45th Annual Meeting – Objects Specialty Group, May 31st, “Carbon Fiber Fabric and Its Potential for Use in Objects Conservation” by Carolyn Riccardelli

In this talk, objects conservator Carolyn Riccardelli introduced us to carbon fiber fabric and shared some of the ways in which this material has been used for the conservation and mounting/display of objects at the Sherman Fairchild Center for Objects Conservation, Metropolitan Museum of Art (MMA).

The first part of the talk focused on explaining what carbon fiber fabric is and its various uses outside the museum world. It was primarily used in the 60’s and 70’s for aeronautics but is now found its way into many industries such as automotive and sporting goods. Though the widespread adoption of this material wasn’t seen until the late 20th century, carbon fibers have been around since the late 19th century. The first commercial carbon fiber was created by Thomas Edison in 1879 for use as a filament in the first incandescent bulbs. Edison’s carbon fibers were made through the heating of cotton threads or other cellulosic materials. Today’s carbon fibers are made from polyacrylonitrile (PAN).

Carbon fibers are chosen over other fiber reinforced composites, such as fiberglass, when high strength is needed but the material needs to remain lightweight. Some advantages that carbon fiber fabric has that may make it a better option over other materials are:

  • the fibers are conductive
  • they are very small, about 5-10 microns in diameter (smaller than a human hair!)
  • they are chemically resistant
  • they are very strong
  • they have low thermal expansion

There are different ways that you can buy carbon fiber fabric and Carolyn has purchased it as a fabric and a tape from the company Fibre Glast. For the work that’s been done at the MMA using this material, the two most common carbon fiber products have been 6K 5HS satin weave carbon fabric and carbon fiber tape (non-adhesive backed).

Carolyn offered up some tips for the use of carbon fiber fabric for those of us who may consider trying out this material after hearing her talk. Some of the helpful things she pointed out were:

  • Be careful when choosing resins for laminating carbon fiber layers. Different resins can be used but she has primarily used epoxies to ensure strength and rigidity. The epoxy she has purchased is sold by Fibre Glast and is the one the company recommends for use with carbon fiber fabric, the System 2000 epoxy. Carolyn did mention some people have used epoxies from West Systems, however these are not for high performance applications. She stressed the importance of using resins made specifically for carbon fiber fabric because this would ensure that the composite system will perform the way it should, especially when needed for supporting a lot of weight.
  • Several layers of carbon fiber fabric are needed for create a strong enough composite fabric. For the carbon fiber tape, which is good to use when you need strips of support material, 3 layers have generally been enough.
  • In certain cases, when the composite layer of carbon fiber fabric and resin is quite thick, power tools, such as a rotary cutter, can be used to cut away or shape the material. When doing this, you should wear a mask, and you should always wear gloves when handling carbon fiber fabric.

After introducing to what carbon fiber fabric is, its advantages and offering tips for its use, Carolyn walked us through some projects at the MMA where this material was used.

Tullio Lombardo’s Adam
For the reconstruction of Tullio Lombardo’ sculpture of Adam, carbon fiber tape was used to create external armatures and straps during the fitting of fragments. A corset and flange was made out of carbon fiber to help support Adam’s torso. The use of carbon fiber for the treatment of this sculpture can be seen in the video After the Fall: The Conservation of Tullio Lombardo’s Adam as well as the time lapse video Conserving Tullio Lombardo’s Adam: Time-Lapse showing the reconstruction of the sculpture.

Della Robbia’s Prudence tondo
For the Prudence tondo created by artist Andrea della Robbia, carbon fiber was used to aid in mounting the heavy glazed terracotta object. The brass mounts that had been used previously to support the object were no longer strong enough. Therefore, Carolyn turned to carbon fiber fabric in order to create a much stronger, but lightweight, support. Clips were made out of 7 layers of carbon fiber fabric which were laminated together using epoxy. After creating the clips and bending them to the shape needed to support the tondo, they were painted so they were not visible when the object was viewed by the public.

Examples of two of the clips made from carbon fiber fabric for the “Prudence” tondo mount.


Turtle shell mask, Torres Strait Islands
The final example Carolyn talked about was the use of carbon fiber fabric for the repair of a turtle shell mask from the Torres Strait Islands. The mask was made from thin sheets of turtle shell shaped, carved and decorated to depict a human face with a frigate bird on top. The bird appears to be in flight and the wings protrude to either side. One of the wings was damaged and required repair. The repair material needed to be strong to support the wing, but also needed to be light weight. Carbon fiber fabric seemed to be the perfect material. Pieces of carbon fiber fabric were laminated together using epoxy (Epotek was used for the carbon fiber layers in contact with the object and epoxy from Fibre Glast for the other layers). Once the laminated support was created, it was adhered to the damaged area using Paraloid B-72

In closing, Carolyn brought up some things one should consider before purchasing carbon fiber fabric for a project or treatment:

  • What is your budget? – Carbon fiber fabric is expensive and it takes several layers to create a laminate thick enough to provide enough strength and support
  • Do you really need that level of rigidity or such a stiff material? – If not, maybe something like fiberglass based fabric might be a good alternative.
  • Will you be using this material in contact with a metal? – Because carbon fibers are conductive they can promote galvanic corrosion of the metal substrate.
  • Will you be using this in contact with a sensitive material or in a closed environment? – Carbon fiber tape (and likely some of the epoxies used in the lamination process) have not been Oddy tested so it is something to keep in mind when using this material.

