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Cultural Diversity and Conservation

Charles S. Rhyne
Reed College

Keynote address given at the
Getty Trust Senior Staff Symposium held at
The J. Paul Getty Museum
Malibu, California

12th June 1995


I am especially pleased to have been asked to participate in a symposium on this subject hosted by this institution.

       The challenges posed by Cultural Diversity and the Preservation of the World's Cultural Heritage are surely two of the all-pervasive issues in the world today; and their interdependence (that is the extent to which peoples in all parts of the world have come to recognize that their cultural identities are significantly dependent on the preservation of their physical heritage, and the extent to which, on the other hand, an understanding of cultural values is increasingly recognized as essential in the conservation of everything from the urban fabric of a great city to a tiny object of religious devotion), this interdependence of cultural values and the preservation of art and architecture makes the subject of this symposium intellectually engaging and socially compelling.

       And where more appropriate to explore this interdependent subject than here? The cooperative conservation projects sponsored by the Getty Conservation Institute around the world, and your international conferences and publications on the central issues of conservation are the world standard.

       Add to this the fact that the combined resources of the Getty Trust (all programs, I am told, represented here today) provide the only setting in the world where, within a single institution, a full range of professionals involved with the world's artistic heritage may jointly consider the multidisciplinary issues which this subject raises. You can understand why the other speakers and I are so pleased to be a part of your symposium this morning.

       In the contemporary world, where the first thing many people want to know is your ideological affiliation, it is a rare pleasure to be able to face genuine issues, on which reasonable people not only may but certainly will disagree, in a direct, unprejudiced manner, without feeling that one must represent a constituency. No doubt I have missed something, but in reading through the literature on this subject, I was unable to find any article or book that layed out the issues in a comprehensive, undoctrinare manner. If this introductory paper is at least an attempt at that process, it is the setting of this symposium at this instituton that faciltiates it.

       To examine issues as complicated as those posed for this symposium, we cannot merely theorize, but must consider individual, real-life situations in depth; and so the central body of today's symposium is the three case studies presented by four distinguished experts who bring years of experience to the subjects they will be exploring for us.

       The focus of the symposium is the final, open discussion, which will be introduced and conducted by Joyce Hill Stoner, who happily brings to her role not only comprehensive knowledge of conservation but also well-honed skills as a teacher. I hope we will all keep the prospect of that discussion very much in mind, because, in my experience, not only can some of the most rewarding ideas emerge during such discussion, but we all actually listen differently when we are attempting to formulate questions and responses along the way. Although they are not being presented as case studies this morning, the conservation and preservation projects in which many of you have been involved in various Getty programs are - by default if you will - an important part of this symposium. We are aware of the range of professional expertise in the audience, but we hope you won't jump up and shout "No, no, you've got it all wrong" until the end.

       I see my role very much as facilitator: attempting first of all to raise what seem to me the central issues, and secondly to provide a few formulations about these issues which will help us to think about them as clearly as possible. This is not with any illusion of solving these complex and on-going problems this morning, but (at least I hope) to help us see the three case studies in relation to the full range of conservation issues, globally. And so, let us turn to our subject.



The purposes for which art and architecture are created, the physical nature of the works made, the uses to which they are put, the types of changes they undergo, and the ways in which they are preserved or not vary significantly from culture to culture.

       Our subject is therefore vast, but not indefinable. We are exploring not all cultural diversity, but only those aspects having to do with preservation; and not all preservation, but only those aspects having to do with cultural diversity.



Definition of cultural diversity

What do we mean by "cultural diversity"? "Culture", as a concept, refers to the whole complex of learned behavior of some group of human beings: their beliefs, social forms, material possessions, and language. Although our primary concern today is with the visual forms of culture (primarily art, architecture, and sites), these are of course densely interconnected with other aspects of culture and cannot properly be considered in isolation.

Complexity of cultural diversity

Therefore, when one is restoring, for example [SLIDES] the Brancacci Chapel in Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence (seen here before the 1980s restoration and a detail after), famous for its early 15th century frescoes by Masolino and Masaccio, completed by Fillipino Lippi (the ornate altar and vault are of course much later), one is restoring not just a key monument in the history of art, but also a chapel embodying deeply held religious beliefs, both at the time it was created and among many Florentines and others who visit the Chapel today. What difference does this or should this make? In order to provide adequate environmental control, the Chapel has, for all intents and purposes, been turned into a mini-museum, closed off from the church, accessible only through a separate entrance with admission fee and art book stall. (You understand that the Brancacci Chapel is a side chapel, previously opening off the main body of the Church. If you entered at the back of the church, walked ahead to the crossing, it was fully visible at the end of the right transept, and one could enter and pray.) A choice had to be made between the frescoes as art and as objects of devotion.

