|AIC members from all specialty groups are invited to attend and participate in the event “A failure shared is not a failure: learning from our mistakes,” happening on Saturday, June 2nd, from 4:30 to 6:00 p.m. — click here to add it to your Sched. We will gather and share our cautionary tales, including treatment errors, mishaps, and accidents, with the idea of helping our colleagues not to repeat them.
Discussing mistakes is a hot topic that has already been embraced by others in our community. Two examples of events scheduled during the month of May are: “Mistakes were made,” a regular feature at the American Alliance of Museums conference, and the lecture “Conservation Confidential” hosted by our conservation colleagues across the pond in the Independent Paper Conservators’ Group.
Participants can speak for up to 5 minutes; if you prefer to remain anonymous, a reader will be happy to present your tale on your behalf. If you are unable to attend AIC’s Annual Meeting but would like to submit a tale to be read by one of our organizers or a colleague, please reach out.
Screens to project PowerPoint slides containing your images/video will be available (16:9 format), and a Dropbox folder will be made available for submissions. Please also bring your presentation on a USB Drive (highly encouraged). Time permitting, audience members inspired by their colleagues will be welcome to present. If appropriate (and acceptable to the speaker), the floor will be opened for questions and discussion following presentations. Extra points for suggesting safeguards and solutions!
Please note that this is a forum for sharing personal mistakes and solutions only. Participants are requested not to name other persons, organizations, work places, and avoid politics—institutional, national, and global!
The event will include a cash bar, so come, relax, unwind, share, laugh, groan, and learn. We plan to publish the event for those who wish to be included.
If you are interested in participating or have questions about the event, please contact Tony Sigel at email@example.com or by calling 617-767-1900 (cell), or Rebecca Gridley at firstname.lastname@example.org by May 10th.
Please include 2-3 quick sentences introducing your topic and indicate whether you plan to use a PowerPoint with images and/or video.
See you in Houston!
Like the conservation treatment of the World War II plane “Flak-Bait,” detailed in a talk given earlier in the Opening Sessions by Lauren Horelick, the treatment of Pooh and Friends was an example of a complex textile treatment that straddled the border of disciplines. The three-dimensional plush toys, made from fabric and sawdust filling, were an excellent example of a treatment that can cross barriers and generate interest in textile conservation. These beloved characters got another well-deserved moment in the spotlight on Tuesday afternoon, along with their champion Alison Castaneda.
The five small stuffed animals were the original toys on which A. A. Milne based his charming stories. The first toy Milne purchased for his son Christopher Robin in the 1920s was a standard teddy bear from Harrods. Soon, Pooh, as he was named, was joined by Piglet, Eyore, Roo, and Tigger, all of whom came alive with the unique voices and personalities given to them by Daphne and Alan Milne. When A. A. Milne, who had already been an accomplished adult author and poet, was inspired to reach other children with the magical world him and his wife had created for their son, it was important to ensure the characters were true to life. The iconic illustrations by E. H. Shepard were based on the toys themselves, a detail that was important to Milne.
Following the success of the stories, the toys began their world tour. Publisher E. P. Dutton & Co. brought them on a PR trip to New York City and further, visiting libraries, schools, museums, and malls, delighting children across the globe. Life on the road took its toll, however, and by the time the rag-tag crew was donated to the New York Public Library in 1987, the toys were worn, misshapen, and the multiple campaigns of repair were not always skillfully performed.
While initially put on display in this state, complaints began to mount regarding the worn appearance. The historic toys appeared uncared for. Furthermore, the damage and rough repairs had morphed the animals, almost Frankenstein-like, into characters that no longer matched Shepard’s sweet illustrations. The treatment that Castaneda undertook was therefore designed not just to stabilize, but return Pooh and Friends to a state that reflected their original design without hiding the wear and tear that is a natural outcome of a well-loved toy.
The first challenge was unpicking the history of repairs. By comparing old photographs and accounts from the family, Castaneda was able to differentiate between “historic” repairs, or those performed during the comparatively short time that Pooh and Friends spent with Christopher Robin, and those undertaken on tour. During examination, it became apparent that the level of skill and care in the lovingly stitched Milne repairs differed vastly from the later rough repairs provided by the publishing company. Due to the importance of the early history of the toys, Castaneda only removed these latter repairs.
