CONSERVATION IN MUSEUMS: WILLIAM AIKEN WALKER' S MARINE LIFE
KELLY COURTNEY O'NEILL
A PROJECT IN LEUI OF THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF ARTS
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
2008 Kelly Courtney O'Neill
To my parents, Shirley and Peter O'Neill
I have many people I would like to thank for their support these past three years and for
my project in lieu of thesis. I would like begin by thanking Rustin Levenson for affording me
the opportunity to do this project in her Miami studio. Without her guidance and help, I would
not have been able to do this project and there would not have been a project to begin with. I
would also like to thank Mrs. Levenson's associate, Veronica Romero, for her help inside the
studio this summer and for her friendship.
Next I would like to thank the people who have been very influential to me in the School
of Art and Art History at the University of Florida. First, I would like to thank Dr. Glenn
Willumson for his guidance as the Director of Museum Studies and for allowing me do a project
in lieu of thesis that ties in my love of conservation and museums. I would also like to thank my
thesis chair, Dr. Eric Segal. Dr. Segal met with me regularly, set deadlines and advised me
through the thesis writing process. His guidance and help was invaluable. I would also like to
thank the other members of my thesis committee, Dr. Victoria Rovine and Dixie Nielson. Dr.
Rovine has continuously challenged me to become a better writer through her African art history
courses. Mrs. Nielson has helped me realize my dream of pursuing art conservation as a career
through her Museum Studies courses.
On a personal note, I would like to thank my friends for their love and support since I
started my master's program. They know who they are; they have helped me keep my sanity and
have been my family here at the University of Florida these past three years. I wouldn't have
wanted to take this journey with out them.
And last but not least, I would like to thank my parents, Shirley and Peter O'Neill. Their
unwavering support has given me the courage and the strength to pursue my dreams.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S ..............................................................................................................4
ABSTRAC T ........................................................................... 7
1 IN T R O D U C T IO N ......................................................................................... .......... .. .. ...9
2 ARTIST BACKGROUND: WILLIAM AIKEN WALKER............... ................ 10
3 CON SERV A TION IN M U SEU M S ............................................................ .....................14
C conservation ..................14................................................
C onserv action v s. R restoration .................................................... ........................................ 15
Role of the M museum ................................. ......... ............................. 16
C conservation in M u seum s ............................................................................ .................... 17
Conservation Budgets ...................................................... ................. 19
P reventative C conservation ....................................................................... ..................19
C o n clu sio n ................... ...................2...................1..........
4 THE PAINTINGS .................. ......................... ............22
The History .........................................22
T h e S u p p o rts ..................................................................................................................... 2 3
The Conservation ............................................ 24
T h e R e sto ratio n ................................................................................................................. 2 5
T h e P ain tin g s ................................................................2 6
.l.,h h. I .............................................................. ...... ............ ..............26
P orkfish-C atalineta ................................................................29
N assa u G group er....................................................................... 3 1
Sp iny L o b s te r .......................................................................................................3 2
G reen P a rro fish ........................................................................................................ 3 3
Angelfish ............. .... ..... .... ............................... ............... 35
Lane Snapper ...............................................................................................................36
5 C O N C L U SIO N .................................................... 38
A AIC CODE OF ETHICS AND GUIDELINES FOR PRACTICE ................ ...............39
B SAMPLE CONSERVATION REPORT ...................................................... 48
C CONSERVATION PHOTOGRAPHS ............................................................................50
L IST O F R E F E R E N C E S .............................................................................. ...........................57
B IO G R A PH IC A L SK E T C H .............................................................................. .....................58
Summary of Project Option in Lieu of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts
CONSERVATION IN MUSEUMS: WILLIAM AIKEN WALKER MARINE LIFE
Kelly Courtney O'Neill
Chair: Eric Segal
Conservation is the profession devoted to the preservation of cultural property for the
future. By providing treatment to arrest the decay of objects and to stabilize against further
deterioration, conservation seeks to stop the decomposition of cultural property. Restoration,
often confused with conservation, is the continuation of the conservation process by returning the
object to a former state. Although restoration is often done with the addition of non-original
materials, the intent is to keep the integrity of the work and artist foremost. This is why modern
conservation and restoration is done with reversible materials. Together the processes of
conservation and restoration have ensured the preservation of thousands of artifacts that would
otherwise have been severely affected or even lost to the ravages of time.
For this project, under the guidance and supervision of conservator Rustin Levenson, I
performed the conservation and restoration of seven paintings by American artist William Aiken
Walker in her Miami studio. The generalities and the specificities of each painting will be
addressed in accounts of the process of the cleaning and restoration of each painting. Two
preliminary sections discuss the artist and the field of conservation in order to provide context
for this report on a conservation project done in lieu of thesis. The background of the artist is
discussed in order to place these paintings in historical context. The topic of conservation is
addressed as it relates to this project. More specifically conservation in museums is considered
in light of the fact that these paintings by William Aiken Walker are accessioned into the
collection of the Museum of Florida History in Tallahassee, Florida.
Conservation is the profession devoted to the preservation of cultural property for the
future. By providing treatment to stop the decaying of objects and to stabilize against further
deterioration, conservation seeks to stop the decomposition of cultural property. Restoration,
often confused with conservation, is the continuation of the conservation process by returning the
object to a former state. Although restoration is often done with the addition of non-original
materials, the intent is to keep the integrity of the work and artist foremost. This is why modern
conservation and restoration is done with reversible materials. Together conservation and
restoration have ensured the preservation of thousands of artifacts that would otherwise have
been severely affected or even lost to the ravages of time.
For this project, under the guidance and supervision of conservator Rustin Levenson, I
performed the conservation and restoration of seven paintings by American artist William Aiken
Walker in her Miami studio. The generalities and the specificities of each painting will be
addressed in accounts of the process of the cleaning and restoration of each painting. In order to
provide context for this report on a conservation project done in lieu of thesis, two preliminary
sections discuss the artist and the field of conservation, respectively. The background of the
artist is discussed in order to place these paintings in historical context. The topic of
conservation is addressed as it relates to this project, while museum conservation is considered in
light of the fact that these paintings by William Aiken Walker are accessioned into the collection
of the Museum of Florida History in Tallahassee, Florida.
ARTIST BACKGROUND: WILLIAM AIKEN WALKER
William Aiken Walker (1838-1921) was a native of Charleston, South Carolina. After
serving in the Confederate Army during the Civil War, Walker made his living as an artist
traveling from city to city in the 'New South.' Walker was said to be a friendly man who never
owned a home or stayed in one place too long but made friends wherever he went. Although he
eventually considered Baltimore his home, he often traveled to resort communities in North
Carolina, Cuba, and New Orleans as well as in Florida, where he often wintered.1 He painted
landscapes, portraits and marine life but acquired moderate fame and made his living from his
paintings of genre scenes depicting black life in the South.2
There is no record of formal art training for Walker, but the city of Charleston is believed
to have influenced him in his artistic pursuits. In Charleston, Walker was exposed to American
art and artists before the Civil War. Charleston was an important stop for American portrait
painters at mid-century. At age 12, Walker painted his earliest known painting which was a
portrait of an African American on the docks of Charleston. After being injured in the Civil
War, Walker was transferred in 1863 to the Engineer Corps where he was a draftsman and
cartographer. During these years, much of his work was devoted to still life painting.
In the late 1870's he abandoned his early focus on still life in favor of the genre paintings
for which he is best known today. However, towards the end of the nineteenth century he
returned to still life, when he took up marine painting. An avid sportsman, Walker loved to fish,
1 Cecilia Steinfeldt, Artfor History's Sake: The Texas Collection of the Witte Museum (San Antonio: The Texas
State Historical Association, 1993), 255.
2 Timothy Eaton, "William Aiken Walker: in Florida," William Aiken Walker: in Florida Exhibition Catalog (Palm
Beach, Florida: Eaton Fine Art, 2004),< http://www.tfaoi.com/aa/5aa/5aa215a.htm>.
and he often studied and sketched the specimens he caught.3 In 1890 he began a marine series
with serious documentary intentions. He wrote annotations on the backs of his drawings giving
data concerning weather, tides and the location of where each fish was caught.4 Walker traveled
the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts of Florida, intrigued by the fish and crustaceans he encountered.
Walker also sold paintings to the fisherman who caught them.5
Walker continued to document the places he visited along with the fish he caught. He
strayed from the duller wood panel background of the fish still lives of his youth by opting
instead for depicting a solid background of deep sea green or light brown for his works on
canvas. For those on paper, he used the creamy color of the paper itself to provide the
background.6 Among the paintings conserved for this project, the untouched creamy
background of artist board can be seen in his painting Nassau Grouper.
