Transcript of episode “Judy Logan: adventures of an archaeological conservator”
Episode length: 00:47:28
[Music: “We Don’t Know How it Ends” by Lee Rosevere from the album “Music for Podcasts 6.” Style: Electronic Minimalism]
Judy Logan (JL): Something is inside it here, if shake, oh yeah, shake, shake how do we open it to find out what's in it- Take a hacksaw to it. So we let Bob do it and this thing fell out just wet, wet, green thing, piece of something, it was wet and it was slimy and it was [gasp].
Nathalie Nadeau Mijal (NNM): I'm Nathalie Nadeau Mijal and this is "CCI and CHIN: In Our Words".
Indiana Jones made archaeology look pretty exciting - but just wait until you hear about the archaeological conservator...
Today, you’ll meet Judy Logan. She was a senior archaeological conservator at the Canadian Conservation Institute from 1981 to 2006. Judy had a remarkable career travelling to archaeological sites around the world. In this interview, you can truly her feel her sense of excitement for the discoveries she made along the way. We really appreciated Judy's candor, in the following interview, she not only talked about her achievements but also some of her mistakes too. We began by asking her what she studied...
JL: Alrighty, yes. I studied at the University of Calgary I took archaeology as a major in English as a minor and got my bachelor degree in 1971 and during that time I had the opportunity to do field work paid field work in those days you always got paid if you were working on an archaeology project and I moved to Ottawa in 1972 and very fortunately got a job within a few months with Parks Canada in October of 1972. They were hiring people for their newly formed Conservation Division and at that time there were literally no trained Canadian conservators in Canada, there were no conservation programs this was a brand-new field. It was sort of like being in the right place at the right time and Parks Canada was hiring people literally off the street to work as technicians in their conservation division. They had Brian Arthur who was imported from the UK to head up that division, Lisa Mibach who was his assistant who came to Canada from the Smithsonian and they had a chemist who was Canadian, hired at that time just to be a chemist and Julia Fenn or Julia King and that was it and the rest of us who they were hiring had no training whatsoever. I had my interview with Lisa and fortunately my background in archaeology and the subjects I had studied at Calgary, like geology and biology, basic sciences, had given me a really good introduction to conservation, although I didn't know it at the time, turned out to be a good background and also when I had been a student at Calgary I had realized that something had to happen to artifacts before they went into a museum because when you're excavating them you have all these filthy artifacts right? But, um, it was only when I met Lisa and during that interview and I realized this is it, this is what it's called and literally they hired me that day. They said, "When can you start work?" and I said, "Monday", and he said, "Okay". That was October 1972, so that was my start in conservation.
NNM: You found out what conservation was during your job interview?
JL: Literally and when I was in archeology at that time, we didn't use the word conservation. What we were doing was basic conservation, you had to process artifacts, you had to clean them, you had to identify them. We would stick pottery together rather badly, very badly in fact, but I realized that something else had to happen, but it wasn't a formal thing. And of course at that time literally, archaeological conservation in North America was a new field as well. It was fairly well established in Europe, but in Canada we're talking, this is brand-new and in archaeology in fact was not a brand new profession, but just getting off the ground in terms of an organized profession in Canada. The Canadian archaeological Association was founded in the 1960s, mid 1960s, so you know we're talking young and everybody was young. It was an exciting time to be around and start to learn things and literally start to learn. Later on, they hired a few other people, non-Canadians coming in who also became really good friends and mentors. Charles Hett, for instance from the UK, who wound up being my teacher, my boss, my guardian angel in many ways, because I owe a lot of my career to Charles. The other thing in the government at that time, you have to realize, that the federal government was putting a lot of money into programs that promoted Canadian culture and identity and I think this all stems from our Centennial in 67, and the governments literally were putting in a lot of money to try to develop Canadian identity and unity across the country. You have to realize we were coming off the FLQ crisis too, so this was a priority for the government at the time, and I was very fortunate, many of us were very fortunate that they were putting money into educational programs and they had big budgets, big, big amounts allocated in their budget to train Canadians about how to care for our own culture and patrimony. So, I was extremely fortunate that the Queen's Master Art of Conservation program was founded in around 1974. They took their first class then and Parks Canada very generously sent me there on educational leave. I was one of the embers in the third class they took, so I went there in 1976 and graduated in 1978 courtesy of Parks Canada, which was the best gift you could ever get. And I was working as a student, being paid part of my salary and my educational expenses and it was really quite wonderful. The other thing that Parks Canada was doing at that time, was they had a informal training program for their staff, so prior to going to Queen's, I had had the opportunity of meeting a lot of top conservators who they brought in to give us one week courses on conservation, which was wonderful too because some of the people they hired didn't have university degrees, so they could not qualify for something like Queen’s. So it was a very exciting time.
