Anthropology Conservation Laboratory
In Memoriam: Bethune Gibson and Carolyn L. Rose

Bethune gibson

Bethune Gibson. Photograph by
Edith Dietz.

Bethune Gibson died on August 5, 2002 at the age of 88. Remembered fondly as Beth to her friends and coworkers, she was an early pioneer in the field of ethnographic and archeological conservation.

Beth's entrance into the field of conservation was by happy coincidence. She had received her B.A in Anthropology (Archeology) in 1937 from the University of Chicago and during 1939-1940 pursued graduate studies in Anthropology and Art at the University of California, Berkeley. Working on an excavation in southern Illinois she met and subsequently married Gordon Gibson. Gordon and Beth took their two young children to Africa on several occasions while Gordon pursued his research as a social anthropologist, studying both the Herero of Botswana and Himba of Namibia. During these periods they collected numerous artifacts that would later become part of the Smithsonian collections.

When her husband was hired as the African ethnologist at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, Office of Anthropology, the Gibsons moved to Washington, D.C. In 1964 Gordon asked Beth to help prepare African objects for the new Hall of Cultures of Africa at Natural History. Beth's fine hand skills, combined with a familiarity with African artifacts, enabled her to successfully prepare artifacts, often in poor condition, for this exhibition. During this time Beth worked collaboratively with Charles Olin, who already had been hired by the Smithsonian to establish the Conservation Research Laboratory (later known as the Conservation Analytical Laboratory).

In 1966 the Office of Anthropology expanded the existing Anthropological Laboratory to include a conservation section, which became know as the Anthropology Conservation Laboratory. From the beginning, Beth worked tirelessly to improve the condition of the anthropological collections in the Museum of Natural History. The departmental annual report for 1965 records that 1313 objects were cleaned and given conservation treatment in her fledgling laboratory. Beth, as head conservator, along with her staff, volunteers and students, conserved nearly 18,000 objects during her 12 year tenure at the museum.

Beth is probably best known for her pioneering work in the use of the airbrasive equipment for cleaning materials. She recognized that it enabled the conservator to remove surface corrosion or soil from artifacts using fine particulate powders discharged at high pressure. Beth procured an airbrasive unit for the ACL and became a leading proponent of its use (see “The Use of the Airbrasive Process for Cleaning Ethnological Materials," Studies in Conservation, Vol. 14, No. 4, 1969). This method was particularly effective for American Indian buckskin garments, where wet cleaning was not possible; it was also used for beadwork and baskets. (This cleaning practice is no longer in general use in conservation laboratories and has been replaced with other cleaning methods.)

Teaching anthropological conservation was another of Beth's contributions to the field of conservation and she lectured widely during the last years of her career. She realized that the activities of the ACL could be expanded by training volunteers and interns and could simultaneously serve to train professional conservators. Over the years she accepted countless numbers of both, and over time she devoted her training to local university students, and later more specifically to George Washington University students. One such student, Carolyn Rose, became associated with the ACL first as a volunteer, then intern, and was ultimately hired as a conservation technician in 1972. Beth and Carolyn continued to pursue training of anthropological conservators, forging a collaborative conservation program with George Washington University and the ACL, officially coming into existence in January 1974.

In 1977, Beth retired from the Smithsonian at which time she received an award for her outstanding service to the Department of Anthropology as supervisor of the Conservation Laboratory. During her 12-year career the ACL achieved both national and international recognition for setting standards for the practice of anthropological conservation.

Caroline RoseCarolyn Rose died August 29, 2002, at the age of 53, after a thirteen-year battle with cancer. Like Beth, her entrance into the field of conservation also seemed by happy coincidence. She received her BA in Art History with a minor in pre-medical sciences (biology and chemistry) in 1971 from Sweet Briar College. During the summers of 1970 and 1971 she participated in internships under Robert Organ, then director of the Conservation Analytical Laboratory. It was during this time that she met Beth, and her career path was established.

A Smithsonian employee since 1971, Carolyn was head of the Anthropology Conservation Laboratory from 1977 until 1988. Under her direction the Anthropology Conservation Laboratory continued to flourish. Countless numbers of interns, students and other professionals were associated with the lab. Standard conservation procedures were instituted not only for the Department of Anthropology but also, for the first time, for the Museum of Natural History. With great vision, Carolyn also was instrumental in the design and planning of the off-site conservation lab at the Museum Support Center, where most of the departmental conservation activities occur today.

In 1974, Carolyn received her Masters degree from the graduate training program in ethnographic and archaeological conservation at The George Washington University, a program she helped create and which she later directed.. She was the graduate thesis advisor for more than 30 of the program's students, and supervised many other students from conservation training programs at other universities.

In 1982, Carolyn married her department colleague, organic chemist David von Endt, now with the Smithsonian Center for Materials Research and Education, with whom she collaborated on numerous projects. She also was adjunct associate professor in anthropology and art at The George Washington University, where she taught courses in preventive conservation and museology.

In 1988 Carolyn became head of the Department of Anthropology’s Division of Publications, Education, and Outreach. Because of her proven administrative abilities she was appointed deputy chair in 1993 as well as acting program manager of the Handbook of North American Indians. In 1999, Carolyn became chairman of the Department of Anthropology and remained in that position until March 31, 2002, when she stepped down because of her illness.

Nationally and internationally recognized in the field of ethnographic conservation, Carolyn received the 1992 Rutherford John Gettens Merit Award for outstanding contributions to the American Institute for Conservation (AIC); a Medal of Honor presented by S.A.R. Don Carlos de Borbon, Duke of Calabria, in Madrid, Spain, in recognition of her international leadership in conservation education; the American Institute of Conservation/University Products Award for distinguished achievement; and the National Park Service Award for Generous Service and Dedication to the Development of the Preservation Training and Technology Board. The Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections’ annual award, of which Carolyn was the first recipient, has been renamed in her honor. Most recently, she received the President's Medal from The George Washington University.

Carolyn authored and edited numerous publications, primarily focusing on the care of ethnographic and natural history collections. She helped develop new national preservation programs for the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute for Museum and Library Services. As chairman of the National Institute of Conservation, she served as principal investigator for research programs funded by the Getty Conservation Institute, J. Paul Getty Trust, the Mellon Foundation, the Institute of Museum Services, and the National Science Foundation. She helped to establish a training program for conservators in Argentina and a Latin American Scholarship Program. Carolyn served as president of the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections, chairman of the board of directors of the National Institute for Conservation, president of the Washington Conservation Guild, and was a founding member of the board of directors of the World Council for Collection Resources.

While prominent in the field of conservation, Carolyn was also beloved by her colleagues in the Department of Anthropology. To honor her tremendous contributions, the department recently dedicated the Carolyn L. Rose Seminar Room, a space she envisioned and designed. This is a fitting memorial to Carolyn, who as chairman strived to create an atmosphere of cooperation and collegial professional exchange within the department.

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