Abstracts, WAG session,
A "Slightly Odd-Shaped" Room; The Italian Room at Seattle Art Museum: Collaborating to Get the Job Done
International Collaboration: Summer Work Project in Arequipa, Peru
New Support Frame Designs for Upholstery Conservation
Artist Lan-Chiann Wu and furniture conservator Ton Wilmering collaborated on a conservation/restoration project recreating missing Chinoiserie lacquer on a privately-owned, eighteenth-century English serpentine front commode. They used John Stalker and George Parker's Treatise on Japaning [sic] and Varnishing as their main guide.
Working with the artist's design drawings, elaborate lacquer decorations were created on the commode's top and drawer fronts using a blend of traditional and modern materials. Decorative motifs were copied and adapted from a matching commode, which was recently acquired by the same owner, because the two pieces of furniture originally may have been a pair.
This paper will describe the various steps that were taken in making the new lacquer decorations; ranging from creating the design, to preparing the ground layers, to transferring the design elements, to building, shaping, and toning the raised areas, to applying different gilding techniques on the surface, and to final painting of design details. The authors will also discuss some of the pitfalls encountered during the process.
A "Slightly Odd-Shaped" Room; The Italian Room at Seattle Art Museum: Collaborating to Get the Job Done
In 2003, staff at Seattle Art Museum geared up for the most comprehensive series of transformations in the museum's history. The spectrum of activity and change at the institution ranged from the construction of a new downtown museum, building a nine-acre sculpture park on the Seattle waterfront and wide-ranging renovation of storage areas at Seattle Art Museum and Seattle Asian Art Museum. In the midst of these great changes, a small but highly complex collaborative project took place: the conservation and installation of SAM's sixteenth century wood paneled Italian Room.
Following exploratory conversations with colleagues at other museums, SAM staff selected James Boorstein and Traditional Line to work with them on this project. A defining collaborative character distinguished this project from the initial planning phase to the treatment and installation of the panels and beyond these stages to the way the room functions in galleries that are now open to the public.
In addition to the SAM conservation and Traditional Line teams, myriad personalities worked together to resolve the project; curators, architects, engineers, art-handlers, preparators, stone-carvers, cabinet-makers, scientists, contractors, fund-raisers, donors (in no particular order) all played a role in the realization of the Italian Room, which can be considered a microcosm of museum activity.
In this paper, James Boorstein, Nicholas Dorman and Sarah Kleiner will share their experiences of planning and installing the room in the new SAM galleries and the contributions made by the various collaborative parties in the process.
In the grand scheme of things, the world is becoming a smaller place each and every day. However barriers such as language, socio-economic circumstances, and political stability persist, and can impede the progress and growth of the conservation field and the sharing of important developments across borders. One key way to overcome such barriers is through international collaborations and exchanges. I had the great privilege this "summer" to participate in such a program sponsored by the U.S. Embassy in Lima, Peru. Through the Embassy I was able to coordinate a two month internship with the Santa Theresa Monastery Museum of Viceroyal Art, a living monastery museum. During my internship, I had the unique and rich opportunity to work in a small, recently opened museum that is home to a group of cloistered Carmelite nuns and also to some of the finest colonial period pieces in the entire south of Peru. My supervisor Sr. Franz Grupp, the director and conservator at Santa Theresa, helped me to explore a variety of conservation materials and techniques with which I was not familiar that he has found quite effective. Limitations such as the illegality of the sale of acetone and ammonia (used in the fabrication of cocaine) and the non-availability of items such as woodworking clamps, paste wax, and spray guns, were overcome with patience and creativity. The blanks in language proficiency were overcome with a smile, gestures, and occasionally with drawings. As I reached stopping points in my treatments, I also had the opportunity to advance the preventive conservation efforts in the museum: light level measurements and recommendations, emergency contact list and Flipbook, and object handling hand-outs and training for the volunteer guides. This experience greatly enriched my education and can hopefully serve as inspiration for future such collaborations and opportunities for conservators.
What Color is the Sky on Their Home Planet? Collaborations in the Bizarre World of Mass Media
Virtually every one of us has experienced encounters at dinner parties or similar where, when learning what we do for a living, the response is almost always, "Wow. That sounds like the neatest thing ever." Yet one of the greatest challenges facing the conservation community is the struggle to engage and be understood and supported by the general public. Our apathy towards aggressively cultivating this constituency has been, in my opinion, a missed opportunity of monumental proportions. I believe that continuing along our collective path of inaction in this regard will redound poorly toward our efforts for preserving patrimony. But it is not an incurable problem.
In some ways it is natural for us to avoid public evangelism for conservation, as it requires a skill set generally foreign to us, a mind set antithetical to our preference for quiet solitude in the lab, and a tolerance for patiently nurturing collaborators and audiences who "just don't get it." These missed opportunities are all the more troubling given the compelling nature of what we do, and it is high time we get off our backsides and make conservation awareness something more than isolated instances. If we can create a whole new cohort of stakeholders, the sky will be the limit for our programs.