Walker's attention to detail rendered his marine life paintings not only scientifically
anatomically correct (and this, despite his limited training), but beautiful as well. His use of
transparent glazes in subtle shades of a wide range of color skillfully captures the luminescence
of the fishes' scales. Walker's style of anatomical correctness and beauty perhaps owe
something to the tradition of eighteenth century botanical illustration.7
In creating these renderings, Walker either positioned the fish horizontally on the picture
surface or turned the picture surface on its vertical axis, depicting the fish suspended from a nail
3 August P Trovaioli and Roulhac B. Toledano. William Aiken Walker: Southern Genre Painter (Baton Rouge:
Louisiana State University Press, 1972), 8.
4 Patti Carr Black, Art in Mississippi 1720-1980 (Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 1998), 121.
5 Trovaioli, William Aiken Walker, 8.
6 Cynthia Seibels, The Sunny South: The Life and Art of William Aiken Walker (Spartanburg, SC: Saraland Press,
7 Seibels, The Sunny South, 170.
by a string through its mouth. This is the same composition that Walker employed when he
painted the marine life in this project. He began each work by drawing the fish in pencil upon
his paper or the prepared ground of an un-stretched canvas tacked to a board.8 His use of this
expedient alternative to properly stretched canvas is indicated by the nail holes in the canvases'
tacking margins on most paintings in this project. After having established a sketch of the
subject, he then filled in the drawing using either watercolors or oil paints. Walker dated a large
number of his paintings, although the reasons for this are not clear. Whether he did so in order to
establish the date for artistic or selling purposes, or to memorialize the memory of the catch,
remains for another research project.9 Nonetheless, the inscriptions usefully place all these
works in the years at the start of the twentieth century. With the exception of one painting that is
undated, all of these works are dated from 1901 to 1909.
Three of the seven paintings in this project were executed by Walker in Key West,
Florida. On the reverse of these three canvases the location of Key West was marked, along with
the fish's scientific specimen name. These three paintings are Porkfish, Green Parrotfish and
Nassau Grouper. The other paintings include Sheepshead, Angelfish, Spiny Lobster, and Lane
Snapper, all marine life are found in the warm waters off south Florida.
Aside from the paintings themselves, there is no documentation to provide further
evidence of their existence. However, the book, The Sunny S.,nluh The Life and Art of William
Aiken Walker, provides examples of similar marine life paintings by Walker. A Bluefish and a
.\she/7,phe\/,/ painting are believed to have been owned by his friend and boating expedition
partner, William Henry Gregg.10 Walker accompanied Gregg on the latter's boat on voyages in
8 Seibels, The Sunny South, 170-1.
9 Seibels, The Sunny South, 171.
10 Seibels, The Sunny South, 164.
1899, 1900 and 1908.11 That the .\/hep,,/h,'I/ owned by Gregg is not the same .V1shie7,,//,,/
painting in this project is clearly indicated by the fact that, despite the similar titles, the two
works have different dates. Gregg's ./Vi'ehe'\/ti/is dated 1900 which coincides with their 1900
boating voyage while the one treated here was painted two years later. Although the paintings
in this project are not represented in books or articles pertaining to Walker, they are evidence of
Walker's continuing interest in marine life which began in 1890 and continued until at least
Whether Walker had hopes of making a complete scholarly study of marine life is
unknown. He apparently lost interest in this project sometime after 1912 due to old age,
deteriorating health and the inability to travel.12 Although Walker's last sketch was a North
Carolina landscape dated October 15, 1920,13 his life's work was full of variety and adaptability
to changing circumstances and tastes.14 Walker's small scale marine still-life works are one
aspect of his oeuvre, but these seven paintings broaden our understanding of the range of
subjects taken up by an artist best-known for his genre scenes of black life in the New South.
1 Seibels, The Sunny South, 163.
12 Trovaioli William Aiken Walker, 122.
13 Steinfeldt, Art for History's Sake, 256.
14 Seibels, The Sunny South, 202.
CONSERVATION IN MUSEUMS
Although this project focuses on the actual conservation treatment of seven paintings, this
section provides a broader perspective on the profession of conservation and its role in museums.
The following discussion addresses conservation, the museum's role in conservation, including
conservation budgeting and preventative care by museums.
Conservation is the profession devoted to the preservation of cultural property for the
future. It is also defined as the application of science to the examination and treatment of
museum objects and to the study of the environment in which they are placed. Conservation
activities include examination, documentation, treatment, and preventative care, supported by
research and education.
Examination is the investigation of the structure, materials, and condition of cultural
property including the identification, the extent and the causes of alteration and deterioration.2
Documentation is the recording in a permanent format of information derived from
conservation activities.3 This includes conservation reports and photographic evidence of
before, during and after treatment.
Treatment is the deliberate alteration of the chemical and/or physical aspects of cultural
property, aimed primarily at prolonging its existence. Treatment may consist of stabilization
1 Mireia Xarrie, Glossary of Conservation I (Barcelona: Balaam, 2005), 49.
2 Xarrie, Glossary of Conservation I, 49.
3 Xarrie, Glossary of Conservation I, 50.
4 Xarrie, Glossary of Conservation I, 50.
Stabilization involves treatment procedures that are intended to maintain the integrity of
cultural property and to minimize deterioration. Essentially stabilization secures the object in its
Conservation vs. Restoration
Conservation is different from restoration. Conservation in this respect is the control of the
environment to minimize the decay of artifacts and materials. Conservation treatment arrests
decay and stabilizes artifacts to prevent further deterioration. Restoration is an extension of
stabilizing against further deterioration. It is used when conservation treatment is thought to be
insufficient, and aims to reinstate an object to an exhibit able condition, without falsification. 6
Restoration is a continuation of conservation in that it is treatment procedures intended to return
cultural property to a known or assumed state, usually through the addition of non-original
Areas of conservation include paper, sculpture, photographic, framing and painting
conservation. Each of these different media requires specific skills and specific knowledge.
This project is in the field of painting conservation, more specifically paintings on canvas and, in
one instance, painting on artist's board.
Any conservation project involves complex issues ranging from technical problems to
ethical concerns. In many of these areas, conservators are guided by the American Institute for
Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC), the foremost professional conservation
organization. Most reputable conservators are members of this organization. The AIC has
provided a Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice for conservators. This document (see
5 Xarrie, Glossary of Conservation I, 50.
6 Xarrie, Glossary of Conservation I, 50.
7 Xarrie, Glossary of Conservation I, 142.
Appendix A) delineates obligations that conservators hold to cultural property. Its principles
include topics such as advocacy and respect for cultural property, honesty, promoting awareness,
conduct, documentation, preventative care, and treatment. Members of the AIC are expected to
follow these codes and guidelines in their daily practice of conservation. One specific principle
states that "conservators shall practice within the limits of personal competence and education as
well as within the limits of the available facilities."8 AIC recognizes that conservators are
human beings and therefore somewhat limited as to what can actually be done. Another
important thought expressed is that "the conservation professional must strive to select methods
and materials that, to the best of current knowledge, do not adversely affect cultural property or
its future examination, scientific investigation, treatment, or function."9 The materials that
conservators work with today are reversible. To actually alter the state of an object permanently
is not something conservators are meant to do.10 These ethics guide conservators in their work
and I have witnessed this firsthand in Rustin Levenson's conservation studio. Her advice is to
follow the code.
Role of the Museum
"Museums collect, preserve, and interpret the things of this world."11 This definition of
museums by the American Association of Museums (AAM) summarizes the three important
aspects of most museums: collection, preservation and interpretation. The museum's
responsibility to care for the collection for the future lies under the heading of preservation. The
American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, AIC Code of Ethics and Guidelines for
Practice, Principle IV, .
9 AIC Code oj il l, .' and Guidelines, Principle VI, .
10 This interpretation of the AIC Code of Ethics is unwritten but practiced by good conservators.
1 American Association of Museums website, "What is Museum?"
preservation of the collection is one of the cardinal responsibilities of a museum.12 The
conservation of a museum's collection is integral to the very definition of museums in this
Conservation is a continuing responsibility.13 It is the responsibility of a museum to
provide reasonable care for the objects entrusted to it. Regarding objects owned by the museum,
this responsibility flows from the museum's legal status, which resembles that of a charitable
trust.14 This legal structure allows for the funding and establishment of museums and provides
guidelines for their governance.
The approach to conservation has changed dramatically in many US museums.
Historically, the conservator was trained to focus on individual objects; more explicitly, the
object in serious need of treatment or the object that was to go on exhibit. Within the museum
the conservator's tasks were usually limited to this type of service. But by the mid-1970's a
number of museums in the US began to take a more holistic approach to the management of their
collections due to a newfound accountability towards collection management. This arose from
public attention focused on cultural heritage and ecological concerns because of adverse
publicity on questionable museum practices in accessioning and deaccessioning.15 This was the
impetus for a new emphasis on the quality of documentation and record-keeping. Standards
were established in these areas within the museum as a whole, and the authority to implement
and oversee these standards was centralized in one individual or office. This change reflected
12 Marie C. Malaro, A Legal Primer on Managing Museum Collections, Second Edition (Washington, D.C.:
Smithsonian Books, 1998), 407.
