Conference Review from AIC News May 1998 (vol. 23, no.3):

An international symposium focused on the exhibition of textiles, organized by the North American Textile Conservation Conference and hosted by the Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI), was held in Ottawa September 22-25, 1997. The more than 200 delegates in attendance included conservators, scientists, curators, art historians, collections managers, designers, and others with an interest in textiles. During the first three days of Symposium 97, held at the National Gallery of Canada, 26 papers were delivered by 35 presenters from Europe, North America, Australia, Russia, and the Philippines. On day four, delegates chose from a number of activities, including demonstrations at CCI and behind-the-scenes tours of CCI and two other area institutions, the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Hull, Quebec, and Laurier House in Ottawa.

The multidisciplinary nature of conservation today was exemplified by the diversity of papers presented. Symposium 97 began on day one with a fictitious dialogue between a conservator working in a large institution and that institution's "bean counters." In a humorous presentation entitled "Can High Productivity be Productive?" Lynda Hillyer and Jonathan Ashley-Smith of the conservation department at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London highlighted the challenges facing institutions as they balance increasing demands to make their collections more accessible in ways that often run counter to display prerogatives. A compelling case was made by presenting seemingly opposite perspectives: those of the conservator versus those of the museum administrator worried primarily about "institutional image" and "marketing" as well as revenue.

Symposium 97 ended on day three with a provocative presentation by Cara Varnell, textile conservator at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and Gary Landrum, curator and exhibit producer at Walt Disney Imagineering, entitled "Let me Edu-tain You: Historic Artifacts and the World of Themed Entertainment". From her experience as a consulting conservator for a project in which original artifacts and memorabilia were incorporated into displays within a theme park, Ms. Varnell outlined the specific challenges she faced as a consultant to an organization very different from a traditional museum. She found herself donning many "hats" - those of educator, diplomat, and subject specialist needing to be fully prepared to answer any and all technical and resource questions asked by the client. Increasingly, artifacts are being displayed, often for the long-term, in venues outside the traditional museum or gallery context, and it is incumbent upon conservators to be prepared to respond to these unusual but increasingly frequent situations.

The conference encompassed a series of interesting and informative papers on a variety of subjects that were delivered in thematic groups. Topics included concerns relating to exhibitions in historic houses, considerations for long-term displays, issues involved in traveling textile collections, and specifics about the exhibition environment as it relates in particular to textiles. Some of the papers discussed highly technical issues, others presented case studies of specific treatments undertaken, and others addressed solutions for specific display challenges. Presenters also outlined projects in which textile display issues were solved with a minimal budget, and issues involving balance between the need for preservation and the use of original artifacts in exhibitions.

Eight demonstrations at CCI during the fourth day of the symposium included color measurement techniques for textiles, various practical mannequin-making techniques, and specifics of fiber optic lighting systems for textile displays. In addition, the attendees had the opportunity to visit the Canadian Museum of Civilization in nearby Hull, or Laurier House, a historic house and home to two of Canada's prime ministers. Throughout the symposium, 10 posters were presented as a means of disseminating additional information and accommodating presenters in addition to the speakers.

Preprints from the conference are available from the Canadian Conservation Institute for CDN $50 (soft-cover, 206 pages). Contact: CCI, 1030 Innes Rd., Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0M5, Canada; fax: (613) 998-4721; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The next efforts of the group will be seen during Symposium 2000, to be held in the Spring of 2000 and hosted by the Textile Conservation Department of Biltmore House in Asheville, North Carolina.

-Robin Hansen, Advanced Intern, Textile Laboratory, Division of Conservation, National Park Service, Harpers Ferry Center, Harpers Ferry, WV.

Courtesy of the American Institute of Conservation for Art & Historic Works (AIC). Website:

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