The difference was staggering, especially in the Roo toy, whose neck had lengthened at some point after leaving Christopher Robin, resulting in an alarming, elongated appearance. Some of the repairs were so extensive that once removed, little fabric was left. Because the appearance of the toys was integral to their meaning, and some structural integrity was required to keep the sawdust filling from pouring out, Castaneda created fills with cotton fabric inserted underneath the original fabric. Overlays with toned alpaca plush and/or dyed net were used to visually infill the often extensive losses.
Castaneda didn’t just replace paw pads and shorten stretched necks. She also created custom mounts that would gently support the toys on display and while travelling so that they could be safely enjoyed by generations of children to come.
This year ECPN rolled out a new program during a pre-meeting session that allowed poster presenters another venue to share their projects and research. I was very excited for this session because I have felt overwhelmed by the number of posters and limited free time to view them. A similar sentiment was later echoed at the AIC Business Meeting. I hope that ECPN (or AIC generally) considers organizing a similar session next meeting and I would encourage anyone looking for more engagement with poster authors to attend.
This session was in no way comprehensive of all the poster submissions. ECPN members received a notification about the session about a year before the meeting. However, ECPN contacted all poster authors once they were accepted to the general AIC poster session. The email solicitation encouraged “emerging conservation professionals” and “topics relevant to ECPs (not necessarily authored by ECPs)” according to Rebecca Gridley, ECPN Vice Chair and one of the organizers of the session. There were 14 presenters total this year, which were chosen from email responses of poster authors indicating an interest in participating. The final selection was chosen to offer a range of talks across specialties and include speakers spanning the ECPN demographic, according to Gridley. Unfortunately not every author interested was able to be included due to time restraints of the session, but ECPN is considering how this could be improved in the future.
This year’s inaugural Lightning Round did seem to have mostly young presenters including pre-program, graduate students, and recent graduates. It does seem that ECPN is trying to be more inclusive and the demographic of “ECP” is only loosely defined. Certainly the audience this year was more diverse than the presenters and included AIC Fellows and other more established professionals in the field. At the same time, the environment of the Lightning Round felt very safe and welcoming. We were seated at round tables, which was more casual than auditorium seating. This was a great opportunity for first-time presenters to get their feet wet. One of the speakers was a first-time attendee and presented on her first conservation treatment ever as a pre-program. This session promoted information sharing and dialogue—activities that I personally feel will only help strengthen our field.
Alex Nichols reflecting on the benefit of the Lightning Round said, “I was approached by several conservators and researchers in specialties other than my own [modern and contemporary objects] who said that they were introduced to my research through the lightning round presentations.” In comparison to the last time Nichols presented a poster (at the 43rd Annual Meeting in Miami), she had more people ask about her research, which she attributes to the exposure from the ECPN Lightning Round.
The 14 poster topics were divided into two rounds, which allowed for a necessary intermission/bathroom break. The rounds were moderated by Michelle Sullivan, ECPN Chair, and Rebecca Gridley, ECPN Vice Chair.
In the spirit of the “Lightning Round” each presenter was given two minutes and three content slides to summarize their poster at the podium. This seemed like a daunting task and like I might not receive much more information than the title of the poster. I was really impressed with how clear and concise all the speakers were (I think the tambourine—symbolizing time’s up—only had to be used once). I learned a lot from the brief presentations and there was even time for one or two questions for every speaker. Having the visual component of the slides I felt took this beyond what a written abstract can offer. The Q & A was also very lively and I think emphasized how valued the poster presentations are to the conservation community.
I found this Lightning Round useful not only for the direct information, but also in helping me be more efficient with my time in the exhibition hall with the posters. Each PowerPoint included the poster number for easy reference to the location in the exhibit hall. Feeling similarly, Claire Curran, Assistant Objects Conservator at the ICA, also in attendance, and reacted, “definitely visiting this one—sounds really cool” in response to a treatment of a Hopi Katsina doll. The room was filled and there seemed to be a strong positive response to the session.
To keep things light and encourage additional networking during the ECPN Happy Hour (which immediately followed the Lightning Round) a fun fact about each presenter was announced in addition to his/her professional bio. For example, Sarah Giffin was introduced as the “meat whisperer” because of her delicious slow cooking brisket recipe.
I am embarrassed to say that I did not know that the posters are published on the AIC website after each Annual Meeting. You can access them here.
To help your exploration of the .pdf files online, here are some of the highlights each presenter chose to emphasize during the ECPN Lightning Round.
