Icons in Plastics

In 1988 Dr. Charles Selwitz, a conservation scientist at the Getty Conservation Research Institute, learned about our work with animation art. At the time he was working on a study to explore the strength and use of nitrocellulose in conservation. We supplied cel samples for the study and discussed our treatments and procedures for cels made prior to 1940.

While considerably technical in nature, the study was published with the title, “Cellulose Nitrate in Conservation “. You can find it as a PDF document online here;
www.getty.edu/conservation/publications_resources/pdf…/nitrate.pdf

Dr. Selwitz and his valuable and revealing study and its results plays a part, to this day, in the way we think about the conservation and treatment of nitrate cels. In fact, our treatments and procedures dealing with nitrate cels were a direct response to the Dr. Selwitz’ findings.

You see, conservation scientists provide the window through which conservators view their work. In some of the most formidable labs in the world, these masters of materials run complex tests trying to unravel the unimaginable complexities that face conservators now and in the future. Based on the results of their work we are able build a road map that serves as a treatment regimen, thus anticipating and slowing the degradation of the art so many collectors not only love and care for but have invested in as well.

In a recent lecture, ” Icons in Plastic,” presented by the Getty Conservation Research Institute, four distinguished members of the conservation community gathered to present their observations and experiences dealing within the world of objects crafted of plastic.

Gathered together were Tom Learner, head of Science and leader of the Modern and Contemporary Art Research Initiative; Tim Bechthold, head of conservation at Die Neue Sammlung, the International Design Museum in Munich; Thea Van Oosten, former senior conservation scientist at the Cultural Heritage Agency (RCE) in the Netherlands; and Roger Griffith, objects conservator at the museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York.

For almost two hours the participants discussed such issues as lastability, restoration, display, storage, and reversibility. In all, what each had to offer only strengthened our collective knowledge. What we here at S/R Labs have experienced thus far in treating objects made of plastic will continue to change as the objects themselves change.

“While conservation science provides valuable insight into an object’s present condition, it is clear that analysis alone is just part of the story,” observes S/R director Ron Stark. Interestingly, Thea Van Oosten commented in her presentation that “beyond conservation science is the conservator. Matters of restoration and intended purpose are the realm of the conservator.”

Indeed, while conservation science is invaluable in assessing condition “in situ,” or as it is located, knowledge of how the object fairs over time and what contributed to its present condition are conservation answers hidden in years of experience in conservation practice.

The need for record keeping is a keen issue all conservators face, involving the ability to return to not only a single object’s treatment records but to view the records of similar objects and establish trend lines that will provide the logistics for long-term care and conservation.

“Our record keeping system is designed to keep track of our restoration history, with over 30 key “points of interest” in a searchable database custom designed for our practice,” explains Amelia Dodge, lab manager. “And, with more than 35 years of experiences we support the conservation and treatment of animation art from all of the world’s studios”.

What’s interesting to note is S/R Labs is not just an atelier. Here art materials that are no longer mass-produced can be recreated for the requirements of restoration in returning artwork not only to its original appearance but adding to its value and longevity as well.

When we listen, learn, and compare our time-tested approach to the conservation, preservation, and treatment of animation art with that of other conservators and conservation scientists, we know we are delivering on the promise we make to ourselves and the members of our client family every day.