       In thinking of cultural diversity, we may initially be inclined to think of "culture" in terms of very large, ethnic or geographical units. We probably think initially of the contrast between Western and non-Western cultures. But the difference, for example, between traditional Chinese attitudes toward conservation and those of the Japanese is surely as great as that between Western and non-Western cultures. I suppose we can attempt to characterize the cultural values of any size group of people, but I find that, in dealing with attitudes toward conservation, grouping all so-called "Western cultures," not to mention grouping Asian, Oceanic, Native American, and African, under "non-Western," is such a gross oversimplification that it serves no purpose other than to obscure the values most deeply held by each group. And even among, let us say, Native American peoples, we must recognize the considerable differences from one part of the continent to another and the distinctive character of different tribes.

       Marian Kaminitz and Timothy Ramsey will be discussing for us some of the challenges in treating Native American Indian objects and approaches they have taken - I am especially anxious to hear what they have to say. Here, I shall be referring only breifly to a few examples along the way.

       Native American peoples are immensely proud of their tribal identities. For the Commonwealth Games, held in Victoria, British Columbia last fall, a new totem pole was raised [SLIDES]. As you see, I show it to you in two slides, because it is the latest in a series of "the tallest totem pole in the world" poles, constructed by joining two trees. The division is here; this smaller, upper collar is simply to attach stabilizing cables, more or less like a television transmitting antenna. Once we get over the shock of such an object, the interesting thing for us is that the pole was a composite effort of many tribes in British Columbia, of which Victoria is the capitol, meant to celebrate the native heritage and to demonstrate a kind of pan-tribal support for the Commonwealth Games. Yet some native groups refused to participate, pointing out quite rightly that not only were pole types distinctive to each tribe, but that poles were traditionally raised by chiefs of individual villages and by the heads of families and that the right to use specific crests on the poles were the property of these families or of individuals; and that they were not willing to have their specific identities amalgamated with others in this way.

       Consequently, in attempting to respect indigenous values, one must often go beyond the larger tribal units (which are, in any case, often the invention of anthropologists) to the actual functioning units of indeginous groups, the village, band, family, depending on the type of social structure of the particular group of people.

       Another thing we learn from the Commonwealth Games totem pole example, is that values are not static within a cultural group, so that we must avoid the assumption that the values of a group in the past are necessarily the values of their descendants in the present, or vice versa.

       [SLIDES] We are looking here at the famous Nimpkish Burial Grounds at Alert Bay, just off the east coast of Vancouver Island. There are several especially important poles here, including this one, a pole carved at the village of Blunden Harbour in 1931 as a memorial to Billie Moon.

       We can look at the pole more closely [SLIDES] in these two slides, one from a book taken shortly after the pole was towed to Alert Bay and set up in its present location; the other taken last fall. This is a famous pole, carved by Willie Seaweed, one of the renowned carvers among the Kwakiutl, assisted by his son. It has for years been widely admired among the Kwakiutl, yet, as you see, it is allowed to deteriorate. The arms have both fallen off, one reattached a bit too high, the other propped against the figure, [SLIDE] as we can see more clearly here. In a conversation (without my raising any questions about the poles) the current elected chief, a middle-age man of obvious ability, volunteered that on his own he would move the Billie Moon pole into their museum, because it was so important, but that the hereditary elders felt it should be allowed to deteriorate naturally according to traditional practice. So that, even within a single band council (the functioning political unit among the native peoples in British Columbia), in a single village, values may differ, and with them of course preservation practice.

       Finally, there are definable cultures cutting across geographical, ethnic, and religious groups ( "subcultures" if you like - though this term, I think, belittles their often controlling role in determining values). There are subcultures of farmers, of the artistic avant garde, of retired people, of the international rich, and of computer hackers; and there may be pervasive differences, as C.P. Snow pointed out, between traditonal literary-artistic culture, and modern scientific culture.

       The famous controversy surrounding [SLIDES] Maya Lin's 1982 Vietnam Veteran's Memorial in Washington (seen here shortly after it was dedicated and later during the Gulf War) was, at center, a dispute between two very different social-political-aesthetic classes within the United States - subcultures, indicating the range of, in this case, conflicting cultural values within the country. You will remember that, in spite of the completely literal and deeply moving inscription of every name, covering the surface of the monument, there was an outcry from many veterans and a significant strata of the American public because the monument omitted the hallowed tradition of figurative war monuments, thereby belittling, it seemed to one group, the heroism and sacrifice of the veterans; and, although the term may not have been known, was too closely allied to minimalist sculpture. As a result [SLIDE] (I'm sure this is familiar to most of you) a traditional bronze cast of soldiers, by Frederick Hart, was installed in 1984, placed as if coming out from among trees and discovering the memorial. The distance was meant to preserve the simplicity of the wall itself, but the concept incorporated the wall into the narrative context of the figures - a reminder that the preservation of a work of art often includes its physical setting.

       Finally in 1993, a traditional bronze cast [SLIDE] of three women military personnel, one nurse holding a wounded soldier, by Glenna Goodacre, was installed even farther from the wall (you can just see them in the distance there [SLIDE], better here).

