Art Theft

Welcome to the Collections Caretaker e-Newsletter from Northern States Conservation Center. The newsletter is designed to bring you timely and helpful content that is pertinent to situations we all encounter in our museum and archives work. Feel free to let us know what topics you would like to see featured in Collections Caretaker or even contribute an article.

In This Issue

Delusions of Art Recovery 
Small Museum Pro!
Instructor Spotlight
Featured Course
March 2017 Online Courses
April 2017 Online Courses
Conferences and Meetings
Delusions of Art Recovery
Bill Anderson, Art Guard
On Friday, two paintings by Vincent Van Gogh stolen in a 2002 major art theft were
Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuene.
recovered following an investigation into a group linked to the Italian mafia. The Naples-based Camorra crime clan was discovered to be in possession of the "Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuene" and "View of the Sea at Scheveningen" stolen from Amsterdam's Van Gogh Museum.

The Art of Selling Stolen Art
Once again we saw experts in the field question the rationale of thieves who think they can profit from the theft of such works. It is certainly true that very few dealers would even entertain the idea of transacting a sale of works of this order of value and prominence. The vast majority of dealers would report even a sniff of illegality.  In that sense it would appear to be a dead end game for anyone thinking they can make a quick $30 million. Therefore, the conclusion is that people who attempt to steal or succeed in stealing and holding stolen art for a period of time are unsophisticated and na├»ve to the workings of the art market.
A Change in the Playing Field?
But hold on. Is that to say the frequency of major art thefts will decline? Or that we should take comfort in the fact that stolen works will invariably resurface? Or that people who steal are smart enough to see the writing on the wall? I would not bet on it, nor should the art world.

A host of potential disappointments awaits those who think the climate has changed. We know with pretty much certainty how the 14 works were stolen from the Gardner in 1990. By now we're also pretty certain of who did it and that a person or persons associated with the art theft know where the paintings are. If a $5 million reward isn't enough to cough them up, the chances that they will be found diminishes greatly. Insurance companies will claim that they no longer pay ransom for stolen art. But why would they admit to that? Any knowledge of that policy would simply encourage more attempts.
A Zero-sum Game
If the Gardner works are found they will have been out of the public eye for over 25 years. The Van Gogh's found in Italy were gone for a mere 14. It's likely that the Warhols stolen from the Springfield Art Museum will surface. But when? And at what cost? There is always the possibility that masterpieces will suffer the fate of those stolen from Rotterdam's Kunsthal Gallery, including works by Lucian Freud, Gauguin, Matisse, Monet and Picasso. The evidence is very strong they were incinerated to cover the tracks of the thieves. There are over 100,000 works of art in the Art Loss Registry. All but a few pieces are likely never to be seen again.
It's not okay to be sanguine about the threat of major art theft. The downside is too great to feel there's no rational motivation for theft, and recent history shows that incidents of art theft are in fact on the rise. Fine art works are treasures that the world values very highly, and to dismiss their vulnerability simply because it doesn't make sense to steal them is a losing bet.
Used with permission. Posted October 4, 2016 on the Art Guard Blog 
To learn more visit the Art Guard website at 
Small Museum Pro! Online Courses in 2017
Northern States Conservation Center is please to host American Association for State and Local History's Small Museum Pro! online courses in 2017
Collections Management
Instructor:Dyani Feige
Victoria & Albert Museum, London
March 20, 2017 - May 15, 2017
This eight week course will introduce participants to the professional principles and practices in the management of museum collections. Topics will include collections development, registration and record keeping with an emphasis on the development of Collection Policies and Procedures and what it means to be intellectually and physically responsible for museum objects. By the end of the course, participants will:
  • Develop a detailed draft of a Collections Policy
  • Develop of identify a collection of objects
  • Develop a standardized set of registration records and forms including inventory, catalog, accession, and loans
  • Learn about various registration numbering systems and how to mark objects appropriately
  • Discuss issues related to collections strategies, mission, purpose, and scope of collections
  • Develop a broader understanding of legal and ethical concerns of managing collections
Museum Education and Outreach
Instructor: Tanya Brock
Trowulan Museum, East Java
June 5 to July 31, 2017
At their heart, regardless of type or size, museums are educational organizations. This course is about how we can facilitate visitors' meaningful and memorable experiences in the informal environments of museums.
At the end of this course you will be able to:
  • describe the characteristics and learning needs of various museum audiences
  • summarize what we know about learning in museums
  • assess the strengths and weaknesses of interpretive techniques and program approaches
  • utilize a system for planning, operating, and evaluating museum educational programs
  • access resources to assist you in future development of effective learning experiences 
To learn more visit:
Instructor Spotlight:
Diana Komejan 

