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Friday, June 1 • 4:00pm - 4:30pm
(Material Transfers & Translations) Collecting Collections: negotiating the complexities of material value at the National Park Service

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In the 101 years since its inception, The National Park Service (NPS) has been overseen by eighteen United States Presidents and twenty-seven Secretaries of the Interior, while amassing a collection of over 50 million accessioned objects. 36 million of those objects reside in the NPS’s Northeast Region. Examples include a Buddhist altar table owned by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a 19th-century Japanese screen collected by Laurance Rockefeller, a glass and plastic inkwell used by Maggie Walker, and numerous outdoor monuments. The care and upkeep of these pieces is in part the responsibility of just seven regional objects and paper conservators. With such thinly stretched resources (when evenly divided, each conservator is responsible for a stunning 5.1 million objects), it is important to have a clear understanding of the cultural value of the materials we care for, and to whom (or to what) we, as conservators, are ultimately held accountable, as we collaborate with one another, with Park stakeholders, and with contracted conservators. In many ways, the decision-making process used to determine a treatment is no different for an NPS Conservator than it is for a museum or private-practice conservator: we, too, are responsible to colleagues as well as administrative supervision (with the caveat that our administration changes entirely every four to eight years) and our decisions, in keeping with section II of the AIC Code of Ethics, are governed by “an informed respect for cultural property, its unique character and significance, and the people or person who created it.” That said, one of the most challenging complexities of the National Park Service is that, unlike most museums or private individuals who collect discrete objects, the NPS collects collections - currently over 2,500 of them. In essence, these collections are the objects. In telling the story of the creators of these “objects,” we become primarily responsible to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, rather than to the worshipper or monks who commissioned the elegant altar table, which was altered  by the Longfellows to serve as a sideboard in their dining room, and to Laurance Rockefeller, rather than to the 19th-century Japanese artist who surely intended his spectacular flying cranes screen to be shown with all six of its panels, rather than used with only five, and to Maggie Walker, whose civil rights activism is memorialized in her home as it was at the time of her death in 1934. It is imperative, of course, to study and understand the materials of individual objects before proposing or beginning treatment. And treating the object with care and respect is always essential. The unusual circumstances of the National Park Service, however, necessitate a third step: contextualizing and assigning value to the narrative of the collector or collection so that we may support that vision and share it with future generations. This paper will discuss the complexities of this decision-making process and how we, as conservators, are responsible for not only the objects themselves, but also for their historic (versus historical) interpretation.

avatar for Joannie Bottkol

Joannie Bottkol

Conservator, Historic Architecture Conservation and Engineering Center, National Park Service
Joannie Bottkol, is an objects conservator for the National Park Service’s Northeast Region, which consists of over 80 National Sites and Parks spanning from Maine to Virginia. The collections include decorative and fine art, outdoor monuments, historic house interiors and furnishings... Read More →
avatar for Angela Campbell

Angela Campbell

Conservator, NPS Historic Architecture, Conservation and Engineering Center
Angela Campbell is the Paper Conservator at the Historic Architecture, Conservation and Engineering Center (HACE) of the National Park Service. Angela was previously an Assistant Conservator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she spent seven years working in the Sherman Fairchild... Read More →

Friday June 1, 2018 4:00pm - 4:30pm MDT
Texas Ballroom B Marriott Marquis Houston