Carbon fiber fabric looks to be a really useful material when one needs a strong material for support, that can easily be molded to fit the shape of an object, but still needs to be lightweight. The various examples from the MMA highlighted some interesting applications for this material. I look forward to seeing more presentations in the future on how carbon fiber fabric can be used in objects conservation, and hope to get my hands on some to begin experimenting with it in the lab.

43rd Annual Meeting – Textiles Specialty Group, May 14th, “Lights, Camera, Archaeology: Documenting Archaeological Textile Impressions with Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI)” by Emily Frank

Documenting textile impressions or pseudomorphs on archaeological objects is very challenging. In my own experience, I’ve found trying to photograph textile pseudomorphs, especially when they are poorly preserved, very difficult and involves taking multiple shots with varying light angles, which still often results in poor quality images. This is why Emily Frank‘s paper was of particular interest to me because it provided an alternative to digital photography that would be feasible and more effective in documenting textile impressions: Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI).
RTI is a computational documentation method that allows for multiple images of an object to be merged into one and viewed interactively to allow the direction of light to be changed so that surface features are enhanced. The process involves changing the direction of the light when each photo is taken. Using open source software, a single image is rendered using various algorithms that allows the viewer to move a dial and change the direction/angle of light the image can be viewed at. Additional components in the software allow for the images to be viewed using different filters or light effects that make visualization of surface features easier. RTI is gaining in popularity as a documentation tool in conservation due to its low cost and feasibility and several papers presented at this year’s conference touched on the use of this technique (including this paper I also blogged about).
There are two general light sources used for RTI. One uses a dome outfitted with many LED lights that will turn off and on as photographs are taken. An RTI light dome is pictured on Cultural Heritage Imaging’s website that was used at the Worcester Art Museum (CHI is a non-profit organization that provides training and tools for this technique). However, most conservators use a lower tech method where a light source (a camera flash or lamp for example) is held at a fixed distance from the artifact and manually moved around at different angles when each photo is taken. You can see an example of this method used in the field in this blog post from UCLA/Getty Conservation Program student Heather White.
In her paper, Emily focused on documenting textile or basketry impressions on ceramics and more ephemeral impressions, such as those left in the soil by deteriorated textiles or baskets, using RTI. By using the various tools offered by the RTI software (changing light angle, using diffuse light or changing it so that concave surfaces of impressions look convex), she was able to see fine features not clearly visible with standard digital photography, such as the angle of fibers, striations on the surface of plant material or the weave structure. For impressions of textiles left in soil (these were mock-ups she made in potting soil) she noted that digital photography was not very effective in recording these because there was no contrast and the impressions were so fragile that they could not be lifted or moved for better examination or imaging. However using RTI she was able to clearly see that the textiles were crocheted.
In describing her set up and work flow, Emily took photos of the impressions indoors, as well as outdoors (for the soil impressions). She was able to take good images outdoors, but it was better to do RTI at dusk with lower light. She took a minimum of 12 shots per impression at 3 different angles. For her light source she used a flash. In all, she said it took her about 10 minutes to shoot each impression.
When compared to digital photography, RTI is a useful and feasible technique for the documentation of impressions, and worked well for most of the impressions Emily tried to record. It seems that RTI worked well as the stand alone documentation method for impressions in about 40% of the images she took, but is more effective as an examination and documentation tool in combination with standard digital photography. RTI is on its way to becoming a more standardized documentation method in conservation. It appears to be effective for recording low contrast, low relief surfaces, such as textile impressions, and may be the best method to record ephemeral or extremely fragile surfaces that are not possible to preserve. I’m excited about the potential of RTI for impressions and look forward to trying it out the next time I have to record textile impressions or organic pseudomorphs on an archaeological object.

43rd Annual Meeting – OSG Tips Session, May 16, "Plaster Cleaning Tests" by Kathryn Brugioni