Kelly Johnson (KJ) : Just out of curiosity, because we hear a lot about the Queen's program, but how many students how many classmates would you say there were at the time?
JL: There were 12 in the Artifact stream and 12 in the Fine Arts stream and we all took the same classes, we all did separate lab work, but we all had the same core classes that we took and we became a very close bunch. I made really good friends, friends for life during that the those years.
NNM: Did you have a sense of kind of you and your classmates of sort of forging new ground?
JL: It's hard to say when you're looking at students that way because a lot of the students were trying to forge their own ground, just trying to get through the program. I should also mention that CCI also had developed a training program, this was separate from Queens. And in fact I had applied for the CCI program when it first started and they were hiring people who had university qualifications, the same kind of qualifications you would need to get into grad school and they were hiring two people in each conservation specialty that they had identified. Each year and they were being paid on a government salary level, as technicians with all the benefits and everything and they were being trained on the job they here at CCI, with the object being that they would eventually go out and be able to work in museums across Canada. So there was that other part and that was part of the early history of CCI, which is really important and morphs into what CCI eventually became. I'm sure you'll be interviewing many of the interns from that period because many of them are now CCI retirees.
KJ: When you started, you explained that you were hired as a technician, once you completed your degree at Queen's is that when you became a conservator?
JL: No, actually that's just one step, you still have to go through a few years of applying your knowledge. One of the parts of the Queen's program are the internships, right, so during the internships you actually get a chance to start to apply your knowledge when you're working under another qualified conservator and that for me was a pretty exciting time to learn that I could make decisions based on what I was learning at Queen's, that you can actually make, start to make, decisions and informed decisions, about treatments and why they go wrong, or why they go right you know. That's very exciting, so when you graduate from an academic program, you just continue along that and you get more and more responsibility, until, you know, you finally become a qualified conservator where you can make these decisions and guide other students. So yeah, it's a lifelong learning experience. I don't think you ever stop learning when you become a conservator. It's kind of a sometimes it's a downhill slope, you make mistakes, okay I always thought that it's expensive to train somebody because you don't really, really learn until you make a mistake. And when you make a mistake, or something goes wrong, that you never forget it. But I always told my interns and the students that I've worked with, I said, "You know, if you screw up, if something goes wrong, it's not the end of the world, as long as you know why it screwed up and if you can correct it, or fix it, that's great but as long as you know and you can avoid it, and then be brutally honest in your documentation. Because you have to confess to all your sins in the documentation so it's there forever.
KJ: At the same time, I'm sure you discover through those mistakes too?
JL: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, one of the worst ones that I was an intern, I was working on an archaeology site in Italy, an early Etruscan site and it was my second year there and the director trusted me perfectly. I had done a lot of work with ceramics. That was my initial work in conservation, was with ceramics and the site had a lot of ceramics. We were working on this one plate that had come out of a tomb and it was very fragile and part of it had been excavated in previous years and part of it was still in the soil and it needed to be consolidated with an adhesive and so dopey me, I said yes, we just put these sherds in the solution of acetone and adhesive and yeah, half an hour later, there was this pile of mud in the bottom of the container. And the archaeologist looked at me and said, "Judy what happened?" and I looked at the mud, but yeah, I was able to understand why that happened and I've never forgotten that.
