UCLA/Getty Conservation Program

A graduate conservation training program focusing on the conservation of archaeological and ethnographic materials

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ACCM & UCLA/Getty collaboration in the news

In the recent issue of The Spirit, the newsletter of the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum, an article describes the collaboration between the museum and the UCLA/Getty program which began in 2007 and highlights the work the conservation program students have done as part of this partnership.  Images and reports of the objects they have examined and treated over the years will soon be available on the ACCM website as part of an online exhibition.  Stay tuned for more information on that exhibition soon.


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Collaboration between the UCLA/Getty Conservation Program and ACCM Part 2: A Visit to the Villa

Several weeks after the students visited the museum in Palm Springs, Dawn Wellman and Sean Milanovich came to the Getty Villa to discuss basket-making techniques and the pieces the students were working on. Several other guests, including native basketry expert William Pink, former UCLA/Getty student Molly Gleeson, and independent curator Bryn Potter, also offered their expertise.

The morning began with a talk from Molly regarding her work in Alaska with baskets in museums and with local weavers. Several of the students found this information particularly helpful, as they were working with pieces from the Northwest Coast region. Molly presented a fascinating overview of her work, which included gathering local materials, speaking with local weavers, creating her own twined basket, and treating a variety of pieces at several different institutions. Following the talk, the students and visitors shared lunch, before heading up to the laboratory to discuss the baskets.

Visitors examine some of the pieces to be treated from the ACCM collection

Students talked individually about each of the pieces they were working on, sharing information they had uncovered regarding the technology, condition, and cultural attribution of each of the objects. Dawn Wellman (curator at ACCM), Sean Milanovich (Cultural Specialist, Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians), Bryn Potter (Curator and basketry expert), William Pink (Luiseño and native basketry expert), and Molly Gleeson all participated in the discussion, and shared their thoughts with the students regarding each of the pieces. This exchange of information was valuable for all parties involved. The students shared information discovered through technical examination and research, which was then further informed by the knowledge the visitors had to offer.

Current student Nicole Ledoux discusses the basket she will be treating

Following discussion of the pieces from the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum, Willie Pink did a variety of presentations for the class, showcasing the use of traditional plant materials from the area.

Here Willie demonstrates how to makes a yucca fiber brush

This was particularly interesting for one of the students, who was working on a pair of fiber sandals that might have been created from processed yucca fiber. Following the presentation, some students also had the chance to create yucca brushes themselves. Again, this provided an important understanding of the processing of elements and the processes involved in constructing objects made of these fiber elements.

Freshly processed yucca fiber (left), held adjacent to a previously-processed, dry yucca fiber brush (right)

After showing the students how dogbane is split, processed, and twined into cordage, Willie showed demonstrated making netting out of dogbane as well.

Dogbane cordage

Current student Robin O’Hern examines unprocessed dogbane

Following Willie’s presentation, students had a chance to use plant materials and try their hand at some of the techniques that Willie had demonstrated. Each of the students was eager to contribute links to the dogbane net!

Lily Doan examines the dogbane net that Willie began

Lily Doan holds the net taught as Tessa de Alarcon adds additional links, using the techniques demonstrated by Willie

Here, Robin splits juncus with her teeth, a technique that can be quite difficult for a first-timer!

Overall, the day provided an incredible opportunity for the students to learn from, and engage in discussions with, all of the visitors, each of whom had much to

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Visit to Palm Springs: Collaboration between the UCLA/Getty Master’s Program and the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum

At the beginning of the winter quarter, the students went to the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum in Palm Springs to work with the staff of the museum on a collaborative project involving the conservation of basketry from the museum’s collection.

Their two-day visit to Palm Springs began with a talk from Native American basket weaver Abe Sanchez (Purapeche), who led the students in a basket-weaving workshop.

Students examine some of Abe’s beautiful coiled baskets. The one with the butterflies pictured here is sumac on a deergrass foundation using juncus and dyed juncus for the patterns.

Originally, the group had planned to go out with Abe to gather basket-making materials and see the plants in their natural habitats. Unfortunately, due to some unexpected inclement weather, this part of the trip had to be canceled, but Abe was generous enough to bring in some of his own materials for the students to examine and use.

Abe shows the students some juncus that he had gathered.

Juncus (Juncus textilis), a very important traditional basketry material, is one of the primary plants used in this region.

Following a delightful lunch, Agua Caliente Cultural Museum Curator Dawn Wellman led the students on a tour around the gallery, which currently showcases their collection of Cahuilla baskets, in an exhibition called ‘Song of the Basket.’

Dawn discusses one of the cases that focuses on the common materials and techniques in traditional Cahuilla coiled basketry.