In this tip presented during the OSG Tips session luncheon, Kathryn Brugioni discussed the use of Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) for evaluating whether certain dry cleaning methods for plaster abraded or damaged the surface of the object.
Dry methods are preferred over wet methods for cleaning plaster because of the risk of solubilizing the substrate during treatment. When Kathryn was presented with a heavily soiled plaster bust that required cleaning, she turned to the use of vinyl erasers as a cleaning method. Using previously published information that evaluated various types of erasers (Williams and Lauffenburger 1995; Pearlstein, et al. 1982) she decided to test two different PVC-based erasers made by Staedtler: the 526 50 Mars plastic eraser and the 527 05 Mars eraser strip refills, to evaluate not only how well they cleaned soiled plaster, but whether they abraded the surface.
Once she chose what dry cleaning method/materials to test, Kathryn was left with the question of how to evaluate surfaces after cleaning to determine the level of abrasion or scratches resulting from the treatment.  Examination using SEM imaging has been used (Wharton, et al. 1990) , but it is a technique that may not be available to all conservators.  So she looked to a method that could be more accessible: RTI.
RTI, or polynomial texture mapping, is an imaging technique that allows for an interactive display of an image under different lighting conditions.  Multiple images are taken of an object where the object is kept in a fixed position, but the light source moves.  The images are processed using using freely available software which combines all the images taken into a single image presented in an interface that allows for the direction of light to be moved across the image at different angles highlighting surface features. (The non-profit organization Cultural Heritage Imaging (CHI) is one of the leaders in this type of imaging for cultural heritage and has lots of information on its website about this technique, steps on how to do it and the software needed to process the images).  The software  also allows for different types of light or shadow effects to be rendered which may improve or further highlight surface examination.  All you need for RTI is a camera, moveable light source and some metal spheres (ball bearings) as markers that help the software determine the direction/angle of the light.  These are all things that conservators have on hand or can readily purchase (like the ball bearings) making this type of surface examination/imaging more accessible and much cheaper than an SEM.
Kathryn cleaned the surfaces of plaster test coupons using the erasers and imaged them with RTI before and after cleaning.  She soon saw that it was possible to see scratches on the surface using this technique.  However, she wanted a way to quantify the scratches and determine what the limit was in terms of scratch size observable using RTI.  She abraded plaster coupons with a range of grades of micromesh, from 400-1800, and then examined the surfaces using RTI.  She noted that you could detect scratches made with up to 800 grit micromesh, but higher grits, like 1800, created more subtle scratches that were not as easily discernable.
Comparing the scratches made by the two erasers on the plaster coupons to those of different micromesh grades, the scratches made by the Mars plastic eraser were similar to those made by 1200 grit micromesh (measured to be about 34μm size scratches) and the eraser strips made scratches similar to 466 grit micromesh (measured to be about 60μm sized scratches).  So the eraser strips are much more abrasive to plaster surfaces than the plastic eraser.
Based on Kathryn’s findings, it looks like RTI can be used to evaluate any surface scratches or changes caused through the abrasive action of erasers used for dry cleaning plaster. Though there are limitations to the use of this technique, and fine scratches may not be readily visible, RTI is a useful, and accessible, examination tool and can provide important information on surface changes caused by certain cleaning methods.

Pearlstein, E., D. Cabelli, A. King, and N. Indictor. 1982.The Effect of Eraser Treatment on Paper. JAIC 22(1): 1–12.
Wharton, G., S. Lansing Maish, W.S. Ginell. 1990. A Comparative Study of Silver Cleaning Abrasives. JAIC. 29(1): 13-31.
Williams, J. and J. Lauffenburger. 1995. Testing Erasers used to Clean Marble Surfaces. Objects Specialty Group Postprints, Vol. 3: 118-124.