This presentation will be both a celebratory and cautionary tale reflecting on my recent efforts to bring conservation to the general public resulting in a successful preservation book written in everyday language, a C-SPAN documentary segment, a preservation-based television series pilot, over 100 public and broadcast presentations and almost 100 news articles, and the bizarre cast of characters and situations I encountered along the way.
New Support Frame Designs for Upholstery Conservation
Upholstery conservation is a complex specialism that is most successfully completed when different conservators and other professionals work together. During recent treatments at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, furniture and upholstery conservators, and mount-makers have worked together to design and construct wood and carbon fiber support frames for various upholstered objects. The examples presented will include a mid-nineteenth century chair made by George Hunzinger that retains the original back upholstery but only the original springs in the seat (all other seat materials were inappropriate for display), a set of Rococo revival parlor furniture c. 1850 with all of the original under-upholstery except the original webbing, and late eighteenth century side chairs with half-over the rail upholstery. Through the process of resolving these different challenges it has become apparent that certain chair types lend themselves more successfully to one material over another due to the mechanical properties of the material and shape of the chair frame. Firstly this paper will discuss these options and the decision making processes behind their use, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of each. A brief description of the previously published Sene furniture at the MFA will be included in order to show how its treatment effectively influenced our own. Secondly we will present new ideas to the familiar problem of supporting seat springs, both when they are detached from all other materials and when they remain connected to original layers above. Although final designs for support systems often take time to evolve, the most successful ones are usually simple concepts that are easy to construct using readily available materials and limited tools and machinery. By detailing the production processes for each project this presentation aims to describe how new materials and frame designs can be adopted without difficulty in the treatment of upholstered furniture.
The Metlar-Bodine House, a registered historic site serving Piscataway, NJ as its cultural and historical museum, was harmed by a 2003 fire. A part of the building was destroyed and what was left, including the oldest section dating to 1728, was severely hurt by smoke and water. 30% of the collection was lost and all artifacts received some damage.
A call was issued for conservators willing to: (1) closely collaborate with staff and volunteers regarding budget constraints; (2) handle the repair of objects with diverse conservation needs - the proposed work ranged from surface cleaning to restoration and the museum's collection of Central New Jersey artifacts consists of items catalogued as ephemera, fabric, animal skin, metal, furniture/wood, ceramics/glass, stone, photographs, modern materials, and books; (3) overcome problems created by the lack of a facility ready to accept repaired items and no known restoration schedule; (4) help decide the viability of damaged pieces and significant and treasured artifacts when conservation is not always cost effective; (5) evaluate replacement objects that are being considered for purchase; (6) support the museum staff and volunteers as they recover from the tragic event and begin fundraising efforts.
A local history museum's staff and volunteers creatively collaborate with a team of conservators to find solutions to overwhelming collection repair problems created by a devastating fire.
The discovery of a window cornice documented to the early 19th century Baltimore fancy painted furniture manufactory of brothers John and Hugh Finlay initiated an intense collaboration with a paintings conservator and a furniture conservator, both in private practice. The bottom rail was broken off and needed to be reconstructed and repainted based on fragmentary evidence and the physical evidence of the maker's kerf marks. The painted surface was treated like that of a wall painting; while the surface was remarkably unharmed by early attempts to consolidate it, considerable losses required the conservator to match the materials and techniques of the original painters in order to achieve a seamless look.
An inquiry from a dealer sparked the investigation of a painted chair in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Slow and steady research with museum conservators and conservators from outside institutions culminated in a study day with conservators and curators. Analysis of the painted materials to authenticate a signature proved the successes and limitations of such analysis from the curator's point of view.
A piece of furniture long in storage at the Philadelphia Museum of Art revealed itself as part of the celebrated set of painted furniture designed by architect B. Henry Latrobe for William and Mary Waln of Philadelphia. Careful physical analysis of the sideboard, research into Latrobe's letters regarding the Waln commission and the architectural history of Philadelphia, and scientific analysis of the painted surface showed that the sideboard was an architectural fragment extracted from the Waln's dining room.
The work of an art curator is incomplete without a productive and collaborative relationship with a professional conservator. This paper will show that such a relationship enriches the understanding and appreciation of the material for both the conservator and curator, and ultimately the art-seeking public.
The paper is based on a large wooden artifact which was conserved for the National Museum of Singapore's History Gallery. The artifact is funerary hearse of Tan Jiak Kim (1859-1917), one of the pioneers of Singapore. He was a Straits Chinese merchant and a community leader. The paper will give a brief account of the Straits Chinese community, the significance of the hearse and the complex issues encountered during conservation treatment.