#30 Conservation in Miniature: The merger of museum object and historic interior in the treatment of a Victorian era dollhouse
- Applied in situ treatment methodology used for full-scale interiors to miniature interior of Horniman dollhouse
- Mist consolidation with nebulizer using Klucel G in acetone (tests in water solubilized tannins in wooden walls creating issues with tidelines)
- Condensation in the small tube was a challenge and had to tap out liquid droplets at times
#60 Conservation and Art Historical Data goes Digital at the Art Institute of Chicago
- Interactive website for conservation treatment of a collection of Alfred Stieglitz photographs and some contemporaries
- Used WordPress platform because easy interface and allowed for frequent updates to content
- Provides links to art historical information as well conservation/ technical information and research
#44 Applying Fills to Losses in a Flexible Polyurethane Foam Chair at the Museum of Modern Art
- Research and analysis to confirm type of foam composition of the chair
- Bulked methylcellulose and grated polyurethane foam for consolidation and filling of losses; liquid nitrogen helped harden foam enough to easily grate and shape
- Inpranil DLV/1 is a traditionally favored consolidant for polyurethane foam but has been challenging to acquire
#92 Chemical Cleaning and Intervention Criteria in a Brass Dial Clock from the XIX Century
João Henrique Ribeiro Barbosa
- Clock face (only surviving element of the clock) composed of three different metals joined together with rivets
- Previous cleaning by polishing left white residues and new corrosion products developed underneath
- Ammonium citrate solution addressed polish residues with “DTCNa” or sodium diethyldithiocarbamate solution addressed corrosion products
#24 History, Treatment, and Preparation for Digitization of 14th-century Estate Rolls
- Surface cleaning, humidification, repair with Japanese tissue
- Rehousing to handle during treatment, digitization, and future research
#42 Treatment and Reconstruction of a Badly Damaged Hopi Katsina Doll Made of Gourd
- Gourds painted in acrylic
- Treatment included surface cleaning, consolidating cracks, introducing new internal armature to help with reassembly and stabilization
- Used silicone self-adhering bands to secure while mends were setting
- Armature was set in place before doll head was reattached; tensioned wire extending to wings before head was placed back on
#10 Towards Nondestructive Characterization of Black Drawing Media
- Redon drawings were used for case study
- Redon working period overlapped with commercial materials available in 20th century
- Macro XRF scanning used to map elements combined with micro Raman spectroscopy
- Characterization relied on peaks in fingerprint region and peaks indicative of known additives to distinguish between different carbon-based media
- 785nm laser for Raman because of heavy use of fixatives on the drawings
#27 (I Can’t Get No) Documenation: Preservation reporting in the Archives
- Established a template “Preservation Report” for standardized documentation and condition reporting
- Focus on up-to-date condition and documentation of current status of projects and personnel involved; address realities of institution with changing/temporary staff and disruptions project workflow
- Format based on feedback from other institutions and existing condition reports in the archive
#80 Bedbugs: A pesky problem
- Addressing infestation of a Lakota teepee in private hands installed behind owner’s bed
- Freezing unsuccessful likely not able to achieve low enough temperatures throughout
- “Solarization” using hatchback car appeared to work (i.e. no live bugs remained)
- For domestic infestation chemical treatment often necessary for bed bugs; they are night feeders and hide during the day
#32 Treatment of a Shattered Bark Basket from Australia
Marci Jefcoat Burton
- Basket likely eucalyptus bark sealed with natural resin
- Consolidated with B-72; bridged with tissue and blend of Lascaux adhesives
- Removable internal support for storage constructed of backer rod (trapezoidal shaped Ethafoam strips) shaped to the contour of the basket and padded with Volara
#84 Lifting the Microfiber Veil: Utilizing Evolon fabric at the Mauritshuis to remove aged varnish from Hendrick Heerschop’s A Visit to the Doctor
- Evolon is 70:30 polyester: polyamide spun-bond fabric
- Evolon originally developed as anti-bug fabric
- Used to lift and remove aged varnish; gentle and appropriate for surfaces with extensive lead soap networks
- Polyamide fibers are hydrophilic and contribute to aqueous cleaning
#22 Captain America Encounters Klucel M
Michiko Adachi and Cathie Magee
- Captain America pages had been stapled together in case binding
- Mending utilized solvent reactivated tissue to avoid solubility issues and tidelines from acidic migration of newsprint substrate
- Klucel M used as adhesive because of strength and transparency
- Klucel M artificially aged by Library of Congress and seems to have similar properties/behavior to Klucel G
#67 Initial Treatment Techniques for Japanese Lacquer-based Metallic Thread and Cut Paper Applique
Elinor Dei Tos Pironti
- Solubility testing was used to characterize original adhesive for metallic paper threads on a Japanese garment
- Urushi was used to consolidate metallic threads
#31 Under Close Observation: A pilot study monitoring change in objects’ conditions
- Summarizing current research and findings of the Managing Collections Environment Initiative at the Getty
- Comparing different methods of monitoring conditions of objects including photographic documentation (DSLR, point and shoot camera, iPhone), caliper measurements to monitor cracks, acoustic emissions
- 14 objects representative of materials found in institutional collections used for case study; exposed to humidity cycling
The Textile Specialty Group audience got a real treat with Dana Goodin’s talk on using agarose gels on tapestries. Dana, who works at the Textile Conservation Laboratory at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in NYC, used agarose gel on two tapestries in two different ways.
