No.5, November 1998

Association of Graduate Programs in Art Conservation (AGPIC)
Student Conference Abstracts
Queen's University
Kingston, Ontario
1-2 May 1998



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Ingrid O'Shea
Art Conservation Program
Queen's University
Kingston, Ontario

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Designing a preservation planning project for Carlsbad Caverns National Park archives
Liz Dube
(University of Texas at Austin)

A survey to assess the preservation and conservation needs of the archives of Carlsbad Caverns National Park was designed and performed in the summer of 1997. The five week project resulted in a report with prioritized recommendations. The survey methodology incorporated an enhanced condition survey, or conservation needs assessment, that combined condition/risk assessment with curatorial value criteria to discriminate.

The Genus of Art: Focus on materials, techniques, and treatment of a Howard Pyle mural
Erica James, Alexis Miller, Charlotte Seifen,and Lauren Smith
(University of Delaware)

"The Genus of Art" (1905) is one of nine sections of a mural painted by Howard Pyle to decorate the walls of his dining room. It is an allegorical image of the beginnings of art. The subject and handling of the murals represent a departure from Pyle's well-known book illustrations. After Pyle's death the murals were donated to the Wilmington Society of Fine Arts, which later became the Delaware Art Museum. They are currently owned by the Brandywine River Museum. "The Genus of Art" was brought to the Winterthur Paintings Conservation Laboratory for treatment by Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation students in Fall 1997.

During the course of historical research and examination of the mural, it was discovered that the mural had undergone prior treatments, including restoration by a known Philadelphia restorer, and exposure to a fire. The mural had been removed from its original support, overcleaned, and extensively overpainted. The nature of these previous restoration campaigns presented unique challenges for the mural's conservation. The first part of this presentation will focus on the history and provenance of the murals and the materials and techniques used by the artist. Various analytical techniques, including FTIR, XRF, and cross-sectional analysis were employed to help interpret the complex structure of the mural. The second part of the presentation will concentrate on the condition and treatment of the mural and the ethical and philosophical implications of the decisions made during the course of treatment. The mural's treatment will contribute to the knowledge of the materials and techniques employed by this important Brandywine School artists. It also serves as an example of the complex issues involved in "real-life" conservation problems.

Max Beckmann's painting techniques
Pia Gottschaller
(Harvard University Art Museums)

The study focuses on four paintings by Max Beckmann in the collection of the Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard University Art Museums: Self-portrait in Tuxedo (1927), The Actors (triptych, 1941-42), Still-life with Fire (1945) and Souvenir from Chicago (1948).

Beckmann lived in numerous cities during his life. From the point of view of his œuvre, the most important were Frankfurt, Berlin, Amsterdam, St. Louis, and New York City. The four Harvard paintings represent three of these periods, with one painting stemming from the Frankfurt period, two from Amsterdam, and one from the American period.

Beckmann left a variety of documents, including diaries and letters, as well as accounts of his life and work by his second wife and friends, which reveal important aspects of his painting process and materials. Quotes from these records are related to the technical findings of this study, and a reconstruction of his working process is attempted.

The artist's palettes and brushes dating from the year of his death are studied for the first time. Ground and paint samples were taken from each painting, and special attention was given to the use of black pigments. Due to the study of unfinished paintings and the documentary sources, steps were taken to detect the elaborate underpainting which Beckmann carried out throughout his life. Infrared-reflectograms were made from Self-portrait in Tuxedo and from selected areas of The Actors.

Siqueiros and his search for modern materials
Celina Contreras Maya
(Queen's University)

David Alfaro Siqueiros was a leftwing Mexican artist who combined an active political life with his artistic creativity. During his life he devoted himself to search for change. His ideals and his faith in modernity have not been realized in Mexican political and social life. However, his revolutionary art shook traditional structures and new painting techniques were born; Mexico and North America were irreparably influenced. His discoveries and his experimentation on industrial materials and modern techniques, especially on pyrozylines, marked the beginning of a new era. Unfortunately, these promising materials are prone to decay. Their poor resistance to degradation challenges conservators who have not yet found a solution to their preservation. Nevertheless the new search to discover the mysteries of pyroxyline has just begun.