40th International Symposium on Archaeometry

The 40th International Symposium on Archaeometry (ISA) was held earlier this year in Los Angeles (May 19-23, 2014). The first two days of the conference took place at the Getty Villa, and was then moved to the California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI), UCLA for the remainder of the symposium. There were over 300 scholars and students from all over the world who took part in the conference, with diverse research backgrounds including archaeology, conservation science, art history, materials science and engineering, chemistry, geoscience, and physics.
The symposium covered the following major sessions: “Stone”, “Plaster and Pigments”, “Ceramics, Glazes, Glass and Vitreous Materials”, “Metals and Metallurgical Ceramics”, “Archaeochronometry and New Trends in Luminescence Dating”, “Human Environment and Bioarchaeology”, and “Remote Sensing, Geophysical Prospection and Field Archaeology”. Many important and new research results were presented during the talks followed by Q&A sessions and panel discussions. Over 200 posters were presented at the Getty Villa and UCLA during four poster sessions related to the different session themes.
Two keynote presentations were given during the symposium. Dr. Ian Freestone (Institute of Archaeology, UCL) gave a talk on the use of different archaeometric methods and techniques to identify and determine production events and provenance the organization of production of archaeological materials. During his talk, he presented several interesting case studies on ceramics, glass and metals, which were very informative and instructive. Dr. Terry Brown (Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Manchester) reviewed the history of ancient DNA (aDNA) research in biomolecular archaeology. In addition to successful case studies where aDNA sequencing was applied to ancient human remains, he also discussed the current limitations and challenges of this research, as well as future trends.
For the first time at the symposium, a themed session on “Forensic Science Investigations in Art and Archaeology”, chaired by Dr. Ioanna Kakoulli (UCLA/Getty Conservation Program and Materials Science and Engineering Department at UCLA) was introduced. This special session focused on the challenges and technological difficulties pertaining to forensic science investigations in art and archaeology. Topics covered included the recovery of artifacts, the criminal investigation associated with looted artifacts requiring material characterization, identification and provenance of looted objects, and repatriation of looted antiquities. Agnieszka Helman-Wazny (University of Arizona) talked about the use of fiber analysis to trace manuscripts with unknown origins from the Silk Road. Patrick Boehnke (UCLA) presented preliminary results on the use of strontium isotopic and elemental analysis by secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS) to help the Dept. of Homeland Security provenance looted glass artifacts with unknown origins and heterogeneous compositions. Dr. Ernst Pernicka (Curt-Engelhorn Zentrum Archäometrie and University of Heidelberg) gave a talk on the analysis and authentication of the Sky Disc of Nebra through various scientific methods and approaches. Dr. C. Brian Rose (University of Pennsylvania) reviewed the case of the Troy gold in the Penn Museum for which a repatriation claim was filed by Turkey. Lastly Dr. Timothy Potts (J. Paul Getty Museum) gave a thorough review on the evolution, over recent decades, of U.S. museum practices and policies relating to the acquisition of antiquities, as well as the issues of authenticity and conservation analysis that are involved. Unlike other sessions at ISA, the forensic science session did not have a Q&A at the end of each talk but instead held a panel discussion with all five presenters and the session organizer/moderator. One of the more lively discussions focused on the analysis of archaeological objects from collections with little or no provenance. A debate arose as to the value of analyzing these materials that lacked archaeological context. Issues with the authentication of antiquities without context were also brought up, as well as the role this analysis plays in the looting of artifacts and the illicit antiquities trade.
forensic symp.
Though there was no session specifically focused on topics related to conservation and preservation, there were many papers of interest to those in our field. The North American conservation graduate programs were also well represented. Faculty, conservation students and researchers affiliated with the UCLA/Getty Conservation Program (https://uclagettyprogram.wordpress.com/2014/05/19/isa-2014/), Buffalo State College (http://artconservation.buffalostate.edu/publications), WUDPAC, and Queen’s University presented papers and posters, and moderated sessions. The abstracts of all the ISA presentations can be found here: http://www.archaeometry2014.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/ISA-2014-Program-and-Abstracts-Book-Online.pdf
ISA 2014 introduced attendees to many interesting topics related to the analysis of archaeological objects and archaeological research. The most recent key breakthroughs in archaeological science were presented. Fruitful discussions on current limitations and challenges were conducted, and innovative ideas on future research trends were exchanged. The symposium provided an open and friendly panel for scholars and students from different research backgrounds and countries to participate and communicate in this interdisciplinary field of study.
The next ISA conference will take place in the spring of 2016 in Kalamata, Greece offering a beautiful and relaxing place (by the seaside) to learn about the latest archaeometric research. We hope to see you there!
co-written by Yuan Lin (PhD Candidate, Materials Science & Engineering, UCLA) and Vanessa Muros (Conservation Specialist/Lecturer, UCLA/Getty Conservation Program)
This post was developed by the AIC’s Archaeological Discussion Group (ADG). For more information about ADG, please visit ADG’s Facebook page.

42nd Annual Meeting, Objects Session, May 31, Pine Pitch: New Treatment Protocols for a Brittle and Crumbly Conservation Problem by Nancy Odegaard, et al.

In this paper presented at Saturday’s Objects Session, Nancy Odegaard, Marilen Pool and Christina Bisulca described a new treatment protocol they established, along with their colleagues Brunella Santarelli, Madeleine Neiman, and Gina Watkinson, for treating baskets with deteriorated, pine pitch coatings.  The treatment protocol was devised after conducting a survey of the basket collection at Arizona State Museum, where the majority of the pitch-coated ethnographic baskets (70 out of about 100) had unstable, blanched, cracked and brittle surfaces.  The baskets required treatment so that they could be moved to a new location.
The majority of the baskets were Apache and were made using a twining or coiling technique.  The pine pitch, obtained from the piñon pine would have been applied to the surface of the baskets as a waterproofing measure.  Two colors of pitch were observed on the exterior of the baskets, each with different condition issues.  Some baskets were covered with a red pitch that appeared translucent.  The other baskets were covered with a dark brown to black, opaque pitch. Both colors of pitch had suffered degradation due to factors such as UV, temperature and pollutants, however the red pitch appeared more unstable and had a formed a series of fine cracks.  The darker pitch had deeper cracks.
Because the baskets had to be moved, a treatment protocol was established to stabilize the surfaces so the baskets could be safely transported to a new storage area. Previous treatments for deteriorated pitch had included consolidation with solvents or the use of heat (using a butane torch!) to reintegrate the cracked, crumbly surface.  The ASM team was looking for another treatment option, and one that took into consideration the vast numbers of objects that required treatment.  Borrowing from methods used to clean aged varnish in the field of paintings conservation, the conservators decided to reactivate the pitch using a solvent to stabilize the flaking material and reattach the crumbly surfaces.
Prior to any treatment, the conservators wanted to get a cultural perspective on the treatment since they did not want to add material, alter the pitch or appearance of the basket and wanted to make sure the objected retain their cultural integrity and significance. Nancy consulted with a Navajo weaver who said that pitch baskets should always look shiny and therefore reactivating the pitch, and the subsequent shiny appearance the material would take, was acceptable.
Because of the success in the use of ethanol in cleaning aged, pine-based varnish from paintings, that was the solvent chosen for the reactivation of the pine pitch on the ethnographic baskets.

