Written by Christian Hernandez
Over the summer, I had the pleasure of helping to plan a workshop for a heated suction table designed by conservator-engineer- Renaissance woman Robin Hodgson. It may have been logistically difficult to plan, but—as is often the case—working with friends in the conservation community makes everything worthwhile.
I first met Robin Hodgson at the 2012 American Institute for Conservation’s annual meeting in Albuquerque, NM. As a fashion and textiles conservation student, I was first drawn to her latex skirt and spiked metal heels, which I later found out she custom fabricates out of stainless steel in her shop. She was in the exhibitor’s hall speaking about the virtues of her suction tables, but couldn’t demonstrate them because there were no proper outlets. Having only used a cold suction table, I immediately wanted to see the heating element in action, especially considering how useful this table would be for evenly transferring large swathes of adhesive onto textiles. I decided it would be worth my while to try and set up a workshop in New York for myself, other textile conservators, and interested individuals in other specializations.
After several months of back and forth, two one-day workshops were organized for October 2nd and 3rd at the Textile Conservation Lab at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine. Each day was attended by both emerging and seasoned professionals who specialized in a variety of materials. On the day that I attended, the presence of books and paper, photograph, object, and textile conservators provided a refreshing look into specialties other than the one I had been so focused on in school. Similar to what sometimes happens at conferences, this environment allowed people who would otherwise never meet to talk shop over a mutual passion. (Personally, I had a lively discussion with a rare books conservator about the ethical need to keep some books in circulation and in useable condition regardless of how old it may be.)
In the morning, Robin started the workshop with a lecture on the design and function of the suction tables, as well as a short history of how she got into the business. Having designed and developed these tables herself, there was seemingly no detail too small to fuss over and improve upon – and her passion and knowledge showed. She had designed the tables not only to be lightweight and with more even all-over heating, but also to be capable of seamlessly fitting together to create a larger work surface. In the afternoon, Robin gave demonstrations so that participants could test their samples on the tables. We experimented with a variety of materials and treatments, including: using wet and dry blotter paper, flattening fabric or clean them while folded; and cleaning dirty textiles, papers, and photographs. Some pieces really showed success while others needed more time and experimentation to find the right technique.
With two well-attended days of busy activity and plenty of inquiries about hot suction table purchases and future workshops, I feel that this workshop was a success!
I would like to thank Julia Sybalsky, conservator at The American Museum of Natural History and EPiC coordinator, and Marlene Eidleheit, director of the Textile Conservation Laboratory and NYRAC board member, for helping to organize this workshop. I would also like to thank Robin Hodgson for facilitating this workshop and designing such great equipment! To learn more about this please visit http://rhconservationeng.com.