The nineteenth-century conservation of some early Italian paintings: Philosophies and taste
Wendy Partridge
(New York University)

In 19th-century Europe many of the difficult philosophical questions in paintings conservation were theorized and debated for the first time in print. Of concern in these new writings was level of cleaning and approaches to loss compensation related respectively to a redefinition of patina and the rise of the field of connoisseurship. At the same time major public controversies concerning restoration began to occur, a new phenomenon within the public domain and a direct result of the formation of the new national museums. In this environment, the restoration of early Italian paintings seems to have been especially contested. Since these paintings had been "rediscovered" after having been mostly dropped from the canon of works to be appreciated, their restoration, like their collection and interpretation, was often the subject of heated debate.

This paper focuses on only a handful of influential collectors, connoisseurs, and restorers whose restorations, nevertheless, embodied two representative and contrasting approaches. The attitudes of the first director of the National Gallery in London, Sir Charles Eastlake (1793-1865), and his restorer Giuseppe Molteni (1799-1867) will be contrasted with those of the art historian Giovanni Battista Cavalcaselle (1819-1897). In general, Molteni and Eastlake saw and therefore conserved paintings primarily as aesthetic objects while Cavalcaselle tended to see and treat works of art more as historical documents. Because of their different philosophical and aesthetic views concerning the nature of paintings, they restored them in radically different ways. Since their choices centered on questions of cleaning, and loss compensation which still have not been definitively resolved, it is instructive to examine the history of some of the key debates.

Metalworking techniques of Iron Age fibulae from southern Italy
Julie Wolfe
(Harvard University Art Museums)

Fibulae were commonplace in antiquity as an ornamental means to fasten clothing. The Ancient Department at the Harvard University Art Museums owns a group of 56 Italic bronze fibulae that are believed to be of Southern Italian origin dating from the 8th to the 7th centuries BC. The set represents five different types including the single wire format of the bent bow, double spiral of the spectacle, four spirals of the quatrefoil, bulbous hollow bow of the leech, and the large leaf fibulae.

Various analytical techniques (X-radiography, metallography, electron probe microanalysis, and scanning electron microscopy) were used to identify alloy compositions to learn more about Iron Age metalworking techniques. In particular, wire is the most common element in the design and the methods used to make the wire are discussed. As early as the Bronze Age, hollow constructions were often filled to help prevent the form from being dented. The analysis of a black fill material found in two of the hollow-formed fibulae is also presented.

The examination and treatment of a seventeenth-century German strongbox
Arlen Heginbotham
(State University College at Buffalo)

A polychrome wrought iron and steel coffer, probably made in Nuremberg in the 17th or early 18th century, was examined and treated in the Art Conservation Department of Buffalo State College. Strongboxes of this type, popularly known as Armada Chests, were produced in considerable quantity in Southern Germany and exported to all regions of Europe, serving as the equivalent of the modern commercial steel safe. The strongbox was accompanied by a polychrome wooden base, apparently of 19th century origin.

Cross section analysis of paint layers indicated that the chest had been repainted. Attempts were made to characterize the original paint, both stylistically and compositionally, using visible, ultraviolet and polarized light microscopy, microchemical testing, X-ray diffraction, energy dispersive spectroscopy, and electron emission radiography. This work yielded a reasonably clear picture of the strongbox's original appearance. Similar analysis of the repaint on the strongbox and the paint on the wooden base indicated that the base was probably fabricated as part of the restoration campaign which included repainting the strongbox.

Treatment of the strongbox concentrated on three major areas; cleaning of the polychromy, passivation of corrosion on unpolished iron, and corrosion removal from bright polished iron. All exterior painted surfaces were extremely dirty, almost entirely obscuring the design. Cleaning of the polychromy was accomplished using 1.5% and 3% (w/v) solutions of triammonium citrate at pH 7.5-8 with the addition of 1/2% (v/v) Triton XL-80N and 3-4% (v/v) benzyl alcohol. Once cleaned, the paint was given a thin brush coating of B-72 in slow evaporating solvent. Minor inpainting was executed with Charbonnel and Malmeri colors.

Unpolished areas of exposed iron included the back and bottom of the strongbox as well as the elaborate lock mechanism. After cleaning, these areas were treated to passivate moderate corrosion using applications of 12% (w/v) tannic acid in 8:1 deionized water : ethanol adjusted to pH 2.4 with phosphoric acid. The lock mechanism, which occupies the entire inside of the lid, was relubricated with high quality grease and returned to fully operational condition. Inside the strong box was a smaller locked compartment. The key to this compartment had been lost, so the lock was picked and a suitable key was fabricated to match the master key.

