Online Review: Book

Lessons Learned: Reflecting on the Theory and Practice of Mosaic Conservation. Proceedings of the 9th ICCM Conference, Hammamet, Tunisia, November 29–December 3, 2005

Jean Ann Dabb


Edited by Aïcha Ben Abed, Martha Demas, and Thomas Roby. Pp. xx + 417, b&w figs. 150, color figs. 200. Getty Conservation Institute, Los Angeles 2008. $75. ISBN 978-0-892236-920-1 (paper).

The Ninth Conference of the International Committee for the Conservation of Mosaics (ICCM) was held in 2005 in Hammamet, Tunisia. And this volume—a thorough account of the committee's largest conference to date—includes material often excluded from similar publications, such as posters displayed at the meetings and discussion following sessions. The title of the proceedings was the theme of the conference, and the editors acknowledge that their goals for significant analysis and critical evaluation of conservation practices in past decades were not always met. However, the conference did showcase the numerous advances that have occurred, including greater focus on mosaics in their contexts and types of training for those who maintain and manage sites. Nine subparts form the core of the volume, preceded by a foreword, acknowledgments, opening remarks, and introduction—all of which capture a sense of the conference itself.

Part 1 ("Evaluating Mosaic Practice") begins with a brief paper by de Guichen and Nardi that summarizes 50 years of conservation, ICCM history, and changing philosophies and practices as revealed in conference themes and presentations. This essay sets a tone for the subsequent 37 specialized papers, in English or French, each with summary abstracts in both languages. Readers familiar with the work of the Getty Conservation Institute and the Orpheus mosaic at Paphos, Cyprus, will appreciate the paper that reviews the work of the 1980s and a 2004 evaluation of the project. This example addresses issues of in situ conservation, physical environment, and sustainable maintenance that have proven problematic in so many cases. The rolling technique used to lift and relay the mosaic did not prompt widespread adaptation at other sites or the technical improvements conservators had envisioned. The authors acknowledge that this conservation was not part of a larger conception for the site and therefore problems of management and maintenance, including the deterioration of a protective shelter, developed. Concluding observations, echoed in other papers, include a plea that the values and expectations of all parties involved in conservation interventions form a greater part of the decision-making process beginning with the question of whether to preserve the mosaic in situ or remove it for storage or display in a museum. Sustainable conservation projects should also possess thorough, well-archived documentation that remains accessible to all future entities charged with care of the mosaic or site.

Mosaics in museums form the focus of part 2; conservation efforts described include coordinated documentation, review of previous restorations, stabilization and rebacking, and analysis of storage practices. Museum professionals concerned with preserving a sense of context for mosaics face pressures regarding installation (esp. for large floor mosaics), plus the need to maintain aesthetic standards that might influence decisions to fill lacunae or recreate missing elements.

Parts 3 and 4 address documentation, assessment of risks, and management of sites. The range of activities includes the creation of a national corpus of mosaics, the debate to remove or conserve a mosaic in situ, and the establishment of a program of sustainable site management. The latter effort is represented in the paper by Limane and Palumbo, who briefly review the management plan for the mosaics of Volubilis, Morocco. Zachos reports on the site of Nikopolis, Greece, and Zizola on Nora, Sardinia. All authors share concerns for maintenance that are complicated by the demands of visitor access, environmental threats, and lack of sufficiently trained staff. Part 5 extends this site-specific theme with papers devoted to the subject of shelters. Some shelters fulfill their function; some do not, and a determination of success always must consider whether the mosaic is actually better off for having been covered or enclosed. An interesting paper by Michaelides and Savvides ("Lessons Not Learned: The Shelters at Kourion, Cyprus") critiques the aesthetics as well as the functions of structures that seem to prioritize showcasing modern design over securing fragile monuments.

Papers in part 6 focus on the topic of training conservation practitioners, especially technicians. Hamdan, Shaaban, and Benelli summarize the efforts of the Jericho Workshop for Mosaic Restoration as representative of training in the Middle East. Another paper by Roby, Alberti, Bourguignon, and Ben Abed reports on the initiative in Tunisia (a Getty Conservation Institute and Institut National du Patrimoine collaboration). As in other programs, there remain logistical and methodological challenges. All papers in this section include honest assessments of successes as well as failures and note the necessity of collaborative effort (including government authorities) to organize and sustain training workshops and programs. Presenters urge that trained technicians receive full-time appointments, work effectively with site managers, and receive proper resources. Authors also note the need for more conservators to mentor technicians, as well as the necessity of ongoing training for practitioners at all levels who need to learn new methods and materials developed because they received their own training. Conservation and technical issues continue to be the focus of case studies that form part 7. Papers range from reviews of work at specific sites to explanations of materials such as hydraulic lime mortar or glass fiber reinforced cement. Both in situ and museum-based consolidation projects are represented, and nonspecialists will find the content of these papers accessible.

Part 8 consists of summaries, in English and French, by Teutonico (Getty Conservation Institute) and Nardi (Centro di Conservazione Archeologica) presented at the close of the conference. These observations provide an overview of major points presented in six of the sessions, which could also serve as insightful previews before readers delve into specific papers. Such summaries might also suggest topics for further research and themes to revisit in future ICCM conferences. Sixteen brief articles in part 9 form the print version of posters displayed during the conference, and they are all consistently well illustrated and rich in detail.

ICCM should be congratulated for its improved publication schedule of conference proceedings—the present book is a model to emulate. The useful entries of authors' affiliations and areas of specialization, plus the list of conference attendees, confirm the increasingly international scope of participation and interest in mosaic conservation. This volume, with its wide range of conservation topics, supported by numerous high-quality illustrations and detailed citations, is an essential addition to both graduate and undergraduate libraries at institutions offering programs in archaeology, art history, conservation, and historic preservation.

JeanAnn Dabb
Department of Art and Art History
University of Mary Washington
Fredericksburg, Virginia 22401


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