13 Malaro, A Legal Primer, 55.
14 Malaro, A Legal Primer, 406.
15 Archival Informatics Technical Report Vol.2, #4, Winter, 1988, 26,
the heightened consciousness of those governing museums, who now realized that they had a
trust-like responsibility to see that collections were managed prudently for the public. When
standards were being established for documentation and record-keeping, a major goal was to
prevent problems. Using this holistic approach, museums made dramatic advances in gaining
control over collections, leading to the use of preventative conservation.16
Conservation in Museums
Conservation in museums is usually conducted by either in-house staff members or by
contracted professionals. Conservators who belong to a museum's staff oversee the collections,
assist the registration department, and take care of any necessary conservation or restoration
needs required to maintain the collections.
Many museums employ outside conservation help on a contractual basis. Museums may
use the expertise of freelance professional conservators, regional conservation facilities, and
conservators from museums that provide outside services. This is true even if there is a
conservator on staff. 17 Often times outside opinions are needed when working on a particular
project. Small and midsized museums often do not have the funding or space for a conservator
on staff. When they need a conservator, they have to contact one of the aforementioned services.
Museums, particularly in the registration and curatorial departments, have to make contacts with
accredited conservators in their area. The AIC provides a referral system that identifies
16 Malaro, A Legal Primer, 412-13.
17 Ed. Rebecca A. Buck and Jean Allman Gilmore, The New PF., r, l. ', Methods (Washington, D.C.: American
Association of Museums, 1998.), 103.
conservators by specialty, membership level and geographic area.18 They are an excellent
contact for those museum staff trying to locate quality professional conservation work. 19
For a museum to be accredited by the American Association of Museums (AAM), it must
have a conservation plan and budget. These need not be presented in detail, but they must be a
priority in protecting and caring for the collection. Unfortunately, there is never enough money
for conservation. Endowments, grants, trusts or donations often enable museums to pay for
conservation. Generally, those objects that need conservation the most should be treated first.
Such decisions are under the discretion of relevant museum staff (i.e. the registrar, the curator
and the director).
From the moment they are created, all objects are vulnerable to physical deterioration.
This process can be slowed by careful handling and by storage in a clean, stable environment. It
has been estimated that lack of proper routine maintenance is responsible for 95% of
conservation treatments; the remaining 5% result from inappropriate handling.20
Initial conservation of museum collections must be performed by museum staff through
preventative care.21 Preventative care helps protect the collection from future damage. The long
term health and preservation of collections is affected by relative humidity, temperature, light, air
18 Buck and Gilmore, The New FR,. go ,,a. oi Methods, 104.
19 When deciding to hire an outside conservator, museums should also perform background. This includes, but is
not limited to, asking other museum professionals for recommendations and independent research on the conservator
20 Buck and Gilmore, The New F,. o or,. a, Methods, 103.
21 Buck and Gilmore, The New F. r ,ar. ;,, Methods, 104.
pollution, pests and human error. These specific areas of concern can be monitored through
preventative care which constitutes the holistic approach to conservation mentioned above.
Relative humidity (RH) is the proportion of water vapor in a given quantity of air
compared to the maximum amount of water vapor that the air could hold at the same
temperature.22 RH is expressed as a percentage. The maintenance of a stable RH is desirable,
whereas extremes and rapid fluctuations can result in severe damage to an object caused by
changes in shape and size, chemical reactions and biodeterioration of materials. Extreme high
RH (60-70%) can produce mold growth on organic materials. A low RH (40-45%) produces
dissection, cracking, and embrittlement in organic materials such as panel paintings. A constant
RH between 50-60% is best for mixed collections, and is generally preferred in museums
because their collections usually include a variety of objects.
Temperature directly affects RH. It is very important to keep the temperature stable.
Increased temperatures will produce chemical deterioration, biological activity and minor
physical expansion of some materials.
Light is radiant energy that permanently damages light-sensitive materials by catalyzing
degradation reactions. Both type (UV and infrared) and intensity (amount of illumination) of
light affect an object's condition. Daylight is most hazardous to objects. There are three types
of radiation that affect objects. The first is visible radiation which provides illumination. Visible
light can be monitored through use of photographic light meters and is measured in foot candles
or lux. Ultra-violet (UV) light is invisible short wave radiation. This is the most damaging
22 Buck and Gilmore, The New F'.. g, ,ia. Methods, 104.
component of the light spectrum. Infrared (IR) is long wave radiation manifests as both heat and
Air quality cleaned and maintained through air filtration systems which clean air of its
particulate and gaseous contaminants. Further protection includes storing in acid-free and
neutral tissue or untreated cotton or linen to prevent off-gassing of materials onto objects.24
Human error through inappropriate handling accounts for 5% of conservation treatments.
In an effort to prevent staff from inadvertently injuring an object, they should be trained on how
to handle objects properly.25 This includes detailed information on how hold objects properly
and how to transport objects safely.26
Although paintings and other works of art should only be conserved by a professional
conservator, it is the responsibility of a museum to care for their collection and oversee their
conservation needs. There are several things museums can do to protect and ensure preservation
of their collection. Proper preventive care is important before and after conservation treatment,
to prevent the need for further conservation and to avoid further damage.
23 Buck and Gilmore, The New R. _oi. ii.,, Methods, 106.
24 Buck and Gilmore, The New ,o r ,lr i- Methods, 107.
25 Buck and Gilmore, The New ,., ti ,,o, ,,'n Methods, 45.
26 Buck and Gilmore, The New ,., ti ,,, ,,'n Methods, 45.
The project described here is focused on the assessment and conservation of seven marine
paintings by William Aiken Walker. Although this group of works shares many share
similarities, each one presented unique circumstances.
Unfortunately, the history of these specific paintings remains mostly unknown. Walker
painted them in the early 1900s and most likely sold them to the people who caught these
particular fish or to individuals he encountered in the resort towns where he thrived as an artist.
In 1999, a curator from the Museum of Florida History was asked to examine the paintings at the
Wakulla Springs Hotel. He identified them as being painted by William Aiken Walker. They
remained there in Wakulla Springs until they were transferred to the Museum in August 2006
through donation from Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park, Division of Recreation and
Parks, Department of Environmental Protection. Before the paintings were donated into the
Museum's collection, conservator Rustin Levenson saw them in early spring 2006 while she was
on assignment restoring a ceiling in the Hotel. The paintings were found stacked one atop the
other in a pile on the floor of the closet. Stacked more than twenty paintings high, they were a
sight to behold-- a dirty sight to behold. All of the paintings in this project arrived in the
conservation studio with dirty, moldy mat boards, two of which also had bird excretions on the
mat board. Along with the history, the conditions of temperature and relative humidity are
unknown. It can be surmised that conditions were not ideal because of their discovery in a pile
and the evidence of mold and surface grime on the paintings.
The first of these paintings from the pile chosen for conservation was the Tarpon. (This
painting was not a part of this project.) The painting was conserved by Rustin Levenson in 2006.
It was chosen for conservation based on the desire for the Museum to lend the painting to the
Flagler Museum for a special exhibition on sport fishing. The next paintings chosen for
conservation from the pile are the seven paintings in this project. They were selected as a
representative group from the collection that showed a variety of fish. The Museum's
conservation budget from the state, along with a donation from their Friends support group,
Friends of the Museum, allowed for the conservation of this group of works. The rest of the
paintings from the pile are in stable storage until the Museum has the funds for their
Assessing the seven paintings in this project, six are oil paintings on canvas and one is oil
on artist board. And of the six on canvas, four of the canvases are made of tabby weave canvas,1
a common canvas, and two are of the rarer twill weave canvas.2 The tabby weave is a little bit
thicker whereas the twill in this case provided a thinner canvas support for the paintings. This
made the twill weave paintings more vulnerable (as they were not stretched on auxiliary supports
such as stretchers), to damage by bending or tearing. This discovery of the different types of
materials Walker used highlights his versatility as an artist. It shows he was able to paint on
different supports and that perhaps he simply painted on what he had available. Also, once the
mat boards were removed, evidence of pin holes in the tacking margins show that Walker tacked
his canvases to another support while painting, most likely outdoors.