NNM: So it just dissolved or…?
JL: Yeah, it's a simple lesson which I tell students now and what which Henry Hodges told us, and it didn't twig on me at the time. It's water, plus underfired pottery, equals mud, okay? Now, I wasn't thinking acetone as a polar solvent like water. I mean, you put underfired crumbly pottery into acetone, even if there is a polymer in there, like an acrylic polymer to hold a thing together, it's still going to dissolve. It will turn into mud. Yes, sticky mud, sticky mud.
NNM: What were the reactions of the people around you?
JL: Sympathetic, very sympathetic, and I think that's part of conservation, you know, it's part of the growing and learning thing. And when things go right, you feel really, really, really good. When you come up with an idea and you use it, then you know, you've thought it through and you think it should work and you work on little test pieces to make sure it's going to work and then you do it to the real thing and it does work and you feel great.
KJ: Can you tell us a little bit about maybe a project that you worked on that stands out to you?
JL: Yeah, well there's one that I use when I'm giving a lecture at the University of Ottawa for their first year archaeology class and it's an example from a site in Labrador which was a really important site in my career and in Canadian archaeology. That's the Basque Whaling Station at Red Bay and Labrador. It was first identified as a Basque Whaling Station by Dr. Jim Tuck from Memorial University and some of his colleagues, who did a survey of the Red Bay Harbor. Historians knew about this whaling industry, but nobody had ever pinpointed the site and Parks Canada, under the direction of Robert Grenier, discovered Basque whaling ships sunk in the harbor, which fit the description of these legal documents that describe the sinking of the San Juan in 1565. So we had the two crews, Memorial University working on land sites, on the land excavating whaling stations and Parks Canada working on the underwater site, looking at a 16th century shipwreck This has never been done in Canada, this was at one of the earliest European sites to be excavated in Canada. L'Anse aux Meadows was the earliest, this was from the 1500s you know, we're talking good stuff, and brand-new information. We had many, many interesting projects from Red Bay. We did discover a cemetery in 1981 and excavated it over a period of about three or four years and one of the features we found in the cemetery was a complete set of clothing. We actually found a couple of complete sets of clothing, but the first one we found was really unusual, it was a real problem. The cemetery itself was in a very rocky, sandy, part of the site. Most of the site was rocky and sandy parts of it were a peat bog, parts were well drained. The preservation in the cemetery of the human remains was very sketchy. Some remains were well-preserved, where shell had washed over them, some were basically mud men. Bones had disintegrated to the consistency of mud. In this one particular grave, it was one individual, laid down on bedrock in a little shallow trough in bedrock and when he was buried, he had been wearing clothing. We didn't find clothing on many of the burials, we did find evidence of clothing on some burials, but this was a complete set of clothing. I mean. literally, but it was very, very, degraded and in the ground you could tell the position of the person, how he'd been laid out, with his hands crossed over his waist, because he had a shirt on and he had pantaloons on. But this was really degraded and we had to figure out how to get it out of the ground without wrecking it, because you couldn't just lift it up. One alternative was to freeze it but you couldn't, because you'd freeze it to the rock right? So, I borrowed a technique that fine arts conservators use and I created a facing cloth made out of gauze and some adhesive that I could prepare the cloth in the lab, let the adhesive dry in the lab and then reactivate it in the field with acetone to soften adhesive and have it form a very gentle, what we call a nap bond to the textile and the textile was wet, I have to mention, all of this stuff is wet. So, when the facing dried in the field, we were able to lift the entire thing out and put it on a support and get it back to the lab, then CCI, subsequently CCI, where we were able to do fiber ID and send samples off to a specialist in the UK to do dye identification. We also involved a specialist in costume pattern making, whose specialty was historic costumes. Her name is Elise Dubuc, but we of course involved our textile conservators and I'm not a textile conservator and archaeological textiles are not my specialty either, so I turned this over to Martha Segal and other colleagues in the archaeology lab. And we were able to get all the information about the type of wool that was used, the dyes on both sets. We discovered traces of stockings in the first set of clothing that we had excavated. The second set of clothing we found that person had a hat on and he had shoes and stockings as well and he was wearing a jacket and a shirt. His clothing wasn't dyed, it