  • The first stage of the treatment was to place the baskets (many supported by foam rings or, if they fit, by large glass beakers) in an ethanol solvent chamber for 24 hours.  This would condition the surface and prepare it for further treatment.
  • The baskets were then removed from the solvent chamber and areas of the surface sprayed with ethanol using a Dahlia sprayer for a more direct application of the solvent.
  • Brushes, foam swabs wrapped in PTFE (Teflon) tape and Kim Wipes (lint-free wipes) soaked in ethanol were then used to relocate any loose flakes.
  • After one side was treated, the pitch was left to air dry for a few hours, then the basket was turned and the other side sprayed with ethanol and flakes reattached.
  • When the entire pitch surface had been treated, the basket was left to air dry for about 24 hours or until the pitch no longer felt tacky.

During treatment the conservators noticed that the transparent red pitch reacted faster to the ethanol.  The darker pitch was less soluble and more pressure was needed to re-adhere fragments.  They also noticed that for areas with damaged basketry elements, the reactivated pitch served to reinforce those areas of the plant fiber so that no further stabilization of those woven elements were required.
Analytical Investigations
In addition to the treatment, instrumental analysis was conducted to characterize the two types of pitch and determine if there were any changes in the pitch before and after treatment.  The analysis was conducted using Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR) and optical microscopy.
The first investigations looked at the two types of pitch and whether there were any changes observed before and after treatment.  Analysis showed that there were no differences before and after treatment and therefore reactivation and exposure to ethanol did not alter the material chemically.  There were differences, however, noted between the red and dark pine pitch. The transparent red pitch had a low aromatic component as opposed to the dark brown-black material, which had a high aromatic hydrocarbon content.
A series of experiments were then conducted in order to figure out what accounts for these differences and it turns out it has to due with how clean the pine pitch is and at what temperature it was initially heated to during application.  Using optical microscopy, the dark pitch seemed to contain woody materials and had inclusions of bark.  Could this be the explanation for the differences in the aromatic content?
Samples of resin from piñon pines in the Navajo area were collected and heated to different temperatures and then examined using microscopy as well as FTIR.  It turns out that if the pitch is clean and does not contain any woody components, there are little to no aromatics.  However, when bark is present in the pitch, the aromatic content is similar to that seen on the pitch coating the ethnographic baskets.  The heating temperature also plays a role not only in the color, and a temperature of 180° C produces pitch similar to that seen on the ASM baskets.
This was a really informative talk describing a new approach to not only the treatment of crumbly pine pitch, but also a protocol for treating large numbers of unstable baskets.  The talk was of particular interest to me because some close colleagues and I have often encountered similar types of condition issues with different resinous materials on archaeological objects (for example bitumen coatings on ceramics, bitumen or pitch on baskets, natural resins on Egyptian funerary objects and mummies) and have often discussed the need for approaches to the stabilization of these materials other than consolidation using synthetic resins.   The literature is a bit lacking in terms of the treatment of these types of materials and it’s wonderful that Nancy and her team at ASM are adding to this body of information by sharing their treatment methods and findings (and hopefully publishing them in the OSG Postprints or another publication!).
The next stage of the pine pitch/basketry project will be to work on the archaeological basketry collection and I looked forward to hearing about their approaches to the stabilization of pitch on those artifacts.

42nd Annual Meeting – Opening Reception, May 29, de Young Museum

This year’s opening reception for the 42 Annual Meeting was held at the de Young Museum.  The museum is located in Golden Gate Park, and the venue, surrounding area, and reception did not disappoint.  The museum provided a great place for the conference attendees to meet up with friends and colleagues, meet new professionals in the field and just have fun after a full day at the conference.
Not only was it a great atmosphere for socializing, but the food and drink did not disappoint.  For you foodies out there, the grub at the reception was amazing!  But then that seemed to be the theme of the day with delicious pastries and baked goods offered at both coffee breaks earlier in the day.  Check out some pictures from the reception below.  And a warning…most are of the food, because it was that good!

Everyone lines up at the end of the first day of the annual meeting to board buses to the De Young for the opening reception.
Everyone lines up at the end of the first day of the annual meeting to board buses to the De Young for the opening reception.

Everyone enjoyed the reception in the main entrance hall of the museum.
Everyone enjoyed the reception in the main entrance hall of the museum.


 IMG_1349  IMG_1344

There was sushi as well as a noodle dish served in small take-out containers (very cute!)

Very large bamboo steamers filled with different types of dumplings were set up on some tables.
Very large bamboo steamers filled with different types of dumplings were set up on some tables.

A jazz band was on hand to entertain attendees during the event.
A jazz band was on hand to entertain attendees during the event.


 IMG_1347 IMG_1348

So much food…cheese, quiche, vegetable paninis, pasta, chicken satay, mash potatoes and a meat station!

