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Justin P.

"How important is knowing the ropes? Thoughts on the ethics and practice of conserving ship model rigging." By Davina Kuh Jakobi, Chicago, IL May 31 2017

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Hi All, 

 

I am a professional book and paper conservator and this week was in attendance at the American Institute for Conservation's annuall meeting in Chicago.   While typically I generally stay within my own professional discipline and associated talks, I had to break out and catch the very interesting talk given by the Junior Conservator for Ship Models, Davina Kuh Jakobi from the Rijks Museum.   Her talk was generally discussing the dilemmas all conservators face when dealing with cultural heritage arifacts wether books, chairs or in this case ship models.   I found her distinctions between what is considered "technical" models and "non-technical" models fascinating, and her discussion of the process they used for identifying the model she was working with even more interesting.  

 

I acquired her permission verbally to share some of the photo's I took of her slides and spoke with her briefly about NRG and MSW.   She implied that she often peruses these pages quietly, so Davina if your reading this, Cheers!   Its my belief that her project would make a wonderful submission to the Journal so I plan to reach out to NRG editors and Davina to see if something could happen.  Hopefully she is looking for somewhere to publish!  I left much of the technical slides out as per professional courtesy, but I think included enough for you all to get a jist of what was discussed.  

 

Her work restoring the silk sails was just marvelous!   Also her techniques for splicing the old broken rigging very clever...   If anyone has questions, I'm happy to try to answer or if maybe Davina if she catches this thread will pop in and answer herself.   I do hope she does!   I'm sorry the quality of the photos are so poor, it was dark and all I had was my phone!   

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My advice to anyone reading this and contemplating the restoration of a ship model is NOT to attempt to retain as much of the old Rigging as possible. The rigging on an old model is the first thing to go as it's made of efemeral material. It gets brittle and has lost its strength and by the time it's in your hands the rigging is falling to pieces. If you "restore" a length of line on a model that has snapped, your repair job will only last as long as it takes for the next stretch on the same length of line to part. In my view, if any part of a length of model line has parted, the ENTIRE length should be replaced. If your goal in restoring the model was to stabilize it for a future in a collection, you aren't doing other conservators any favors by returning this model to the collection as it's rigging will continue to deteriorate-the repair of that one broken section will NOT prevent the rapidly increasing rate of decay that has already been underway on the model and is sure to continue.

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On 6/2/2017 at 4:57 AM, JerseyCity Frankie said:

My advice to anyone reading this and contemplating the restoration of a ship model is NOT to attempt to retain as much of the old Rigging as possible. The rigging on an old model is the first thing to go as it's made of efemeral material. It gets brittle and has lost its strength and by the time it's in your hands the rigging is falling to pieces. If you "restore" a length of line on a model that has snapped, your repair job will only last as long as it takes for the next stretch on the same length of line to part. In my view, if any part of a length of model line has parted, the ENTIRE length should be replaced. If your goal in restoring the model was to stabilize it for a future in a collection, you aren't doing other conservators any favors by returning this model to the collection as it's rigging will continue to deteriorate-the repair of that one broken section will NOT prevent the rapidly increasing rate of decay that has already been underway on the model and is sure to continue.

 
 

While I understand the heart of what your saying here, I have to counter and point out that any Conservator working on an "historical" model (technical or non-technical) should strive tor retain ALL original materials whether judged ephemeral or not.    Conservation and restoration are at their core fundementally different concepts which come with fundementally different approaches to the work.   Replacing all the rigging, in my opinion, would be a restorative act; while repairing and retaining to whatever degree is possible would be a conservation approach.  

 

It is not our job as conservators to do any favors for the next conservator.  Our duty is to the artifact and the public.  We often prefer to return original artifacts to the collections knowing full-well that they will continue to deteriorate and we do everything possible to understand that detioration, and take preventive measures.  You'll note that I left out all the slides of her sophisticated materials research.   First and foremost she is a scientist...   do not take for granted the level of technical analysis that goes into this work.   

 

In order to provide the public the greatest access and information, while preserving the dignity and authenticity of the piece we therefore must go to extreme measure to extend the life of all materials associated with the item.  When making these judgements we weigh use/storage and exhibition as main contributors.    In this particular case, the model was historic, the rigging deemed original and it lived in a environmentally controlled museum quality environment.   Further degradation of the rigging was already halted/slowed as much as it could be (to the molecular level.)   The model would not be handeled and would concievably be the perfect candidate for the fussy work of rigging conservation.   

