Video - The Mobile Labs of the Canadian Conservation Institute


Transcript of the video "Mobile Labs"

Video length: 00:03:44

Narrator: In 1972, the Canadian Conservation Institute (or CCI) was founded to protect and conserve Canadian cultural heritage. CCI was headquartered in Ottawa, and while regional labs had been conceived, they were not yet implemented. This created a problem. How can CCI serve the entirety of Canada, the second largest nation on the planet, from Ottawa? The solution was a mobile laboratory.

Cliff McCawley (CM): My name’s Cliff McCawley. I’m Assistant Director of Regional Services at CCI, and I’m the person who’s responsible for these bronze — museum — bronze vehicles dashing madly about the countryside at this time. I’d like to first of all emphasize that the mobile laboratory service that we are here to inaugurate today does not replace the need for conservators that work within museums themselves, nor, indeed, does it replace the need for a regional conservation facility. What it does attempt is to provide part of that conservation service, but only part. All of this, we hope, will put our services where they are needed most at this time. That is, on the doorstep of museums all across the country.

Ken Seiling (former director, Wellington County Museum): We’ve been talking about conservation, and perhaps just in layman’s term [sic], what conservation really refers to is the care and the preservation of our collections. In the museum community, we are stressing very much that in order to have our collections survive, it is necessary to first of all have the right conditions for them to survive and to look after them and, hopefully, a lot of our collection will never get to the stage where it needs restoration. And I think that what you will experience in the days that the conservation lab is here is some practical advice to prevent that from ultimately happening and also to receive some hints on how to better care for your collection.

Narrator: In 1979, the mobile lab went on a ten-week test tour to 23 institutions. It was an enormous success and spawned a fleet of five mobile labs. Three more tours took place between 1980 and 1982.

Brian Arthur (director, CCI, 1976–1980): Mobile labs, I'd seen some in my travels around the world. So we bought these vans, and Lynn designed them as a laboratory: science one side, microscopes; the other for sticking pots and things.

Ela Keyserlingk (conservator, CCI, 1976–1997): The mobile lab was a wonderful thing. It was very good for us as conservators because it was a real reality check. I mean, we were sitting here a little bit in an ivory tower, you know, treating, but the best of the best or whatever. But, you know — and we could dictate the speed — it's not like being in a museum where they need it for tomorrow for exhibit and you better do something, you know?

Narrator: After five years, the mobile labs were retired due to budget constraints. By then, CCI had visited 544 heritage institutions and had treated over 4,000 objects. The mobile labs were a success thanks to the dedicated and talented conservators at CCI, the enthusiasm of its interns and the creative vision of CCI’s leadership at the time. We thank them all.

Have you heard of the mobile labs? At the Canadian Conservation Institute, the 1980s took us on a road trip across Canada.

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