This would certainly be a conservation challenge! On display in the area of the reception  were these amazing hats and costumes were part of an exhibit celebrating 40 years of the revue "Beach Blanket Babylon".
This would certainly be a conservation challenge! On display in the area of the reception were these amazing hats and costumes that were part of an exhibit celebrating 40 years of the musical revue “Beach Blanket Babylon”.

Fully stocked cash bar.  These guys can make a mean margarita!
Fully stocked cash bar. These guys can make a mean margarita!

Just when you thought I couldn't possibly put in another food photo-the dessert bar!
Just when you thought I couldn’t possibly put in another food photo-the dessert bar!

This Opening Reception was definitely a great way to kick off #AICSF and I can’t wait for next year’s reception in Miami!

AIC’s 40th Annual Meeting – Angel’s Project, “AIC Chicks Make Bricks,” San Miguel Chapel, May 8th

One of this year’s Angel Projects took place at San Miguel Chapel (sometimes also called the San Miguel Mission) in Santa Fe. Avigail Charnov, architectural conservator at Jablonksi Building Conservation and ASG member who organized the project, wanted AIC member’s to get involved and help in the restoration of this important historic structure. The restoration project of the chapel is being undertaken by Cornerstones Community Partnerships, a non-profit organization which works with communities to restore important historic monuments and structures in New Mexico. The projects they work on are those requested by communites and they are committed to involving the community in the work that takes place.They work primarily on adobe structures and incorporate traditional materials and methods in the restoration of the places they preserve.

San Miguel Chapel

This year’s all female team of Angels, made up of architectural, paper, paintings and objects conservators, worked with Cornerstone’s project members to make mud bricks that will be used in the repair of the historic walls of the church and re-plastered previously repaired walls.

History of San Miguel Chapel
San Miguel Chapel plays an important role in the history of Santa Fe. It is one of the oldest structures in the city and was originally built when the Spanish came into the area in 1610 (or 1620, the records are not so clear). The Franciscans who came to the area at that time brought with them Tlaxcalan Indians from Mexico, who had helped them conquer the Aztecs, to build the church. The church was in use until 1640 when it was destroyed but then rebuilt. It was destroyed again in 1680 during the Pueblo Revolt when the local indigenous people turned against the Spanish and colonization, as well as the imposition of the Catholic religion. The Spanish were pushed out of the area until 1692. When they reconquered the area, they saw that the local people had torn down the church as part of their rejection of Catholicism and the Spanish. But the Spanish were not deterred and rebuilt the church in 1710 (a date confirmed using dendrochronological dating of the timbers used to construct the church). This 18th century layout is the basic church layout we see today.

The carved altar screen, or reredo, in the chapel was made in 1798 and is the oldest reredo in New Mexico.

The mission became a school, St Michael’s High School, in the 1850’s. In the 1880’s, an earthquake caused structural damage to the church and it was going to be torn down, but the building was important to the community and the city and so it was saved. It was rebuilt in the Mission Style, which is what we see in most of the building today. The front however is in the Santa Fe style (modified in this style in 1955). One of the main changes that occurred at this time was to replace the mud plastered adobe with a cement stucco layer. Cement was also used to reinforce some of the adobe bricks. Areas of the roof that were flat were also altereed to have a pitch and drain into a courtyard on the southside of the church. These changes would cause problems in the future, but more about that in a bit.

Project director Jake Barrow shows us some of the stucco applied in the 1950’s.

In 1968, the high school grew too large for the chapel and associated buildings and moved to a different site. Over the years, the building was not maintained, though is still held church services, and was in need of repair. That’s when the community contacted Cornerstones for help.

Condition of the Chapel
The Chapel suffered damage primarily due to repairs done in the 1950’s which used materials with poor ageing and that were incompatible with the adobe. The stucco applied at this time covered up the adobe bricks so their condition could not be monitored for any maintenance to take place. Changes to the pitch of the roof also caused problems, as did poor drainage in the courtyard off the north side of the church and run off of rain water toward the front side of the chapel. Cornerstones worked with the Getty Conservation Institute who came out to conduct a condition assessment of the chapel. They found damage due to moisture and deterioration of wooden supports in the wall in addition to the items mentioned above.

Wall showing new adobe bricks (upper section of photo) inserted into the wall as part of the restoration, and original adobe bricks.

Restoration work
The work Cornerstones has undertaken has mainly focused on removing all the stucco applied in the 1950’s, replacing any damaged/deteriorated adobe bricks, reinforcing and replacing the wooden beam supports and replastering the walls with mud. As part of the committment to community involvement they allow people to volunteer in the restoration process. That’s where this year’s Angels got to contribute and also learn about traditional building techniques.

The day started off by learning how to make mud bricks that will be used in the repair of the walls. The bricks are made by mixing alluvial soil (made of silt, clay and fine sand) with coarser sand and straw. The soil and coarse sand are mixed in a 2:1 ratio of soil:sand.

Straw is added after the soil and sand have been mixed a bit and some water has been added. The straw acts as a binder and helps to hold the mud together. The amount of straw added is a basket ball sized clump to each batch of 30:15 shovel-fulls of soil:sand.

