Dialogues in Heritage Science Presents Stefan Michalski

June 8, 2016

On Friday, June 10th, Stefan Michalski of the Canadian Conservation Institute will give a series of three lectures at the Environmental Science Center at 2:00 PM. Attendees are welcome to stay for any or all talks, including:

From Preventive Conservation to Risk Management to Evidence Based Checklists

lecture 30 minutes, Q&A 10 minutes, Break 5 minutes

The traditional paradigm for preservation of movable cultural heritage is preventive conservation. The primary critique of this approach has been its lack of prioritization – it is, in essence, a long checklist prone to selective implementation based on local interests and resources rather than actual needs. Risk management is a replacement paradigm that measures needs first and then develops targeted responses. Risk management can also integrate previously separate activities such as emergency preparedness and preservation of heritage buildings (that may house the collections). The critique of risk management has been the extensive and expert labour required. An answer being pursued by the Canadian Conservation Institute is a search for patterns across several comprehensive risk assessments, so as to discover reliable indicators of high risk situations. In other words, to develop short, evidence-based checklists that identify priorities.

Paintings, Cracks, Climate Guidelines and Sustainability

lecture 30 minutes, Q&A 10 minutes, Break 5 minutes

Like it or not, the cracking of paintings has dominated the rationales given for museum climate control since the mid-nineteenth century. And continues to do so. This talk briefly summarizes the history of museum climate control argumentation, our current understanding of how and why paintings crack, the gaps in that understanding, and how sustainability issues may influence it all.

The Authenticity Instinct and its Role in Preservation Disputes

lecture 20 minutes, Q&A 10 minutes

Why is authenticity so absolute? (something is or it isn’t genuine) What is “the real thing”? Why do we feel “betrayed” if we find out we were “duped” by a fake? Why do magical thinking phrases such as “aura”, “presence”, “the artist’s hand”, or their equivalents recur throughout theories of art, of aesthetics, and yes, of preservation? This talk draws on psychological  studies of how we perceive object continuity, our belief that prior owners transfer something intangible. The author assumes the stance of experimental moral philosophy (and Hume) – that at the base of ornate post-hoc rationalizing by our system 2, which may or may not be “true,” there is a foundational and simple mental heuristic in our system 1 that we had better understand if we want to understand our emotional response to authenticity. And which institutions that deal in authenticity should also understand.


Stefan Michalski earned a B.Sc. (Hons) in Physics and Mathematics (1972), trained as a conservator in the Queen’s University Master of Art Conservation program, and then joined the Canadian conservation institute (CCI) in 1979. During his career, he has initiated the development of many CCI tools for helping preserve collections, including the Relative Humidity Control Module (1981), the Light Damage Slide Rule (1988), the Framework for Preservation of Museum Collections poster (1994), and the light damage calculator (2012). He was invited to participate in the committee responsible for the “Museums, Libraries, and Archives” chapter in the ASHRAE Handbook (1999), and authored the humidity and temperature specifications.

In partnership with the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM) and the Instituut Collectie Nederland, he developed the course Reducing Risks to Collections (2003–2011). The manual and software currently used by CCI for risk assessments in Canada was also developed during that partnership. In 2005, at the invitation of UNESCO and the International Council of Museums (ICOM), Stefan wrote “Collection Preservation,” a chapter in Running a Museum: A Practical Handbook. He was also a member of the British Standards committee responsible for writing the normative document PAS 198:2012: Specification for managing environmental conditions for cultural collections. He is now working on a book about the museum environment with Jim Druzik of the Getty Conservation Institute.

Event time: Friday, June 10, 2016 - 2:00-4:00 PM

Event Location: See map

Environmental Science Center (ESC), 1st Floor, Lecture Hall 110

21 Sachem Street

New Haven, CT 06511

Contact: laurie.batza@yale.edu