponsorship. While the event was successful, it created a huge burden on our committee and conference sub-committee in a way that wasn’t sustainable for something we wanted to do every three years. For our 2018 conference, Unexpected Fame, we wanted both to produce a conference that was high quality but also more manageable for our volunteers. We wanted to set ticket prices to break even or make a small surplus while still being low enough that it wouldn’t strain budgets, mindful that many conservators struggle to gain financial support for professional development—and we wanted speakers to be able to attend without being charged for entry. We also wanted to set templates for programmes and postprints that could be reused to streamline future conference preparation.
We delivered a smaller scale conference: no concurrent sessions, no trade fair, no conference totes (how many are in your closet already?!) or notebooks; and the programme was a small A5 booklet rather than a more elaborate publication. We set the budget conservatively, based on getting some sponsorship and selling more reduced-price and early-bird tickets rather than highest-priced tickets. We didn’t get the fanciest lunch options (though we did prioritise a constant flow of tea and coffee). We had a discount on the venue through work connections. We accidentally (!) got more sponsorship than we planned on, and chose not to do some of the things for which we initially budgeted. We did all this without significant help from the central office (as we’d needed for Adapt and Evolve), which freed up their time for other work. In the end, the conference was two days of great talks; a special evening drinks reception at the Pitt Rivers Museum; a further day of fantastic tours to places normally closed to visitors; and made a surplus of £11,000. We had approximately 30% attendance from outside the UK, and 20 new people joined Icon. We were tired afterwards, but not completely burned out.
For our next conference in 2021, we will continue our commitment to affordable tickets, and we are adding two goals: facilitating remote attendance and producing a “greener” event. Live streaming the conference will allow people to attend all or part of it in situations when travel or time off from work may be difficult; if some people choose to attend remotely rather than travel it would also lower our overall climate impact. Making more environmentally-friendly choices is the right thing to do. Some of these choices, like providing vegetarian catering only, and no extras like bags and lanyards, will also help keep the budget in control.
Finally, we are committed to providing postprints for our conferences, to provide access to the material for those who couldn’t attend, and a set of book and paper-specific papers for members, some of whom still dearly miss the book & paper issue of the Journal! What you are now looking at on your screen or holding in your hands is the manifestation of that commitment, and we hope you find it useful. I want to extend a great many thanks to all the authors for their hard work in preparing their talks and papers, and my fellow Book & Paper Group committee members for their hard work on the other end.
Editor in Chief
Book & Paper Group Chair
I am delighted that the Icon Book & Paper Group is publishing its second online set of postprints from the hugely successful 2018 conference–Unexpected fame: Conservation approaches to the preparatory object. Sharing understanding and disseminating learning is an important aspect of Icon’s work as it supports one of the three pillars of our current strategy–to achieve excellence through building knowledge, high standards and valuing the profession. We are therefore extremely grateful to the hardworking and enthusiastic volunteers who delivered the conference and who have made it possible to publish the papers in this valuable online resource. I hope that Icon members and others will enjoy reading the papers and will find plenty of food for thought in these digital pages.
Chief Executive Officer, Icon
Proceedings from the International Conference of the Icon Book & Paper Group, Oxford 1–2 October 2018
Edited by Abigail Bainbridge and Thomas Bower, with help from Leah Humenuck.
Design by William Bennett and Abigail Bainbridge, based on that of the Journal of the Institute of Conservation.
Typesetting by William Bennett, with help from Nikki Tomkins.
Adapt & Evolve 2015: East Asian Materials and Techniques in Western Conservation
The conference, Adapt & Evolve 2015: East Asian Materials and Techniques in Western Conservation, was the wonderful result of hard work and collaboration among members of the conservation community. It brought together delegates and speakers from around the world to celebrate the traditions and developments in our profession and further the marriage between East and West.
The conference was packed with well researched and thought-provoking papers giving us rich resource to reference. We are most fortunate that our speakers and some dedicated Icon Book & Paper Group committee members have diligently worked to make this publication happen. We hope that this will become a much-used resource for years to come.
Adapt & Evolve stands as a landmark in the history of exchange between conservators of East and West. These post-prints will ensure the lasting legacy of this important conference. Weighing in at 181 pages, this has been a major piece of work undertaken almost entirely by volunteers. Sincere thanks are due to Francesca Whymark, the managing Editor, who saw this project through to fruition. She was ably supported in this by Anna Johnson. Thanks are also due to the Icon Book & Paper Group, who generously used the surplus from the conference to cover the costs of copy-editing, design and the development of this new web page.
These are the very first conference papers to be published on our new website. I am very proud that Icon is hosting this excellent publication. I hope you enjoy reading it!
Chief Executive, Icon
This collection of papers, developed from the presentations delivered at the Adapt & Evolve conference in 2015, further expands upon the conference’s theme of reflection and development. The history of the exchange of ideas, materials and techniques between East and West is examined, considering the mutual benefit that has been, and continues to be, derived from such collaborations. Case studies and scientific analyses examine the history and working properties of various East Asian papers and adhesives and evaluate their use to treat both Western and Eastern cultural artefacts. Particular East Asian techniques are examined and their applicability to Western conservation practice is considered.
My sincerest thanks to the contributing authors for their care and attention as we prepared this publication and for the wealth of knowledge and expertise that they share here.