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Sunday, May 15 • 5:00pm - 5:30pm
(Book and Paper) Careful Consideration: Learning to Conserve a Kashmiri Birch-bark Manuscript

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Acknowledging that treatment of any artefact requires nuance, this paper will examine how and why conservators make treatment decisions for particularly unfamiliar or unusual artefacts. The AIC Code of Ethics and guidelines for practice calls the conservation professional to “practice within the limits of personal competence and education;” similarly the CAC/ACCR Code states that the “conservation professional shall recognize his or her limitations and the special skills and knowledge of others.” As such, how do conservators ethically tackle the treatment of an entirely new (to us) or rare substrate? When do we judge ourselves to have sufficient competence? Through the lens of a case study of a paper conservator’s treatment of a codex form Kashmiri birch bark manuscript, this paper will examine the evolution of treatment decisions demonstrating the challenges, successes and uncertainties of treating an entirely unfamiliar material. Birch bark as a manuscript substrate, while not normative for western book and paper conservators, has a long tradition in other parts of the world, particularly in the Himalayan regions of the Indian subcontinent. During a high point of Indology and western Sanskrit scholarship at the turn of the 19th century, representatives of this manuscript corpus made their way into the libraries, archives and personal collections of North America and Europe. These artifacts now present many challenges of preservation, storage and access to their stewards. This case study will address the treatment of 176 approximately 7”x10” leaves, folded in nine folios, and written in carbon black ink on the naturally and artificially laminated structures of the inner bark of the Himalayan birch. The conservator’s basic toolkit of literature searches, in-lab simple material testing and consultations with colleagues are all demonstrated to be key in arriving at “an answer” for treatment, and indeed in deciding that treatment was the proper course for this rare artefact.

avatar for Crystal Maitland

Crystal Maitland

Conservator - Paper, Canadian Conservation Institute
Crystal Maitland joined the Canadian Conservation Institute in 2015 as their Works of Art on Paper Conservator. Prior to this, she served for seven years as the Paper Conservator at the Johns Hopkins University Sheridan Libraries and Museums in Baltimore, MD. Originally from Western... Read More →

Sunday May 15, 2016 5:00pm - 5:30pm EDT
Room 210 AB/EF