Areas of polished iron included the large pierced and engraved iron plate covering the lock and the lock's bolts. These areas were treated by electrolytic reduction to remove corrosion products and were then coated with B-48N.

Conservation of architectural ceramics in situ: Grueby faience in the landmark 33rd Street IRT subway station
Sue Ann Chui
(New York University)

The New York City subway is rich in some of the most interesting and important ceramic art of the early twentieth century to be found in the United States. These ceramics were made by the leading American manufacturers of Arts and Crafts ceramic wares. William Henry Grueby, one of these manufacturers, famous for his matte glazes, made many notable ceramic ornaments for the stations of New York's first subway line.

This paper focuses on his eagle plaques in the 33rd Street IRT station which were recently cleaned during a station-wide renovation. The technique of architectural ceramics production will be addressed in addition to the condition of the eagle plaques, their possible sources of deterioration, and conservation treatment.

As the 33rd Street station falls under the jurisdiction of a very large municipal body, the Metropolitan Transit Authority, and is a designated New York City Landmark, the paper also presents how conservation fits into the bigger picture.

Technical study of an eighteenth-century rush-seat side chair
Tad Fallon
(Smithsonian Institute)

Frequently the course of conservation work requires a greater degree of interpretive effort and research into the current condition and historical context of an object in order to develop an appropriate treatment. During the pre-treatment investigation of an 18th century rush seat, sidechair, numerous questions regarding originality of its components and current state of preservation were raised.

In order to evaluate a proper course of treatment, various analytical techniques were performed to investigate the fabrication technology and materials used to construct the chair. The subject of 18th century chair making practices, rush seat making, and finishing materials and techniques were reviewed. Finally, possible treatment options are discussed.

The history and use of leather dressings in library and archival collections
Kirsten St. John
(University of Texas at Austin)

The paper examines the history and use of leather dressings in library and archival collections. Leather dressings consisting of oil- and wax-based preparations were recommended from the beginning of the 20th century as a way to address problems caused by increasing leather deterioration. The recommendations for the use of leather dressings and the chemical evidence supporting or refuting these claims is reviewed.

The historic significance, composition, and degradation of Vulcanized natural rubber in museums
Sandra Conners
(Queen's University)

Many polymeric materials have found their way into the collections of historic and fine art museums throughout the world. One of the first natural polymers that we find regularly in technology museums is natural rubber. Once the process of vulcanization was developed in the mid-1800s, natural rubber became the material of choice for many products including machinery components, household products, and dental products. In the first half of the 20th-century, professional artists also explored vulcanized natural rubber as a sculptural material.

Although there is a great deal of vulcanized natural rubber material in today's museums, relatively little is known about its physical and chemical degradation. The general composition of this material will be discussed, as well as the chemical degradation that would most likely occur in a museum environment. A Fourier Transform Infrared spectrometer is used for evaluating the chemical degradation of vulcanization natural rubber and tensile testing is used for evaluation of changes in physical properties. Initial results for accelerated aging tests of surrogate rubber samples and results for naturally aged museum artifacts will be presented.

An investigation into the use of cyclododecane in objects conservation
Ann Strickler
(State University College at Buffalo)

Cyclododecane is a volatile hydrocarbon that has been recently introduced to the art conservation field. The aim of this research project has been to investigate its practical applications to objects conservation, specifically as a temporary barrier film for mold making materials. Results indicate that gum arabic or methylcellulose films when used with cyclododecane are good barriers for taking molds of porous surfaces. Tests of these barriers were performed on modern flower-pot sherds and limestone samples using silicon molds. Test methods include visual examination, color measurements with a Minolta colorimeter, and electron spectroscopy for chemical analysis (ESCA). In addition, the working properties of cyclododecane were further investigated and other possible applications of this material are briefly mentioned in the report. Because cyclododecane is new to the field, it is hoped that this project will lead to further investigations of more applications.


The methods, techniques, and conclusions found in individual papers are the work and responsibility of the author of the paper, and should in no way be thought to represent the opinion or endorsement of either the Journal of Conservation & Museum Studies, the Institute of Archaeology, or University College London. No liability or contract is accepted or implied by the publication of these data.


Copyright © AGPIC 1998. All rights reserved.