       When I am honest with myself, I recognize that, for me at least, a powerfully abstracted experience of the tragedy of war, for all peoples, at all times, and in all places has been severely compromised. As a social document, however, the monument now embodies within itself the real-life tensions of social and esthetic values in America. Given the intense emotions associated with the war itself and with every aspect of the debate over the memorial, one can only be impressed that a resolution was found which seems to have allowed all segments of the population to participate in what is undoubtedly one of the most moving memorial of modern times.


In the cases we have just reviewed, choices had to be made between different, conflicting cultural values. On occasion, however, seemingly conflicting values live happily together, even reinforcing each other. One of the remarkable things about art conservation (one of the reasons I find it so intellectually engaging) is that it has successfully joined Snow's supposedly incompatible cultures. Moreover, this has recently been extended into the public domain. Who would ever have expected [SLIDES] that we would see Giotto's early 14th century Ognissanti Madonna on display in the Uffizzi with tracking devices prominently on display behind and wires attached to its back to measure distortion in the wooden panel on which it is painted? The sign, in brief, informs the public what is going on.

       The best known public display of Snow's two cultures joined in a common endeavor were the three, highly successful Art in the Making exhibitions held at the National Gallery, London, between 1988 and 91. In the exhibition devoted to Rembrandt [SLIDES] the public was shown, both in the gallery and in the accompanying catalogue, how (in this portrait of Saskia in Arcadian Costume, dating from 1635), how a particle of vermilion visible at the tip of this paint sample, taken from underneath the surface paint here, agrees with an x-ray showing that a woman's lips were in that spot, indicating that this painting originally included a second woman, thus supporting the idea that the painting was originally not a portrait of Saskia but a representation of Judith, with her maid servant (whose lips were painted in this vermillion) and the head of Holofernes, comparable to the Rubens composition here. Taken together, the evidence is convincing (though it seems a surprising resonance in an artist's portrait of his wife).

       I have given these few illustrations to show that if we are to be sensitive to the diverse values which people cherish in their artistic heritage, we must get past the oversimplified stereotypes of what is supposedly valued by each culture, to explore the often complex reasons that any given work of art, any building, village, city, or landscape is valued by people.

Importance of cultural diversity

The richness of the world's diverse cultures is available to us today as never before. Through publications, photography, film and television, and ( previously available only to the super rich ) through world-wide travel, we can experience, often first-hand, the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of other cultures, share their ideas and get to know their people. Do we realize that in America, not least in Los Angeles, we have an historically unprecedented opportunity to take advantage of the richness of cultural diversity. It cannot be put more clearly than in your own "Statement of Principles": "Intellectual and cultural life is enriched by diversity, diminished by sameness."

       And yet, we may recognize within ourselves some fear of people with other values, and we may find it difficult to put into practice what we know to be a philosophical truth. This is one of the great challenges of our time; for the rejection of cultural diversity is tragedy. In its most horrifying form it leads to "ethnic cleansing" (a phrase almost too inhuman to utter). This perverse form of cultural domination; involving the mass killing of human beings, and the systematic destruction of their spiritual centers, cultural repositories, and monuments, has recurred throughout history and is powerfully aggressive again today.

       The "ethnic cleansing" continuing in Bosnia and Herzegovina is particularly tragic, because for centuries, previous to 19th century nationalism, Bosnia had been a center of pluralism and tolerance. (And here I quote partly from a report presented by Andras Riedlmayer, a Balkan expert at Harvard, last year at a Carnegie Endowment symposium in Washington). "Alone in Medieval Europe, the Kingdom of Bosnia had been a place where not one but three Christian churches, Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and a schismatic local Bosnian church had existed side by side. When the country was conquered by the Ottoman Sultans 500 years ago, "Muslim, Christian, and Jewish merchants and craftsmen lived, worked and worshipped side by side." "In the commercial center of Sarajevo, the principal mosque, the Sephardic synagogue, the old Orthodox church, and the somewhat newer Roman Catholic cathedral, were all located practically adjacent to each other, within an area of less than half a square kilometer." Not only the people (the most tragic), but also their archives, monuments, museums and libraries, have been specifically targetted, most notably their places of worship. [SLIDE] We see here one of any number of press photos that hit the front page of the New York Times, accompanied by a press release from May 7th, two years ago, reporting the calculated destruction of one of the finest 16th century mosques. The nationalist extremists have been systematically destroying anything that served as a focus for, or record of cultural identity.

This is the rejection of cultural diversity at its tragic extreme.



Definition of Preservation

We turn now from the definition, complexity and importance of "cultural diversity" to "preservation." What we mean by "preservation" is equally challenging to define. At the beginning of a recent book on Architectural Preservation (to which I shall refer later), the author attempts to distinguish among "Preservation," "Protection," "Conservation," "Maintenance," "Repair," "Restoration," and "Reconstruction."

       The title of this symposium uses the term "preservation"; the title of my paper uses the term "conservation." To avoid repeating phrases such as "conservation, preservation, restoration, and reconstruction", I suggest that, simply for convenience today, we accept both "preservation" and "conservation" as overarching terms.

