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Preserving The Art of Girl Scouting

Posted: June 11, 2012

Last September, representatives from the Girl Scouts of Western New York (GSWNY) brought a treasured piece of the storied organization's history to the Art Conservation Department's annual clinic.

It was a 1933 offset lithographic print commemorating the organization’s then 21st year, featuring a young girl in a bright blue dress uniform with a jaunty yellow scarf tied around her neck. A muted image of an elegant woman stands in the background, as if symbolizing the woman the girl will become after years of emulating the Girl Scout’s core values, which are listed in block letters behind her.

The printed poster is stunning, but through the years it suffered insect and water damage, puncture marks, and abrasions. And a cardboard easel that once attached to the reverse of the poster is missing. When first-year art conservation student Elyse Driscoll spotted the poster at the clinic, she decided to take it on as her first paper conservation project.

"I was interested because the treatment of the poster would involve conservation methods and techniques that were new to me, such as loss compensation," Driscoll said. The poster also held a personal significance to Driscoll who joined the Girl Scouts in elementary school.

For the past two semesters, Driscoll has worked diligently on restoring the 17-by-22-inch poster, which she expects to complete this fall. This is perfect timing as the Girl Scouts are celebrating their 100th anniversary this year and are in the process of restoring and creating pieces of art to showcase the artistic side of scouting.

Alison Wilcox, senior vice president of program and membership for GSWNY, attended the September clinic, along with Janet Hill and Jane Gerken, members of the GSWNY Archive Committee, and Barbara Nelson, community member and volunteer. In addition to the poster, the women brought a black and white painting and two embroidery samplers that came from the Girl Scouts’ archive. The art conservation faculty members said students could handle the painting and poster, but suggested the organization restore the two samplers themselves, which they are planning to do.

When the poster is complete, it will be included in The Art of Girl Scouting exhibit in the Community Gallery of the Burchfield Penney Art Center, to be held April through June 2013. The exhibit also will include artwork by Girl Scouts and area artisans

In the meantime, GSWNY leaders wanted to view the progress of the poster and introduce Girl Scouts to art conservation. Wilcox and Kimberly Billoni, leader of Troop 30101, visited the Art Conservation Department on May 19 with the girls from the troop. 

"The poster looks fantastic," Wilcox said. "The girls were absolutely thrilled, and they also learned a lot from the visit."

Along with hearing about Driscoll’s process with the poster, the third- through fifth-grade girls toured the department’s labs and studios where several of Driscoll’s classmates briefly explained their projects—from photographs to books to a large plaster bust. In the department’s science lab, the girls got to view pigment particles, fur and fiber samples under a polarized light microscopy. And, best of all, they got to make their own paper.

"Making paper is really hands-on—fun and messy," Driscoll said. "We thought the girls would enjoy it, and they did."

The Art Conservation Department typically charges a nominal fee for the restoration projects it performs for the public. In this case, the Girl Scouts paid for the poster with the best commodity they have going: cookies. The troop delivered 50 boxes of Thin Mints, Caramel Delights, and other favorites to the department in May and will bring an additional 50 boxes in October.

"I think the girls and their troop leader left the department with a better understanding of the value of works of art—not just in museums, but in their own homes," Driscoll said. "And perhaps they have a better understanding of why it is so important to take care of our cultural property."

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Patricia H. and Richard E. Garman Art Conservation Department

1300 Elmwood Ave  •  Rockwell Hall 230 •  Buffalo, NY 14222
Phone: (716) 878-5025 •  Fax: (716) 878-5039