Saturday, May 24, 2008

An interesting resource for readers to explore is the Wooden Artifacts Group of the AIC The American Institute for the Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works. The Wooden Artifacts Group offers a collection of scholarly articles that can be downloaded as .pdf files on a wide range of interesting topics. You could spend days reading these well written articles.

One article from which the above chart about the original George Washington Axe is borrowed is by R.L. Barclay and compares and explores the restoration and flying of the DC-3 with the use and or preservation of Stradivarius violins.
When musical instruments are ensconced in display cases, are they: “Ignorantly deposed from their sovereignty over our emotions?” Or, if they appear on the concert stage in fully working condition, are they: “Played to destruction for the purposes of ephemeral delight?” These two extreme views capture the dilemma of the musical instrument curator and conservator: how much to restore, how much to use, and when to preserve. When considering such issues, musical instruments are no different in essence from aircraft, costumes, books and the endless range of other objects that must be used in order that their function can be fully expressed.

When we play a historic violin or fly an antique aircraft, what do we gain from the experience? Clearly, we are using these objects to bridge the emotional gulf between “here and now” and “there and then.” We are, figuratively speaking, trying to make a spark jump.

Conservator John Watson of Colonial Williamsburg has put this very well regarding historic pianos: Playing Beethoven on an early nineteenth century piano, one cannot help imagining the day when the same instrument took part in the creative process of Beethoven’s contemporaries, if not the composer himself. This represents a profound opportunity to step into a dimension of the cultural landscape from which the music originated.
I will note that when the hands are withdrawn from the exploration and making of objects, the mind is withdrawn from understanding their physical, emotional and moral dimensions. For the "spark to jump" to new generations of conservators, museum patrons and supporters, today's young people must be engaged in the making of objects through the use of their own hands. Unfortunately, and quite sadly, they are not. We have become a nation of the entertained. If we were to look up from our state of idle amusement, we might become alarmed about a whole lot of things, one of which would be the pending loss of the world's cultural treasures. Who will understand them or sustain them if we have become what Matti Bergström calls finger blind and values damaged?

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