Texas Heritage, Volume 2, Number 2, Spring 1985

duplicating facilities. The one exception
to that is in paper conservation.
"For a natural history museum, Texas
Memorial Museum has a very large
collection of art on paper," said Wolf.
Parchment documents, books, and
water colors of Indian rock art and wild
flowers require specialized treatment.
Terry Rempel, paper conservator at
the lab, is well qualified for her specialty.
She apprenticed with private
conservators, has studied book binding
at the Capricornus Bindery at Berkeley,
and had been a private consultant
for seven years before joining the staff
at Texas Memorial Museum. Rempel,
an accomplished weaver as well, recently
returned from a workshop in
Mas de Castry, France, where she
learned the techniques of Gobelin tapestry
weaving. One of the major collections
that she is now working on is
the Kirkland watercolors of Texas rock
art that were done in the 1930's. Many
of the 160 paintings have been published,
but the originals are invaluable
for archaeologists now studying the
rock art, especially since vandalism
and erosion has destroyed many of the
pictographs. Only the original watercolors
come close to what Kirkland
saw over fifty years ago. Rempel has
had to treat the paintings to remove the
grime of improper storage, as well as
some damage from sulfur in the paper
mountings. She coats each of the linen
paintings with a solution of nylon that
creates a microscopic mesh over the
surface. When bathed in water, the elements
are anchored to the paper by the
mesh, while particles of dirt and oil
are lifted off. She completes the treatment
by repeated immersion in hot
ethanol to dissolve the nylon, and then
dries and presses the paintings to their
original shape.
"An amazing thing about paper is its
memory," she says. "It likes to go back
to its original shape when it's allowed
to." The original shape, and the clarity
of original colorings and detail is es

Terry Rempel demonstrates how to separate the
original artwork from its mount. The process
involves stripping off layer after layer of the
cardboard backing until complete. Rempel
holds a bamboo tool which she made herself
that resembles a large letter opener. This particular
technique is traditional to paper conservation
in Japan. Photo by Elizabeth Vair, courtesy
of the Texas Historical Foundation.
sential for researchers who use the
documents to reconstruct what they
can no longer see for themselves in the
caves and rockshelters of West Texas.
It takes a special personality to be a
conservator. Not only do you have to
endure the drudgery of painstaking
labors, you have to be flexible and
skilled in a lot of different areas. Most
conservators are people who, as kids,
always wanted to get behind the scenes
in the museum, and play with the artifacts.
They have grown up to find out
that they have to wear surgical gloves
to protect the objects, even from their
own expert hands. Too, as Rempel
says, "Conservators are Renaissance
people. They're not just repairers, but
often artists in their own right, and not
always in their own field." They bring
to each object diverse experiences and
skills, to make ad hoc decisions based
on analysis rather than recipes. It is
this creative side to the work that commands
their dedication.

And for the museum, their work is essential.
Without trained conservators,
collections end up like faded clippings
in grandma's trunk, yellow and brittle
paper that disintegrates when touched.
Without a commitment to conservation,
it is not long before the museum
has nothing left to preserve. The Texas
Memorial Museum has accepted the
challenge, and the result is a conscientious
effort to incorporate the recommendations
of the conservators into all
the workings of the museum. A computerized
survey that records dimensions
and materials as well as treatments
helps to design housings for
both exhibits and storage, so that
treated objects aren't returned to destructive
environments. The commitment
goes beyond the museum walls,
as conservation staff serve as consultants
for a variety of restoration and
preservation projects, and publish a
regular series of Conservation Notes in
the Texas Association of Museums
Quarterly. Their efforts translate into
a longer future for museum collections,
and a greater awareness in the
museum community of the need for
specialized attention to conservation
problems.
Regrettably, we live in an age of experts,
but this is one area where a little
knowledge is worse than none at all.
Conservation requires a blend of experience,
education, creative problemsolving,
and a lot of patience. A conservation
program lacking any of those
qualities leaves a legacy of dust and
Duco cement for the next generation.
John Peterson is a writer and photographer,
who has a wide range of publication
credits. He is currently a
graduate student in the Anthropology
Department at The Univeristy of Texas
at Austin, and is editing an historical
manuscript to be published by U.T.
Press in the fall of 1985. Mr. Peterson
is the recipient of the Swenson Fellowship
at the Texas Memorial Museum in
Austin.

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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 July 1, 2015.