Julie Lauffenburger, head of conservation and technical research at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, linked the rising public interest in conservation to a search for the genuine.
“In our virtual world there is a disconnect with what is real,” she
said. “Things that are made by humans fascinate people. Conservation
offers the chance to be close to the real thing.” The Walters, which opened 1934, has long shared its conservation
projects with the public. “We have had conservation exhibitions since
the 1950s in part because we had two women heads of conservation, and
they took it very seriously,” Ms. Lauffenburger said. “It was always part of the museum’s mission.”
In February, when the Walters puts its St. Francis Missal
on display, the exhibit will include a[n] explanation of how the
book was deconstructed and reconstructed because the binding glue had
been severely damaged by bugs. [The exhibit will include a description of the treatment, which included
the use of gels to lift the parchment pastedowns and the repair of the
insect-damaged wooden boards using
a synthetic adhesive and epoxy resin.]
The 12th-century missal’s mystique relies
on St. Francis and two followers debating God’s plan for them. As the
story is told, they opened the missal three times to a random spot, and in each case a passage told them to renounce earthly goods. And so the Franciscan order took root. Henry Walters acquired the work in 1913. The conservation work began in  and took two years. The museum, with funding from the Mellon Foundation, hired a conservator, Cathie Magee, to work exclusively on the project. [Cathie was awarded a Mellon Fellowship at the Walters in 2016 and the focus of her fellowship
was the conservation treatment of the St. Francis Missal.] Several times a month visitors could watch.
like Ms. Magee are continually working with new ways to preserve
objects. “In paper conservation, they typically use a rigid gel that
acts as a microchemical sponge that releases liquid and sucks up the
dirt on an object,” she said. She
experimented with a variant of gel that had not been used for parchment
before. “This gel is flexible so it can conform to uneven surfaces, and
that is good for parchment because it is rarely flat,” she said.
To read more about public conservation projects at institutions across the United States, read the full New York Times article here. To learn more about the St. Francis Missal and upcoming exhibition at the Walters Art Museum, visit the museum's website here.