The elaborately-carved hearse is a rare Singapore artefact and it represents a period of reform in Straits Chinese funerary practices in the early twentieth century. Its carvings bear distinct evidence of European and Chinese styles. The hearse was acquired in the 1970's as separate parts with no specific document or image of how the parts should be re-constituted. Putting the component parts together was one of the challenges of the conservation treatment.
The objective of the treatment was to retain its historical and aesthetic integrity by restoring it to the extent that it can bear its structural load when fully constituted. Conservation treatment started in mid-2005 with seventeen components of which thirteen were in complete form. Poor storage had resulted in accumulative dirt and metal corrosion. There were numerous broken carvings, severe structural damages, missing structures and termite infestation.
Treatment was carried out in several stages. Thirty to forty per cent of the structure was either damaged or missing. The missing parts included two important roof structures and a wheel. All these are important support structures. Identifying suitable skilled craftsmen to fabricate replacement parts proved another challenge. The specifications then needed to be carefully and precisely communicated with the craftsmen and builders.
Results of a recent investigation of paint used on New England furniture dating from 1740-1720 in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston are summarized. The researched group of furniture comprises more than 40 painted chests of drawers, cupboards, chairs and stools. This first generation of furniture made in New England represents important surviving artifacts of colonial times. Their provenance, design and construction have been well researched and documented, yet very little work has been done regarding the characterization of the paint. The wooden decoration on many pieces consists of applied moldings, diamonds and split spindles. These elements additionally are painted black and red to imitate more expensive woods like ebony and mahogany. Others have elaborate floral and ornamental chip carvings with a rough, painted background. In most cases the paint selectively highlights particular elements of the decorative scheme.
Through the examination, pigments and binders are identified which enabled to differentiate between original and repainted decoration. Cross sections are studied using reflected visible and ultraviolet light microscopy. This gives information on layer structure, pigment allocation in binding media, particle morphology, pureness and graining of pigments. The analysis of the inorganic particles was undertaken using a scanning electron microscope. The results detected the use of a limited paint palette of the following pigments: bone black and other carbon blacks, lead white, read lead, red and yellow ochers and umber. Pigments such as gypsum, chalk and clay might have functioned as drying accelerants, additives or adulterations. Raman spectroscopy results affirm the use of red lead and lead white in addition to natural iron oxide pigments like hematite and goethite. Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy is used to detect the character of binding materials. Identified binders are animal glue and oil. To assign these results to certain layers the samples are stained using reactive florescent stains.
In 2003, working with funds from museum donors and a grant from the Bradley Foundation the museum contracted the organ restoration firm of A. Thompson Allen Company to restore the museum's grand pipe organ made by E.M. Skinner in 1926. Early movies of the Skinner Organ factory serve as an eye into the past showing sanding of the wood pipes, workings of the shutters, and the humor of the man who designed and built organs.
This paper discusses the renovation work undertaken to restore the organ to function after years of benign neglect and loss of auxiliary components. It was a monumental project as the organ located in the museum's historic Peristyle Theater occupied two pipe chamber rooms containing 3,201 organ pipes ranging from 30ft high to smaller than a pencil, a basement motor/relay room with multiplexing equipment and electro-pneumatic switching apparatus, a wind line and cabling running the width of the concert stage, and the four manual organ console (not unlike a computer with a player interface box for a roll playing mechanism) capable of being moved on/off stage via a 30 ft electrical umbilical cabling connecting it to the basement relay room. The museum's conservator acted as project manager to insure all aspects of the restoration ran smoothly and were in keeping with conservation standards. The work involved coordination of the organ restoration company, in-house staff (facilities, protective services, housekeeping) and outside contractors needed to repair and refurbish other organ components and its environs including, electricians, sheet metal workers, other organ specialists, and the Toledo Symphony who regularly uses the space.
The debut performance in November 2006 was received with rave reviews and resounding praise for this magnificent instrument. The organ serves as a testimonial to the genius of Earnest M. Skinner inventor, builder and humorous, life-loving individual.
In March 2007, the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), Melbourne staged a major exhibition bringing together the works of five key Australian artists that founded and progressed the Australian Impressionism movement in the late 19th century. Australian Impressionism brought together over 250 works by Tom Roberts, Arthur Streeton, Charles Conder, Frederick McCubbin and Jane Sutherland. Spanning the years 1883-1897 the works were gathered from private and public collections both in Australia and overseas.
A total of five works were re-framed in the lead-up to the Australian Impressionism exhibition. It is intended that current reframing projects carried out at the NGV produce historically accurate frames that are in accordance with the aesthetics of the framed painting and able to withstand future re-assessment. From the initial selecting of works to be reframed and identifying the reproduction frame prototype, through to the manufacturing and finishing of several frames within a fixed timeframe, the project was an especially collaborative undertaking. Curators, paintings conservators, frames conservators, private owners and institutions, frame makers and craftsmen were consulted throughout the project. This interdisciplinary approach to reframing within the NGV has ensured that the resulting reproduction frames objectively reflect the needs of the painting and will stand the test of time.