Once mixed, the mud is taken in a wheel barrow over to the sidewalk where we’ll be making the mud bricks. The wooden brick molds are prewet first to make sure the mud doesn’t stick to them. The mud is then added to the mold (which makes 2 bricks at a time) and tamped into the mold by hand. When both sides of the mold have been filled, the mold is lifted and voila, you have mud bricks!

After making mud bricks, we learned how to make mud plaster and how to plaster the walls. Mud plaster is applied over the walls to create a protective layer over the bricks and to act as a sacrificial layer to the elements so the bricks don’t deteriorate so readily and don’t need to be replaced so often. The smooth plaster layer needs to be maintained and requires re-plastering about every 2 years.

To make the mud plaster, we first need some very fine and pure clay. The clay Cornerstones is using comes from Nambe. This clay dries to a color very similar to the 1950’s facade. The clay is first screened to remove large pieces and create a fine texture. The lumps of clay are broken up with a pick and then tossed against an upright screen.

The fine clay that comes through on the other side is added to water and mechanically mixed to make mud. The mud is then taken and mixed with sand and chopped straw. The mud to sand ratio for the plaster is 3:1. The amount of straw that is added is a few handfuls.

To apply the plaster, the wall is prewet first and then the plaster is applied with a large trowel. Not much smoothing or working is required, and too much smoothing can cause the plaster to fall off. The plaster is applied across the wall to create a layer about 1/8″ thick. We managed to replaster the lower half of a wall of the facade of the chapel and we did a pretty good job for the first time. But that’s no surprise since we’re all conservators and therefore perfectionists!

I had a great time volunteering for this project and loved learning how mud bricks are made. It was great to work with such an enthusiastic team of conservators and members of the Cornerstones project. It was also really satisfying to know that while we were having so much fun, we were also helping to restore an important historic structure and that the bricks we made that day, would some day be placed into the newly repaired walls of San Miguel Chapel. If you’re in the Santa Fe area and want to volunteer with Cornerstones at San Miguel Chapel, you can find more information here.

The Angels’ Project team along with members of Cornerstones Community Partnerships

AIC’s 40th Annual Meeting – Colleagues Mix & Mingle at the Opening Reception, May 9

The Albuquerque Museum of Art and History was the backdrop for the opening reception of this year’s Annual Meeting. The large open spaces of the museum, the lovely outdoor garden and the spacious outdoor theater and patio provided a great space for us to catch up with colleagues and meet new ones, while enjoying good food and viewing the museum’s collection on a beautiful Albuquerque evening.

The Albuquerque Museum of Art and History, location of the opening reception
The reception is in full swing in the main entrance hall of the museum.

Quartets, made up of musicians from a local school, entertained guests at different locations in and outside the museum.

Lots of delicious food was served (the crab cakes were my favorite!)
This poor man seems to have been waiting a long time for his drink.
Dessert (in the form of different varieties of mini cupcakes) was served in the sculpture garden.

Conservators “Keep Austin Weird”-WAAC Annual Meeting, Final Day

The final day of talks at the WAAC Annual Meeting did not disappoint. There was another great group of talks in the half day session that included practical information as well as papers that discussed larger ethical issues presented during certain conservation approaches.

A talk by Wyndell Faulk (Concept to Fabrication: The Deniro Collection, “Men of Honor” Deep Dive Suit Stabilization Device), a preparator at the Harry Ransom Center, explained a system he developed for displaying a very heavy canvas and rubber dive suit used in the movie “Men of Honor”. As we learned that morning, Robert De Niro donated a collection of papers, movie props, films and costumes (about 1300 items) documenting his film career. This dive suit was one of those items and Wyndell had to prepare a mount to be able to hang the suit on the wall to display it. He created an acrylic support, like a hanger, which he padded, that would fit into the neck and shoulders of the suit. The support could then be tied to the wall to display it. This was a great example of how his creativity transformed the idea of a hanger into a “deep dive suit stabilization device” to safely display this object.

Later that morning, a talk by Albrecht Gumlich (Juggling “Material Time Bombs”-Dealing with Ephemeral, Mixed Media Items from Special Collections at the Getty Research Institute), objects conservator at the Getty Research Institute (GRI), made us think about how we conserve mixed media, contemporary art made of materials that decay due to inherent vices in a collection that is accessible to researchers. Items in the collection are made from plastics that degrade, metals that corrode, have items that contain food or other organic materials that decompose. Albrecht talked about the struggle between wanting to preserve these items, knowing that the best way to do that is to keep them for example in cold storage, but needing to step back to allow researchers to look at the materials because the items are in a research collection. In order to help monitor the condition of these pieces during their life in the research collection, a system of periodic checks of the more sensitive materials, or those more likely to decay, has been implemented. Condition sheets have been made to record the condition of all the components of these “time bombs” and indicate materials that may need more frequent examination. Other staff members at the GRI, such as registrars and interns are trained to identify and record any potentially problematic items so that several people are involved in the documentation. The information will be incorporated into the GRI’s collection database and will be shared with other institutions that have similar items in their collection. Looking at the items Albrecht was discussing in his talk, it certainly made me think about how difficult it must be to preserve these ephemeral works of art that could degrade at any moment. It also brought up a lot of questions about what should we really be trying to preserve with contemporary art. Should the focus be on preserving the physical items or should we, as conservators, accept that things decay and we cannot preserve them? Should the focus be on preserving the artist’s intent, even if it means replacing materials or being able to only keep a photo of an art object and not the object itself? These are larger questions that conservators who deal with these types of collections must often ask themselves, and it definitely creates a lot of interesting ethical discussions.