was all woven from a wool of natural fibers and the first set of clothing, the person had been wearing a red shirt and dark blue pantaloons, very cleverly made, perfect for the environment. Anyway this was all interesting stuff, we're getting all this information together and Jim Tuck at the time was always thinking ahead towards presenting this to the public. You have to present your results to the public. It has to mean something to somebody, right, and the best way to do this is to make reproductions in some cases and for the textiles, definitely reproductions, so through Elise's contact, she managed to find a woman who would spin the fibers and weave the textile and create reproductions from Elise's patterns, so this was done and it was amazing for me to see this stuff coming from the ground, in almost unrecognizable condition and in very poor condition and be able to bring it to a stable object which can be put on display, the original textiles are on display, or they were I think they still might be on display in Red Bay and then have reproductions made. When I first saw the reproductions, I was really taken aback because it really hits you visually. When you're a conservator, you get to know objects intimately, but when you can actually see the results of your work producing something like that, which anybody, coming in to look at these pieces will see themselves. That's what makes it really special. Then you know it's just to me, a textbook case of conservation and the other thing that was really good in terms of conservation, is we didn't use any chemicals on these fibers. The person with a red and blue shirt or the red shirt and blue pants, the fibers were in such poor condition, we couldn't separate them and whatever was left of this individual, is still in the folds, in between the layers of those textiles. So literally if anybody wants to go back and do more analysis of that individual, they can. Back then, we didn't have DNA analysis, now we do and there are a lot of other forensic applications which could be applied. I mean we could look at even entomology, looking at the type of insects; we could identify maybe time of year, stuff like that. Look for lice, because everything in there and hair was preserved, so any kind of hair or skin would might be preserved in those layers. Anyway, we didn't mess anything up for future analysis, I'm very proud of that project.
KJ: Yeah, that’s really… wow. You mentioned something just a couple of seconds ago or a couple of minutes ago, that this to you is a textbook case of conservation, could you elaborate on that, what do you mean by that?
JL: I mean we did what we call minimal intervention. When you're conserving an object, you want to preserve what is there and an archeological material, it's often in a very altered state, which can be challenging, because often to preserve it you have to add something to it like a consolidant or some other chemical to bring it from the as found condition to dry and able to sit in the museum environment. We try to limit what we do, even washing an artifact changes it. But you do have to take certain amount of dirt off, so you can identify it. When we're using any kind of adhesives or consolidants, we have to be aware of what they are chemically, how they may change chemically over time, even though we use the most stable things we know of it when we're applying these, you know. Things do change and we have to be aware of what factors might be involved in getting rid of this material, if for some reason that had to be taken off. And in reality, you can't undo something, once you've done it, it's a done deal. You know, you break your arm, it's broken, right. You break a piece of pottery, it's broken. You can stick it together but there's always going to be glue on it, so it's our aim to try not to add chemicals where it's not necessary. We try to create supports for artifacts so that if they're fragile they can support their own weight without having anything added internally into them, so that they can stand on their own. And in the case of the textiles, we created supports for both sets of textiles so they could be examined and turned over without damaging the fibers. And again, any analysis that is done should go towards guiding the treatment or providing information which will go with that object, so that future conservators, or custodians will be able to understand what happens if there are changes to that object. And the textbook treatment again is that other people can appreciate it. Because it's fine to work in isolation, but you can't really do that. Somebody has to benefit from your actions and that's why we're preserving this stuff, right. To hand it over to the public and make it understandable to them.
KJ: In 1988 I think it was, you wrote an article, "Thoughts on the role of the archaeological conservator." I found the article really interesting. In here you explain, I would say, the perspective of the conservator working on the field and whatnot. For somebody who doesn't have experience in this, can you tell us what the difference is between the role of the archaeologist versus the conservator?
