44th Annual Meeting—Gap Filling for Ceramics Workshop

The Gap Filling for Ceramics workshop brought together conservators from various backgrounds to experiment while learning practical tips from Rachael Perkins Arenstein, Conservator at the Bible Lands Museum, and Elisheva Kamaisky, Head Ceramics Conservator at the Israel Antiquities Authority in Jerusalem. The day passed quickly as the workshop was packed with PowerPoint presentations and hands-on activities with spackles, plaster, epoxy techniques suited to archaeological and fine arts contexts. Like many participants I took the class as an opportunity to learn from others and practice without the pressure of working on a museum object. Having focused on ceramics this year, I am familiar with the materials and techniques discussed, but I found it an opportune chance to break out of my familiar habits, review the properties and different reasons for choosing plaster versus bulked Paraloid B-72, for example, or ways of manipulating Milliput and refining plaster.

Elisheva Kamaisky demonstrating how she uses a balloon attached to the end of a plastic tube to create a backing inside a jug with a small neck and rim, which blocks easy access to the interior.

The program moved through the various stages of the filling process beginning with discussions of how to protect the surrounding surface from ghosting. For porous unglazed surfaces, common in archaeological contexts, Elisheva often uses masking tape or low-tack painter’s tape, pinching around the edges of fills to prevent the infiltration of plaster. Using tape is always evaluated on a case by case basis depending on the stability of the surface and its ability to withstand tape. Elisheva also showed different strategies she uses for backing of plaster fills, such as layering masking tape to conform to the shape of the ceramic, heated wax, and balloons.
My experimental flower pot generously broken and reassembled by Elisheva and Rachael. Here I have used masking tape to protect the edges and build a backing for fills.

Elisheva showing an example of a tinted plaster fill before drying

The class then discussed tips for mixing and refining plaster, such as how to use a rasp appropriately, when to begin shaving down a fill, and when to stop working it and allow it to dry for wiping down and sanding. Rachael talked about different uses for ready-made spackles and their different properties, pros and cons of using Modostuc, Flugger and PolyFilla. She also referred to different uses of Milliput and gave tips for how to refine it with water before it is dry. This I found particularly useful because refining as much as possible while it is still pliable saves an immense amount of time wasted with sanding or grinding excess material afterwards. I also found the discussion of problems related to B-72 fills helpful as Paraloid is not always easy to work with, and can be difficult to compact. At the end of the day I was very glad to have taken the workshop, and could tell that other participants felt the same as it was a great opportunity to discuss strategies, problems and challenges with conservators with a breadth of experience, and other conservators ranging from those in private practice, to museum conservators who brought expertise with other materials such as wood or stone. It was also a fun way to prepare for the conference, reminiscent of being in graduate school, and getting your hands dirty.

42nd Annual Meeting – Collection Care Session , May 29 “Conservation Assessment at Schloss Leopoldskron in Salzburg, Austria: Promoting Sustainable Choices for the Adaptive Re-use of the Collection and the Site” presented by Rita Berg, Graduate Intern in Paintings Conservation, Brooklyn Museum and Crista Pack, Kress Fellow, Arizona State Museum.

Beautiful landscapes to boot, this talk illustrated how graduate students gained experience in preventive conservation by identifying the collections care needs of a prominent historic site that is also a busy event space/hotel.
In the summer of 2013, four students from New York University and the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation — Rita Berg and Cybele Tom (NYU) and Crista Pack and Emily Schuetz Stryker (WUDPAC)—performed a conservation assessment of the historic collection at the Schloss Leopoldskron, under the supervision of Hannelore Roemich, Professor of Conservation Science at NYU and Joelle Wickens, Associate Conservator and Preventive Team Head at Winterthur. The talk was dedicated to Emily who passed away unexpectedly in February of this year.
Crista and Rita presented by discussing the building’s history, the goals of the project, the group’s workflow and theoretical approach, recommendations for the future, and lessons learned. The Rococo palace was commissioned by Count Leopold Anton Eleutherius von Firmian, and was once owned by Max Reinhardt. It is now an Austrian national historic site, and host of the Salzburg Global Seminar (SGS). The assessment project was co-sponsored by the Kress Foundation and SGS.
The Schloss is not only a magnificent edifice—it is familiar to many as the inspiration for the Von Trapp villa in The Sound of Music—but its historic collection includes paintings, works of art on paper, furniture, decorative arts and sculpture. Unfortunately the collection’s condition has never been systematically documented.
The major goals for the project included developing a long-term strategy for caring for the collection, as well as providing educational training for students who were able to test theoretical approaches in a “real-world” scenario (though it was admittedly hard to think of the bucolic, dream-like setting of this palace as “real-world”). However, major challenges quickly presented themselves to the students: food and beverages could be found throughout the house, candles were lit regularly, there were many open windows, objects vulnerable to theft, chaotic transportation and storage of objects during events, wildlife, dust and dirt accumulation.
The group worked in pairs to assess rooms, and three different types of object groups (prints, paintings and architectural elements) using photography and written survey forms that they had developed. They interviewed staff and local scholars, recorded patterns of use and consulted existing literature from the National Parks Service and the Conservation Assessment Program.
Among their recommendations were that the SGS articulate the presentation of the building and collection directly in its mission statement, appoint a collections manager, establish guidelines for events and handling. They also identified that the paintings, which were among the most valuable objects, are at the highest risk.
Although they found inherent contradictions in the house’s dual function as a historic site and event space/hotel, the students aimed to raise awareness among staff, owners and guests of the collection’s needs. This was done they maintained, keeping in mind the priority of the space’s functionality. This July a new team of conservation students will continue the project following the guidelines established by their predecessors. And judging from the Alpine landscape, lucky them.

Left to right: Rita Berg, Crista Pack, Hannelore Roemich and Cybele Tom at the 42nd Annual Meeting
Left to right: Rita Berg, Crista Pack, Hannelore Roemich and Cybele Tom at the 42nd Annual Meeting