       In fact, distinctions among these terms is itself a study in cultural diversity. In their language, the Japanese don't distinguish between conservation and preservation. In Great Britain and Australia, "conservation" is most commonly used as the overarching term. In the US, we tend to use "conservation" when dealing with objects, using "preervation" when referring to buildings, cities, and sites. Professional societies tend to define the terms as they WISH they were used - typically giving more precision to their preferred activity than anyone else in the world is willing to recognize. The Getty Art & Architecture Thesaurus , commendably defines these various terms, and a cluster of other closely related terms, so as to make distinctions possible; though everyday language unfortunately moves in the opposite direction.

       Since many of us will automatically understand "preservation" and "conservation" as general, overarching terms, those of us speaking have agreed to be clear when we mean to refer instead to some specific aspect or type of preservation or conservation. Many of these distinctions are of course crucial. For example, there is a crucial difference between stabilizing an object or a building in its present condition or, on the other hand, partially repainting a painting, or partially rebuilding a building to resemble how it appeared at some previous time. And there are other similar distinctions that may be important from time to time, which we shall attempt to make clear. In general, we will try to deal with technical matters, when they matter, without depending on technical terminology.

Cf. with Natural Preservation

When we say "conservation" most of the public thinks we are referring to the conservation of nature. The environmental people are well ahead of us in the public consciousness - and more power to them. We need to learn from and imitate their public success, for both in the world of nature and of cultural heritage, the single most effective basis for preservation is the local involvement and day by day awareness of people everywhere.

       There is one worldwide organization that connects the two. The World Heritage Convention was the first internationally ratified document linking the protection of the natural and cultural heritage. UNESCO then established a World Heritage Committee, which designates natural and cultural sites of exceptional and universal value for inclusion in a World Heritage List, and thereby qualifying for UNESCO assistance and advice. I will return briefly to the World Heritage List at the end of this paper. Here, I want only to point out that there are a few sites which would not qualify for World Heritage status on the basis of their natural or cultural importance alone, but which do qualify because of the unique and important combination of the two.

Complexity of Preservation

Now a formulation now about the complexity of conservation. We may think of all conservation questions as primarily technical; practical; or questions of value. The conservation of every site, of every monument, and of every work of art necessarily involves all three.

       We may wish that watercolors did not fade [SLIDES] so that we could see Dürer's famous landscape watercolors more nearly as he painted them, but that is not possible technically. We see here one of his most famous, the "WeierHaws" watercolor of about 1495, with a detail, in which the blue is almost totally gone. That they are valued as landmarks in the history of landscape painting by one of the world's greatest artists, and that the funds could be found to prevent them from fading were it technically possible, is clear. The prohibiting factor here is technical.

       We may wish that unlimited time and money had been available, when the Aswan Dam was being built, to salvage all the important temples and structures, [SLIDE] such as this Fortress of Buhen in Nubia, which reached its fullest development in about 1900 B.C. That it was valued as one of a group of extraordinary mud brick structures that had survived over millenia (it was at least excavated previous to being inundated), and that it would have been technically possible to remove it section by section to higher ground is clear; but it was not practical to salvage it. The time and resources did not exist to save all the major archaeological sites before they were innundated by the rising waters of the Nile and Lake Nassar. The problem here was practical.

       And we may wish that the developers who owned Frank Lloyd Wright's [SLIDE] world famous 1909 Robie House , illustrated in every history of world art (not just modern architecture but every history of world art) had sufficiently valued it not to have jackhammered off the curving basers that projected slightly into their garage entrance, an outrage that I was forced to witness back in 1958 ( I hadn't yet heard of the technique of throwing yourself in front of the bulldozer); or we might have wished that they had valued [SLIDE] Wright's specially molded Italian brick (which looked more or less like this) in which the spaces between the bricks were relieved, so that the bricks individually echoed the horizontals of the flower vases and capping stones; we may wish that the owners had sufficiently valued this not to have [SLIDE] , quote, "pointed" the brick by smearing it crudely with filler; and, among other atrocioties, had not repaired the cracked front porch by repeatedly covering it with new layers of concrete so that the bottom step has nearly disappeared. That none of this was necessary from a technical or practical point of view is clear - it was a problem of values.

       Thus, if any one of these three areas is lacking, the object in question can be severely damaged or destroyed.

       Moreover, there is an important, ongoing interaction among these three areas. When a new technology is developed (often through well-funded medical or military research), an unexpected use is sometimes found in the conservation of art. When a new law makes funds available for highway construction, mandated surveys may be conducted and previously disregarded sites recognized, documented and saved. And when people sufficiently desire the saving of a sacred image or public monument, technical procedures are sometimes developed and the necessary funds found.

       Each of these three areas has its professional specialists, its avenues for training, and its fields of employment. Given the importance of specialization in the advancement of knowledge (clearly discernible in the field of conservation), it seems likely, perhaps desirable, that this situation will continue. At the same time, the important interaction among the three argues for each of us informing ourselves about the standards and practices in the other areas and of developing ongoing professional interchange with other specialists.

       In the symposium today, any of us may, at any point, choose to emphase one or another of these three aspects of conservation, but they are mutually dependent and thus all are always, necessarily involved.