JL: Okay, that's a good one. When I wrote that article and when I was working in the 80s, most of the archaeology being done at the time was research driven. In other words, by research question. Archeologists are excavating to find out more information about a certain culture, a certain time period. The case of Red Bay, that's an example. It was the 16th century Basques. A conservator, what you are doing, you were working with the archaeologists. You have to understand what they're trying to get out of this site. Why are they excavating it in the first place, what do they expect to find, how can we prepare for what they're going to find. I found my role in a site was really just mitigating a whole process of archaeology. Making sure it went through smoothly, that we weren't impeding the excavation, we're enhancing the excavation and working with the students so they know what to do in the field when they start finding stuff and working with a registrar to make sure that things are getting registered in a smooth process. So yeah and packing, oh my god, packing.
If you're working in a foreign country, it gets slightly more complicated because you can't bring stuff back. So working on the site is one of the bonuses, but to me it's the most challenging and the most exciting part of archaeology.
NNM: Is some of that a negotiation, because when you were using words like mitigating and make sure you're not impeding, there's a negotiation to be made with the archaeologists or with the people working on the site?
JL: Yeah, sometimes the conservator has more input into what actually comes into the conservation lab then others. Sometimes the archaeologist makes that decision because there is so much stuff and they want the conservator to concentrate just on stuff that can be done, has to be done, in the field, because there is no CCI to send it to. It has to be done in the field, and that's fine, because again, it's in their vested interest to make sure that the right decisions are being made and then as a conservator, you're always there to say yeah this is a good idea or that's not a good idea. But I never found a problem in actually, you know, saying we have to work on that, you know, you shouldn't be throwing that away, because most of the time it's pretty obvious. I was working on a site in Jordan,
where, oh we were getting, I mean literally, bits of fresco that had fallen from a wall, in all four walls, in this small room, which had been destroyed by fire and or an earthquake, sometime in the mid eighth-century. And I'll tell you, that fresco was in rotten shape and there were thousands, literally thousands and thousands and thousands of bits of it. But yeah at the time, we were doing our very, very, best to save as much as we could. But eventually it came down to only pulling the diagnostics you know looking at everything and taking the diagnostics. And the same thing with some other classes of material you get from a site like that. We were getting so many thousands of pieces of stuff. I mean what do you do, right. I mean seriously, you have to make decisions because otherwise you can't see the forest for the trees. You know, you keep all of these meaningless little things and you miss out on getting a really good, clear picture of what's going on. So it is a case of working with the archaeologists and finally saying, you know you're right, this is stupid. There is a limit. You can only do it so much.
NNM: When you say diagnostics, you mean the pieces that need more work or just identifying what needs to be done?
JL: Pieces that actually tell you more about the site or that can give you more concrete information about the site or could actually be important in the long term. Now in archaeology, a whole collection of stuff is diagnostic. For instance, at Red Bay we got thousands and thousands and thousands of nails. Literally thousands of wrought iron nails and we saved every single one of those nails. Now, not every single one of those nails went through a specialized conservation treatment, but everything, every piece of metal from that site was x-rayed. It was x-rayed in the field. And we have a visual record of these thousands of nails, along with their catalog numbers, that exist somewhere, I think probably at Memorial University now. The nails may or may not still be intact and on some sites, such as another site in Newfoundland Ferryland, which produces huge quantities of iron, a lot of the stuff is reburied. You record what was found, the stuff is excavated, it's registered, it's recorded. We've got this stuff, we know we can't learn more from it right now, we'll rebury it. There are thousands and thousands of nails. Nobody's going to look at each individual nail. Never. And they don't take up much room in storage, which is a good thing, but we do have the picture, right. So it varies from site to site, circumstance to circumstance. You get thousands and thousands of bricks for instance, or thousands of pieces of window glass from a historic building. What do you do, well you can weigh them. You know window glass, you can weigh the window glass and try to come up with a idea of how much window you're actually talking about. You don't have to save every little sherd to stick it back together again. You can scrap the bunch, you know, weigh them, and yeah, you save some. Save some, because, you know, somebody might want to analyze them in the future for the chemistry, you know, what they are. Save interesting bits. You might find bits with molding on them, you might find, you know, bits of stained glass, you might find bits of leading. You know, save interesting bits, save pieces, which are going to say, "This is an example of what we found from this area". But start to develop an idea of what was going on, maybe what was being held together by those nails, the color of the nails, if they are red, oh they were burned.
