The Getty Conservation Institute is committed to enhancing the connection between scientific research and its application in the field by ensuring that research results move in a timely way from the laboratory to the practicing professional. The GCI's Education department assists in bringing new research advances to the field through a series of training workshops and colloquia that operate at the interface of conservation science and practice.
Thus far, GCI Education has organized workshops on:
- cleaning of acrylic painted surfaces
- poultice desalination of porous building materials
- advances in characterizing Asian lacquer
The modern profession of conservation began to emerge in the late nineteenth century and was marked by the growing interest and involvement of scientists in the preservation of works of art. Until then, the restoration of art was usually done by artists and craftspeople who were generally guided by the traditional working practices of their craft. When chemist Michael Faraday began to advise the National Gallery in London in the mid-1850s on the cleaning of paintings and the protection of its collection from the effects of the city's polluted atmosphere, it marked the start of science's important contribution to a better understanding of the deterioration processes of works of art and the means to safeguard against them. Faraday's nineteenth-century successors included Friedrich Rathgen of the Royal Museums of Berlin, the first chemist to be employed by a museum for the purpose of caring for its collection. In the early twentieth century, scientists were inextricably linked to the evolution of conservation as a profession. Chemists Harold Pleinderleith of the British Museum, Paul Coremans of the Institut royal du Patrimoine artistique (Belgium), and Rutherford John Gettens and George Stout at the Fogg Museum (Harvard University) were pioneers in the development of the modern profession of conservation. With them began the symbiotic relationship that exists today between the scientific researcher and the practicing conservator.
In addition to preserving the materials of the more distant past, conservators are increasingly coming up against new materials and media used in the products of modern culture, which often pose unprecedented conservation challenges. Perhaps more than ever, the conservation field looks to the sciences to provide understanding of the nature of materials, the causes of their deterioration, and the means for their longer-term preservation. Scientists rely on collaborations with conservators to guide the investigation and development of appropriate conservation solutions. For their part, as the end users of scientific research, conservators test, adapt, and apply new knowledge about materials to the practical work of conserving cultural heritage.
Dissemination of the results of its scientific research has always been among the GCI's highest priorities. While contributions to publications and professional meetings allow easy distribution of information to the field, the Institute recognizes that education and training often provide a better means of assisting the integration of emerging scientific knowledge into professional practice.
For this reason, GCI Education created the Science Workshop Series—ongoing training workshops, colloquia, and similar events—that can draw upon the perspectives of both scientists and conservators. The Science Workshop Series present new scientific knowledge in areas of conservation research in which the GCI has been active, creating a dialogue on the adaptation of research results to practical problems and, in so doing, identifying areas where further work may be needed.
The Science Workshop Series has a numbers of objectives. These are:
- to present the results of new scientific work undertaken by the GCI and other research institutions;
- to consider how research advances can inform the understanding of a conservation problem and a choice of intervention;
- to highlight, for both conservator and researcher, the various issues at stake when integrating new research into practice; and
- to identify areas where further investigation may be needed—whether lab-based research, in-the-field testing and adapting, or both.
The inaugural event of the Science Workshop Series, held July 7-11, 2009, was a colloquium entitled The Cleaning of Acrylic Painted Surfaces: Research into Practice, which drew upon the GCI's ongoing modern paints research and the research of Getty project partners. A workshop on this topic will be offered in May 2011.
Another activity in the series includes the workshop Poultice Desalination of Porous Building Materials.
Related articles in the GCI Newsletter
- Cleaning of Acrylic Painted Surfaces Workshop Held (Spring 2010)
Last updated: June 2010