The first was a Baumgarten tapestry dating to the 1910s. It, and many others, were discovered on the walls of a townhouse on the Upper West Side of Manhattan after a developer purchased the property. In previous years, the room the tapestries were in had been rented out as a studio apartment. (As an NYC resident myself, you can only imagine the envy this inspired in me!) The tapestries were attached to the wall around the perimeter with nails. Stains from leeching plaster were prevalent and the lining had fallen down behind one tapestry, resulting in ballooning and a large slit at the bottom. A square had even been cut out of a tapestry to access a utility box! The tapestries were de-installed in 2013 and brought to the Lab, where there were laid flat in a humidity tent. The humidity was maintained between 52% – 58% for many months. This was not enough, however, to restore flexibility to the desiccated silk elements of the tapestry. Since the silk in the tapestry was in such poor shape, it was feared it would disintegrate during wet cleaning. It was therefore decided to clean, and of course humidify, the tapestries through agarose gel. Dana told us that the Textile Conservation Lab would usually use a 1% density gel if the material were smooth and could later be rinsed under suction. Because this was not an option with the silk, it was decided to also rinse the cleaned tapestry with agarose gel and deionized water. For cleaning, 3.4% density gel, ¼” in thickness, was cast with Orvus. The Orvus solution was 5ml to 300ml water. The entire Baumgarten tapestry was cleaned with gel, although the wool elements received thicker gels and were rinsed under suction, rather than with gel. The treatment was a great success: the appearance was incredibly improved and the tapestry regained enough moisture that it could afterwards be rolled without worry.
Clearly, this treatment required a lot of agarose gel, the cost of which escalated quickly. Not to mention the time spent casting it. Therefore, Dana and the other conservators at the Lab tried out reusing the gels. Tests were performed on white China silk and it was found that after three rinses/soaks of the gels in Orvus, no soiling was redeposited on the test silk. This was a great find, although it was concurrently found that the gels could only be reused three times before disintegrating.
The second tapestry Dana spoke about was an Agam tapestry from the 1970s. It was made from white wool yarn and a variety of wool/synthetic colored yarns. It suffered from hard glue residue on the top and bottom 2” of the tapestry, which previously attached a lining. Complications arose from the fact that the red and black yarns bled. The face of the tapestry was cleaned via dry surface sponging, but obviously that did nothing to address the glue, which was so hard it couldn’t be sewn through. Tests showed that amyl acetate removed most of the glue. Application methods tested were with blotters, cotton linters, and agarose gel. The agarose gel proved the most effective. Gauze was placed below the tapestry, then the gel was draped over the glue, before being weighted. Although effective, this proved very time consuming. To speed things up, Dana and the other conservators decided to apply the amyl acetate directly to the glue and then drape the gel over these sections with weights on top. 2% gel was used for this, and left on for one hour. This process was repeated until as much glue was removed as possible. The treated areas were rinsed with deionized water, and the tapestry received a new lining and a Velcro hanging mechanism.
I don’t think I’m overstating things by saying these were two awesome treatments. Thanks for sharing them with us, Dana!