In the second half of this paper, I should like to examine what I consider the two major questions for any conservation project: first "What do we want to preserve?" and second "Who is going to decide?



Object of Primary Importance

Physical material (evidence)

The profession of art conservation developed in response to a recognized need to preserve objects and structures that for one reason or another were especially valued by human beings; objects large and small, created out of all types of materials, but with objects and structures primary.

       Over the years, preserving the physical evidence of these objects and structures, their material substance, gradually emerged as the chief professional obligation of conservators. I quote from Philip Ward's 1986 Nature of Conservation, published of course by the GCI and almost certainly the most widely circulated description of the field. (No doubt most of us disagree with one statement or another in the book, but it serves admirably its function of introducing the public to the multifaceted world of conservation and in serving as a focus for discussing the issues raise.) Ward writes:

The demands of long-term preservation, then, must always take precedence over the advantages of short-term use. The conservator's duty is to take all possible precautions to prevent or minimize damage to collections and to oppose any situation, whether active or passive, that may cause or encourage any form of deterioration. The welfare of the object takes precedence over all other considerations.

Ward follows this general position with a list of principles, including:

The preservation of the fabric of the object is not necessarily limited to its original material since earlier repairs or modification during use may be of great historical significance." And "New material should be added to the object to the least possible extent and must be compatible with its future welfare.

So that Ward does not have to stand alone, and to avoid the impression that these principles do not apply also in architectural preservation, I quote from an outstanding book published last year by the ICOMOS International Wood Committee, Architectural Preservation in Japan, by Knut Einar Larsen. In a section on prervation theory and practice internationally, not limited to Japan, he writes (I am selecting passages from two consecutive paragraphs):

Retainment of existing material is the major object of current preservation theory and practice. The building should, if structurally and functionally possible, be preserved . . . as it has been handed down to us through history. The identity of the building is related to the substance acquired through its history. . . . Both the artistic and historic value of the monument are related to its authenticity in substance. This implies that in preservation work 'as much of the old materials as is economically possible must be re-used.'

Since all of our case studies today, quite rightly I think, take up other cultural values in conservation, as I shall myself a bit later, I want to emphasize here the unique importance of material preservation. The prority of attempting to stabilize and maintain the physical substance of the work of art, monument or site, as nearly as possible, exactly as we have inherited it, carries tremendous historical and moral force. We are attempting to transmit to future generations evidence of past peoples and their culture, transformed as little as possible by our own tastes and current needs. Future generations will want to experience for themselves the material expressions of their predecessors on this earth, and will have new questions to ask of this evidence which we cannot even imagine, so that to preserve only what seems to us important about a major monument is a very serious decision indeed. And when I say "future generations," I do not mean just our sons and daughters, but those of all people, and, we hope, their sons and daughters, and theirs and their and theirs. To unnecessarily alter or destroy this physical evidence for our own current needs requires in my view the most intense soul searching and conviction.

       Even where our main concern is cultural renewal (which I shall turn to shortly) we must recognize that one aspect of this is the effort of many peoples around the world to reconstruct their past, as one means of reestablishing their cultural identity. Too late, all of us may realize that their ability to do so has been severely compromisd by short term goals.

       As I shall introduce in a few minutes, and as we shall have convincingly presented - I feel sure - in some of our case studies, there are good reasons in some preservation projects not to give priority to the substance of the work of art, structure or site. Nevertheless, it is disturbing to read attempts to belittle the value of preserving the substance of the world's cultural heritage, not only in the press (where journalists seem to delight in confusing the public) but also in substantial publications by important scholars. In numerous articles, David Lowenthal (now retired but for many years Professor of Geography at University College, London; and over the years a visiting professor at Harvard, MIT, and the Universities of Washington, Minnesota, and California - I list these to establish that I am not picking on an inconsequential critic); in numerous articles Lowenthal has argued (I quote here from a 1992 article):

Our culture is addicted to preserving substance, but erosion, accretion and chemical change incessantly alter all things; no artifact remains as it was created. All art eventually decays or shatters.

But surely we all recognize this. And it might help to add that there is immense variety in how long different materials last, and in how long the same material survives under different environmental conditions. [SLIDES] Some material objects have in fact retained their material substance and visual appearance quite well over thousands of year, without yet seriously decaying or shattering . (These are of course two famous objects now in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo: the life-size Gold Mask of Tutankhamon (New Kingdom, c.1350 BC); and the distinctly under life-size Standing Hippopotamus from Thebes (Middle Kingdom, c. 2000-1650 BC).

       The problem is that Lowenthal, like many of current critics, concludes that because of the inevitable deterioration of objects, preservation is self-defeating. But why does this follow? Might we not equally argue that, in spite of the inevitable deterioration of every object, some are of such value in allowing later generations to experience important aspects, of the life of their predecessors on this earth, that it is worth considerable effort to preserve them, as best we can, for as long as we can?

       This is such a common argument among some critics of conservation, and Lowenthal is such a leading spokesman for this position, I feel it fair to read one more quote, this one from the three page "Conclusion" to his major book, The Past is a Foreign Country, included on your list of readings at my suggestion, perhaps suggested by others also.