You know, stuff like that. You learn. But yeah, you have to be pretty pragmatic and that is actually, in looking at the evolution of conservation, archaeological conservation, over the years. The biggest problem in archaeological conservation I would say, the way it's evolved, for archaeologists as well, is how to handle the collections, because they have grown enormously, enormously. And that's an understatement, to the point where facilities cannot provide curatorial services for archaeological collections. It's a huge problem in archaeology and a lot of archaeology being done now is now being done as part of the environmental assessment process. Whenever any kind of building and development has to take place, archaeology is part of the environmental assessment, which means excavation is being done. And where are those materials, who is responsible for those materials, it's a big issue. Conservation still is an important part of that, to help people make decisions and make sure that these collections get saved, or representative portions of them are saved.
NNM: To return to the object that we were discussing earlier, this was a fragile textile, wasn’t it?
JL: You know, like I said, I'm not a textile conservator and seriously not a textile conservator, but with something like that, it's you know, bringing in all the people who actually do the work and they actually guide the whole thing. But that's one of the beauties of working here. I think we're going to get on to that too is one of the beauties of working at CCI, was to have access to so many, so many specialists within this building. And within that community of specialists within this building, they too have their networks. They've got this huge network of people. So when somebody comes to a conservator at CCI, you know what the question, they're not getting that one person, they're getting that one person’s network all built in, which is an amazing thing. And so when I was working here that's what I could provide to our clients, that's very important.
KJ: You spoke about the experience working on the field in Jordan. Can you tell us how that happens, how do you receive a request to go work on a project in a different country and how did how did that all kind of come about?
JL: Well that was really interesting. I was Chief of the Archaeology and Textiles Division at the time and we got a letter that was sent and it was from at the project director John Oleson from the University of Victoria and he needed a conservator. He had been working on a site in southern Jordan. They had discovered this fresco, some colored plaster fresco fragments and he said, "We really need a conservator, could you recommend someone?" and I thought maybe I'll look on a map and see where this place is. I'm busy, I've got this you know administrative job right now, whatever. So I did send it off to a couple of my archaeological colleagues and anyway I found out where it was, I thought oh my gosh, it's in Lawrence of Arabia country. And that was the childhood dream, was to go to see Lawrence of Arabia country. I couldn't believe there was a place that beautiful in the world, but anyway, I contacted the archaeologist and I said, “You know, if you're interested, I can get leave for one summer field season". Because at the time, we had been getting requests from the Middle East and there was interest within the management to find out if there was anything in the Middle East that would particularly be of value for CCI to be involved in. This particular project was heavily funded by SSHRC the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, as well as private funding from private foundations in the US. So anyway, I wrote to him and I said, "I can't promise more than one season." But I did get permission to go and well gosh, that was 1993, I think and I managed to keep going back for the next...until 2005 I think was my last field season there.
KJ: Oh! Wow. Every year?
JL: Not every single year, there were study seasons. You'd work usually for a couple of seasons, then have a study season and I went back for one or two study seasons during that time as well as the excavation seasons. It was a very big project, really interesting project. We found in that room full of frescoes, the first year I was there in ‘93, the very end of the field season, the very end. This always happens, right last day of field season. The project archaeologist who was in charge of that particular part of the site, she was a PhD student from Harvard and we were right down to the original plaster floor of the room and there was this black material that she found and she had pulled it out of the ground and brought it to me and said it was carved and it what is it and it I didn't know. It turned out to be ivory. I brought a sample back to CCI. It wasn't acting like ivory. It wasn't cracking, it wasn't splitting, it wasn't disintegrating like ivory should. And you know, in the blazing sun and 40 degree temperature, you know, it should have fallen apart. It didn't and it was ivory, and over the next six field seasons, that room was more or less, not totally excavated, but almost and we found thousands of fragments of carved, burned, ivory plaques dating to the mid-8th century and they were human figures. Usually pairs, mirror images of people. That particular ivory collection is, I think, at the National Museum of Jordan now. A couple of panels were put on display at the Met a few years ago for the exhibit of early Islamic art. NNM: So what was that room?
