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Early History

National Conservation Advisory Council  
History, Development, and Legacy (1973 – 1982)

Jane Slate Siena

Time for a National Perspective

I question whether even a small percentage of the museums in this country are doing anything more than presiding over the steady deterioration of that which they have been instituted to preserve.

                        W. Robbins, America’s Museums: The Belmont Report,

                        American Association of Museums, Washington, DC, 1969, p. 59


This startling statement from a landmark report on America's museums was a wakeup call to the nation and led to the establishment in 1973 of a new conservation coalition, the National Conservation Advisory Council (NCAC).  William Robbins’ blunt view of the conditions of America’s museums was soon applied to its libraries, archives, and historic properties.  There would be more news to come. 

IIC Fellows Discuss a National Conservation Laboratory (1955)

Record of Informal Meeting of IIC Fellows June 2, 1955

On June 2, 1955, a group of IIC Fellows in Washington for the AAM meeting held an informal meeting at the Freer Gallery to propose a National Conservation Laboratory… Present were W.G. Constable, presiding; Dr. Leonard Carmichael, Sec of the Smithsonian Institution, and Mr. A.G. Wenley, Director of the Freer, by invitation and IIC Fellows: Louise Bellinger, R.D. Buck, [Francis] duPont Cornelius, Edmond de Beaumont, R.J. Gettens, Alfred Jackstas, Elizabeth Jones, Elizabeth Packard, Murray Pease, Mr. and Mrs. Russell Quandt, James Roth, G.L. Stout, and William Todd.


The purposes and functions were briefly discussed and its was generally agreed that a central lab could serve all museums in U.S. Dr. Carmichael expressed the opinion that such a laboratory would fulfill a need in this country and that there is a possibility that it could in some way be attached to the SI [Smithsonian Institution]. He stressed the necessity for a carefully developed prospectus as a preliminary to further progress.


To this end a planning committee of three was appointed by Mr. Constable’s suggestion comprising R.J. Gettens, Murray Pease, and G.L. Stout, Chairman. The committee was asked to draft a prospectus for consideration by the IIC subcommittee for American Affairs, Dr. Carmichael, and others concerned. The committee expects to report in the late fall.  

Assessing Conservation Training Needs in the United States (1973)

In June 1973, a conference was held at the Winterthur Museum in Delaware. It was called primarily to attempt to quantify the known conservation training needs in the United States as a while and to compare those needs with currently available capability for training. At the conference were directors of the then-existing training programs, representatives of public and private agencies potentially capable of proving financial support for conservation programs, and individuals with wide-ranging concerns about the nation’s need for more and better conservation work...

United States Congress, Senate. 1973. Hearings, Reports, and Prints of the Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare. U.S. Government Printing Office: Washington, D.C., pg. 490.

Speech by Charles van Ravenswaay before a Special Senate Subcommittee on Arts and Humanities of the Committee on Labor and Public Welfare

The speech summarizes in 33 pages the Conference on the Training of Conservators held at Winterthur on June 15-16, 1973.  The NCAC was organized in response to that conference.

My name is Charles van Ravenswaay. While I am Director of The Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum, Winterthur, Delaware, I am here to summarize the results of a Conference on the Training of Conservators held June 15-16, 1973. The Conference grew out of the awareness of conservation specialists that whil.e the United States possesses an immense treasure of artistic, historic, and scientific objects in its museums and private collections, they are not being adequately cared for at present and as a consequence the future of many of these objects is imperiled.

NCAC Requests Funding to Assess National Conservation Needs (1980)

Department of the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations for 1980 Part 9                                             

Hearings Before a Sub-committee of the House of Representatives. 96th Congress. First Session.

National Museum Act Detail of Grants FY1979

Professional Assistance

Page 336 79/238 National Conservation Advisory Council

              c/o The American Association of Museums

             Washington DC 20007

             Amount requested:  $80,335

             Rated 3.83

             Amount recommended: $60,000 


The National Conservation Advisory Council (NCAC) requests support for studies of national needs in the conservation of cultural property in the United States and for the coordination and development of proposals to meet conservation needs. The NCAC has issued a series of reports on architectural conservation, libraries and archives, regional conservation centers, and scientific support for conservation. A position paper on energy shortages and attendant hazards to cultural property and a discussion paper on a national institute for conservation have also been released. During the coming year the report on education and training will be published and a formal proposal prepared for a national institute for conservation. The NCAC also proposes to develop a comprehensive plan to identify and quantify the kinds and numbers of cultural materials in urgent need of conservation in the United States.

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