Lowenthal wrtes:

When we realize that past and present are not exclusive but inseparable realms" (well, inseparable "yes", but surely distinguishable); when we realize this, "we cast off preservation's self-defeating insistence on a fixed and stable past." [Who is this "preservation"? - none of the conservators or preservationist with whom I have worked would dream of insisting on such a thing.]"Nothing ever made has been left untouched, nothing ever known remains immutable" [Of course]"yet these facts should not distress but emancipate us."

Well, I don't know if "distressed" is always the right word, but it surely applies where monuments such as [SLIDES] Bahr's 1734 Frauenkircke (for two centuries the central landmark of Dresden, and the first large freestanding dome constructed since the Renaissance) have been irresponsibly destroyed in war. In, general, I confess to not feeling emancipated by the mutability of art, especially where there is no place on earth where one can see, in anything at all resembling their original appearance, [SLIDES] clustered together on a village site, one of the great heraldic forms in the history of art, the totem poles of the Northwest Coast peoples. We are looking here at photographs of two villages on the Queen Charlotte Islands: on the left, Skidegate in 1878, and on the right Masset in 1882; both villages, by then already partly deserted. Not one of these poles has survived in situ, much less the awe-inspiring display of poles as one approached the village by canoe. Am I wrong to feel this as a great loss?

       I feel emancipated on those occasions where physical evidence has survived and where we are priveleged to see [SLIDES] that at least the two largest pyramids were indeed originally covered, as Herodotus reported, with finely polish stone that shone like a mirror in the sun. Here, at Giza, about 2500 and 2530 BC, the top of the Pyramid of Khafre and, fortuitously covered for millenia with sand, the bottom of the Pyramid of Khufu.

What Aspect of Material Substance?

Because the material substance of works of art, structures and sites is itself often complex; even in situations where the material substance is identified as the primary aspect to be preserved, one must still ask "What aspect of the material substance do we want to preserve."

       Many archaeological sites are layered, with the remains of earlier structures, earlier villages, which can be fully examined only by excavation, thereby disturbing, partially destroying, the evidence of more recent periods above. The same is often true for structures actually in use. A story in an Aug. 1993 issue of the New York Times reported an especially challenging example of this common situation [SLIDE]. In Cuzco Peru, the indigenous Inca had built one of their most important temples, The Temple of the Sun, which, the Spanish took over and used as a church, following their conquest of Peru in 1532. The temple was destroyed by an earthquake in 1650, whereupon the Spanish built a new church, now the Santa Domingo Monastery, using in part stones from the Inca temple.

       As part of the international revitalization of indigenous cultures, many of the local Inca see the church as a symbol of oppression and want to tear it down to uncover what everyone agrees must be highly important Inca remains, and to reclaim their lost heritage. Archaologist of course support this and local business people of all backgrounds see this as an opportunity to develop a major tourist attraction. The catholic priests and many of their parishioners, which of course includes mostly native Peruvians, want to preserve the church in its present site, which to them is an important symbol of the successful joining of the two cultures, since ancient and Christian beliefs were blended in Peruvian catholicism.

       I do not know what has happened in the past two years (perhaps someone here can tell us during the discussion). I suppose one could carefully take down the church and reconstruct it on a nearby site, though whether or not one would be able to include again the stones from the Inca temple would be debateable, and, from the point of view of the priests and many of their parishioners, one would loose the symbolic layering and interlacing of Inca and Christian structures and beliefs.

       We see already that the material substance, even when it may be the primary consideration, is never devoid of cultural significance.

Visual appearance - Form and Color

Having examined first the position that the material substance of valued objects, structures and sites is the primary concern in conservation; we can then ask, "What else might we give priority in conservation projects and why?

       The classic alternative is "the visual appearance, the exact form and color of an object." Historically, preservation of the visual appearance of an object preceeded the modern, professional responsibility to the material substance; even if this required destroying, replacing, or covering over some of the existing material.

       In the conservation of paintings today, damaged or deteriorated areas are regularly inpainted or repainted with new material in order to approximate more nearly the visual appearance of the original. Likewise [SLIDES] the famous Pole of Chief Wakas from Alert Bay, carved in about 1890, was heavily reconstructed with new material when installed in 1988 in the Canadian Museum of Civilization, and the housefront painting to which it was attached, which no longer existed, was reconsturcted from scratch, in order to approximate more closely the appearance of the entire house, as seen in this 1909 photo. [SLIDES] Of the three upper figures, only this section of Killer Whale has been reused from the original pole; and even Bear, whose body is original, has been given a new snout, paws, and ears. Doug Cranmer, the remarkable Northwest artist who painted this replica housefront and carved the replacement sections of the pole, would, on his own, have carved an entirely new replica pole for the Museum, since his people never undertook major reconstructions of poles in this way.