 

All that said, MY professional advice would be to not attempt restoration/conservation of any kind unless you are a trained professional conservator, most importantly if you are considering such work on an historic model.   There is no doubt someone with professional training is available in your area and you can consult AIC for a peer-reviewed list of professionals by discipline.   While you may wish to conduct the work yourself on your own collections, conservators will generally offer advice or point out great reference materials for no charge.   

 

There is a line, and much of what we take for granted as ephemeral objects actually have a great deal of importance to those who use these models and collections as research tools.    Remember that with everything you do, undo and redo you are effectivly changing forever the original character of the object and potentially erasing historic information about practices, materials, contemporary thinking and tradition.   

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A  model that has not had its rotting rigging replaced is simply going to keep deteriorating. Also, prior to falling into the hands of the conservator, the models physical properties were altered and deformed by the rigging as it shrank. Wasn't the restoration begun because of this damage? The shrinking rigging is very often the sole cause of the damage that has befallen the spars. Allowing the original rigging to keep negatively effecting the rest of the fabric of the model ALSO comes with ethical considerations.

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Isn't the fact that she is adding short splices where none existed before, and shortening the line while doing so, effectively changing forever the original character of the object and potentially erasing historic information about practices, materials, contemporary thinking and tradition.

 

I would have thought that obtaining the same material used for the line and replacing it would be more in keeping with the original intent of the builder.

 

Regards,

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4 hours ago, JerseyCity Frankie said:

A  model that has not had its rotting rigging replaced is simply going to keep deteriorating. Also, prior to falling into the hands of the conservator, the models physical properties were altered and deformed by the rigging as it shrank. Wasn't the restoration begun because of this damage? The shrinking rigging is very often the sole cause of the damage that has befallen the spars. Allowing the original rigging to keep negatively effecting the rest of the fabric of the model ALSO comes with ethical considerations.

 

I agree, in part...    the conservator must make that call.   In this particular project, my guess was that the cause of the damage was more incindental than passive or age related...  

 

Again, this was not a restoration.    This was a cleaning and then some stabilization with some it-situ repair, or otherwise a conservation treatment.   I dont actually know what caused the damage to the rigging, but I do know that unless over 90% of the rest of rigging was damaged then there is no reason to tear it all down and do it over.   Especially because your not likely to do it the same way thereby totally erasing the original creators works and imparting your own.  Thats a big no-no...   

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25 minutes ago, popeye2sea said:

Isn't the fact that she is adding short splices where none existed before, and shortening the line while doing so, effectively changing forever the original character of the object and potentially erasing historic information about practices, materials, contemporary thinking and tradition.

 

I would have thought that obtaining the same material used for the line and replacing it would be more in keeping with the original intent of the builder.

 

Regards,

 
 

I doubt she shortened the line, it looks like she was making it longer...   There were two splices where she ADDED material...      And yes, to a degree any intervention changes the character, etc BUT some forms of intervention are minimal and others are extreme.   The conservator chooses the minimal wherever possible and restorer (often driven by other motives) generally takes the extreme.   

 

One must keep context in mind.   For a collector, replacing the rigging and restoring the sails might be chosen and thus would be considered a restoration.  Whereas a museum, which has a duty to protect the evidence and authenticity of the objects must choose a more conservative approach.   I remember in one particular piece, the sails where made from a antiquated silk fabric not often used today...  likely that no modern materials would be appropriate for a replacement (from a conservation standpoint).   

 

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Nah I still disagree with your insistence on keeping the rotting rigging. There are certainly examples in museum restorations in which large percentages of original material are replaced. The works of Albert Pinkham Ryder are a good, if extreme, example. His paintings are deteriorating faster than other contemporary works by other painters due entirely to the materials he chose to incorporate into the work. If your strict " no replacing of historical material" idea were applied, his paintings would literally fall off the rotted canvas they were painted onto. Also I disagree with your statement that a restorer wouldn't be able to reproduce the original rigging or replicate exactly how it was originally laid out or constructed. This can absolutely be done.

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15 minutes ago, JerseyCity Frankie said:

Nah I still disagree with your insistence on keeping the rotting rigging. There are certainly examples in museum restorations in which large percentages of original material are replaced. The works of Albert Pinkham Ryder are a good, if extreme, example. His paintings are deteriorating faster than other contemporary works by other painters due entirely to the materials he chose to incorporate into the work. If your strict " no replacing of historical material" idea were applied, his paintings would literally fall off the rotted canvas they were painted onto. Also I disagree with your statement that a restorer wouldn't be able to reproduce the original rigging or replicate exactly how it was originally laid out or constructed. This can absolutely be done.