Involving a beautiful dress from the late 1860s and stunning before and after photos, Suzan Meijer’s talk was a definite crowd pleaser. Her talk focused on a silk moire dress in the collection of the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam. (Now on my Top Ten list of places to visit, as it has over 10,000 textiles, the largest collection in the Netherlands!) Treatment of the dress was spurred on by the museum’s launch of an expanded website that would allow digital access to select objects in the collection. This dress was selected because it is one of the few examples of the late 1860s pre-bustle period remaining unaltered. However, its selection meant that it would have to be dressed on a mannequin for extensive photography. The dress had been kept in hanging storage, covered, for decades, and Suzan spoke of the truly delicate condition it was in: the silk was split throughout the skirt, and shattered in many places across the bodice. These damages far exceeded those outlined in the last condition report from 1950 (which may have been partially caused by the dress having been worn to a party at the museum in the early 20th century!). Although wear and long-term hanging storage undoubtedly contributed to the poor condition of the dress, Suzan noted how the moire production process would also have contributed to the degradation of the silk. Moire is produced through calendering, which involves heat and a lot of pressure. Tests showed that the silk may further have been weighted slightly, as small amounts of aluminum and iron were found in the fibers. But despite structural issues, the silk was phenomenally un-faded! The dye came back from the lab as 50% barberry and 49% unknown purple, red, and violet components. One could easily see why the museum was eager to have this dress appear on their website!
However, to make this possible, it was determined that the skirt had to receive a full lining, and that the full lining would have to be adhesive since the silk was so delicate. Unusual for the period, the bodice and skirt of the dress were attached. Suzan said they hoped to apply the adhesive lining without clipping any of the original stitches but that attempts soon proved this impossible, due to the tight cartridge pleating at the waist. Therefore, the decision was made to remove the skirt from the waistband so it could be laid flat. Evacon R, an EVA adhesive, was applied to silk crepeline. The adhesive coated silk crepeline was then attached to the interior of the skirt using heat reactivation, between 65-75 degrees Celsius. When this was completed and the skirt began to be re-pleated, it was noticed that some of the slits were popping. To fix this, nylon net was used as an overlay along the top few inches, sewn down to the underlying silk crepeline.
As for the bodice, it lacked both boning and lining, which proved fortuitous when repairing the shattered silk. As with the skirt, adhesive-coated crepeline was used, but rather than a full lining, patches were applied. Again, net was used as an overlay and stitched through to the crepeline. However, unlike the skirt, small areas of the silk were missing, rather than just split. Toned Japanese paper was used to fill in these losses. After the stunning photograph was taken, available here, it was time for the dress to go back into storage. Obviously, hanging storage was no longer an option, so a large custom box was made in which the dress could be stored flat. A small “shelf” and tray was built into the box to accommodate the separate belt. Suzan says that how surprising the condition of the dress was when treatment commenced led them to re-think their hanging storage. Covers were removed and the garments moved farther apart so that any downturn in their condition would be noticed immediately. I wish I had before photos to truly illustrate the amazing transformation this dress underwent. Good job, Suzan!
The panel on wet cleaning was an extension of the three presentations that preceded it. The participants were Shirley Ellis, whose talk on the treatment of a Kainai fur-lined baby quilt included a discussion of aqueous immersion cleaning; Dana Goodin, who presented on her use of agarose gels to clean tapestries; and Gennifer Majors, who spoke about her experiments with application methods for cyclododecane.
The first part of the discussion focused largely on the use of cyclododecane. Though it has been used for some time by other specialties, its use in textile conservation is relatively novel. Several attendants described successes using the material to protect non-textile elements (such as buttons and buckles) during cleaning. It does, however, pose some practical problems, such as the difficulty of knowing for sure whether a cyclododecane barrier is sound, or when it has fully sublimed.
The focus then turned to the question of how wet cleaning practice had changed over time. While Orvus has long been used as a “go-to” detergent, some conservators are starting to experiment with other surfactants (e.g. Hostapon) and additives (e.g. chelators). Immersion cleaning, which was once a common treatment, may have become less common — at least in the US and Canada, if not the UK.
Gels offer an alternative to immersion cleaning. Dana explained that she had elected to use gels because immersion cleaning was not a possibility, due in one case to the fragility of the textile and in another to fugitive dyes. Shirley Ellis, however, suggested that gels might actually be less interventive than full immersion, and shouldn’t necessarily be considered only as a last resort. Clearly, this is an evolving issue, and one that will generate many more conversations.
