45th Annual Meeting, May 31st, (Textiles) “ Oh, Bother: The Conservation of Winnie the Pooh and Friends” by Alison Castaneda

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.

45th Annual Meeting, May 31st, (Treatment: Going Big) “Puvis de Chavannes’ Philosophy: Condition Issues and Strategies for the Removal of a Severely Detached Mural, its Conservation Treatment and Remounting,” by Gianfranco Pocobene and Ian Hodkinson

Gianfranco Pocobene and Ian Hodkinson’s talk about their rather harrowing treatment of a large mural panel, Philosophy (1895-96) by Puvis de Chavannes, in the Boston Public Library perfectly fit its placement in the session “Going Big.” Pocobene presented the project while also referring to his past involvement with the entire allegorical cycle when they were last treated by the Straus Center for Conservation in 1993 for moisture problems and resulting damage.

Treatment of Philosophy was spurred by the discovery in 2014 that the mural panel, which was adhered into a plaster niche, had partially detached from the wall and was beginning to buckle and sag. After stabilizing flaking paint and supporting the detached areas with padded battens set into the niche, Pocobene and Hodkinson embarked on an investigation of the attachment interface between the canvas and wall as well as the building’s structural components behind the mural to understand where the moisture penetration had originated from and how to proceed with treatment. Cross-section analysis by Richard Wolbers confirmed observations made about Puvis’s painting methods during the 1993 treatment of the cycle. Exploration into the structure of the support was made available through a small area of missing brickwork discovered after removing a piece of oak trim from the edge of the mural. This revealed several things: multiple plaster layers, corroded tie wires attaching metal lathe to steel angle bars, and that the canvas and paint layers were embrittled and liable to shatter with any application of pressure. They concluded that the corroded tie wires were the sources of the paintings detachment and water infiltration may have been caused by a flue carrying a HVAC duct encased behind the niche and a nearby internal rainwater downpipe.

Pocobene and Hodkinson faced the hefty task of removing the already 80% detached mural from the niche and keeping it as planar as possible to avoid loss and damage to the brittle paint surface and canvas. Pocobene reviewed the many questions and summarized the discussion that led to the final treatment decisions. As there were no other examples in conservation literature regarding such an undertaking, careful inquiry, tests with a scaled mock up, and reliance on past experience with mural conservation were imperative. However, inaction was not an option and the authors bravely went where no other paintings conservators had gone before.

The removal process, although more intricate than I will describe in this short blog post, involved facing the front of the mural with Kozo paper and Belgian linen, removing the marble fascia and allowing access to the bottom edge of the mural (undertaken by stone conservator Ivan Myjer), and using a back support, top support, and sliding supports to carefully support the mural as detachment of the mural progressed. Although slate rippers were used to detach the mural at the scratch coat to brown coat interface, the authors eventually used vibration alone. Block and pulleys were used to hoist and maneuver the mural (attached to panel supports by extended strips of the facing) from the niche and it was carried to a separate room a floor above the Grand Staircase.
The preparation for and lining of the canvas presented additional challenges for the authors. First, plaster was mechanically removed from the verso, but the lead white adhesive was allowed to remain. The initial lining was carried out with BEVA 371 and an interface of Belgian linen, but the aluminum skin on the honeycomb panel support began to fail while the lower sections were being lined. For the second, and successful, lining attempt a new honeycomb panel was fabricated and 10% paraffin wax was added to the BEVA 371. The added wax was found to allow easier reversibility, a lower activation temperature, and no change in strength. The subsequent filling, inpainting, and reinstallation were briefly discussed, but were not the primary focus of the talk.

This talk was a perfect representation of the trials and triumphs encountered in the treatment of large-scale works. Pocobene and Hodkinson proceeded through a complicated and uncharted treatment with logical decision making, collaborative discussions, and employing knowledge gained from years of treatment experience

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.

45th Annual Meeting – Photographic Materials Session, May 30, “The Re-creation and Conservation of Megalethoscope Slides” by Monique C. Fischer

Ms. Fischer’s talk focused on megalethoscope slides, an uncommon 19th century photographic process. When a group of these slides were brought to the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) their conservation presented some challenges. Particularly, the lack of primary sources on the construction of the slides themselves. Further, the slides bridge conservation specialties, since they are comprised of albumen photographs on a wooden support. Ms. Fischer and her colleagues at NEDCC came up with some innovative treatment approaches to conserve these unique objects. Fischer underscored the collaborative nature of this project, which included FAIC, the George Eastman Museum, and numerous departments at NEDCC.