 
 

Well Im not trying to sway you.   Merely trying to present you with a bit more of the nuance of the nuance of the work.   It is not insistence that drives my want to save the original material but really the core of the job.  If I cannot within my skill, ability and materials knowledge do so, then I will find someone or some way to; or if left with no other option, describe, document and ultimately as you suggest replace it.   However your advice to just go ahead and replace it based on nothing more than the fact that it is degrading would lead (if followed broadly) to a lot of lost material.   Honestly, that was the attitude of many restorers of the earlier part of this century and now widely viewed as good-hearted but misplaced.    Again... context plays an extremely important role.   

 

To your analogy: there are many examples of contemporary artistic works which pose the very same problem you point out.  Digital photographic prints come immediately to mind, but yes even the work of the artist you describe.  To follow your analogy, re-rigging the ship is more or less the same as repainting the painting rather than trying to save the original canvas.   In many instances we conservators deal with such problems by replacing the carrier, or in this case the rotting canvas if only to save the larger work.  By utilizing methods to face, relaminate and transfer the painting to a new carrier.   BUT ONLY if the artist allow, if they are dead then ownership and provenance are the next priority.   However I would say that it is hard to make the comparison between a painting and a ship model, especially when considering the rigging versus the blank canvas material.  They are not, to my mind, inherently the same.

 

Also, I didnt mean to suggest that a restorer COULDNT duplicate the rigging as it was done, but more questioned wether they would attempt to do so at all.   If you can save it, you must and if you cant then every attempt must be made to preserve artistic intent.     If you choose otherwise, then your practice would not stand up to the stringent ethical standards and peer-review that we American conservators must abide by, and one step further you would not at all be legally allowed to work as a conservator in Europe, let alone be certified.  Being a European trained, American peer-reviewed conservator means I have this conversation daily with the work and clients I have.  I love this kind of debate...   I think ship models provide an extra layer of complexity to the issue...

 

 Truthfully, there is very little room for ambiguity on this, which is why there are conservators and there are restorers.   (Incidentally, some european languages translate conservator as restaurer).  

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I still feel, with regard to her adding short splices here and there, that she has changed the ship.  If someone looked at the ship 200 years from now would they assume that splices were supposed to be there and usual for rigging of the period?  Or, would they have to guess which were the efforts of a conservator?  If she did lengthen the lines where did she hide the extra length.  Has she changed the way the line was belayed.  A normal short splice will significantly shorten a line. What did she have to adjust to accommodate the change?

 

Regards,

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1 minute ago, popeye2sea said:

I still feel, with regard to her adding short splices here and there, that she has changed the ship.  If someone looked at the ship 200 years from now would they assume that splices were supposed to be there and usual for rigging of the period?  Or, would they have to guess which were the efforts of a conservator?

 

Regards,

With regard to museum, art gallery and library artifacts, yes.  The current standard of practice calls for extensive documentation, condition reports and photographic recording of all work completed by conservators.   In 200 years, a researcher would see clearly in the catalog record that conservation work had been undertaken, by whom, when and to what extent.  They would easily be able to determine what was original to the piece and what was the addition, subtraction and manipulation of the conservator.   

 

You are fundamentally right though, she is by doing anything changing the ship.   However, leaving it as is would be be a disservice to the piece and the collection, while doing too much would be the same.   The conservator lives in the middle...      In doing some and not all, the research 200 years from now can still enjoy what is left of the original...   the point is to stabilize and lessen the distraction overall of the evidence of age and misuse/handling.  Now the object lives in the Museum it will have a better life and the original components will last much longer. 

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I'm picturing an imaginary medium sized museum with ten deteriorating models in storage. The board votes to address the fact that the models are rapidly deteriorating. Their duty to the museum is to take steps to assure the future of the collection so they hire you, as a professional, to stabilize the models so that they may be exhibited in the future. You, using your philosophy, only repair rigging that is actually parted or is cut at one end. Inside some of the cartons, no longer attached to the ship, are seven or eight long lengths of rotted rigging that came off the model. You can't tell where they originally were attached. Regardless of how you address the repairs, using your guiding principle of not replacing original rigging if it's still attached to the model, you deliver your restored models to the museum, your job is done. But within a month more rigging is coming loose on the models as the rigging continues to deteriorate. The models are NOT going to survive intact into the next decade, maybe not even into the next year. Your principle of not removing original material from the model only made sense for the brief amount of time between your deliver of the model until the next bit breaks off. You have NOT prepared the model for any sort of future at all. What exactly DID you do for that museum?