Dawn has carefully put together a remarkable showcase from the museum’s collection (open through October 16, 2011), which includes pieces that past students from the UCLA/Getty Conservation Program have treated. Examining the exhibit provided a good forum for discussion between the students and the staff. Additionally, the students had the chance to consider the context in which the baskets they are treating might be viewed.

After the tour, Abe led the UCLA/Getty students, faculty, and some guests, in creating their own twined baskets. He started by explaining the methods used to make twined baskets, beginning with the basketry start (seen below).

The participants made baskets using the fresh juncus that Abe had brought. This is a good material for beginners because it is fairly pliable and easier to work with than the sumac that was used more frequently to traditionally make baskets in the region. Once everyone in our group had completed their basket starts, they continued on, adding additional juncus “spokes” to expand the basket base as they worked outwards.

The importance of shaping the basket as you progress (remembering that you shape the basket, the basket does not shape itself!) was emphasized.

In the end, everyone completed their own basketry project, and had a much better understanding of the techniques used to create twined basketry. Understanding construction techniques can help in determining cultural attribution, completing condition reports and recommending appropriate treatments.

Some of the particularly quick participants were able to complete two projects!

The following day, the students and faculty from the UCLA/Getty Master’s Program met with more members of the museum staff, to discuss tribal involvement in the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum, as well as the museum’s history and future goals. Director Michael Hammond, Curator Dawn Wellman, and Archivist Jon Fletcher all spoke about different aspects of the museum. It was interesting for the UCLA/Getty Conservation program’s students and faculty to hear more about how the museum functions, and how integral each of the staff members is in ensuring the museum’s success. Agua Caliente Tribal Council Member Moraino Patencio then described the tribe’s participation in the museum, as well as the importance of cultural participation. Everyone then broke for a wonderful buffet lunch, before heading back for two more talks with Pattie Tuck and Agua Caliente tribal member Sean Milanovich, both members of the Agua Caliente Tribal Historic Preservation Office. For many of the students, this was their first time talking to members of a Native community about tribal involvement in cultural resource management.

Finally, at the end of the day, the students toured the museum storage facility with Dawn Wellman and Sean Milanovich (as seen above). Seeing the museum’s rich collection of baskets from the native community allowed the students to connect the construction techniques and materials discussed with Abe and Dawn the day before to the baskets from the museum collection.

Additionally, Dawn reviewed the objects that had been selected for treatment in the collection, which includes basketry from across Western North America. Dawn and Ellen discussed the possible treatments they envisioned for some of the pieces, as well as the objects’ known histories. The selected objects were taken to the UCLA/Getty Villa labs at the end of the trip so the students could begin examining and treating them, in consultation with museum staff and members of the tribal community, as part of the course “Conservation and Ethnography” (CAEM222).

Dawn Lohnas (’12)

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UCLA/Getty Program Exhibition

On May 15th, the UCLA/Getty Program is staging an exhibition of Native American objects from the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum (ACCM) that were treated by current and past conservation students. The objects were conserved as part of the course “Ethnography and Conservation” taught by Prof. Ellen Pearlstein where students work on a range of objects from ACCM’s collection in consultation with tribal members. This is the first exhibit created by the conservation program featuring the treatments and material studies the students undertook as part of their lab work for the course. It provides a great opportunity for the wider UCLA community to learn what conservation is and what type of work the students undertake in the program, as well as learn about these amazing objects and the collection of the Agua Caliente Museum.

Securing an ivory figurine to a mount using monofilament

Securing an ivory figurine to a mount using monofilament. Object on display courtesy of ACCM

The objects will be exhibited in a wall case in the lobby and exhibition area of the Young Research Library at UCLA. Early preparations for the exhibit involved the creation of a micro-climate for the case in order to create the appropriate environmental conditions to exhibit the objects made primarily of organic materials. The main goal of this stage of the preparations was to create and maintain a constant relative humidity (RH) within the case of 50% using conditioned silica gel. The case then had to be sealed in order to reduce air exchange and any changes to the humidity levels within the case. The strange site of many stacked cartridges of silica gel within the exhibition case has peaked the interest of many visitors and library staff at YRL, even making the library’s blog.

Installation of an Apache basket into the exhibition case

Installation of an Apache basket into the exhibition case. Object on display courtesy of ACCM.

After introducing moisture into the case and monitoring conditions using a data logger, it appears that the RH has now reached 50% just in time for the installation of the objects this week. The exhibit opens on Friday, May 15th and runs through the end of June. If you find yourself on campus, make sure to stop by the lobby and exhibition area of YRL to check out the objects and the very informative didactic panels accompanying each object.

Objects on display courtsey of ACCM

Objects on display courtesy of ACCM.