Megalethoscope slides are albumen prints mounted to a concave wooden support. Slides are placed into a viewer, which creates the illusion of depth and enlarges the image. The image can be lit from front (reflected) or back (transmitted) to create visual effects.

The first challenge of this treatment project was the lack of contemporary or historic information about the process. Fischer indicated one publication from 1999 that talked about the conservation of Megalethoscope slides and gave some helpful diagrams: Topics in Photographic Preservation 1999, Volume 8, Article 5 (pp. 23-30) “Megalethoscope Plates A Case Study: Conservation Treatment of Megalethoscope plates from the Collection of the ‘Museum for Art and History’ Brussels, Belgium” by Sylke Heylen and Herman Maes with supervision of Roger Kockaerts http://resources.conservation-us.org/pmgtopics/1999-volume-eight/08_05_Heylen.html

In order to learn more, Fischer worked with Mark Osterman, Photographic Process Historian at the George Eastman Museum (GEM). Todd Gustafson from the GEM also contributed because they have some megalethoscope viewers in the collection. Period megalethoscope slides at the GEM to were examined to extrapolate the process. Damaged slides proved to be the most useful for this, as they allowed for examination of the layers. The process Fischer described was complex. To summarize: They created albumen prints from digital negatives. The photographs were pierced from the front. The reverse of the print was painted with watercolor. A convex frame was made from bent pine. The photograph was attached to the frame using hide glue and then the edges were taped with black paper tape. Tissue paper was then added to the reverse. A dust cover was then added to the back of the slide.

Fischer showed a video of what it is like to view their re-created megalethoscope slide through the viewer. The scene began with reflected light, showing a landscape that was deceptively 3-dimensional. The light then transitioned to transmitted (behind the photograph), and the sun appeared to set in the scene and previously un-seen holes in the photograph created dramatic lights in a night scene. The effect is quite unique and certainly impressive.

The conservation treatment was designed to address the major condition issues: significant dirt, fly specks, tears and brittle dust covers with bug damage. The tear mending required some inventiveness because of the concave nature of the object and the layered structure. Fischer and other NEDCC conservators adapted a technique from Japanese panels in order to repair the tears. In this technique blotting paper supports are held in place with string to support the tear as it dries. After drying the string is cut. The dust covers were original, but highly damaged. A remoistenable lining was used to stabilize the dust cover, while minimizing moisture.

Finally, the inpainting of these photographs also presented challenges, since it had to be effective in both reflected and transmitted light. They mixed these two lighting techniques during inpainting.

In the question session following the talk, Fischer indicated that they used Gamblin Conservation Colors for inpainting because they were more translucent than watercolor. The book conservation department at NEDCC created custom phase boxes to house and protect the slides.

45th Annual Meeting – Photographic Materials Session, May 30, “Bellmer: Complexities of the Doll” by Krista Lough

Ms. Lough’s talk focused on Hans Bellmer’s Doll series of photographs. She gave some interesting background on Bellmer and her professed lifelong love of the artist was evident. As a fellow in photograph conservation at the Art Institute of Chicago, Lough’s work focused on the Art Institute’s newly-acquired doll print, which is a large print. She outlined some interesting discoveries about this print and found some parallels in other collections of Bellmer’s work. Her discussion of handcoloring, overall airbrushing, and mounting of the prints have obvious implications for conservators working with Bellmer photographs.

Hans Bellmer was a German professional working during the rise of the Nazi Party. He left his career in advertising as an act of rebellion in the 1930s because he didn’t want to (even indirectly) benefit the German state. He began a project with his brother to construct and photograph an artificial doll in 1933. Two additional dolls were constructed in 1935 (second doll) and 1937 (the Machine-Gunneress in a State of Grace). The dolls were posed in provocative and intentionally perverse positions and then photographed. The dolls seemed to get more abstract, with multiple sets of breasts, legs, pelvises, and torsos. They were made primarily of tissue paper and glue.