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Well...   I wish it were as easy as inventing a scenario and applying blanket treatment protocols.    We are often faced with treatment problems that push the limits of what we would wish to do, and in those instances we would as you suggest, replace the rigging that needed it, as Ive already said.   My guiding principal is not made up, and is not one that was developed in a vacuum.   It is what guides all conservators of all things...   Each object and in this case, each ship-model, would be evaluated independently and treated on an individualized basis.  

 

Your original advice to simply not attempt to save any original material without regard to context, individual condition of rigging or even process would be viewed widely among conservators as an incorrect or even irresponsible approach.  We/You simply do not have the ability to say that the rigging of all old ships is rotting and not worth saving, BUT we/you do have the ability to evaluate each model on a case-by-case basis utilizing the guiding principal that we would save what we could.   I understand that you view threads/cords used in rigging as somehow in some kind of shockingly quick state of decay, however I am here to tell you as someone who has spent many years studying, writing and researching the decay of cellulosic based materials such as flax, linen and cotton that with care, consolidants and environmental control we can actually slow some of these processes down.   I teach a graduate course on this very subject at a major university, so trust me when I say: saving the original materials is possible and well worth the effort if the right circumstances exist; which is more often than you would think.  

 

Further...   I regularly see materials of this sort happily live into their 500 and 600th year of use.   It all depends on the individual item.   The original project posted discussed rigging that was 250ish years old, and in my experience could concievable be in a state that with the right conditions and repair, might live another 250 years happily.   If it were a situation where the rigging on this project were in such a state that they would only last another year, then Im sure the conservator would choose to replace the rigging, but only AFTER carefuly documenting, saving and very carefully archiving the patterns, knots and materials used in the original.  Believe it or not, I have spent days unraveling and drafting sewing patterns for original structures...   its part of the job. 

 

Now...  to answer your question.   The first thing I would do is manage expectations and explain all this to the Board.   I would share many examples of treatment scenarios and other work which would closely communicate what they are likely to receive from me; a conservator.   I would explain to them (as I would hope their curators would have already done) that much valuable information is at risk of loss and/or found in original materials and this is why a conservative approach is preferred.  Now...  if that is not enough, they are free to go somewhere else but they would be warned that they are not likely to get something else from another reputable conservator.   A private citizen with no formal training, accreditation or peer-review might happily do it; and I wouldnt stop them.   But I have my career and reputation to protect.  I am not bound to them and their models and they are not bound to my guiding principal.   However...   if I worked for them they would get what I recommend and no more.    I have regularly told clients (mostly dealers) No, I wont do it and walked away from thousands of dollars in work, that is the life.   A ship-model restored sells better than one that has been conserved precisely because restoration replaces much of the signs of age, leaving little of the original work behind. 

 

In the case of incomplete rigging, it may very well be that I choose to literally fix loose ends and leave the lost rigging lost, it really depends.  

 

Again...in some cases, replacing the rigging is the only option Im sure, but SHOULD NOT be the go to practice.   I hate the feeling that Im in some kind of argument here, is there no value as you see it in attempting to save original components?   The nice thing is, truly, that you are not bound to a conservators approach.   You could do whatever it is you want, but be warned, monetary value is often lost in inappropriate restoration activities which is why I ALWAYS tell people to slow down, call a conservator and THEN make a decision.   

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Thank you for posting, comments from professionals concerning high quality work and the trade offs involved by people who are involved in the practicalities are particularly useful.

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Greetings gentlemen;

 

There are obviously two opposing points of view in this debate,  which have been laid out in the preceding posts quite thoroughly,  and with some sound-seeming justification behind both.  I would think that either method can be taken to an extreme if applied too dogmatically,  and the result would then perhaps be pleasing to few who see it.

 

My own view is that the skill and experience of anyone restoring old artefacts would need to be combined with a sympathy for the subject which would temper their enthusiasm and avoid either extreme. 