JL: That room was probably the reception room in the 'cazor' or a manor house of the head of the Abbasid family. So this was their family home and for Islamic history it's a very important site.
NNM: What's it like when you bring a new exciting object into CCI and then you get to look at it with your colleagues, is there kind of a buzz around it?
JL: Yes, oh yeah we've had that buzz several times. That's another part about working here. There was an artifact, ok, this goes back to Newfoundland, from Ferryland in the mid-1980s. Jim Tuck started to look at the 17th century English colony at Ferryland. He was in town, 1985, he'd found this peculiar, lumpy object. It was just about 12 centimeters long and it was kind of cross-shaped, but it was iron. You could tell it was iron somewhere and there. It was covered with gravel and corrosion and everything. He brought this object into CCI, along with one of his colleagues and he brought it to me and we took a look at it under the microscope and I started poking at it and piece of corrosion fell off. Oops, what's that, something yellow. Oh look at that, how interesting and so poked around a little more. You're allowed to do this carefully, you know, you have got to start somewhere, right? Yeah, and there is another piece, of a different color yellow, I'm going, "What?" Because this is iron. So while these two archaeologists were standing there, I just called the analytical research lab and said, "Could somebody take a look at this?" And within literally half an hour, with a very short period of time, we got the results back. This is gold and that other one is brass. Oh! And suddenly the whole complexion of this object changes. You're not just looking at another lumpy, funny blob of iron, you're looking at something. Oh my god, what is this thing now? I'll tell you, the colleague who Jim brought with him was a good old-fashioned archaeologist who's a little skeptical about what good conservation could really do, you know? Really do? And he was pretty impressed.
KJ: Because that just happened, it wasn't planned, it wasn't in the books, as a project that you would be working on I'm assuming?
JL: No, this was one of these things. We had other things like that that came in the lab. There was one an object from the Arctic that came in. Bob Janes, who was the main archaeologist for the Territories at the time in the Arctic. This was before Nunavut, he brought in a copper canister. The geological survey crew had found it on one of the arctic islands, in a stolen cairn. And it had a broad arrow carved in the side which indicates it's British, British Broad Arrow. Anyway, everybody's interested in this and so everybody gathers around, conservators from the ethno lab and a couple of scientists came down to look at this and you know it's always fun to see new things coming in. And something is inside it, here, shake, shake. Anyway after staring at this thing and how do we open it to find out what's in it? It was Bob Barclay actually, who was an objects conservator at the time, said take a hacksaw to it. So we let Bob do it. So Bob opened it, very carefully along the solder line, and this thing fell out, was wet, wet, green thing, piece of something. It was wet and it was slimy and it was I don’t know about 15 centimeters by about 10 centimeters. Anyway, it was a document! So we got Greg Young down, by this time I don't know how many scientists and conservators are hovering around this thing and the archaeologist is standing there, thinking, oh my god it's a document. And it was within the first while that we were all looking at this thing, it was possible to identify a signature, W.E. Parry, P-A-R-R-Y, who was one of the first arctic explorers to go looking for the Northwest Passage after Frobisher. Frobisher was much earlier, this was in the 1800s. 1819, 1820 he went through looking for the Northwest Passage and actually made it through, but he didn't know he made it through. He made it to Melville Island and turned around came back. If he had kept going he would have wound up in China. But he didn't, he was a very careful explorer. But he had left this thing, in a copper cylinder, in a rock cairn, on the coast of Prince Regent Inlet. He was stuck there by ice, he left this, he'd been instructed by the Admiralty to leave messages whenever he hit land in case Franklin was in the area. Now Franklin was exploring on land at the time, in the Northwest Territories and was in the process of getting lost and losing his men. This was before the big one. Franklin had done land exploration before he came across on the Erebus and Terror, but this is his colleague and buddy, William Edward Parry who had left this thing, as instructed by the British Admiralty and it took us a while to get the analysis done. Of course, we had the analysis done by Greg Young. We discovered that there was in fact a piece of untanned skin, we found out it had calcium carbonate in it, we found out the surface was more degraded than the rest of the skin because Greg Young was able to apply a technique he had just developed for examining objects made of collagen—skin, to determine the condition of the skin and that was brand new. This was something developed at CCI by CCI staff, by Greg Young and we were ultimately able to dry it on a suction cold table. Treat it like a piece of paper, only it was a piece of very badly degraded, untanned skin. There were traces of the writing on it and the only way we could date it was we could see the names of his two ships, Hecla and Griper. We could see his signature, so all these things were coming together. But yeah, it started with this again, the "oh wow" moment and all these people standing around going what is it, what is it?