Diana Komejan graduated from Sir Sandford Fleming Colleges Art Conservation Techniques program in 1980. She has worked for Parks Canada; Kelsey Museum, University of Michigan; Heritage Branch Yukon Territorial Government; National Gallery of Canada; Canadian Museum of Nature; Yukon Archives and the Antarctic Heritage Trust and is currently teaching Conservation Techniques in the Applied Museum Studies Program at Algonquin College in Ottawa. In 1995 she was accredited in Mixes Collection with The Canadian Association of Professional Conservators. Her work as a conservator has been quite broad in scope, having worked with historic sites, archaeological excavations and museums. In addition to lab treatments, Diana has broad archaeological experience, including the excavation of mammoths and dinosaur tracks.

Diana Komejan teaches three of our courses.  Please join her for one of these and learn about caring for complex and sometimes difficult artifacts:

MS001: The Problem with Plastics (short course)  Starting April 10, 2017
Early Bird Discounts Available for Full Length Courses
An Early Bird Discount is available for anyone who signs up for a full length course from 30 days prior to the start of that course.  
Sign up for a full length course up to 30 days prior to its start and save $100.00!
For our course list or to sign up:  
To take advantage of this discount, you must enter coupon code EARLYBIRD at checkout at

The Early Bird Discount deadline for April 2017 courses is March 4, 2017
Featured Course: Collection Management Databases

A collection database is a necessary tool for accurate and efficient collections
management. In Collection Management Databases you will learn what characteristics distinguish one database system from another; how a database can be used to manage inventory, conservation, pest management, and other aspects of collections management; as well as how to prepare your collection and documentation for entry into a database.

Join Sarah Kapellusch
for this interesting and very informative course  MS214: Collection Management Databases beginning April 3, 2017. 
March 2017 courses
March 6 to 10, 2017
Instructor: Helen Alten
To get anything done in your museum, you often need to get other staff to support the idea. All too often, preservation is left to one or two staff members and others believe it doesn't apply to them. For example, it is hard to successfully implement a pest management plan without full staff support. Everyone must buy into the notion of preservation. But how? Readings will introduce some ideas and participants in this course will brainstorm with Helen about what works, what might work - and what doesn't.
MS 108: Fundamentals of Museum Volunteer Programs
March 6 to 31, 2017
Instructor: Karin Hostetter
Volunteers are essential for most non-profit institutions. But good volunteers aren't born -- they are made. Even though they don't get paychecks, it takes time and money to have effective volunteers. Fundamentals of Museum Volunteer Programs teaches the basics of a strong volunteer program. Topics include recruiting, training and rewarding volunteers, as well as preparing staff. Instruction continues through firing and liabilities. Participants will end up with sound foundational knowledge for starting a new or strengthening an existing volunteer program based on a nine-step process.
March 6 to 31, 2017
Instructor:  Helen Alten
Is your collection stacked, packed and stressed? Museum Storage Techniques has the solution. The course builds on its sister course, Museum Facilities and Furniture, which looks at the bigger storage environment.. The Museum Storage Techniques course emphasizes the needs of individual objects and collection groupings. Guidelines for specific materials are provided. Participants learn about storage materials and mounts and the most effective use of trays, drawers, shelves and cabinets.
March 6 to 31, 2017
Instructor: Diana Komejan
Archaeological finds come out of the ground fragile - and they often stay that way. Yet archaeologists and museum professionals have few clear guidelines for handling, moving, storing and displaying such materials. Participants in Care of Archaeological Artifacts From the Field to the Lab learn techniques for safely lifting and packing artifacts, safe transportation and temporary and permanent storage. The course also covers a broad range of excavation environments, including the Arctic, wet sites, tropical and temperate. Though Care of Archaeological Artifacts is not intended to train archaeological conservators, it is designed to help participants understand what can and can't be done to save the artifacts they unearth