Object Importance but Other Values Primary

In answer to the question, "What do we want to preserve?", the two answers we have just considered ("material substance" and "visual appearance") fall, in different measures, within curent professional standards in Europe and North America. But there are other answers that have been given at other times and places. It is these other answers that challenge us to consider issues of cultural diversity in the conservation of art and architecture, even to reconsider our own standards. While these other answers recognize some importance in preserving the material substance and visual appearance of objects, structures, and sites, they give priority to other aspects of preservation.


Historically, most objects, structures and sites have been preserved primarly to preserve their use, with less regard for their exact appearance or the material out of which they were made. We might even consider the Wakas Pole to illustrate the priority of use since the reconstruction was done for public museum display, which is after all a specific kind of use.

       Museums in the Northwest now regularly receive requests from native artists or their families to borrow back family objects from the museum collections for use in ceremonies and public presentations outside of the museum. While in use, or in preparation for use, the objects are sometimes altered, purposely or accidentally. Some museums have made special arrangements to accomodate this. All of the objects at the K'san museum, at Hazelton on the upper Skeena River, are on loan to the museum, with the provision that they can be borrowed or reclaimed, even sold, at anytime, by the families that own them. The Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria has for years purchased some Northwest objects as part of a specified loan collection, the objects to be loaned back to their originating families for ceremonial use. The University of British Columbia Anthropology Museum in Vancouver has struggled with the question of whether or not to approve loan request for older objects never acquired with loan or ritual use in mind. I hope we may hear more about this from Marian Kaminitz and Tim Ramsey.

       We should keep in mind that most objects have been created specifically for some type of use. In the case of African Nikisi figures [SLIDES] , this includes, as here, nailing spikes into the wood, in order to activate the figure, to call it to attention in order to procure its powers. This gradually splits the wood and of course completely changes its visual appearance; yet this is not iconoclasm or an abberant use, but the very purpose for which the figure was made.

       The famous Northwest coppers [SLIDES], prime symbols of prestiage among Northwest Coast peoples, gained value when pieces were broken off and given away with prestige; so long as the central "T" spine remianed intact. Coppers became even more valuable when reconstituted from pieces of the same or other coppers that had gained stature because of their history.

       And let us not forget that all archaeolological excavations (although they usually recover and preserve important objects) value the scientific evidence gleaned from the site over its physical preservation.

Symbolic Meaning

Straying even further from material and form, some objects are preserved primarly for their symbolic meaning; often associated with a symbolic location on a specific site.

       When the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius [SLIDES], possibly a Roman work contemporary with the emperor himself (therefore AD 161-180) was transferred inside for protection after its recent restoration, a vocal segment of the Roman population reacted as if their birthright had been stolen. Even those who recognized that it is one of the most important statues to survive unburied from antiquity, that it was deteriorating rapidly in the Roman atmosphere, and was vulnerable to vandalism or terrorism; even these still argued that its importance as a symbol of Rome, in the center of the Piazza del Campidoglio since 1538, should take precedence.

       In the view of some, preservation professionals are an extreme subculture, removing the living essence of heritage from its proper place in society.

Ritual Purity

The famous shrine at Ise, Japan [SLIDES] was first built in the 4th c. AD. (or, some think, the late 7th c.). Since then, except for one long interlude, it has been completely rebuilt every 20 years on an ajoining site (as we see in the aerial view, with the newly completed shrine on the left; the slide on the right shows the main sanctuary). It is obviously not the material that is being preserved, and although its form is almost exactly repeated (a few changes in form have in fact been allowed), this cannot account for the 20 year rebuilding practice. What is being preserved above all seems to be its ritual purity (the Japanese, incidentally, do not consider such total rebuilding preservation). Shinto, the indiginous religion of Japan, values purity above all else; thus the workers dress in natural white cloth and bathe regularly. If a single drop of blood falls on a prized timber, it i discarded. Given the perfection of the wood desired, some 13,000 trees were used in the most recent rebulding. The preservation of ritual purity, a spiritual concept, takes priority over everything else.

Rebirth of Object

Some African masks [SLIDES] are repainted yearly for ritual use. What is surprising for us is that, in some cases, the pattern is not necessarly repeated. In some cases, what seem to matter most is the fact that the mask has been freshly repainted, bringing it back to life. The object is not so much preserved as reborn.


In some cases, an essential part of the preservation process is the preservation of traditional techniques. Where these techniques are especially complicated and where the traditional expectations for quality are especially high, the training of new craftsmen becomes an equal partner with other preservation concerns. Preservation work may even be undertaken when needed for no other purpose than the ongoing training of new master craftsmen.

       [SLIDE] We are looking at the cover of a first-rate book, published last year, which none of my Japanese art historian friends seem yet to have heard of, but which everyone interested in historic preservation should read immediately: Knut Einar Larsen's Architectural Preservation in Japan, published by the ICOMOS Wood Preservaton Committee. Thoroughly researched on the spot, with priveledged access to senior preservaton authorities and leading craftsmen, and to major preservation projects, it is clearly organized and incitefully written. Most importantly, Larsen examines Japanese preservation philosophy and practice with an understanding of preservation philosophy and practice internationally.