Looking back at the conference, I certainly enjoyed listening to such a broad range of talks and discussing many conservation issues with colleagues. It was a great first WAAC conference for me and I can’t wait for next year’s conference in Palm Springs. And as for the quote in the title, “Keep Austin Weird” is something you hear or see all over the city. Coined about a decade ago, it celebrates the uniqueness, and sometimes eccentricities, of the city and local businesses. Looking at the range of papers presented over the course of the last 4 days, you can certainly say that conservators are working on some very unique materials. By presenting our work at the conference, we, in our own way, certainly kept Austin weird.

The value of collaborating with different experts-WAAC Annual Meeting, Day 3

One of the things I’m most enjoying about the WAAC Annual Meeting is the variety of the papers that have been presented. I usually attend conferences that focus on my area of specialization or have to pick and choose which talks to go to maybe missing something that could be very interesting or relevant. The other advantage of having such a mix of topics and professionals presenting is that you can get non-conservators presenting about work relating to the preservation of art. We had two talks today from specialists who work with conservators or are interested in the field of conservation. It was great to see them take part in this conference and want to share their work with us. Conservation is a very collaborative discipline and for some of us, working with different experts is not something that is very surprising. It is always helpful, however, to be reminded that this kind of participation in conservation conferences is valuable because we can learn from another area of expertise and see information from a different perspective.

In the morning session, Jamie Hascall, a preparator with the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs, Exhibits Division, presented a talk titled The multipurpose mount: An adjustable support for photography and radiography of fragile Dinetah pottery. A group of Navajo ceramic vessels, that were seized by the Bureau of Land Management, were brought to the conservation department of the New Mexico Dept. of Cultural Affairs for examination and conservation. The vessels were generally intact, though some were damaged and had a few missing areas. What was most interesting about these vessels was that some had been repaired when the vessels were in use. Cracks or broken areas had been reinforced with plant fiber ties and then had some kind of resinous material, thought to be pine resin, applied. The conservators were tasked with documenting the vessels through photography and x-radioagraphy, but because the vessels had a pointed bottom, positioning them for photography was difficult.

Having worked with conservators, Jaime was aware of the needs of the conservators in regards to documentation and the needs of the vessel in terms of stabilization. He worked with the conservators to come up with a mount that would sufficiently support the vessel but be unobtrusive in a photo. He designed an acrylic telescopic stand with a movable arm that inserts into the vessel to hold it in place. A Volara form sits at the end of the insert and expands to support the interior of the vessel. Nylon clips at the base of the stand supports the bottom of the vessel. The stand was made out of acrylic so that it could be used when the vessels were x-rayed and not appear in the xray. Instead of questions at the end of the talk, Jaime and the conference attendees started brain storming about ways to modify the mount if increased support was needed on the bottom or interior (this turned into a discussion about the use of weather balloons!). Jaime mentioned he is working on a book about mountmaking, and after hearing his creative ideas for supporting these vessels, we are all eagerly awaiting it.

In the afternoon session, Michelle Bushey, a chemistry professor at Trinity College, and one of her undergraduate chemistry students, Madeline Corona, presented on a series of interdisciplinary research projects combining art and science in a talk titled Have (XRF) gun, will travel-To museums and historical sites! Interdisciplinary studies at the San Antonio Museum of Art and the Alamo. Like the presentation we heard yesterday by JoAnn Peters, Michelle also teaches a course that introduces undergraduate chemistry students to conservation science. The projects discussed included collaborations with chemists, geologists, curators, conservators, art professors and students. Michelle talked a bit about the course and then Madeline took over to talk about the 3 projects they worked on: the study of markings on Greek pottery, the analysis of a marble sculpture of Antinous, and a study of Spanish colonial pigments at the Alamo. The department was able to purchase a portable XRF unit and used that technique for most of the analysis. Though the work on some of these projects is still ongoing they’ve already obtain some interesting results, such as finding the remains of gilding on the back of the head of the sculpture. This is another great example of the way conservation, art and science come together and can create great collaborative projects between chemists, conservators and museums. This is also a wonderful opportunity to educate students about conservation and chemistry. As a result of her work with Michelle, Madeline has decided to pursue a degree in art conservation.

These two presentations are just a sampling of the types of collaborations that occur in the field of conservation between conservators and other experts. They certainly highlight the interdisciplinary nature of the field. They also illustrate the importance of working with other specialists and the value their expertise has to our work, conservation education and outreach.