All seven paintings came affixed to a mat board as its only permanent form of exterior
support. (In shipping, each painting was individually secured in a Mylar sleeve.) All mat boards
1 Tabby weave canvas is the over-under weave of canvas threads.
2 Twill weave is the diagonal weave of canvas threads.
except the one belonging to the Angelfish had the marine specimen's scientific name and
common name written on the bottom center of the mat board. Most of the paintings also had
string attached through the top of the mat board that indicates how Walker had hung each. But
this ready-made mat board frame did not offer adequate protection for each painting. In fact,
over time, the mat board actually damaged the canvas it was framing. All of the canvases
showed indentations around the border of the canvas caused by where the mat board laid on the
painting surface. In addition, the unknown adhesive Walker used to attach the mat board to the
reverse of the canvas (and artist board) abetted in the deterioration of the canvas. In the cases of
the Spiny Lobster and Sheepshead, residue along with a layer of canvas had to be scraped away
from the existing tabs in order to remove the adhesive and tabs.
Each painting was cleaned front and back. The reverse, usually done first, was cleaned
with a conservation sponge after the tabs and adhesive residue were removed. This had to be
done very carefully as most of the canvases where brittle and extremely dirty. The twill weave
canvases were more sensitive and required more care because the thinness of its canvas left it
vulnerable to tearing, especially at the corners.
Once complete, the surface of each was cleaned with ammonium citrate3 to remove surface
grime and mold, with the Nassau Grouper as the exception. The Nassau Grouper is the one
painting on artist board. The artist board's nature required a method of dry-cleaning with a
After the surface was cleaned, consolidation adhesive was poured into any cracks,
including paint losses, and along the edges of the canvases that were exposed with no ground
3 Ammonium citrate is a weak acid that is commonly used to clean oil paintings.
layer. This is the stabilization aspect. The two paintings that required the most consolidation
were the .\/ep/heaJ, I and Spiny Lobster. During and after this process, each painting was
flattened with weights to allow the adhesive to assist in closing up the cracks.
The restoration process overlaps with the stabilization aspect of the conservation process.
During and after consolidation, each painting was flattened with weights to allow the adhesive to
assist in closing up the cracks. This helped to reform the canvas to its prior flat shape.
Another important aspect of restoration is filling and toning losses. Losses in the paint
layer, particularly in the Spiny Lobster, Lane Snapper and Porkfish, were filled with the
conservation fill Modostuc.4 Then these areas of loss were retouched and toned to blend into the
painting. Scratches on several of the paintings were toned as well to make them less distracting
from the overall composition.
Non-original material in the form of Pcap patches5 were added to the reverse of two
canvases for canvas reinforcement. A PCap patch the width of the painting was affixed to the
reverse ofAngelfish at the bottom tacking margin. The tacking margin and the exposed raw
canvas next to it made the bottom edge flimsy and vulnerable to damage. A PCap patch was also
added to the lower proper right and lower proper left covers of the Spiny Lobster where the
corner showed signs of separating from the rest of the canvas during the cleaning of its reverse.
PCap was also used to form new tabs in the place of the original tabs on the reverse. The
PCap tabs were secured to the reverse and wrapped around a sized cut piece of gator board for
support. Acid free tape was used to attach the new tabs to the gator board. This allows a nice,
4 Modostuc is Italian gesso.
5 PCap is a strong, thin, malleable material that is excellent for added support in patches, tabs, insert linings, strip
linings and loose linings. It is applied with Beva film, an adhesive, by heat, in most cases to the reverse of canvases
as added support.
flat support for shipping and for storage in the museum. The Pcap tabs can be affixed to a new
mat board in the future if the works are displayed.
.h7,,'\/heti'/ was the first of the seven paintings conserved. It is 19 34" in height and 13
7/8" wide with a vertical orientation. In the center of the painting is a portrayal of a sheepshead
fish (a silvery fish with vertical black bands) against a soft green background. The .N//w,,\hetI//
is suspended on a nail from a green string that is anchored in the fish's mouth. This string in the
painting mirrors the actual string attached to mat board above the fish's head. In the lower
proper right of the canvas Walker signed and dated this work "WA Walker, 1902."
I.h7,\/thet,'/i/is an oil painting on tabby weave canvas, which is the most common type of
canvas consisting of over-under weaving canvas threads construction. Tack holes are visible
around the perimeter where Walker attached the canvas to another support during painting. The
canvas edges are fraying and the canvas has become embrittled. There is an area of flaking and
loss in the central area and lifting paint around the perimeter. There is significant cracking and
cupping throughout the painting, especially where the mat board was previously, and there are
localized opening of cracks. There is also significant surface grime throughout the painting as
Walker's .\/ 7epheti/ was a challenging painting to conserve and restore, not only because
it was the first one undertaken. Before cleaning or removing the mat board, consolidation6 had
to be performed on a loss (missing paint) in the center of the fish body. This had to be done
6 Consolidation is a treatment using an adhesive to reattach localized areas of ground or paint that are flaking.
Andrea Kirsh and Rustin S. Levenson, Seeing Through F,,,,ii-, Materials and Meaning in the Fine Arts Volume 1
(New Haven, Yale University Press, 2000), 312.
before anything else because the area was sensitive and could continue to flake if it was not
secured from further damage. A small amount of Beva D8 was placed into the area of loss and
heat was applied from a spatchula to activate the adhesive. A layer of Mylar (a non-stick plastic)
was placed underneath the canvas and another layer was placed as a barrier between the hot
spatchula and the surface. This protected the canvas from adhering to the counter and the
The verso. The first hurdle was removing the tabs and the adhesive that Walker used on
the verso to adhere the canvas to the mat board. This took several days of applying adhesive
removers. The methyl cellulose was most effective in removing the tabs from the canvas but it
left behind the adhesive residue that was on the tabs. The use of methyl cellulose, benzene,
commercial remover, and acetone removed small areas of adhesive but the best method was
warm water and a scalpel. It took days to remove from all eight areas where the tabs were
located. After this was completed, Levenson removed the mat board with a scalpel (areas along
the border were stuck to the mat board.)
The recto. Before cleaning the entire surface, the tacking margins needed to be cleaned
with distilled water to remove areas where the mat or glue from the tabs was stuck. After testing
for sensitivity, the entire surface was cleaned with ammonium citrate (this weak acid can be used
to clean most surfaces because of its gentle nature), followed by distilled water. This cleaning
helped remove the surface grime and dirt. Then along the edges of the canvas, diluted Beva D8
was applied to consolidate them. On the surface in small sections at a time, small amounts of
ETOH (ethyl alcohol) were used in the cracks, followed by Beva D8 to consolidate the cracking.
The ETOH was applied first because it provides the Beva D8 a direction to flow into the cracks
instead of resting on the surface of the canvas. This process was followed with distilled water
because any adhesive left on the surface causes that area to be glossy regardless of the finish it
had before (which was matte in this case). This process took several days. After each day, a
protecting barrier of Mylar was placed over the whole surface of the painting and then flat plates
and weights were applied on top of the Mylar. This helped the surface to flatten out the bumping
around the cracks and where the mat board left an imprint on the canvas. It is also necessary
because the surface has memory, which left un-weighted would allow the canvas retain its
bumpy shape and negate the application of the adhesive.
Further treatment. The next day the verso was cleaned with a conservation sponge and the
application of a towel dampened with water to relax the canvas. The central loss was
consolidated again and re-weighted. The re-dampening of the reverse and re-weighting occurred
over a long period of time. After two weeks of applying a dampened towel with water to the
reverse, ETOH was used in the place of water. After just one day the canvas was much flatter.
(This was only done twice because ETOH is much stronger than water).
After two more weeks of flattening, the adhesive Lascaux 498-20X was applied into the
canvas fringes. Ivory Modostuc was used to fill in missing spots in the tacking margins and the
central loss. Then the retouching began. The edges and the tacking margins were toned with
Gamblin Conservation paints.7 The central loss was retouched so that it blended with the rest of
the fish. Scratches were toned throughout the painting and retouching varnish was applied into
the central loss.
After the canvas was cleaned and restored, eight PCap (a strong material used in
conservation lab for linings) patches were made and adhered to the verso of the canvas with a
BEVA adhesive film over the areas were the paper tabs were previously. This will allow the
7 Gamblin Conservator Colors are reversible paint materials. They can be removed in the future if needed and will
not interfere with the original paint.
canvas to be attached to something in the future; perhaps a new mat or frame without being
destructive to the canvas. Lastly, the painting was secured to gator board (a stiff cardboard) with
acid free tape and wrapped it in Dartec (a breathable plastic that does not stick to the surface of
The Porkfish (or Porkfish-Catalineta), the second painting conserved, is 18" high and 11
7/8" wide with a vertical orientation. The main subject is a porkfish (a silvery-gray fish with
vertical black striped head and horizontal yellow striped body). Like the Sheepshead, it too
hangs on a nail from a yellow string anchored to the fish's mouth and head in front of a light
green background. This also mirrors the actual string hung through the top of the mat board.