Johanna shared her experiences treating an ensemble labeled Worth & Bobergh at the Museum of Fine Art, Boston. The ensemble includes a skirt, day bodice, and evening bodice of silk faille and dates to about 1870. The petersham label inside the day bodice identifying it “Worth & Bobergh” means it dates from Worth’s early years when his investor (Bobergh) was included in his labels. In spite of its unique history, the ensemble had been the victim of some “refashioning” to update it for later fashions or possibly to make it into “fancy dress.” The alterations included sewing the evening bodice to the skirt, adding panels to the sides to extend the bodice, and stitching the skirt up so that it would no longer accommodate the crinoline and bustle combination of its original fashionable design.
Johanna’s complicated treatment called upon a mix of both skills and techniques that covered the gamut between precise and delicate to practical and bold (but well-researched and justified) choices. While firmly rooted in “conservatorial” thinking and using some familiar techniques, the treatment ranged beyond the conventional to draw upon newer techniques such as digital printing of fabrics to recreate the patterned silk of the underskirt and Johanna’s knowledge of dress-making to prepare a half-size model of the to-be-reworked skirt and to recreate the waistband and original cartridge pleats. Dyed-to-match fabrics were used not only for treatment of the solid purple, but also for the patterned fabric. Johanna dyed the silk first, before delivering it the digital printer, who then only had to match the printed pattern, which avoided the “over crisp” and new look of some digitally-printed fabric infills. The treatment ultimately represented a thoughtful and nuanced blending of old and new, dressmaker and conservator, that breathed new life into an object that Johanna described before treatment as “not the most beautiful” of the MFA Boston’s Worth examples, making the treatment “A Worthwhile Endeavor” indeed.
Rebecca Summerour presented on-going technical analysis of two mid-twentieth century Southwestern Nigeria Yoruba egungun masquerade ensembles from the collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art (NMAA). Her co-author and supervisor is Dana Moffett, Object conservator at the NMAA. We were introduced to egunguns with images of these multi-layered assemblages as they are worn in ceremony, and mounted for displayed. Egungun invoke honor, and embody lineage ancestors during yearly festivals. Rebecca is working not only to analyze the varied materials used in their fabrication; she also is investigating their cultural context and the values placed on textiles in Yoruba culture through consultations with Yoruba scholars. She explored the origins of the materials used, and their importance as elements of the whole. These egunguns were collected with minimal provenience. (Image from Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, africa.si.edu)
Egunguns consist of multiple layers of colorful, mostly commercial, pieced fabric lappets with serrated edges over a wooden support that “swirl when danced.” Egunguns represent individual or collective ancestors. The ensembles are not made for a specific dancer. They are worn for generations and are repaired before each use. During repairs materials may be added or removed, making it difficult to pinpoint a date. Some of the components are pre-assembled by market tailors and later incorporated into the assemblage and sanctified. A striped fabric (knotted or crochet) sits at center, obscuring the face of the wearer, but allows him to see. The egungun interiors are lined with handwoven oke, a highly valued prestige fabric. Oke is also used for burial shrouds, which Rebecca pointed out is a symbolic link to the ancestors who are invoked during performances in the egungun. The color red is used extensively to divert evil. Rebecca identified highly valued velvets, needle point, ecclesiastical textiles, Europe satins and cotton prints made expressly for the African market, and Adeara Uraba, a Yoruba indigo cloth that is tie dyed or patterned with a starch resist. Also present were metal pin back political buttons.
Rebecca has examined over 600 different textiles, many of them are African wax (or fancy prints) designed in Europe and produced in Manchester England and Holland to imitate late nineteenth century Indonesian batiks. After decolonization similar prints were manufactured in Africa and East Asia. Rebecca contacted the Manchester School of Art ABC Archive, which has many examples of these fabrics. Initially this gave her great hope of tracing some of the manufacturers of the prints and locking in dates of manufacture, but she was informed that only by chance would one find a match. The prints are too similar to easily identify. She mentioned it as an opportunity for her future study.
Technical analysis included X-radiography, X-ray fluorescence, Raman spectrometry, Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy, and polarized light microscopy, of the various materials present such as wood, cotton, rayon, pitch, adhesives, metal, elastomeric films, PVC and other plastics.
Rebecca has future research trips planned for this summer and will see eleven other engunguns. She is working to identify the materials in these egungun to construct a time line of what materials were available in Nigeria in the twentieth century. She feels that the whole story will never be know as there are limits to the amount of research that can be carried out, and mid twentieth century fabric trade was complex. The goals of her study are to contribute to the overall “biographies” of these objects, inform future plans for the costumes long-term care, and expand on the available published studies.
