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24th Annual Conference of Canadian Association for Conservation of Cultural Property in Whitehouse, Yukon, 27-29 May 1998

Alexandra Kosinova
Senior Sculpture Conservator, Sculpture Conservation

'There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
that would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.'   

Robert Service: The Cremation of Sam McGee

I heard of the Gold Rush in the Canadian Yukon a long time before I discovered the manly poetry of Robert Service. But I guess the adventurer in me combined with the moiling conservator when CAC (Canadian Association for Conservation) announced that they would be holding their Annual 24th Conference and Workshop in the capital of Yukon, Whitehorse, as part of  the celebrations of  the centenary of the Gold Rush. Luckily at the time I was (and still am while writing this article) involved in the conservation of a highly photogenic object, the Boppard Altarpiece. I moiled at the computer and with the camera, and managed to put together a presentation which was well enough liked by the conference committee. With the financial assistance of the Conservation Department of the V&A I was finally able, at the end of May 1998, to land in that remote part of the world.

The conference took place over three days, at a very comfortable pace. The program covered conservation science, a wide range of case studies of museum objects, conservation of industrial and religious sites, reports on evaluations of old conservation treatments and modern materials, packing and transport, and papers on policies concerning treatments of the First Nations artifacts.

 Margot Brunn of the Provincial Museum of Alberta gave an excellent paper on identification of placoid scales on shagreen, or shark skin, and gave examples of the use of shagreen in various decorative arts such as furniture and clothing, in particular boots. Jean Tétreault of the Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI) presented a very lively and informative paper on the choice of commercially available coatings used in various museum situations such as ventilated or air-tight showcases, open enclosures and floors made of different materials. A presentation bound to be appreciated by many practical conservators working with limited resources was given by Nancy Odegaard of Arizona State Museum, on spot testing of  various materials such as metals, ceramics, plaster, glass, stone, pigments, bone, wood, fibres, gums, resins and accretions.

James Engelbert and Larry Pearson presented an impressive paper on moving a 1915 Ukrainian church from a site in Alberta to the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Hull, Quebec, with emphasis on the multi disciplinary aspect of the project. Scott Williams spoke on the use of a portable FTIR spectrometer as an on-site and in-situ service provided by the CCI to identify the chemical composition of museum objects. A very practical presentation was given by Marianne Webb, Royal Ontario Museum, on using the nebulizer and a range of adhesives for consolidation of powdery paint. Tom Stone from the CCI reported on a survey of 112 mainly ethnographic objects treated at the CCI in the 70s and 80s, which are now housed in various museums across Canada. The survey was aiming to assess these documented treatments, pointing out materials that appear to have failed most often, e.g. cellulose ethers. Recommendations for a clearer way of documenting conservation treatments were also made.

A fascinating project of preserving the Gulf of Georgia Cannery Site, run by Parks Canada, was described by Carl Schlichting and Trish Poworoznik. The site, built on pilings over the Fraser River in Steveston, British Columbia, presents various conservation challenges such as high RH, beetle infestation and pressure to run this site as a partly operational industry for the benefit of the visitors. A contrast to this vast project was the detailed paper given by Kjerstin Emilia Mackie, from the Royal British Columbia Museum, on conservation and analysis of a cloth cap. The research of the cultural history of this object included an examination of thousands of historic photographs of similar objects and developed into a cultural study.

The presentation by Jocelyn Hudon, from the Provincial Museum of Alberta, on pigmentation of bird feathers, broadened the horizons of a traditional fine arts conservator like myself in more than one way: it made me think of pigments, materials that I deal with on a daily basis, in a whole new light and made me read about Edwin Land's retinex colour theory. Research into different textile covers and their ability to protect objects from UV light, depending on the type of fibre, yarn, and presence or absence of pigments and fillers, was undertaken and reported on by Nancy Kerr from the University of Alberta.

 A most enjoyable after-sessions visit took the delegates on board The Klondike, a paddle steamer with an adjustable bottom, which used to serve the Yukon River between Whitehorse and Dawson City. It is now displayed on the river bank and open to visitors. We were taken around by the 'dry dock crew' who maintain the steamer and learned about their effective preservation techniques in extreme climate conditions, such as -50 C frosts.

The Conference provided an excellent opportunity to meet conservators and other professionals in a relaxed atmosphere and in an exotic location. The receptions were opulent and the unplanned extras included a wildfire which covered the valley in a thick smoke for three days.