Walker signed the front and back of this painting. He signed the front in the lower proper
right "WA Walker 1901." On the reverse, Walker recorded the scientific name, location and
date of this painting: "Anisotremus Virginicus- / Pork-fish- / Key West. Dec. 17t, 1901. /
Walker's Porkfish canvas is extremely delicate. The twill weave (a diagonal weaving of
threads), instead of the standard over-under tabby weave fabrication of canvas, made the material
weaker and thinner. All paintings should be handled with care but the construction of this
particular painting made delicate handling a necessity rather than a priority.
The Porkfish, painted in oil, is in stable condition but there are a few concerns. There are
holes at the covers and at the proper right where the artist tacked the canvas to a board while he
painted. There is damage to the canvas at the corners and around the edges. The canvas has
become embrittled and has frayed around the edges. There are also losses around the perimeter
and discoloration of the paint and ground layers due to surface grime. Localized craquelure8 has
developed on the surface and there is evidence of mold on the reverse.
The verso. First the tabs on the reverse were cut, separating the canvas from the mat board.
Most of the tabs were readily separated from the canvas with a scalpel, while excess adhesive
residue from the tabs was removed with warm water and a scalpel. Then the reverse was cleaned
with a conservation sponge and a vacuum, with special care taken when cleaning over the lower
half where Walker had recorded information on the reverse.
The recto. After the reverse was cleaned, Beva D8 was applied to the surface edges and
areas in the tacking margins where holes had been made from the artist pinning his canvas on
stable surface. Then distilled water was used on the narrow tacking margins to remove any
adhesive residue from the mat board. Next the entire surface was cleaned with ammonium
citrate, followed by distilled water to remove surface grime.
Further Treatment. After cleaning, the reverse was dampened with water and the canvas
was weighted over a period of four weeks (with continual re-dampening and re-weighting).
During this time, a palette knife was used to flip part of the lower proper left canvas edge that
was bent onto the surface back in place. Frayed edges were stabilized and stray threads were
reattached with Lascaux 498-20X adhesive. Several losses in the proper right and left, upper
center, upper proper right and left were filled with Ivory Modostuc. The losses were retouched
and stains were toned throughout with Gamblin Conservation Colors and retouching varnish.
Three PCap patches with BEVA film were applied to the reverse at the lower proper left, center
proper right and upper proper left to reinforce weak canvas support.
8 Craquelure is the pattern of cracks in a painting. Kirsh and Levenson, Seeing Through FL ,,ar 312.
Lastly, eight PCap patches with BEVA film were secured to the reverse with a heating
spatchula on the areas previously covered by the original paper tabs. The painting was secured
to gator board and wrapped in Dartec.
This was by far the simplest, yet most nerve-racking of the paintings to clean due to its
material. The Nassau Grouper was painted on artist ply board, making this painting the only one
of the seven paintings in this project to be done on paper. The board is 16 1/8" in height and
12" in width, with a vertical orientation. The board is largely unpainted with the Nassau
Grouper (a light background fish with brown/red-brown vertical bars) in the center of the
Walker was very meticulous in recording information about this Nassau Grouper. He
actually signed and dated the front in two areas and wrote the location in another. In the lower
proper right, vertically, he signed "WA Walker. Dec. 1901" and at the lower proper left he wrote
"Key West, Fla." In the upper proper right, with the composition at a horizontal orientation he
signed "WA Walker. Dec. 4/01." Then on the reverse Walker wrote the scientific name, location
and date of this painting. In the center of the reverse reads in five lines: "Epinefolhelus Stratus- /
Nassau Grouper, / at Key West. Fla- / Dec. 1901. / Wm.A.Walker."
Despite its storage for an unknown number of years, this painting was in good condition.
The artist board is becoming embrittled around the perimeter but is in stable condition. The mat
board has left an imprint on the artist board surface and above the back of the fish there is a
break in the board. There is also evidence of mold on the recto and verso. In the paint layers on
the fish there is discoloration from grime and localized craquelure but the design is stable.
The verso. Before doing anything to this painting, Levenson contacted paper conservator
Daria Keynan. After assessing that the work only needed cleaning, Keynan instructed Levenson
on how to proceed. It was decided that the tape on the verso could not be safely removed but the
tabs were cut, separating the artist board from the mat board. Then the verso was cleaned first
with a conservation sponge to get rid of dirt and grime, being very careful when cleaning over
the center where Walker had written species, location and date information in pencil.
The recto. After the verso was cleaned, the surface was also dry-cleaned with a
conservation sponge to remove dirt and surface grime. The actual fish body was the only painted
area, which is surmised to be oil paint but because of the nature of the artist board there was no
testing. The painted area was also delicately cleaned with the conservation sponge to remove
discoloration. This is all that we were able to do to clean the painting safely. Then the tabs were
trimmed back with a scalpel so that they would not project from the reverse. Eight PCap tabs
with BEVA film were attached to the reverse where the paper tabs still are, using a light amount
of heat. Lastly, the painting was secured to gator board and wrapped in Dartec.
The Spiny Lobster (or Crayfish) has the appearance of the .\/lieep\lhe / (paint hues, paint
handling and tabby weave construction) but the sensitivity of the Porkfish. It is 19 12" in height
and 13 12" wide with a vertical orientation. In the center of the painting, lies a spiny lobster (in
hues of brown and green) with its pointers extending past the mat board. The Spiny Lobster is
depicted against a washed blue-green background. In the lower proper right Walker signed the
painting "WA Walker."
There are holes around the top edge where Walker tacked the canvas to a board while he
did the painting. There is also evidence of mold on the reverse and the old canvas has become
embrittled. There is also fraying around the perimeter. Cracking has occurred on the covers
with localized opening of cracks. Cupping, a distortion of the paint surface resulting in raised
areas adjacent to the cracks, has also occurred throughout the painting, especially where the mat
board previously rested. Losses are evident in the paint layer in the central area and the lower
proper right and left corners. The paint has been discolored from surface grime throughout the
painting as well.
The verso. The mat board and tabs were removed from the reverse of the canvas with a
scalpel. Tab adhesive residue was removed with methyl cellulose in water. After removing the
mat board, it was apparent that the canvas, particularly at the corners, was weak. The reverse
was cleaned to remove grime and mold with a conservation sponge. Unfortunately in the
process, part at the lower proper left corner separated from the rest of the canvas. A PCap patch
with BEVA adhesive film was immediately applied to this area for reattachment and
The recto. After the reverse was stabilized, the surface was cleaned with ammonium
citrate and distilled water. Another PCap patch was added to the reverse of the lower proper
right because it was found to be extremely weak. All the cracks around the corners were brushed
with Xylene, followed by Beva D8 to stabilize and flatten the cracking. Excess Beva D8 was
removed with distilled water Beva D8 and Lascaux 498-20x. Losses in the lower proper right
and left were filled with Ivory Modostuc and toned, along with scratches and canvas edges
throughout, with Gamblin Conservation Colors. Lastly, eight PCap tabs were attached to the
reverse with Beva adhesive where the previous paper tabs were located (two tabs on each side).
The canvas was secured to a piece of gator board and wrapped in Dartec.
With a height of 17 7/8" and a width of 11 7/8," the Green Parrotfish has the same twill
weave canvas fabrication as that of the Porkfish. In hues of pink, brown and blue, the Parrotfish
hangs from a yellow ribbon which also hangs on a nail. The Parrotfish is depicted against a light
Walker signed and dated the painting in the lower proper right as "WA Walker." On the
reverse he wrote more detailed information as he had done with the Porkfish and Nassau
Grouper. He wrote "Pseudoscarus Guacamaia. / Green Parrot-fish. / Key West, Fla. /
WAWalker. / Dec. 1901." Although this information provides the month but not the actual date
in December that Walker painted the Green Parrotfish, the other two were painted on December
4th and December 17th, 1901. It is safe to conclude that the Green Parrotfish was painted in this
time frame, if not during this particular trip to Key West.
The mat board has caused deformation on the canvas surface and there is significant
surface grime. There are holes around the edges where Walker tacked the canvas to a support
while painting. The canvas is also fraying around the perimeter. The canvas has become
embrittled with age and there is evidence of mold on the reverse. The oil paint is extremely
discolored due to grime and mold accretions. There is significant cupping/bubbling along
perimeter from mat board. There are small losses of paint along the proper right edge from the
The verso. The paper tabs were removed from the mat board by scalpel. The tab
adhesive residue was removed from the canvas with the application of warm distilled water and a
scalpel. The reverse was then cleaned with a conservation sponge and vacuum.