We all love the topic of inherent vice. And in this talk, the topic is presented as it relates to basketry, hats, and an exhibition at a museum of Canadian social history.
Sara Serban, Objects Conservator at the Musée McCord in Montreal, spoke about painted and woven spruce root hats she prepared for “Wearing our Identity: The First Peoples Collection,” a ‘permanent’ exhibition planned to last five years (with rotations). The five hats selected for display were made between 1850 and 1920 by weavers from the Northwest coast of Canada, including the Haida and Kwakwaka’wakw cultural groups. In her talk, Sara discussed how the hats’ materials, complex woven structure, past storage and environmental conditions, and previous treatments relate to current condition issues and present treatment challenges.
Sara consulted with Isabel Rorick, a talented Haida weaver (see some of her work here), in order gain a better understanding of the materials and techniques used to make these types of hats. Sitka spruce roots are used for weaving because they grow in long straight lines. Roots are usually 3 to 20 feet in length, but can be as long as 50 feet. After harvesting, the outer layer of bark is removed from the roots by heating with hot coals, causing the bark to peel, and then pulling the roots through a split stick. The root is then split lengthwise one or more times. The interior pithy core is discarded, the inner layer is used for the warp of the hat, and the outer polished layer is used for the weft.
The processed roots are soaked in water and then woven from the top down using a combination of two-and three-strand twining techniques. Three-strand twining is almost always used for added strength at the crown of the hat, and twill twining is used to create geometric patterns at the brim. Continuous warps are used in the beginning, with additional warps added in as needed. A wooden disk form can aid in shaping the hat during weaving. An awl is often used to push the stitches together, and when complete, the hats are watertight.
Sara reviewed condition issues and previous treatments of the hats chosen for exhibition. As can be expected, the older hats are more fragile, and they all have experienced deterioration from low humidity. Darkening of spruce root, from cream-colored to dark brown, as a result of oxidation is a condition issue I was not aware of and seeing this contrast surprised me (compare the historic hat in the image above with the light color of this contemporary spruce root hat made by Rorick). Sara pointed out that while woven spruce root baskets are stored resting on their bottoms, hats are usually stored resting on their brims, and this positioning may cause additional stresses within the hat structure over time. She also noticed that certain areas, like the top disc, top edge (or turn), and crown, are more susceptible to breakage.
The majority of hats had undergone previous treatments (sometimes multiple campaigns), and many of these interventions caused further damage to the root fibers. For example, one hat had been repaired with a thick, raffia-like fiber that caused overall distortions in shape and breakage of adjacent root fibers. Sara questioned whether this type of mending was a traditional repair carried out when the hat was in its source community, or if it was later work. After a survey of spruce root hats in the museum’s collection, she found many had similar repairs, and because of this consistency, the repairs were likely carried out in the museum.
The museum’s conservation records indicate that treatments using methyl cellulose, wheat starch paste, and mixtures of Lascaux 360 HV and 498 HV were carried out in the 1980’s. Additionally, Paraloid B-72 in acetone was previously used to repair at least one hat because wheat starch paste was not found to be strong enough, although it was noted that acetone did affect the black paint on the surface. The common basketry repair technique using twists of Japanese tissue coated in adhesive was found not to be reliable, as these repairs often failed (e.g. the tissue lifted) not long after they were applied.
Examination of these past treatments helped Sara plan her treatment approach. Since the hats did not respond well to the adhesive mends of the past, she created mechanical mends using hair silk to hold the sides of the breaks together. She used a pattern of stitching with horizontal stitches on the outside of the hat and vertical stitches bridging the split on the interior. Prior to mending, she humidified distorted hats in a chamber with water and ethanol and then reshaped the hats, with the aid of carbon rod clamps (one of my favorite conservation tools). Tinted Japanese tissue, with twists to imitate weft strands, was used to fill losses on the hat’s crown. For loss compensation at the top turn of the hat, Sara first made molds of the woven surface using dental molding putty and then cast paper pulp into them. The paper fills were cut to shape, toned, and adhered with wheat starch paste.
After the presentation, an audience member asked about storage recommendations for the hats. Sara responded that ideally each hat would have a custom form with some type of cover that would offer protection from dust but not touch the surface of the hat.