KJ: We talked about you being at Parks. At what point did you come to CCI and what brought you to CCI?
Judy Logan: Okay well, actually, basically I finished at Queens and I was on a high. I was really, really thrilled about conservation. You know the previous summer had been at Red Bay with Parks Canada and I had seen what CCI was doing with Memorial University and I knew of CCI of course. I mean you know we all knew each other played hockey together heaven helps but back in those days so I thought okay no harm trying I mean why not two exciting things happen the first day I was at work first of all Charles said to me well nobody else really is keen on going to Red Bay this summer so it's all yours if you want it I thought giving me the best archaeology site in Canada to look after you kidding and the second one was oh yeah and we have a metal workshop coming up and with Henry Hodges that you'd be willing to do it with him and oh my god and I have to do a workshop with my professor. But, anyway that was my introduction to CCI and I thought that's pretty exciting stuff. Yeah, right decision when you're young when you're coming fresh out of school and you've got ideas and you know you don't have preconceived notions about what you're walking into that's when you get really, really good work and a really good dynamic going. You know I hate to say it but I yeah I hope when everybody's finished retiring that the new crowd is really as its great and as happy as we were but we all grew up together I mean we were all about the same age like I mentioned hockey that's well let's just say at one point parks and CC I used to have hockey games together other games baseball and stuff and yeah. But, things change but we all work together.
KJ: We've talked about a few things I feel like there's still so much that we could cover but is there any word of advice that you have for new emerging conservators?
JL: Well one thing that I should have done much better when I was working I should have kept more detailed personal notes. When you're making notes never give up your pen in your pencil keep your notes keep your notebooks keep all your diaries I found them invaluable and often kick myself for thinking I didn't tie that down because over the years you'll be building up a network of colleagues and with any luck your reputation will spread in a good way and people will be asking you for advice. Artifacts you've treated will come back to you to haunt you maybe your happy stories and it's amazing what all of this stuff your personal stuff that you were learning as you go along how valuable that is when you want to dig back in your memory and find out what did happen because you've got your documentation but your scientific documentation you've got all of that but there's the other stuff that only you know. Try to capture that because that's invaluable and again: never stop learning and have fun you know and keep your contacts meet people go to conferences and if you can afford it and I go to conferences and just try to maintain your professional contacts. I like talking about conservation.
[Music: “Here’s Where Things Get Interesting” by Lee Rosevere from the album “Music for Podcasts 6.” Style: Electronic Minimalism]
NNM: Thank you to Judy Logan and my co-host Kelly Johnson.
CCI and CHIN: In Our Words is a production of the Canadian Conservation Institute; Department of Canadian Heritage.
Our music is by Lee Rosevere.
Production assistance provided by Pop-Up Podcasting.
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Next time on the podcast…
Lyn Elliot Sherwood: He headed the potato museum in Prince Edward Island. He said, “We have a picture of Marilyn Monroe in a potato sack do you think that would be something that people would like to on the Internet?” And I said, “Yes, I think they would like to see that very much.”