A report on the International Symposium on the Conservation of Ceramics & Glass, Amsterdam. 2-4 September 1991

International conferences devoted entirely to the subject of the conservation of ceramics and glass are very few and far between, the last having been held over ten years ago. Consequently when a conference was announced last year to be held in Amsterdam during September, I felt it was important that the V&A should be represent-ed. At the time I was the only permanent member of staff in the Section and so fortunately the choice of who should attend was limited to myself.

This conference was organised by the ICOM Committee for Conservation Working Group 'Glass, Ceramics and Related Materials' in co-operation with The State Training School for Conservators in Amsterdam. The venue for the three-day meeting was the very pleasant and hospitable Van Gogh Museum, ideally situated in the heart of Amsterdam's 'Museum Plein'.

The aim of the symposium was 'to provide the opportunity for the members of the Working Group and all interested in the conservation of glass and ceramics to interchange knowledge and information'. Over eighty delegates from all over the world, though mainly the UK and the Netherlands, were drawn together to hear the contributions from twenty-six speakers.

The content of the papers covered a range of areas including scientific research, training issues, specific case studies of recent work and a number of what might be described as vaguely related topics. The second day was almost entirely devoted to the subject of training ceramic conservators, and papers were presented by those institutions currently involved in training schemes. A particularly interesting aspect of this was the brief overview of some of the recent final year project work of the students. This was summarised by both tutors and students, and gave a tantalising glimpse of the possibilities that might be developed from such work. It is regrettable that such project work is rarely published, since many of the ideas could stimulate more detailed research elsewhere. Some duplication of the project topics by the institutions had occurred, which seems unfortunate, particularly when there is so little of this type of 'practical research' going on. Clearly this might be resolved and developed by some kind of regular interchange between the training institutions.

A visit was arranged to see the ceramics workshop of The State Training School for Conservators in Amsterdam. Four students had recently completed the one-off two year course, and were to spend the next year as interns at the Burrell Collection in Glasgow and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. The course will not be run again until there is felt to be sufficient demand.

In general it was good to hear such a broad range of specialist papers focusing on aspects of ceramics and glass conservation. In particular, the paper by Dr N. Tennent of Glasgow University, on 'The Potential of Instrumental Means of Colour-matching for Ceramic Retouching' offered some interesting, if rather frustrating and unrealistic ideas, on how to attain perfect colour-matching with the aid of sophisticated instrumentation. Ms L. Bogle, a private restorer from Amsterdam gave a well presented and interesting paper on an unusual problem: 'The Conservation of Fire Blackened Ceramics', the successful treatment involved a controlled re-firing at 540°C. Ms S. Smith, from The British Museum discussed 'Deterioration and Conservation of British Bronze Age Pottery' in her clear and well organised paper. There were also one or two not so successful papers. Mr O. Guven from the Hacettepe University, Ankara, spoke about 'The Physical and Chemical Interactions of Some Polymers with Inorganic Pigments'; although the overall impression of his talk suggested his research could be very valuable in some area, the information was difficult to follow. This was one paper that would have been, much more meaningful if Pre-prints had been available. The inconclusive case history on the conservation of a pair of 6th century facet cut beakers by Ms C. Bohm, (from the Conservation Institute of National Antiquities, Stockholm) considered the problem of how to reconstruct the damaged objects and how to treat the very degraded sugary surface of the glass itself. It was one of those papers that seemed to pose more questions than to supply answers.

The three days were both useful and enjoyable. It was particularly worthwhile for me, working as I do in a small section, to have the opportunity to meet other professionals with similar concerns. In particular, the informal discussions during the coffee and lunch breaks seemed to constantly return to the general dissatisfaction and lack of confidence felt by many conservators in the materials that are currently in use. The demand for an intensive review and investigation into many aspects of the treatment processes was made quite apparent.

It is to be hoped that such specialist international symposia can become more frequent events (than once every ten years), since the inspiration arising from a single conference, value of the ex-change of information and the contacts made, may only be short-lived unless regular meetings are set up. The proceedings from the meeting are to be published and should be available early next year.