This was one of several talks in the Textile Session that discussed more 3-D textiles (or textile “objects”), which were of particular interest to me as an objects conservator (see Muppets, Egungun,and a Digitally Printed Reproduction Sleeve). Also check out this blogpost about a related talk in the Objects Session: “The Aftermath of Meds: Removing Historic Fabric Tape from Tlingit Basketry” by Caitlin Mahony.
When we hear the word “disaster,” images of fire or flood and the subsequent damage might spring to mind, but what about the silent, tiny disaster that might be steadily digesting your collection? Cathy Zaret, presenting for Mary Ballard, provided a graphic example of just how damaging an infestation can be in her talk, “A Biological Disaster to Costume.”
The site of this infestation was a townhouse on Vermont Avenue in Washington, DC that housed the Black Fashion Museum. Founded in 1979 by Lois K. Alexander Lane, the museum’s collection is comprised of over 700 costumes, 300 accessories and 60 boxes of archival material; all designed, sewn or worn by African Americans. Notable highlights include the dress worn by Rosa Parks in 1955 when she refused to give up her seat on the bus in Montgomery, costumes designed by Geoffrey Holder for “The Wiz,” and the wedding dress, designed by Ann Lowe, worn Jacqueline Bouvier when she became Mrs. Kennedy.
The Black Fashion Museum was the life’s work and passion of Lane and after her death in 2007, the future of the collection was uncertain. Lane’s daughter, Joyce Bailey, ultimately donated the collection in its entirety to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, but while its fate was decided, the collection was sealed in a building without climate control and without monitoring. When the Smithsonian conservation team arrived to assess the collection, what they found was a dramatic example of the importance of good housekeeping. The collection was crawling with carpet beetles. Cathy offered the speculation that ground zero, a red dress surrounded by waves of red frass (a slight exaggeration on my part, cue horror movie soundtrack), was in a closet on the second floor, near a walled up fireplace. Left to run riot, what might have been a beetle or two became an infestation of epic proportions.
Carpet beetles (usually referencing genus Anthrenus and the various species including varied, museum and furniture carpet beetles) are ubiquitous throughout the United States (and beyond). The adults feed on pollen and nectar and are attracted to light, but females will seek dark and secluded places to lay their eggs. One female can lay 30-40 eggs on a food source. The developing larva can wreak havoc during their 3-36 month development as they feed on proteinaceous materials. As the infestation of the infamous red dress was undiscovered for some time, larva fed and matured into egg-laying adults, multiplying the hungry mouths with each generation.
In describing the way that Mary Ballard and her team addressed the infestation, Cathy stressed that an active infestation is a disaster that can come home with you. Carpet beetles, though they keep on giving, are not a gift you want to give to your friends (or museum). Quarantine is essential. Access to the site should be restricted and precautions taken to prevent the spread of the infestation. When working in the townhouse, team members were encouraged to wear clothing of cellulosic materials and to wash those clothes immediately after leaving the site. You can never say immediately too many times!
As the insect activity had to be addressed before the collection could be processed, the contents of the townhouse were documented in situ, triage packed and moved by truck to the support center of the Smithsonian’s Museum Conservation Institute. At the MCI, the entire collection of the Black Fashion Museum underwent an anoxic treatment using argon gas. In an environment with less than 1000ppm of oxygen for 30 consecutive days (the time for treatment will vary based on gas used, temperature, RH, and species), all life-stages should be rendered unviable. At the MCI, two vapor impermeable bubbles, each 8’x11’x11’ were constructed and the ambient oxygen was slowly reduced.
The bubbles were monitored during treatment (safety first! Always have a partner and monitor the oxygen levels around the bubbles), and the argon was topped off to ensure that oxygen levels were kept below the necessary minimum.
After the completion of the anoxic treatment, a condition survey and surface cleaning was still required for the contents of the 273 boxes moved from the townhouse. Although the treatment should have rendered all life-stages unviable, cast off larval skins and insect remains can provide a food source for future insects. Every surface, every layer of tulle in a massive confection of nylon net, needed to be vacuumed. As at the townhouse, nozzles and brushes needed to be washed after each use.
This massive treatment was absolutely essential in incorporating the Black Fashion Museum into the collection of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. I’m looking forward to viewing some of the iconic and historic objects on display when the museum opens this fall!
If you haven’t checked it out, the NMAAHC webpage has a lot of material to explore and information about the upcoming grand opening.
For additional information, MuseumPests.net is the go-to site for identification and great fact sheets on different solutions.