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IHS Teams Up with Eiteljorg

Members of IHS may not know that IHS provides outreach services to other institutions in Indiana as part of its mission. The Historic Document Preservation Program assists with preservation and conservation issues such as preservation imaging, collections conservation assessments and conservation treatments for collections objects as part of this outreach.

One of the program’s projects is a condition survey of works on paper held by the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art. This survey is part of a larger effort at the Eiteljorg to complete a comprehensive assessment of the physical condition of their art collections and is part of a $150,000 Institute of Museum and Library Services grant awarded to the Eiteljorg. The IMLS is an arm of the federal government and provides assistance to cultural institutions nationwide. This grant, managed by Amy McKune, director of Museum Collections at the Eiteljorg, was proposed to ensure that the museum is adhering to the highest standards of collections care and fulfilling its commitment to preserve the collection. Surveying the entire collection piece by piece is a major undertaking, requiring several conservators representing five specialties: paintings, works on paper, ethnographic objects, textiles and sculpture.

As a part of this grant, Susan Rogers, IHS paper conservator, regularly visits the Eiteljorg to survey their works on paper. The Eiteljorg’s paper collections encompass 1,100 objects, including a wide variety of drawings, prints, photographs and watercolors by significant artists such as Charles Russell and E.S. Curtis. Condition surveys provide information about the technology and materials involved in the making of each piece. Susan completes a thorough examination of the physical aspects of each object and writes an assessment of any instability in the piece or any damage present. She provides recommendations for any changes in storage of the piece and any conservation treatment that may be needed.

Her recommendations may include suggestions for new storage materials or systems, monitoring media that may have become unstable, rethinking exhibition installation methods or treating damaged objects. When conservation treatment is deemed necessary, Susan prepares a treatment proposal for the piece. Survey information about each object is entered into the collections management database by Crista Pack, who is the conservation technician for the grant, and each object is given an action priority rating based on Susan’s recommendation.

Once an overview of the condition of objects is made accessible by the grant work, the information will become part of the long-range collections conservation plan at the Eiteljorg. The work will enable the museum to prioritize conservation needs and seek out additional funding to treat and preserve these objects and ensure their availability for future generations.

“It’s such a pleasure to work on this collection,” says Susan. “One of the beauties of being a conservator is being able to examine each artwork so closely – to identify the process, the pigments, even the fibers of the paper is such a joy. Its intellectual history is important as well, but first you have to love the object.” IHS Paper Conservator Susan Rogers examines a panorama by Native American photographer William Wilson at the Eiteljorg.