In late October 2016, more than 250 people gathered at the Smithsonian’s historic Arts and Industries building for “The Mechanics of Art Materials and its Future in Heritage Science: A Seminar and Symposium.” The special two-day event was organized by the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum Conservation Institute and the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. The program brought experts in mechanics research from across the globe to discuss current and future trends in the study and preservation of cultural heritage. Speakers represented a continuum of this research, from its origins at the Smithsonian to those professionals currently working to shape their field and train future generations of scholars. Speakers addressed a wide-ranging audience of conservators, collection managers, registrars, curators, scientists, engineers, facility managers, students, and policy makers, including more than 100 Smithsonian staff members. The event was supported by the Smithsonian’s Museum Conservation Institute; the Danish Agency for Science, Technology and Innovation, through the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Schools of Architecture, Design and Conservation; Smithsonian Facilities and the Office of the Provost/Undersecretary of Museums and Research; and the International Association of Museum Facility Administrators.

Day One of the program was introduced by Paula DePriest (Deputy Director, Smithsonian’s Museum Conservation Institute) and Mikkel Scharff (Head of the School of Conservation, Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts), and featured the popular paint mechanics workshop created and taught by MCI Senior Research Scientist Emeritus Marion Mecklenburg, condensed into a single-day seminar of lectures and discussion. Audience members were welcomed on the second day by Robert Koestler (Director, Museum Conservation Institute) and Albert Horvath (Smithsonian Under Secretary for Finance and Administration and Chief Financial Officer), whose opening remarks included a review of Smithsonian heritage programs. Day Two’s symposium program was introduced by Dawn Rogala (Paintings Conservator, Museum Conservation Institute), and featured an international group of speakers and case studies on the state of mechanics research around the globe, with the afternoon program focused on emerging U.S.-based speakers and their thoughts on the future of the field. Day Two speakers included Cecil Andersen (Assistant Professor, Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts) and Laura Fuster-López (Professor, Polytechnic University of Valencia), Roman Kozłowski (Professor, Jerzy Haber Institute of Catalysis and Surface Chemistry, Polish Academy of Sciences), Stina Ekelund (conservator and researcher, Netherlands Institute for Scientific Research in collaboration with the Rijksmuseum, Eindhoven and Delft Universities of Technology, and the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands), Nobuyuki Kamba (Special Senior Fellow, Tokyo National Museum), Poul Klenz Larsen (Senior Advisor, National Museum of Denmark) and Morten Ryhl-Svendsen (Associate Professor, Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts), Michał Lukomski (Head of Preventive Conservation Research, Getty Conservation Institute), Alice Carver-Kubik (Photographic Research Scientist, Image Permanence Institute, Rochester Institute of Technology), Ken Shull (Professor, Department of Materials and Engineering, Northwestern University/Art Institute of Chicago Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts), and Lukasz Bratasz (Head of the Sustainable Conservation Laboratory, Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage, Yale University). Day Two concluded with a panel discussion on advancing stakeholder participation in mechanics research and application, featuring staff from across the Smithsonian. Moderated by Nancy Bechtol (Director, Smithsonian Facilities), panelists included Malcolm Collum (Engen Conservation Chair, National Air and Space Museum), Kendra Gastright (Director, Office of Facilities Management and Reliability), Joshua Gorman (Registrar, National Museum of American History), Sharon Park (Associate Director of Architectural History and Historic Preservation, Office of Planning, Design, and Construction), and Sarah Stauderman (Director of Collections, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden).

This intensive, two-day event was designed to honor previous research while encouraging forward thinking through opportunities to meet and hear from scholars at the forefront of innovative mechanics research in the cultural heritage sector, with active discussions among participants that continued through coffee breaks, lunches, and an evening reception. A post-event publication is planned and announcements will be made as that project progresses. The postprints will include a historiography of mechanics research at the Smithsonian, case studies and research papers prepared by the Day Two speakers, Dr. Mecklenburg’s 1982 unpublished report to the Smithsonian on the mechanical behavior of painting materials, and a bibliography of Smithsonian Institution heritage mechanics publications. 

The organizers would like to thank the speakers, attendees and sponsors for their support of this special program.