 

My experience of restoring historic buildings has led me to the conclusion that extreme points of view on the 'conserve at all costs' side of the debate tend to come from people with a secure remuneration package.  Those who make their living in a less guaranteed manner tend to be more moderate as they are less willing to risk the damage to their reputation which could arise from their work being perceived as controversial.

 

Maturin makes the point that he has walked away from potential work as the brief was not to his liking.  In reality,  this is a choice that can only be taken by someone in the fortunate position of having something else to turn to (or a private income!)  Having walked away,  though,  the job would then,  I imagine,  be offered to someone more likely to comply with the commissioner's wishes,  who may well carry out the work with less skill or feeling for the artefact's origins and long-term survival.

 

I guess the main conclusion is that there is no way to please everybody;  no absolutely right or wrong way of doing it,  only a variety of opinions.  And this variety will continue to exist,  even if the actual opinions become,  in the future,  different to those expressed above. 

 

All the best,

 

Mark P

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This has been an interesting discussion, gentlemen. There is still a considerable debate of push-and-pull in conservation circles. However, conservation is just that; retaining as much of the original object or artifact as possible. This, to me, is distinct from restoration, where original or missing material is replaced by new. It should be clear to a practised eye what is original and what is not. Also, any treatment should be fully reversible without damage to the original. All work should be fully documented as well. Full disclosure: my own views are consonant with Maturin's.

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@maturin

This is an extremely interesting contribution about rigging of contemporary ship models.
Can you tell me something about the use of silk to make ropes and how long does it last?
Are there historical examples of silk rigging and how old are they?
What is your recommendation for using silk for ropes?

Edited by archjofo

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Though I admire 'Frankies' tenacity, I've come to accept he has an inconsolable pedantic attitude. This isn't a criticism, merely my own view. He does have deep knowledge of his subject, but sometimes you just can't get the bone off the dog.

Our world is much the richer for his contributions.

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3 hours ago, shipman said:

he has an inconsolable pedantic attitude.

Wouldn’t it be better to attack the points I’ve made rather than make a personal attack on the person making the points? What aspects of my opinions of ship model restoration are wrong, in your opinion? 

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'Our world is much the richer for his contributions.'  I think that's how I left it.

However, your response cuts a familiar vein. Irony is truly lost by the time it gets over the water.

Honestly, 'Frankie', I do respect your knowledge which is clearly immense, especially on the subject of rigging issues. The details you highlight are consistently accurate and to the point. I don't wish to deliberately offend you and if I have, then here I am, publicly apologising. I'd like to take you for a pint and have a good natter. But you're too far away and I don't drink.

Please accept my best wishes for the coming festive season; may you be happily surrounded by all those you love.

Have a long and happy life.

 

 

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I think the point is far more easily understood when one grasps the distinction between "conservation" and "restoration."

 

Something is conserved to preserve what might be preserved for posterity, for future study of the original fabric of the artifact. Something is restored to new or like-new condition to preserve it's usefulness for its original purpose. For example, an original hand-written copy of the Declaration of Independence is an historic artifact because it is an original contemporary hand-written copy, even if it is so brittle and faded as to be nearly unreadable. Therefore, preserving the fabric of it must be the goal. Tracing over the original writing so it could be more easily readable would be an abomination. It's not about restoration so it looks like it did when it was first written, but about conservation to preserve the history of the artifact evident in its present condition. 

 

If this principle remains in dispute, I don't see much point in continuing to "flog the poodle."

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21 hours ago, Bob Cleek said:

I think the point is far more easily understood when one grasps the distinction between "conservation" and "restoration."

I think this is precisely where this conversation went a bit sideways.   The original talk I shared was from the context of a conservation treatment protocol for ship models, thus the treatment principals I later described were/are relevant.  Frankie, I think, weighed in from a restoration background.    With as little offense as possible to those in the restoration business, I believe that restoration as a practice can be muddy water, particularly when it comes from a maker background and is not developed first on a foundation of an objects history and inherent values (artifactual, informational).   The differences are huge when you give a painter something to rejuvenate compared to giving the same object to a paintings conservator.   Further -  9 times out 10 restoration is conducted with the best intentions but not with the best materials, technique or methods.  In MANY cases the restorers vanity also has a disproportionate role.  It can be quite difficult for restorers to hand back an object that doesn't look totally outstanding.  Conservation treatment often sacrifices the aesthetics of an object for the long-term preservation of the whole.   For example, ever walked round a museum and wondered why things look old, dim, drab or washed out?   Because they are old, dim, drab and washed out objects.   The materials we might use to rehabilitate those aesthetics are often the worst contributors to deterioration.   Ever think "Gosh, that work would look so much more amazing if they would just turn the lights up a bit..." - its the lights that are the problem.   