The recto. First the tacking margins were cleaned with distilled water. Then the entire
surface was cleaned with ammonium citrate followed by distilled water. The canvas edges were
consolidated with BEVA D8 and Lascaux 498-20x. Losses in the upper proper right tacking
margin were filled with Ivory Modostuc. The losses were then retouched and toned with
Gamblin Conservation Colors. The canvas was flattened with light moisture to the reverse and
weights on the surface over three weeks.
Lastly, eight PCap tabs were cut and attached with Beva adhesive to the reverse where the
paper tabs were previously (two tabs on each side). The PCap tabs were secured to gator board
and wrapped in Dartec.
At a height of 13 7/8" and a width of 17 1/4", the Angelfish has a horizontal orientation,
unlike that of the rest of these paintings. It is also depicted against a dark green background,
unlike any of the other paintings. Walker signed his signature "WA Walker" on the front lower
proper right. He recorded information regarding the particular type of angelfish on the reverse as
"Pseuocaiuluis Zenopeetus / Black Angelfish 1909."
There are holes around the edges where Walker tacked the canvas to another support while
he did the painting. There is damage to the canvas at the covers and the around the edges and
fraying has occurred on the embrittled tabby weave canvas. There is evidence of mold on
reverse and losses around the perimeter. Ground and paint layers do not extend to bottom side of
the painting, leaving 3/4" of exposed and weak canvas. There is cracking around the canvas
corners with localized craquelure and oil paint discoloration because of surface grime.
The verso. The paper tabs were separated from the mat board and adhesive residue were
removed by scalpel. When the mat board was being removed, the side edges were stuck and had
to be separated carefully.
The recto. Once the mat was successfully removed, the tacking margins were cleaned with
distilled water to remove all adhesive residue left from the mat board. Then the entire surface
was cleaned with ammonium citrate and distilled water. At the corners, Xylene and Beva D8
were brushed into the cracks.
Further Treatment. The reverse was cleaned with a conservation sponge and vacuum. The
holes in the surface perimeter (due to the artist tacking the canvas on board while painting) were
consolidated with Beva D8. The frayed threads around the perimeter were reattached with
Lascaux 498-20X. A PCap lining was attached with Beva adhesive to the bottom to reinforce
the 34" of exposed canvas. A loss in the lower proper right was filled with Ivory Modostuc. The
loss and scratches were toned with Gamblin Conservation Colors. Nine PCap tabs were attached
to the edges were the paper tabs were, with two tabs on each side except for three on the bottom
to strengthen the edge. The PCap tabs were attached to a piece of gator board and wrapped
safely in Dartec.
Lane Snapper (or Biajiaba) has a height of 19 34" and a width of 13." It is vertically
oriented like most of the paintings but instead of being set against an abstract greenish
background, this Lane Snapper hangs in the center of a brown wooden slat or door. The mostly
white and yellow striped snapper (with a pink tail) is suspended by a green ribbon on a nail head.
The shadow cast by the Lane Snapper on the wood background is painted onto the surface. In
the lower proper right, Walker signed and dated the painting "WA Walker. 1902." He also
recorded the scientific name and common name of the fish on center bottom tacking margin:
"Neomaenis Synagris Lane Snapper."
Before beginning conservation, the painting was assessed, noting its frayed and damaged
edges, with losses in paint layer on the snapper itself. There are scratches and significant surface
grime throughout, along with cupping and cracking with localized opening of cracks. The old
tabby weave canvas has become embrittled and there is mold on the reverse. There are holes
around the edges where Walker tacked the canvas to a board while he did the painting. The
canvas is fraying around the perimeter. There is discoloration due to surface grime.
The verso. The mat board was separated from the canvas by cutting the paper tabs with a
scalpel. Because the canvas was strong and the paper tabs were old and very dry, the tabs and
the adhesive residue were removed by scalpel as well.
The recto. Adhesive residue left on the surface from the mat board was cleaned with
distilled water. The entire surface was cleaned with ammonium citrate, followed by distilled
water. Most cracking occurred on the proper right near the Snapper's body. Xylene and Beva
D8 were brushed into the cracking and any residual adhesive was removed again with distilled
water. The canvas was flattened and dampened over a period of two weeks.
Further Treatment. The reverse was cleaned with a conservation sponge and vacuum,
carefully cleaning around the pencil marked perimeter on the canvas. Frayed threads around the
perimeter were reattached with Lascaux 498-20X. The central loss on the snapper body was
consolidated with Beva D8 and filled with Ivory Modostuc. The loss was retouched and the
scratches were toned with Gamblin Conservation Colors. Eight PCap tabs were attached to the
reverse, where the paper tabs were previously located, with Beva D8 and heat application. These
tabs were secured to gator board and then the canvas and wrapped in protective Dartec.
The conservation of these seven paintings took place over the course of three months, from
May- July 2007. Since then, the paintings have been returned to the Museum of Florida History
in Tallahassee, Florida. Now that these paintings have been properly conserved they may be
safely stored, exhibited and studied further. Moreover, the maintaining of careful documentation
of the conservation process insures that any future treatment can be undertaken with the benefit
of this information. The Museum of Florida History and Rustin Levenson's Painting
Conservation Studio both have copies of the conservation reports and photographs of each
painting. This documentation is now a part of the each painting's history.
The future display of these paintings is currently unknown. But what is known is that the
future care and preservation now lies with the stewardship of the Museum. Hippocrates once
said, "Ars longa, vita brevis," which translates: "Art is long, life is short." These paintings
outlived William Aiken Walker and hopefully they will continue to outlive us.
AIC CODE OF ETHICS AND GUIDELINES FOR PRACTICE
The first formulation of standards of practice and professional relations by any group of art
conservators was produced by the IIC-American Group (now AIC) Committee on Professional
Standards and Procedures. Formed at the second regular meeting of the IIC-AG, in Detroit, May
23, 1961, the committee worked under the direction of Murray Pease, conservator, Metropolitan
Museum of Art; other members of the committee were Henri H. Courtais, Dudley T. Easby,
Rutherford J. Gettens, and Sheldon Keck. The Report of the Murray Pease Committee: IIC
American Group Standards of Practice and Professional Relations for Conservators was adopted
by the IIC-AG at the fourth annual meeting in New York on June 8, 1963. It was published in
Studies in Conservation in August 1964, 9(3): 116-21. The primary purpose of this document
was: to provide accepted criteria against which a specific procedure or operation can be
measured when a question as to its adequacy has been raised.
The first formulation of a code of ethics for art conservators was adopted by the members of IIC-
American Group at the annual meeting in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, on May 27, 1967. It was
produced by the Committee on Professional Relations: Sheldon Keck, chair; Richard D. Buck;
Dudley T. Easby; Rutherford J. Gettens; Caroline Keck; Peter Michael s, and Louis Pomerantz.
The primary purpose of this document was: to express those principles and practices which will
guide the art conservator in the ethical practice of his profession.
These two documents, The Murray Pease Report: Standards of Practice and Professional
Relationships for Conservators and the Code of Ethics for Art Conservators were published in
booklet form by the IIC-AG in May 1968 together with the Articles of Association of IIC and
Bylaws of the American Group.
In 1977, the Ethics and Standards Committee (Elisabeth C. G. Packard, chair; Barbara H.
Beardsley; Perry C. Huston; Kate C. Lefferts; Robert M. Organ; and Clements L. Robertson) was
charged with updating the two documents to reflect changes in the profession. The 1968 format
was retained, except that the more general Code of Ethics was placed first as Part One, followed
by the Standards of Practice as Part Two. These revised versions of the code and standards were
approved by the Fellows of AIC on May 31, 1979, at the annual meeting in Toronto. This
document was amended on May 24, 1985, at the annual meeting in Washington, D.C., to reflect
the addition to the AIC Bylaws of procedures for the reporting, investigation, and review of
alleged violations of the code and standards and of mechanisms for appealing such allegations.
Between 1984 and 1990 the Ethics and Standards Committee, responding to further growth and
change in the profession, and following on several years of AIC discussion on the issue of
certification, was char ged by the AIC Board to work on more substantial revisions of the
document. This was done by soliciting commentary from the specialty groups and also from the
membership via issues sessions at the annual meetings in Chicago (1986) and Cincinnati (1989).
Following this, a document consisting of a new simplified Code, prepared by the committee, and
a revised Standards, prepared primarily by the board was presented to the membership for
discussion at the 1990 annual meeting in Richmond. The consensus of the membership at the
meeting was to continue the revision process. During these important years, the members of the
committee were, Elisabeth Batchelor, chair; Robert Futernick; Meg Loew Craft (until 1989);
Elizabeth Lunning (from 1987); Carol C. Mancusi-Ungaro; and Philip Vance (until 1986). In
1989, the committee added corresponding members Barbara Appelbaum, Paul N. Banks, Steven
Prins, and Elisabeth West FitzHugh.
