Skip over navigation | Sla menu over

Robert Organ 1917–2011

Robert Organ was a founding member of ICOM-CC, having been part of the original group that consolidated the ICOM Commission for the Care of Paintings (1948) and the International Subject Committee for Museum Laboratories (1950) into the ICOM Committee for Conservation in 1967 in Brussels. At that time, he was also named first Coordinator of the Metals Conservation Working Group, for which Rutherford Gettens was Assistant Coordinator. Robert served as Coordinator of the Metals group until 1984—before term limits were introduced—and likely holds the record for CO longevity.

During the final triennium of his collaboration with ICOM-CC (1981-1984 Copenhagen, 7th Triennial), he also served as Vice-Chair under Brian Arthur.

 Robert received the ICOM-CC Medal, in absentia, at The Hague Triennial Conference in 2005 for his significant contributions to the field of scientific conservation. It was presented and accepted on his behalf by Nicholas Stanley-Price.

With the death of Robert Organ in 2011, I lost not only one of my oldest friends, but my mentor for almost sixty years of my life as a conservator. In 1954 I was a trainee conservation technician at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and first met Robert at the British Museum Research Laboratory. I was treated with so much consideration and kindness, whilst he listened to my problems of treating Saxon iron that had been conserved decades earlier by boiling in beeswax, I left that day with the feeling that I had taken him the most important problem in the world and that I was joining the most important profession in the world. As I moved to other museums in the UK, Robert moved first to the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Canada and then in 1967 to his final conservation home at the Conservation Analytical Laboratory of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. He encouraged me to follow in his footsteps to Canada in 1971, and he had a major impact on the design of the laboratories at both National Historic Sites and the Canadian Conservation Institute.
A man for all seasons, Robert helped design my fishing cottage on a lake in Quebec so that I would not freeze at minus 35°C.
At meetings around the world, we would meet with Robert and his wonderful wife Barbara, who never failed to remember all our names and make us all so welcome.
Robert was a shy man, but he was eventually persuaded to run as Vice-Chair of ICOM-CC. At a Directory Board meeting in Sitges, Spain in 1982, along with Norman Bromelle, Gaël de Guichen, Westby Percival-Prescott and many old friends, we rewrote the statutes of the Committee.
The last words I had in person with Robert were at an annual ICOM lunch meeting in Washington where he toasted my election as Chair of the ICOM Advisory Committee and ended by saying, “You realize, Brian, you are now the Old Guard.”
His genius was that he took really complex conservation problems and provided simple, scientific and straightforward treatments for conservators to use. His impact on artifact conservation was enormous. We shall not see his like again.

- Brian V. Arthur

Share this page