 

All that said, the restorers work has its place.   Frankie is right that a fully restored ship will likely endure life as an object in someones home far better than those that have been conserved.   However, in a museum setting, restoration has no place and those institutions that have employed a restorer often do so out of ignorance for the nuances between the two ideas (and often, sadly, restoration is cheaper).  We can control what happens to an object in a museum, and thus can dial back on our conservation treatment because environmental deterioration is heavily mitigated.   Conservation practice exists on a spectrum, which is directly informed by the exhibition setting, collection storage environment and the handling/research/use interest the object experiences.   Some can be quite conservative and others much more intrusive - but, they never go anywhere without extensive research, materials vetting and documentation (the baggage of my life).   

 

On 6/8/2017 at 2:14 PM, Mark P said:

[Justin P] makes the point that he has walked away from potential work as the brief was not to his liking.  In reality,  this is a choice that can only be taken by someone in the fortunate position of having something else to turn to (or a private income!)  Having walked away,  though,  the job would then,  I imagine,  be offered to someone more likely to comply with the commissioner's wishes,  who may well carry out the work with less skill or feeling for the artefact's origins and long-term survival.

 

This point made years ago, which I am now re-reading is also, I think, a bit misleading.   Ive worked both for myself and for institutions and my approach hasn't changed.  Ones ethics shouldn't be fluid...if you are having trouble getting enough work, it is not because your refusing too much of it, its because you aren't a particularly good business person.   Know your market, and understand work doesn't just drop in your lap.  The times that Ive had to refuse work is maybe three times out of nearly 20 years.  Most of my clients want the best for their objects and are willing to listen to reason.  They appreciate the explanations, in part, because they get to share that with their dinner guests and this often feeds their willingness to come back with something else.    There is a standard that ALL conservators must abide by regardless of whether they're in private practice or not.    The European Institute of Conservation (ICON), the American Institute for Conservation (AIC), the Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI) and the Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Heritage (AICCM) ALL have peer-review/accreditation standards and they all have ship-model conservators in their ranks both privately and publicly employed.  Those organizations only provide referrals to those who have undergone significant training, education and peer-review.   If they preformed treatment outside of these standards, and those oversight committees found out, they would be stripped of their designations and lose both organizational affiliation and word-of-mouth business (a death stroke).   Its simply not a risk worth taking.  It takes a long time to get there, and its just not worth throwing away.   One familiar with the world of high-value collecting (private and public) understands how easily restoration and conservation work is to follow (and who is doing it).   

 

All that said, I was struck by Paul Fontenoy's editorial in the latest NRG Journal (64-4) where he suggests that the model making community reappraise the use of materials previously thought untouchable. Particularly now that some time has passed and those new methods have proven their mettle with age.   His last statement really hit home for me:  

 

"Skilled craftsmen are producing remarkable creations using these materials and we owe it to them to provide guidance for their models' survival rather than dismissing them as temporary aberrations." - Paul E. Fontenoy, NRG Journal 64-4.   

 

This is something I teach, preach and repeat as needed.   Artists, craftspeople and others (hobbyists included) should take a longer view of their work and I think in-particular ship modelers should as well.   How many of you/us are passing these legacy's down or donating them to some library?   I know for my own sake, I have at least three of my Grandfather's and I can already see the toll that extended UV exposure has had on stains or finishes he used.   I can see the uneven deterioration of the rigging from the exposed side and the ubiquitous "against the wall" side.   Fontenoy gives the reason that we now have 50-70 years of experience with how these materials age.  Thats about when we would expect to see many modern adhesives and plastics to start showing their age and starting to deform, discolor or embrittle.    Museum grade ship-models are hundreds of years old...  how will these new materials hold up to that type of longevity?   I wonder how useful/relevant some sort of written treatment on common materials (old and new) used in ship-modeling and advice for their long-term exhibition would be?   Being right up my ally, and having numerous analytical techniques at my disposal (I can simulate age and exposure to many hundreds of years in my lab) and the idea has certainly gotten my wheels spinning...      

Edited by Justin P.