       [SLIDES] The slides I am showing you, as well as this brief account, are taken from his book. We are looking at drawings of the famous Oyama-dera, 3-storied pagoda in Ibaraki, first built in 1465. The cross section elevation on the right reveals something of the complex construction, and these two details show the complex joinery that pervades the structure, and the way new wooden members are inserted in structure, replacing members that have weakened, but reusing most. [SLIDES] The structure of the pagoda allows one to dissassemble most of the members for replacement and reassembly - an unusual preservation practice but one well suited to Japanese wood technology.

       In Japan, the climate causes relatively rapid decay of wood. Consequently, the practice of regularly rebuilding their major monuments has grown up over the years and is now firmly imbedded in the cultural tradition. Although they do go to great pains to keep intact as much as possible of the original fabric, they are also willing to sacrifice it on occasion by giving preference to the preservation of traditional techniques.

       The Japanese example makes a revealing contrast to preservation in other cultures that also emphaisize process, because they have a centuries old tradition of the most exacting preservation practice: the Japanese by law keep meticulous records of every step of every historically important preservation project and also by law publish each in detailed reports with extensive photographs and drawings.

Object Allowed to Deteriorate or Consciously Destroyed

Consciously recycled or destroyed

There is another side to our concern for preservation, much overlooked and undervalued in the preservation community. We need to recycle, in some cases even destroy, the great majority of our physical possessions. This is an essential part of the preservation process.

Rebirth, Reinvigorate, Renew the Culture

Finally, in answer to the question: "What are we attempting to preserve?" some cultural groups might answer, "We are not attempting either to preserve or destroy, but rather to reinvigorate our culture." Totem pole carving (an art form to which I have been referring throughout this paper) has undergone a Renasisance in the Pacific Northwest, with the emergence of a group of exceptional carvers, who have raised pole after pole in Northwest villages where no pole had been raised for three quarters of a century, and who are now in demand for new generation poles commissioned for not just Atlanta and St. Louis, but Berlin, London, and Tokyo.



It may be that everything I have said to this point pales in comparison to the question of who decides. This is not just a matter of power politics, but of genuinely knowing who has the most informed perspective in any given situation. The speakers will no doubt examine this issue for us.

       However, I do want to raise one very basic, underlying issue when we think about preservation issues internationally. This is the assumption that works of art, structures, monuments, sites, urban complexes, cultural landscapes, etc. that are recognized as having the most historical or artistic importance, for human beings, in any part of the world, from any culture, have "universal significance". Or, or, as it is sometimes put "that cultural properties - in spite of all national and political differnces - belong to all mankind."

       Legally, countries that have not yet signed the World Heritage Convention have not yet agreed to its provisions; but philosophically, the assumption has been that there is universal significance to the most important sites of historic and artistic achievement anywhere in the world, regardless. This philosophical position appears, in one form or another, in nearly every international preservation charter and guidelines, often as the first provision. The Operational Guidelines for the World Heritage Convention opens with a characterictic statement:

The cultural heritage and the natural heritage are among the priceless and irreplaceable possessions, not only of each nation, but of mankind as a whole. The loss, through deterioration or disappearance, of any of these most prized possessions constitutes an impoverishment of the heritage of all the peoples in the world. Parts of that heritage, because of their exceptional qualities, can be considered to be of outstanding universal value. . . .

       Yet, at the same time that the peoples of the world are achieving previously unprecedented global interconnectedness, we are also reestablishing our ethnic and cultural identities. In extreme cases, indigenous people have stated that they do not accept the concept of "universal value" for the most important creations of all peoples; that they have no desire to possess or even have influence over cultural properties of other peoples, but that they do want returned to them all of their own cultural property, which they consider belongs to them alone.

       I do not believe that the assumption of universal value, so basic that we have never truly questioned it, has ever been freely debated in the international preservation community.



What can we conclude from such an extraordinary diversity in the types of things different cultures wish to preserve? and of the many different types of person or agencies who might wish to decide?

       Whenever we wish to preserve something, we find that we have a mixture of fully justified, widely recognized values. But each of these, if maximized, conflicts with other justified, recognized values, so that choices must be made, not necessarily to preserve one and not the other, but how much, and what aspects of each to preserve in relation to the others and how. Moreover, these values are incommensurable, that is they do not fall on a single scale - we have no systematic way to judge them in relation to each other except within our overall, complex system of values.

       And there are many different types of people involved, with to some extent overlapping and sometimes conflicing value systems.

       Specific examples force the issue. Unlike theoretical debates, where one may take alternative positions and alter opinions frequently, the preservation of a painting, sculpture, building, monument, village, city, or site, allows for only one physical treatment at any one time, and opportunities to redo the preservation treatment are often rare.

       Anyone with responsibiity for such decisions must necessarily be struggling with these issues. We are privileged to have speakers today who have indeed struggled with these issues, and with notable success. We are anxious for them to share their experiences with us.

       Learning to value other cultural traditions is the way to a more tolerant society. Ultimately, it is a matter of respect for and caring about our fellow human beings.

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