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Guidelines For Descriptive Terminology For Works Of Art On Paper

This project (led by the Philadelphia Museum of Art ) intended to address the need for more accurate and consistent documentation of the materials and techniques used to create works of art on paper. No detailed guide for this currently exists. The guidelines presented here are designed to provide conservators, curators, registrars, cataloguers and others charged with describing art on paper with a step by step approach for describing all aspects of the manufacture of these works.

The project was prompted by several recurring issues: 1) how to effectively and consistently describe and communicate the materials used in works of art to other museum professionals and to the public, 2) how to facilitate the recording and subsequent use of materials information in museum collections information systems, and 3) how to refine descriptive language to contribute most effectively to the education and visual experience of the museum visitor. While these guidelines are primarily “addressed” to the conservator, they are intended to assist all professionals working in this subject area. One intended result is more accurate, and hence more meaningful, material descriptions through the use of consistent terminology, regardless of who generates and records the information. Conservators, curators and other users will bring different levels and types of knowledge and connoisseurship to the task. Therefore, an additional goal is to educate those with less experience, or perhaps less direct access to the physical works of art, in how to record information that is accurate regardless of level of detail. Media-specific “Hierarchies” or charts that provide terminology and preferred usage that progresses from the general to the specific, will serve as tools to assist in this process.

It is hoped that the impact of the project will be three-fold: 1) enhanced ability of conservators to communicate their knowledge about the materials of works of art on paper in a more accurate and consistent manner, 2) greater understanding through improved resources for allied museum professionals (cataloguers, curators, etc.), and 3) increased visual and information literacy of the museum-going public.

For more information see:

Guidelines project staff/authorship

Philadelphia Museum of Art:
Nancy Ash, Senior Conservator of Works of Art on Paper
Scott Homolka, Associate Conservator of Works of Art on Paper
Stephanie Lussier, Consultant and Project Conservator
Becca Pollak, Graduate Intern in Paper Conservation
Eliza Spaulding, Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in Paper Conservation

Working Group members: Karl Buchberg; Anne Driesse; Margaret Holben Ellis; Theresa Fairbanks-Harris; Amanda Hunter Johnson; Penley Knipe; Catherine Maynor; Rachel Mustalish; Annette Manick; Katrina Newbury; Antoinette Owen; Suzanne Penn; Elizabetta Polidori, Thomas Primeau; Kimberly Schenck; Marjorie Shelley; Matthew Skopek; Reba Fishman Snyder; Harriet Stratis; Judith Walsh

Additional support from:
The Art Institute of Chicago
Baltimore Museum of Art
Brooklyn Museum
Buffalo State College
Harvard University Art Museums, Straus Center
The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
Institute of Fine Arts, New York University
Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Morgan Library & Museum
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Museum of Modern Art
National Gallery of Art
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Yale Center for British Art
Whitney Museum of American Art