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1 hour ago, Justin P. said:

 I wonder how useful/relevant some sort of written treatment on common materials (old and new) used in ship-modeling and advice for their long-term exhibition would be?   Being right up my ally, and having numerous analytical techniques at my disposal (I can simulate age and exposure to many hundreds of years in my lab) and the idea has certainly gotten my wheels spinning...      

No need to wonder! It's really important for so many reasons. One need only consider what models being built today might be left in two or three hundred years to understand that if one aspires to build a model of any quality, its permanence is an essential prerequisite to its value, historically and monetarily, both now and in the future. (The same goes for the research and documentation of its accuracy.) Ship modeling is like any other fine art. The overwhelming amount of it is pedestrian and fleeting, serving but a temporary purpose before being consigned to the scrap heap. For those whose purposes the inferior works serve, that's well and good, but if a modeler intends to connect with the generations of modelers who have gone before over hundreds of years, there is nothing for it but to do the most accurate research and to employ the longest lasting materials which ensure the longevity of their hard work.

 

Anyone who has done any serious historical research has been bedeviled by inaccuracies that find their way into the fabric of history and become part of the canon without further critical examination. The historical record is really like the children's "telephone game" in many respects. Despite the total lack of any certainly accurate information about many historically important vessels, modelers, and especially the kit manufacturers that satisfy the demands of the marketplace, continue to perpetuate models of vessels like Golden Hind, Half Moon, Mayflower, Columbus' ships, and so on. It seems if it has a name, somebody's going to be selling a model of it, regardless of whether anyone has any accurate idea of what it really looked like. One can only imagine the confusion that may create a few hundred years from now when a Mayflower is "discovered" in an attic and the owner claims "it has been in the family" since their ancestor stepped onto Plymouth Rock!

 

Modern technology is rarely intended to be long-lasting. Even in our own lifetimes, we see music recordings and moving pictures of great historical and artistic value which no longer exist at all anywhere, because they were recorded on media that was never intended to last. The same is quite likely true of many modern materials now customarily used in ship modeling. One of the biggest gaps in our knowledge of the archival qualities of modern ship modeling materials is found in the longevity of adhesives, modern polymer coatings, and synthetic fibers, many of which haven't been in existence long enough to have proven track records. (And certainly, their manufacturers' claims cannot be taken at face value!) Nevertheless, today's modelers embrace them with wild abandon. What happens to the output of some of our most technically accomplished modelers if the CA adhesives, the acrylic paints and poly-whatever sealers, and Dacron thread they've built with starts turning to brittle, crumbling dust a hundred and fifty years from now? Some will say, "Well, I'm not an internationally recognized professional modeler, so what do I care about something I'm only going to stick on my own mantle for my own pleasure?" They overlook the very real fact that in a couple of hundred years, which isn't so very long in the grand scheme of things, theirs could by chance happen to be one of the only models of the subject vessel that exists anywhere on the planet. In that case, will it then be a valuable historical artifact of "museum quality" of just another piece of old decorative junk in an antiques store?

 

We can't know the future of our modeling work, but we can do much better than it appears current trends might promise to ensure that they have a future. This fact was brought home to me recently in an extreme example. A client of mine was involved in litigation over the ownership of an old scrap of paper, little larger than a postcard. It was a fragment of a "cartoon" (preliminary drawing) attributed to Rafael. It turns out, paper was expensive in Rafael's day, so they'd sketch the design of a painting in charcoal on paper and, when done with it, paint over the sketch with white paint and use the paper again for the next sketch. Using modern technology, the Rafael sketch was discovered beneath the painted surface of the paper which also contained a less valuable sketch on top of it. No doubt, if Rafael had known his sketch would someday be appraised to be worth a quarter of a million dollars, he wouldn't have worried about saving a few ducats on sketching paper!

 

If those who pursue ship modeling as a hobby wish it to be given the artistic and historical respect it deserves (and yes, the monetary value, as well,) I submit we need to start taking the accuracy of our research and the permanence of our materials a lot more seriously that many now do. 

 

 

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13 minutes ago, Bob Cleek said:

Using modern technology, the Rafael sketch was discovered beneath the painted surface of the paper which also contained a less valuable sketch on top of it.

This technology is becoming more commonplace, though rarely are we make exciting discoveries like this! 

 

I wholeheartedly agree with you...   few of those originators we often hail as masters and geniuses ever thought they'd end up in our museums to be revered for the coming centuries.   This is precisely why so many conservators are involved in materials research and outreach.   Modern fine art students are getting more and more education on materials permanence and more and more artists are filling out conservation riders to go with their commissioned works.    Permanence is a growing concept for those who care about such things.    

