Texas Heritage, Volume 2, Number 2, Spring 1985

mitment are finding that conservation
reaches into every part of their operations,
from treatment, to storage,
exhibition, and even cataloging
procedures.
When Sara Wolf came to the new materials
conservation lab of the Texas
Memorial Museum in 1980, she found
a museum receptive to her insistence
on a comprehensive conservation program.
Lab space had been set up to
conserve the gold and silver, and iron
cannon, from shipwrecks along the
Texas Gulf Coast. Wolf inherited the
ragtag building at the Balcones Research
Center, and she set out to build
a multi-disciplinary lab that could
tackle the variety of materials in the
museum's collections. Texas' centennial
museum was like a huge attic,
stuffed with Peruvian textiles, MesoAmerican
ceramics, firearms, coins,
and fossils. The flow of new collections
was enough to keep a staff of
conservators busy, undoing the kitchen
table repairs of well-meaning donors.
Under her guidance, the lab has grown
from its rude beginnings into renovated
facilities and has attracted a staff of
conservators with the training and experience
necessary for the Aegean
task.
Wolf had not exactly planned on a career
in conservation. She was on an archaeological
dig in Italy. It happened
that she found the only artifact unearthed
that season, a fourth century
B.C. Etruscan ceramic, in pieces. Her
roommate, who is now current head of
the anthropological conservation lab at
the Smithsonian, told her, "You found
it, you fix it." Wolf spent the rest of the
season working on it and fell in love
with the process. That fall she began
training at the Smithsonian and in the
museum studies department at George
Washington University. She was convinced
that she was better suited for
conservation than grubbing in the dirt
as a field archaeologist. Since then she
spent two years in Fiji as the conservator
at the National Museum, worked

as a consultant to the Native American
program at the Smithsonian where she
traveled to tribal museums to evaluate
and treat collections, and spent a year
as a private consultant in conservation.
Although her training was in ethnographic
and archaeological artifacts,
she has devoted most of her attention
at Texas Memorial Museum to fabric
and textiles. In fact, her first, and favorite,
task was to repair an Eskimo
gutskin parka that had languished on
display for years in the anthropology
hall of the museum. It was held together
by masking tape and staples that
connected the many holes in the parka.
She repaired it with a special preparation
of calf intestine, called goldbeater's
skin, that is compatible with
the gut. As well as preserving the
shape and fabric of its original condition,
the treatment improved its appearance.
Wolf is quick to point out
though, "We don't do restoration,
though sometimes the lines between
that and conserving an artifact are very
thin. Sometimes the stabilization process
may recreate the original."
Paul Storch, assistant conservator, is
faced every day with the effects of previous
amateur treatment. Also trained
in ethnographic and archaeological
conservation at George Washington
University, he remains a generalist. He
works with composite materials, like
firearms, where the combination of
wood and metal present special problems.
He is experimenting with the
analysis of corrosion products on various
metals, and has armed himself
with an arsenal of high-tech tools like
scanning electron microscopy and Xray
photography. His approach, like
Wolf's, is inductive. And his goal is
not necessarily to recreate a pristine
condition, but to stop further decay,
preserve the object, and then store it
safely. "I spend a lot of time redoing
the wrong things, especially in archaeology.
It's a pain."
The Swenson coin and medallion collection
that he is currently working

Paul Storch, Assistant Conservator, is faced
every day with the effects of previous amateur
treatment. Here he demonstrates the correct
procedure for disassembling a firearm. Photo
by Elizabeth Vair, courtesy of the Texas Historical
Foundation.
with is a case in point. The collection
has been at the University of Texas for
nearly a hundred years, and was donated
by Swen Swenson, longtime
chairman of the History Department.
Although fairly well-preserved, some
of the coins look like they have been
handled by every undergraduate in the
history of the university. The oily residue
of fingerprints have etched their
whorls onto the surface of many coins,
sulfur from paper envelopes and
wooden trays has reacted with the metals
and corroded many of them, and
previous cleaning has left scratches
and residues of abrasives like jeweler's
rouge and whiting. The history of
neglect and abuse has been wellpreserved
in the collection. The origins
of the coins and medallions are as
diverse as the metals in them. Greek
19

Texas Historical Foundation. Texas Heritage, Volume 2, Number 2, Spring 1985. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth46809/. Accessed September 2, 2014.