In 1990, the AIC Board charged a newly appointed committee to assess the role and use of the
code and standards and as well to analyze specific difficulties within the documents themselves.
The committee first undertook an in-depth comparative analysis of the documents organizing
them topically and relating them to other codes of ethics both in conservation and in other
professions. Between September 1991 and May 1992, the committee produced five lengthy
discussion papers on basic issue s as supplements to the AIC News (prior to November 1991, the
AIC Newsletter). From these papers, the committee compiled an extensive body of membership
and specialty group commentary, supplementing that obtained previously. It then began the
creation of a new revision, the first draft of which was published in the September 1993 AIC
News following a discussion session at the 1993 annual meeting in Denver. A revised draft was
published in the May 1994 AIC News and discussed at the 1994 annual meeting in Nashville. A
final version of the revised document was prepared and was approved by AIC Fellows and
Professional Associates through a mail vote in August 1994.
Besides a new simplified Code of Ethics and the creation of Guidelines for Practice to replace
the Standards of Practice, the new document will be supplemented by commentaries, a detailed
description of which was published in the November 1993 AIC News. The goals and purposes of
the committee and the problematic issues it sought to address in creating the revision are
described in the committee's columns in the September 1991 AIC Newsletter and September
1993 AIC News.
Ethics and Standards Committee members during these years and involved in the creation of the
revised code and guidelines were: Debbie Hess Norris (chair, resigned 1993); Donna K. Strahan
(co-chair 1993-94, chair 1994); Carol Aiken (co-chair from 1993, resigned 1994); Nancy Ash;
Dan Kushel; and Robert Espinosa (from 1993).
Elisabeth C. G. Packard, Chair, Ethics and Standards Committee 1977-79
Amended May 24, 1985
Revised August 1994, Dan Kushel, Member, Ethics and Standards Committee
CODE OF ETHICS of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic
The primary goal of conservation professionals, individuals with extensive training and special
expertise, is the preservation of cultural property. Cultural property consists of individual
objects, structures, or aggregate collections. It is material which has significance that may be
artistic, historical, scientific, religious, or social, and it is an invaluable and irreplaceable legacy
that must be preserved for future generations.
In striving to achieve this goal, conservation professionals assume certain obligations to the
cultural property, to its owners and custodians, to the conservation profession, and to society as a
whole. This document, the Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice of the American Institute
for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC), sets forth the principles that guide
conservation professionals and others who are involved in the care of cultural property.
I. The conservation professional shall strive to attain the highest possible standards in all aspects
of conservation, including, but not limited to, preventive conservation, examination,
documentation, treatment, research, and education.
II. All actions of the conservation professional must be governed by an informed respect for the
cultural property, its unique character and significance, and the people or person who created it.
III. While recognizing the right of society to make appropriate and respectful use of cultural
property, the conservation professional shall serve as an advocate for the preservation of cultural
IV. The conservation professional shall practice within the limits of personal competence and
education as well as within the limits of the available facilities.
V. While circumstances may limit the resources allocated to a particular situation, the quality of
work that the conservation professional performs shall not be compromised.
VI. The conservation professional must strive to select methods and materials that, to the best of
current knowledge, do not adversely affect cultural property or its future examination, scientific
investigation, treatment, or function.
VII. The conservation professional shall document examination, scientific investigation, and
treatment by creating permanent records and reports.
VIII. The conservation professional shall recognize a responsibility for preventive conservation
by endeavoring to limit damage or deterioration to cultural property, providing guidelines for
continuing use and care, recommending appropriate environmental conditions for storage and
exhibition, and encouraging proper procedures for handling, packing, and transport.
IX. The conservation professional shall act with honesty and respect in all professional
relationships, seek to ensure the rights and opportunities of all individuals in the profession, and
recognize the specialized knowledge of others.
X. The conservation professional shall contribute to the evolution and growth of the profession, a
field of study that encompasses the liberal arts and the natural sciences. This contribution may be
made by such means as continuing development of personal skills and knowledge, sharing of
information and experience with colleagues, adding to the profession's written body of
knowledge, and providing and promoting educational opportunities in the field.
XI. The conservation professional shall promote an awareness and understanding of conservation
through open communication with allied professionals and the public.
XII. The conservation professional shall practice in a manner that minimizes personal risks and
hazards to co-workers, the public, and the environment. XIII. Each conservation professional has
an obligation to promote understanding of and adherence to this Code of Ethics.
GUIDELINES FOR PRACTICE of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic
and Artistic Works
The conservation professional should use the following guidelines and supplemental
commentaries together with the AIC Code of Ethics in the pursuit of ethical practice. The
commentaries are separate documents, created by the AIC membership, that are intended to
amplify this document and to accommodate growth and change in the field.
1. Conduct: Adherence to the Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice is a matter of personal
responsibility. The conservation professional should always be guided by the intent of this
document, recognizing that specific circumstances may legitimately affect professional
2. Disclosure: In professional relationships, the conservation professional should share complete
and accurate information relating to the efficacy and value of materials and procedures. In
seeking and disclosing such information, and that relating to analysis and research, the
conservation professional should recognize the importance of published information that has
undergone formal peer review.
3. Laws and Regulations: The conservation professional should be cognizant of laws and
regulations that may have a bearing on professional activity. Among these laws and regulations
are those concerning the rights of artists and their estates, occupational health and safety, sacred
and religious material, excavated objects, endangered species, human remains, and stolen
4. Practice: Regardless of the nature of employment, the conservation professional should
follow appropriate standards for safety, security, contracts, fees, and advertising.
4a. Health and Safety: The conservation professional should be aware of issues concerning the
safety of materials and procedures and should make this information available to others, as
4b. Security: The conservation professional should provide working and storage conditions
designed to protect cultural property. P
4c. Contracts: The conservation professional may enter into contractual agreements with
individuals, institutions, businesses, or government agencies provided that such agreements do
not conflict with principles of the Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice. P
4d. Fees: Fees charged by the conservation professional should be commensurate with services
rendered. The division of a fee is acceptable only when based on the division of service or
4e. Advertising: Advertising and other representations by the conservation professional should
present an accurate description of credentials and services. Limitations concerning the use of the
AIC name or membership status should be followed as stated in the AIC Bylaws, section II, 13.
5. Communication: Communication between the conservation professional and the owner,
custodian, or authorized agent of the cultural property is essential to ensure an agreement that
reflects shared decisions and realistic expectations.P
6. Consent: The conservation professional should act only with the consent of the owner,
custodian, or authorized agent. The owner, custodian, or agent should be informed of any
circumstances that necessitate significant deviations from the agreement. When possible,
notification should be made before such changes are made.P
7. Confidentiality: Except as provided in the Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice, the
conservation professional should consider relationships with an owner, custodian, or authorized
agent as confidential. Information derived from examination, scientific investigation, or
treatment of the cultural property should not be published or otherwise made public without
8. Supervision: The conservation professional is responsible for work delegated to other
professionals, students, interns, volunteers, subordinates, or agents and assignees. Work should
not be delegated or subcontracted unless the conservation professional can supervise the work
directly, can ensure proper supervision, or has sufficient knowledge of the practitioner to be
confident of the quality of the work. When appropriate, the owner, custodian, or agent should be
informed if such delegation is to occur.
9. Education: Within the limits of knowledge, ability, time, and facilities, the conservation
professional is encouraged to become involved in the education of conservation personnel. The
objectives and obligations of the parties shall be agreed upon mutually.
10. Consultation: Since no individual can be expert in every aspect of conservation, it may be
appropriate to consult with colleagues or, in some instances, to refer the owner, custodian, or
authorized agent to a professional who is more experienced or better equipped to accomplish the
required work. If the owner requests a second opinion, this request must be respected.()
11. Recommendations and References: The conservation professional should not provide
recommendations without direct knowledge of a colleague's competence and experience. Any
reference to the work of others must be based on facts and personal knowledge rather than on
12. Adverse Commentary: A conservation professional may be required to testify in legal,
regulatory, or administrative proceedings concerning allegations of unethical conduct. Testimony
concerning such matters should be given at these proceedings or in connection with paragraph 13
of these Guidelines.()
13. Misconduct: Allegations of unethical conduct should be reported in writing to the AIC
president as described in the AIC Bylaws, section II, 12. As stated in the bylaws, all
correspondence regarding alleged unethical conduct shall be held in the strictest confidence.