April 2017 Courses
April 10 to 14, 2017
Instructor:  Diana Komejan
As we march boldly toward the 22nd century, artifact collecting includes that most fragile of materials - plastic. Not only is it in our collections, but it is used to house our collections, too. What problems have you seen? What problems have others seen? What materials are best? What can we, as caretakers, do to minimize long-term damage? Join Diana in this mini-course for discussing care and deterioration of plastics. Bring any questions you have about plastics in your museum.
April 3 to 28, 2017
Instructor:  Helen Alten
Every museum professional needs a solid foundation in preservation principles and techniques. Introduction to Collections Preservation provides an overview of current preservation issues from environmental monitoring to collection cleaning, exhibit mounts and storage furniture. Participants learn about every aspect of the modern museum and how the building, staff and fixtures affect preservation. Subjects include the agents of deterioration, risk management, object handling and transport, object labeling, exhibit lighting, security, emergency preparedness, materials for storage and display, storage and exhibit philosophies, and condition assessments.
April 3 to May 12, 2017
Instructor:  Kimberly Kenney
Acquiring and holding collections impose specific legal, ethical and professional obligations. Museums must ensure proper management, preservation and use of their collections. A well-crafted collections management policy is key to collections stewardship. Collections Management Policies for Museums and Related Institutions helps participants develop policies that meet professional and legal standards for collections management. Collections Management Policies for Museums and Related Institutions teaches the practical skills and knowledge needed to write and implement such a policy. The course covers the essential components and issues a policy should address. It also highlights the role of the policy in carrying out a museum's mission and guiding stewardship decisions. Participants are expected to draft collections management policies.
April 3 to 28, 2017
Instructor: Sarah Kapellusch
A collection database is a necessary tool for accurate and efficient collections management. In Collection Management Databases you will learn what characteristics distinguish one database system from another; how a database can be used to manage inventory, conservation, pest management, and other aspects of collections management; as well as how to prepare your collection and documentation for entry into a database.
April 3 to May 12, 2017
Instructor:  Fiona Graham
Outdoor sculpture, silver tea service, gold jewelry, axe head, wheel rim - metals are found in most museum collections and may be stored or displayed indoor or outdoors depending on the object. Learn how to identify different types of metal and their alloys. Gain an understanding of how and why metals deteriorate and methods for preventing deterioration from occurring or continuing. The pros and cons of different popular treatments will be covered along with recommendations for the least damaging approach to treatment. Care of Metals provides a simplified explanation of the chemistry and structure of metals, explaining the importance of the galvanic series and electrochemistry in care strategies. Starting with an overview of the history and function of metals and how they are made, the course will cover guidelines for handling, labeling, exhibiting and storing metals. An overview of treatments, including cleaning, used on metals and how appropriate they are for the long-term preservation of the metal object will help students make care decisions when consulting with conservators.

Conferences and Meetings
California Association of Museums, Sacramento, CA
March 29-31, 2017
Texas Association of Museums, Abilene, TX
April 4-7, 2017

Museum Store Association, Pittsburgh, PA
April 21-24, 2017

Museums Association New York
Museums, Saratoga Springs, NY
April 2-4, 2017

Colorado-Wyoming Association of Museums, Boulder, CO
April 20-22, 2017
American Alliance of Museums, St. Louis, MO
May 7-10, 2017
Association for Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums, Rochester, NY
June 9-13, 2017
Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections, Denver, CO 
June 18-24, 2017

Association of Academic Museums and Galleries, Eugene, OR
June 22-26, 2017

Society of American Archivists, 2017 Annual Meeting, Portland, OR  
July 23-29, 2017  

American Association for State and Local History, Austin, TX
September 6-9, 2017

Southeastern Museums Conference, 2017 Annual Meeting, New Orleans, LA 
September 11-13, 2017 
International Foundation for Cultural Property Protection, New Haven, CT
September 17-20, 2017

Western Museums Association, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
September 20-23, 2017

New England Museum Association, 2017 Annual Conference, North Falmouth, MA
October 25-27, 2017
National Association for Interpretation, Spokane, Washington
November 14-18, 2017

Society of American Archivists, 2018 Annual Meeting, Washington, DC
August 12-18, 2018

Western Museums Association, Tacoma, WA
Dates TBA 
Southeastern Museums Conference, 2018 Annual Meeting, Jackson, MS
October 8-10, 2018
National Association for Interpretation
Dates and location TBD
November 2018
National Association for Interpretation, Denver, Colorado
November 12-16, 2019

Submissions and Comments
How to submit an article or upcoming workshops for inclusion in the Newsletter:  
If you would like to submit an article, notice of an organizational meeting or upcoming workshop for an upcoming Collections Caretaker Newsletter, send your submission to .  
We are always looking for contributions to this newsletter. Submission deadline is the 10th of each month. 
Have a comment or suggestion?   
Northern States Conservation Center (NSCC) provides training, collection care, preservation and conservation treatment services. NSCC offers online museum studies classes at in Collections Management & Care, Museum Administration & Management, Exhibit Practices and Museum Facilities Management.
Helen Alten, Director
Peggy Schaller, Publications Manager