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  • Caitlin O'Brien

Project Spotlight; United States Navy Collection Survey

Over the past several years Quarto Conservation staff have been working on site at the Navy Yard in Washington D.C. During that time we surveyed around 10,000 works of art on paper and board. The Navy has been employing artists since 1941 when a muralist named Griffith Baily Coale convinced Naval commanders to send himself and several artists to document the war. The program has been running ever since. It is interesting to note that art was seen as a worthwhile documentary device even with photography being easily accessible during this time. Through employing artists and various donations the US Naval History and Heritage Command has amassed a 20,000 piece collection (paintings, sculpture, books, etc.) spanning from the 18th century English war ship prints to present day acrylic paintings.

Our job as conservators is to help a collection's caretakers understand the condition of their collection. In a large collection, a snap shot of its condition as a whole is vitally important for future planning and resource allocation. Data from survey can be used to determine plans for a new space, housing materials needed, staff hours, prioritizing highly delicate objects for conservation, and choosing objects for exhibition.

We used a custom survey form in File Maker Pro to store, search, and easily access thousands of treatment proposals. The form has descriptive information (title, size, support material, media etc), general condition level (scale 1-5) and recommendations for treatment and housing. We typically have about 15-30 minutes per artwork to analyze what preservation issues it has if any. We look at support issues (tape, crumbling acidic paper, pest, and water damage), media stability (fragile media such as unfixed charcoal, iron gall ink, desiccated pigments), housing concerns (is the current housing supporting the item correctly and made of acid free materials?) and with that information we decide on a possible treatment plan.

We spent thousands of hours on this project and with this particular collection. We saw through the eyes of hundreds of artists; how the world has changed and how it has stayed the same. It was truly a joy to see such a large portion of a collection in intimate detail.



2. All artwork from Naval History and Heritage Command website

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