Violations of the Code and Guidelines that constitute unethical conduct may result in
14. Conflict of Interest: The conservation professional should avoid situations in which there is
a potential for a conflict of interest that may affect the quality of work, lead to the dissemination
of false information, or give the appearance of impropriety.D
15. Related Professional Activities: The conservation professional should be especially mindful
of the considerable potential for conflict of interest in activities such as authentication, appraisal,
or art dealing.P
EXAMINATION AND SCIENTIFIC INVESTIGATION
16. Justification: Careful examination of cultural property forms the basis for all future action
by the conservation professional. Before undertaking any examination or tests that may cause
change to cultural property, the conservation professional should establish the necessity for such
17. Sampling and Testing: Prior consent must be obtained from the owner, custodian, or agent
before any material is removed from a cultural property. Only the minimum required should be
removed, and a record of removal must be made. When appropriate, the material removed should
be retained. )
18. Interpretation: Declarations of age, origin, or authenticity should be made only when based
on sound evidence. P
19. Scientific Investigation: The conservation professional should follow accepted scientific
standards and research protocols. P
20. Preventive Conservation: The conservation professional should recognize the critical
importance of preventive conservation as the most effective means of promoting the long-term
preservation of cultural property. The conservation professional should provide guidelines for
continuing use and care, recommend appropriate environmental conditions for storage and
exhibition, and encourage proper procedures for handling, packing, and transport. '
21. Suitability: The conservation professional performs within a continuum of care and will
rarely be the last entrusted with the conservation of a cultural property. The conservation
professional should only recommend or undertake treatment that is judged suitable to the
preservation of the aesthetic, conceptual, and physical characteristics of the cultural property.
When nonintervention best serves to promote the preservation of the cultural property, it may be
appropriate to recommend that no treatment be performed. P
22. Materials and Methods: The conservation professional is responsible for choosing materials
and methods appropriate to the objectives of each specific treatment and consistent with
currently accepted practice. The advantages of the materials and methods chosen must be
balanced against their potential adverse effects on future examination, scientific investigation,
treatment, and function. P
23. Compensation for Loss: Any intervention to compensate for loss should be documented in
treatment records and reports and should be detectable by common examination methods. Such
compensation should be reversible and should not falsely modify the known aesthetic,
conceptual, and physical characteristics of the cultural property, especially by removing or
obscuring original material. @
24. Documentation: The conservation professional has an obligation to produce and maintain
accurate, complete, and permanent records of examination, sampling, scientific investigation,
and treatment. When appropriate, the records should be both written and pictorial. The kind and
extent of documentation may vary according to the circumstances, the nature of the object, or
whether an individual object or a collection is to be documented. The purposes of such
documentation are: P
o to establish the condition of cultural property;
o to aid in the care of cultural property by providing information helpful to future treatment
and by adding to the profession's body of knowledge;
o to aid the owner, custodian, or authorized agent and society as a whole in the appreciation
and use of cultural property by increasing understanding of an object's aesthetic,
conceptual, and physical characteristics; and to aid the conservation professional by
providing a reference that can assist in the continued development of knowledge and by
supplying records that can help avoid misunderstanding and unnecessary litigation.
25. Documentation of Examination: Before any intervention, the conservation professional
should make a thorough examination of the cultural property and create appropriate records.
These records and the reports derived from them must identify the cultural property and include
the date of examination and the name of the examiner. They also should include, as appropriate,
a description of structure, materials, condition, and pertinent history. P
26. Treatment Plan: Following examination and before treatment, the conservation professional
should prepare a plan describing the course of treatment. This plan should also include the
justification for and the objectives of treatment, alternative approaches, if feasible, and the
potential risks. When appropriate, this plan should be submitted as a proposal to the owner,
custodian, or authorized agent. P
27. Documentation of Treatment: During treatment, the conservation professional should
maintain dated documentation that includes a record or description of techniques or procedures
involved, materials used and their composition, the nature and extent of all alterations, and any
additional information revealed or otherwise ascertained. A report prepared from these records
should summarize this information and provide, as necessary, recommendations for subsequent
28. Preservation of Documentation: Documentation is an invaluable part of the history of
cultural property and should be produced and maintained in as permanent a manner as
practicable. Copies of reports of examination and treatment must be given to the owner,
custodian, or authorized agent, who should be advised of the importance of maintaining these
materials with the cultural property. Documentation is also an important part of the profession's
body of knowledge. The conservation professional should strive to preserve these records and
give other professionals appropriate access to them, when access does not contravene agreements
29. Emergency Situations: Emergency situations can pose serious risks of damage to or loss of
cultural property that may warrant immediate intervention on the part of the conservation
professional. In an emergency that threatens cultural property, the conservation professional
should take all reasonable action to preserve the cultural property, recognizing that strict
adherence to the Guidelines for Practice may not be possible.
30. Amendments: Proposed amendments to the Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice must
be initiated by petition to the AIC Board of Directors from at least five members who are
Fellows or Professional Associates of AIC. The board will direct the appropriate committee to
prepare the amendments for vote in accordance with procedures described in Section VII of the
Bylaws. Acceptance of amendments or changes must be affirmed by at least two-thirds of all
AIC Fellows and Professional Associates voting.
31. Commentaries: Commentaries are prepared or amended by specialty groups, task forces,
and appropriate committees of AIC. A review process shall be undergone before final approval
by the AIC Board of Directors.
SAMPLE CONSERVATION REPORT
DATE OF EXAMINATION:
MATERIALS OF CONSTRUCTION
3. PAINT LAYER
4. SURFACE COATING
DESCRIPTION OF CONDITION
DAMAGE, LOSS, DISTORTION:
MOLD OR INSECTS PRESENT:
2. GROUND AND PAINT LAYERS
DAMAGE OR LOSS:
MOLD OR ACCRETIONS PRESENT:
3. SURFACE COATING
SUMMARY OF CONDITION:
Sheepshead (Before Treatment)
Sheepshead (After Treatment)
Porkfish-Catalineta (Before Treatment)
Porkfish-Catalineta (After Treatment)
Nassau Grouper (Before Treatment)
Nassau Grouper (After Treatment)
. . .......
Spiny Lobster (Before Treatment)
Spiny Lobster (After Treatment)
Spiny Lobster (After Treatment)
Green Parrotfish (Before Treatment)
Green Parrotfish (After Treatment)
- --- --- II
Angelfish (Before Treatment)
Angelfish (After Treatment)
Lane Snapper (Before Treatment)
Lane Snapper (After Treatment)
LIST OF REFERENCES
American Association of Museums website, "What is a Museum?"
American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, AIC Code of Ethics and
Guidelinesfor Practice, .
Archival Informatics Technical Report Vol.2, #4, Winter, 1988,
Black, Patti Carr. Art in Mississippi 1720-1980. Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of
Ed. Buck, Rebecca A. and Jean Allman Gilmore. The New Registration Methods. Washington,
D.C.: American Association of Museums, 1998.
Eaton, Timothy. "William Aiken Walker: in Florida." William Aiken Walker: in Florida
Exhibition Catalog. Palm Beach, Florida: Eaton Fine Art, 2004.
Kirsh, Andrea and Rustin S. Levenson. Seeing Through Paintings: Materials and Meaning in
the Fine Arts Volume 1. New Haven, Yale University Press, 2000.
Malaro, Marie C. A Legal Primer on Managing Museum Collections, Second Edition.
Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Books, 1998.
Seibels, Cynthia. The Sunny .Snuh The Life and Art of William Aiken Walker. Spartanburg, SC:
Saraland Press, 1995.
Steinfeldt, Cecilia. Art for History's Sake: The Texas Collection of the Witte Museum. San
Antonio: The Texas State Historical Association, 1993.
Trovaioli, August P and Roulhac B. Toledano. William Aiken Walker: .Sinhei ii Genre Painter.
Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1972.
Sichel, Adrienne. "Women: The Fabric of Society." Tonight. 13 Feb. 2008
Xarrie, Mireia. Glossary of Conservation I. Barcelona: Balaam, 2005.
Kelly O'Neill earned her bachelor's degree in Art History and a minor in the Classics at
the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida in 2003. While earning her degree, she spent a
semester abroad studying art history in Florence, Italy through Florida State University's study
abroad program in 2002. Upon graduation, she completed consecutive internships in Historic
Preservation, Painting Conservation and in the museum field which led her to pursue a graduate
degree in Museum Studies. Ms. O'Neill will graduate with her Master of Arts degree in
Museology from the University of Florida in May 2008. Ms. O'Neill is currently working in
Rustin Levenson's Painting Conservation studio in Miami, Florida and will pursue a Master of
Arts degree in Art Conservation in the near future.
CONSERVATION IN MUSEUMS: WILLIAM AIKEN WALKER'S MARINE LIFE
Kelly Courtney O'Neill
Master of Arts
This thesis attempts to highlight the importance and practice of art conservation in
museums through the conservation of seven paintings by American artist William Aiken Walker.
Along with the actual treatment of these paintings, topics including the artist background,
conservation and the role of conservation in museums are discussed. Together these topics
provide context for these paintings and an impetus for the discussion of a larger dialogue
between conservation and museums.
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