When you think of “conservation” and the Missouri Botanical Garden, you probably picture a botanist in the field working with endangered plants or a horticulturist restoring a landscape by seeding native flowers.
But the term conservation can also have a slightly different but equally important meaning within scientific and cultural institutions—the care and repair of important research materials and other cultural objects such as books, paintings, photographs, textiles, sculptures and more. The Peter H Raven Library and the Saint Louis Art Museum have this in common—they both have conservators whose job it is to care for their collections. Here at the Garden’s Library we have a book conservator caring for publications dating back to the 15th century. The Art Museum has paintings, textiles and objects conservators.
Conservators must stay informed about the latest research and newest treatments, usually by attending workshops and conferences most of which are held on the east or west coast.
The Library and the Art Museum recently collaborated on a project that saved considerable travel time and cost to regional institutions by bringing an important workshop to Saint Louis. With the help of a grant from the State Library of Missouri, funded by the Federal IMLS (Institute of Museum and Library Services) program, we were able to bring internationally recognized art conservation scientist and teacher Chris Stavroudis to St. Louis.
Chris has developed a sophisticated system for mixing various chemical components together to create custom cleaning solutions to remove dirt and other unwanted material from objects. When it comes to books specifically, his system makes it easier to remove stains, tape residues, old adhesives, grease and water lines from paper, cloth and leather.
The Library’s conservator applied for and coordinated the grant, and the Art Museum hosted the week long workshop. 20 conservators came from all over Missouri and the United States to attend. By the end of the week, they were all exhausted but also excited about what we had learned and eager to get back into our labs to try some new materials and techniques.
This was a great event for St. Louis. The out-of-towners who came to attend the workshop left with a new respect for the city and its cultural institutions, while local conservators learned new ways to care for this region’s important cultural collections.