 

 

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The Lecture Postprint from this session is available on Academia at:

 

Jakobi, Davina. 2017. “How Important Is Knowing the Ropes? Thoughts on the Ethics and Practice of Conserving Ship Model Rigging.” presented at the AIC’s 45 th  Annual Meeting Treatment 2017: Innovation in Conservation and Collections Care, Chicago. https://www.academia.edu/37892579/How_important_is_knowing_the_ropes_Thoughts_on_the_ethics_and_practice_of_conserving_ship_model_rigging.

 

 

 

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Wow! A most interesting and Dust-busting topic of discussion! Two points are made here and two ways of thinking - Conservation vs Restoration. It's obvious that this is one of those debates where both major points are positive and negative and either are productive or counter-productive at the same time, depending. Now, doesn't that sound like something right out of Wash. D.C. ???😱

 

Could this same question be applied to either VICTORY or CONSTITUTION, for example? I don't think so - in reality, both ships need to be constantly maintained with new material, indicating restoration (out of necessity). In the application of a model sitting inside, perhaps only gathering time and dust, it's quite possible that conservation would be the thrust of the caretaker to see that the model is maintained in it's intended (or original) state.

 

It now dawns on me that I may have just stuka'd (my own term that I just invented for this situation 😒) this topic - not intended!!! I'm simply saying that a given situation may dictate an other than normal response to the immediate need. To replace rather than repair (or vice versa) may be best answered on a case by case basis rather than a generalized standard approach.

 

Oh, and her presentation and visual aids were first class!!

 

Hank

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1 hour ago, Hank said:

 

Could this same question be applied to either VICTORY or CONSTITUTION, for example? I don't think so - in reality, both ships need to be constantly maintained with new material, indicating restoration (out of necessity). In the application of a model sitting inside, perhaps only gathering time and dust, it's quite possible that conservation would be the thrust of the caretaker to see that the model is maintained in it's intended (or original) state.

 

Hank

 

I think that is an interesting point.   When you look at the parameters of conservation treatment when applied to object that used or have mechanical/functioning structures, I think the line between restoration and conservation become blurred.   Im thinking early stringed instruments, or clocks, or books.  A Stradivarius in a museum is not given new strings to refresh its looks, however Yo Yo Ma regularly restrings his own.   In some cases, conservation treatment does require replacement of original elements.  However, the difference is that a great deal of research goes into the materials chosen to replace the originals and superficial reasons are often thrown out.   In the case of ship models, rigging is an especially important detail not only to the integrity of the model but also to the informational and historic value of the piece.   Simply replacing It because it doesn't look great would be no-no in the museum world. Of course the importance of such a conservative approach wains as previous well-meaning but ill-founded "restorations" have replaced or discarded original elements through the years.    I wish Ab Hoving were weighing in here, I would love to know what he thinks as a well respected Ship Model conservator at the Rijks - he's around this forum somewhere. 

 

Given that both VICTORY and CONSTITUTION are still on the rolls they may even be treated with a an extra layer of treatment complexity.   Who knows what it means for a historic ship to still have a commission?

 

From the VICTORY website:

"HMS Victory is currently undergoing a 13 year, £35million conservation project, with experts from fields such as timber preservation, shipbuilding, rigging, conservation, engineering and heritage. This is an exciting time for the ship. The most obvious sign of the project is that her masts have been temporarily removed, and visitors are also able to see first hand some of the work that is being carried out on board to save HMS Victory for future generations to enjoy."   

 

They don't mince words here, they could conceivably throw some new lines and another layer of paint on her but here is where the two things diverge.   The paint will be vetted for interactions with every other element at play and the rigging specially chosen if not completely remade following period appropriate protocols.   It is more than a "replace all the rigging" protocol and likely they still choose to retain as much as they can of the original (if any of the original exists).   Also, rigging was regularly replaced on a working ship and conservators would take this into consideration as they work through their process.   Sails, rigging and all the rest of the "consumables" would be less likely valued (regardless of the ships status as an active commissioned vessel).   A ship model on the other hand does not sail, and the rigging not consumed...   it is made by the modeler, knotted by them, perhaps wound by them and the rigging style specifically chosen by them.   They carry historic, intrinsic value as part of the object and to my mind deserve whatever we can do.   

Edited by Justin P.

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