Executive Director’s Message

From the Executive Director features news and reflections on the work of PHMC by its chief administrator.

Very often the least visible activity in an agency such as the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission is crucial to its successful opera­tion. So, too, it is with the conservation of objects, arti­facts, documents and works of art. Throughout the entire country, public history profes­sionals are recognizing that not only is conservation a logical extension of the collec­tion and cataloging process, but to ignore this important component is to endanger their collections and, perhaps, entire institution. Although we assume that the PHMC is responsible for the custody and care of its museum and archival collections, only re­cently have we developed the capacity to actively rehabilitate and restore damaged artifacts and objects.

Several years ago the Com­mission received a special appropriation of one hundred thousand dollars from the state legislature to create the Commonwealth Conservation Center. These funds repre­sented only a small fraction of what we ultimately knew would be needed to develop such a “high tech” facility; nevertheless, we pieced to­gether a skeletal staff and began renovating one floor of a warehouse near our offices in Harrisburg. Today, the Com­monwealth Conservation Center occupies more than ten thousand square feet of offices, meeting rooms and laborato­ries. Presently, PHMC staff and contracted employees have worked on the restoration of works of art and furniture in our extensive collections. In the future, the conservation of documents and photographs will be undertaken at the cen­ter.

Although we envision the Commonwealth Conservation Center primarily serving the network of historic sites and museums administered by the Commission, we do plan to support and educate museum professionals throughout Pennsylvania in the techniques and technology of conserva­tion. In fact, more than one hundred participants attended a successful – and informative – workshop de­voted entirely to conservation.

The field of conservation lends itself to many defini­tions. One of our paramount goals – in addition to stabiliz­ing and preserving furniture, fine and decorative arts, tex­tiles, even buildings and structures – is to educate Com­mission staff in the practices and methods designed to prevent damage and deteriora­tion.

We are pleased with the progress that has been made in less than five years. I would hasten to add, however, that our developmental work is not nearly complete. The center operates with a small staff and an even smaller budget. We still have to contract with con­servators to work on many objects from our collection. But we have taken steps – no matter how small they may be – toward our ultimate goal. We have, indeed, made a com­mitment that places conserva­tion as an integral Commission program. Given the compre­hensive nature of the Commis­sion and the leadership role to which we, together, aspire, the creation and continued sup­port of the Commonwealth Conservation Center is a wor­thy and significant endeavor.

Brent D. Glass
Executive Director