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Seeing in Different Ways: A Liz Magor Backpack Project
Seeing in Different Ways:
A Liz Magor Backpack Project

Why Paper Discolours (Part 2)
Why Paper Discolours (Part 2)

Why Paper Discolours (Part 1)
Why Paper Discolours (Part 1)

Mending a Tear in an Aboriginal Drum
Mending a Tear in an Aboriginal Drum

Distortions and Dimensional Changes
in Paper (Part 3)
Distortions and Dimensional Changes
in Paper (Part 3)

Distortions and Dimensional Changes
in Paper (Part 2)

Distortions and Dimensional Changes
in Paper (Part 1)

After treatment
Oscar Cahén: Innovative Conservation
for an Innovative Artist

Rigid Water Gels: New Treatment Options for Paper Conservators

Structural Remedies for Canvas Paintings

Organizing and Preserving Collections - Part 4: Digital-based Material

Organizing and Preserving Collections - Part 3: Photo-based Material

Organizing and Preserving Collections - Part 2: Paper-based Material

First Steps
Organizing and Preserving Collections - Part 1: The First Steps

Natural Dyes
The Use of Natural Dyes in Textile Conservation

A Relocation Project

Challenges of Preserving Contemporary Artwork

Preserve Your Investment through Art Conservation

A Project Completed: Heritage Preserved

Old and New Methods for Cleaning Paintings

I Can See Clearly Now – Or Can I? Part 2

I Can See Clearly Now – Or Can I?

The E.J. Hughes Mural: An Expanded Project

Is She or Is She Not an Emily

Treating Art with Sensitive Media

Malaspina Mural: An Update

For the Artist: Testing Your Materials

Conservator as Art Historian

Alum Sizing and the Art of W.J. Phillips

Treatment of an Elizabeth Keith Wood Block Print

Structural Treatment of an Emily Carr

The Treatment of a Monumental Wall Hanging

Changing Images

Preserving a Rare Record

Gold Leaf: Imitation and Genuine

The Case Against Canvas Backings

Heritage Colours: Research Discovers Original Colours

Lighting Your Art: Balancing Seeing and Protecting

The Double-Sided Emily Carr Painting

Choosing a Period Picture Frame

How to Identify a Picture Frame

Stretching Canvas and Restretching Artwork

Mounting Textiles

Aging Paintings:
Some Causes and Effects

Chine Collé Prints

What's Your Favourite Color?

Backing Removals

Rips, Holes and Tears

Filling in the Gaps

DIY – Preventative Care of Paintings

Frame it Right

Fire, Water and Smoke-Damaged Paintings

Inherent Vice

Saturated Problems:
A Water-Damaged Painting

Moldy Paper

Conserving Time

Conserving Paper: Dos and Don'ts

Repair of Textiles

Conserving Wood

Rescuing Endangered Murals

Repairing Acid-Matte Burn

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  Conservation Corner Back

Conserving Wood

by Andrew Todd

This is the third in a new series of articles about conservation written by professional conservators. We hope you will find them interesting, and welcome any comments, questions or suggestions you may have for us.

A Treatment Song for the Tongass Island Raven

The storage conditions for the collection at the Totem Heritage Center in Ketchikan, Alaska were in need of conservation upgrading. For many years, conservators had recommended improvements to structural support systems for the important collection of totem poles. Environmental conditions were also on the list for improvement. The situation in the storage room was particularly problematic for one very important totem, the Tongass Island Raven. The conservation steps taken to stabilize the Raven and provide a safe, carefully designed support are an example of local application of international conservation standards. But the local application of these standards included a unique approach to native involvement in the project.

Tongass Island Raven before conservation treatment.  

In Alaska, one of the principal leaders in the programmes to teach native culture to young native people and others interested in preserving native culture and traditions is Esther Shea. As an elder of the Tongass Tribe and an elder of her own family she also held rights and responsibility for the traditional ownership of the Tongass Island Raven. It was with Esther Shea that the final approval for the treatment project remained. The proposal was outlined to her and a meeting was planned to take place on an April evening. Esther came to the Totem Heritage Center with members of her family and in the presence of them and the staff of the Ketchikan Museum Department and myself, a small but meaningful ceremony took place. In the hushed totem storage room, beside the Raven, on that rainy April evening, the dark night sky seemed to surround the still room and separate the Raven and the people who were present from the rest of the world. After introductions, Esther indicated she would sing a song. Alone in her native Tlingit language, she sang a blessing for the treatment and an explanation of the purpose of intervention to the Raven. A spine tingling hush lay in the air of the room after the song, and it felt clear that the spirits of ancestral voices were part of the song.

The meaning of the song in the Tlingit language was explained by Esther after she had finished. She said that she had asked the Raven to understand that the treatment was meant to help the people who were alive now to be more closely linked with their ancestors from the past. She asked the Raven to understand that no harm was meant and that the effort to preserve the wood and to keep the materials stabilized was so the Raven could continue to remind the native people of their culture, their symbols and the past.

Tongass Island Raven on display at the Ketchikan Totem
Heritage Centre, Ketchikan, Alaska.

The stages of conservation treatment of the Tongass Island Raven proceeded as a consolidation project for badly deteriorated wood. Surface cleaning preceded consolidation with Butvar B-90, dissolved in ethanol. Reinforcements were added to stabilize integral sections. A structural support was custom fitted to the shape of the Raven in critical locations and the object was moved onto a special new plinth.

My hope at this stage, is that Esther Shea's song for the treatment of the Raven will be heard by the native people she hopes will benefit from its preservation, and that they will act to keep the Tongass Island Raven in a safe state.

© Andrew Todd

 Fri, Feb 1, 2008