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Subject: Human hair wigs

Human hair wigs

From: Kimberleigh Collins-Peynaud <kimcp<-a>
Date: Thursday, May 1, 2008
Rebecca Tinkham <rebecca.tinkham [at] state__nm__us> writes

>I am looking for suggestions, tips or tricks on how to clean real
>hair wigs. They are between 50 and 150 years old and are removable
>wigs belonging to some Catholic devotional art. ...

Last May I graduated from the sculpture conservation progam at the
Ecole de beaux-arts de Tours in France and the sculpture on which I
worked in order to obtain my diploma was a baroque Holy Child with
glass eyes and a human hair wig (Southern Italy(?), late 17th/18th
century), inserted in a gilt niche covered with a Northen Low
Countries gilt leather fragment. The wig, mounted on a wire cap,
seems to date from the 19th century based on stylistic and technical
comparisons with older human hair wigs used on Italian and Spanish
devotional baroque sculptures. I will be working soon on a second
Holy Child (17th century Spanish) with a human hair wig that sounds
similar to the description of the third wig in your collection.

As for history of technical fabrication, I learned after visiting
many monasteries and churches in Spain that the clothes and wigs for
these sculptures were often made by the nuns or monks in which many
devotional Holy Child sculptures were kept. They were also often
replaced or "renovated" over the years. I also learned that in some
cases, the wig was made from young girls hair, cut and used to make
the wig, sometimes with a poem/pray or song inserted in the cap of
the wig dedicated to the saint who wears it. Very interesting! The
wig on which I worked was made of brown human hair, not dyed or
colored (according to results of microtests and observation under
microscope). However, the hair had been curled and kept in form with
some sort of hair laquer (only a few traces existed). I encountered
lots of loose dirt and debris, some traces of insect infestation
(Anthrenus scrophularial?) and very brittle hair, deformed and dry.
The biggest problem was the stiffening of the hair itself as well as
the tangles. Some pieces were already broken in the middle, held
only in place by dust and traces of the hair laquer.

After calling the Musee de la poupee in Paris and contacting some
ethnographic restorers, I found the most help in the following
articles :

    Douglas W. Deedrick, Sandra L. Koch
    "Microscopy of Hair PArt 1: A Practical Guide and Manual for
    Human Hairs", Forensic Science Communications, Vol. 6, n. 1,
    january 2004.

    Gerry Barton, Sabien Weik
    "Ultrasonic Cleaning of Ethnographic Featherwork in Acqueous
    Solutions", Studies in Conservation, 31, 1986, p. 125-132.

    Georg von Knorre
    "Haarapplikationen an spatgotischen Christusdarstellungen in
    Sachsen" in Ulrich Schiessl (ed.), Polychrome Skulptur in
    europa, Technologie-Konservierung-Restaurierung, 11/13 nov 1999,
    Dresden, Hochschule fur Bildende Kunste, p. 98-104.

    Allyson Rae
    "Dry and Human Remains: Their treatment at the British Museum"
    in K. Spindler et al (ed), The Man in the Ice Volume 3 : Human
    Mummies. A Global Survery of their Status and the Techniques of
    Conservation, New York/ Vienna, Springer, 1996, p. 33-38.

    Clarence R. Robbins
    Chemical and Physical Behavior of Human Hair, 4th edition, New
    York, Springer, 2002.

    Marion Kite, Roy Thomson
    Conservation of Leather and related materials, Oxford, Elsevier,

I treated the wig as follows:

I attached the cap to a nylon seive to minimize manipulation. I
vacuumed by micro-aspiration and a very soft brush to remove the
maximum of dirt, bug carcasses and debris.

My cleaning tests were: white spirit rinced with isooctane,
isopropanol, water/ethanol (50/50), water, diluted ammonia, water
with a drop of baby shampoo (recommended by the museum of dolls) and
lastly, water with a drop of nonionic detergent. This last option
was the most efficient and careful for me. In order to avoid
damaging the cuticule or the fragile hairs, I decided to try this
mix in an utltrasonic bath, avoiding contact with the metal cap.
Each curl was cleaned seperately, rinsed with demineralised water
and lightly wrapped around a styrafoam roller conserving the
original form but letting it dry naturally overnight before removing
the roller. The result gave a very supple curl, clean almost shiny
hair and allowed for a minimal manipulation by hand of each curl
when necessary. One must take the necessary time to rinse out the
mix (1 drop of Triton-X 100 par liter of water). The tangles
unfortunately could not all be removed given the very delicate state
of the hair, but cleaning in this manner highly improved the state
of the wig and the tangles were much less visible. After one try
with a very wide toothed supple comb, combing was out of the
question! As for broken hair, I thought about trying to reattach
them with an adhesive, but only after cleaning. The decision was
made to conserve the few broken pieces in an envelope with a schema
indicating where they were removed.

I would be more than happy to send more precise information or
pictures if necessary and I am curious to see the wigs and their
respective sculptures if ever you have the time. I also would be
happy to share a copy of my "thesis" if you are interested. I could
not find any other articles or suggestions at the time on resotring
human hair wigs. I hope this information can help, and if you have
any other advice I would be very interested in learning more about
hair and devotional sculpture conservation.

Kimberleigh Collins-Peynaud
Sculpture conservation
La Gare du Sentier
37110 Le Boulay, France
+33 6 99 05 05 27
+33 2 47 44 92 82

                  Conservation DistList Instance 21:59
                   Distributed: Saturday, May 3, 2008
                       Message Id: cdl-21-59-002
Received on Thursday, 1 May, 2008

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