Bellmer made both small format photographs and larger prints. In particular, a set of hand-colored small prints was created for a book “Les Jeux de la Poupee” created with the surrealist poet Paul Éluard. He made some larger prints, about 26 inches square, at this time of the same images. The Art Institute’s print is a large print of an image from this book. In the course of Lough’s study, she found that the larger print did not precisely relate to the copy in the book, implying that he was working from multiple negatives and making specific decisions unique to each print. Lough stressed that he was treating each print as a unique work of art, not trying to replicate the same appearance in all prints of the same image.

The Art Institute’s print had some interesting overpainting, including an overall layer of dark airbrushing that was difficult to see without magnification. This layer appears to have an overall darkening effect on the print. There was also extensive applications of gouache and dyes. When Lough compared this print to other large doll prints, she found no rigid working method that Bellmer applied to all the prints. Again, they appear to have been treated uniquely.

When considering treatment of the Art Institute’s print, Lough encountered some obstacles unique to Bellmer’s working method. The treatment was designed to address issues with grime, losses and chipping in the media. Through extensive testing she found that the print could not be safely surface cleaned. Traditional cleaning solutions such as water/ethanol removed retouching. Ethanol alone caused changes to the surface sheen (perhaps indicating a coating? Samples were taken for testing). Even dry cleaning was ruled out because the abrasive action reduced the topography of the gouache. This meant that the treatment was limited to tear repair.

In summary, Lough emphasized that Bellmer’s Doll photographs should be treated as unique and distinct objects with very real conservation challenges.

45th Annual Meeting – Objects Session, “The Case for Cold: Using dry ice blasting to remove lacquer coating from the King Jagiello monument in Central Park” by Matt Reiley

The subject of this talk was the treatment of the bronze statuary in Central Park, in specific the monument to King Jagiello (and despite the guided group-pronunciation lesson, no, I cannot say that properly – sorry Matt!). The overall project has a huge scope, as the bronzes were coated with Incralac in the late 80’s/early 90’s and have not been on a proper maintenance schedule, as is required for that type of treatment. The Incralac has cross-linked and begun to obscure the detail of the statues, and the old method of abrasive coating removal has not been good for the statues.


In order to complete the project in a timely fashion, dry ice blasting was determined to be the best course of action. The cleaning had to go hand in hand with addressing structural issues, as King Jagiello had already been noted to be unstable in 1984. The mounting issues were brought up again in 2009, and a process of removing and shoring up the base was completed in 2016. One of the most interesting parts of this, to me, was that a votive plaque of Saint Claire was found inside the sculpture – who knew that public monuments would have such things? The structural stability was improved, and the weepholes were cleaned and enlarged in order to address drainage issues and issues with active electrolytic corrosion cells.

Matt provided a number of technical details about the dry ice set-up, which I won’t reproduce here (but I suspect will be in the postprints), but I found especially useful, as I have been looking into dry ice cleaning for my own projects, and am interested in the baseline that others have established. He also provided a great overview of what you need to set up a dry ice system – the compressor, the dryer, the unit itself, and a hopper with dry ice.  The cleaning itself went exceptionally quickly, with complete coating removal in six days! Dry ice cleaning also helped the team achieve their campaign goals of sustainability and reduction of hazards. During treatment, noise level and air quality readings were taken to monitor the health and safety aspects of dry ice cleaning, which is an important factor that many seem to overlook. The treatment was completed with re-patination, a final steam clean to remove residue, and application of a hot wax coating.

I appreciated this talk for the great general overview of the ins and outs of a dry ice cleaning campaign, and I’ll be applying what I’ve learned next summer – and reaping another benefit that Matt pointed out, as the cool mist produced by cleaning definitely helps the conservator cool off on a hot summer day!


45th Annual Meeting – Textile Session, May 33, “Costume Loans: Challenges and Strategies” by Cassandra Gero

Costume Loans Challenges and Strategies
The specific needs of a costume collection are well known to the textile conservators who work with them, but are not necessarily second nature to those borrowing these items for exhibition. This is especially true if the borrowing institution is unfamiliar with exhibiting garments and accessories. This presentation presented case studies of costume loans that illustrate the unique challenges of travelling garments, and provided general strategies to prevent problems or address them when they arise.  From these case studies, three take away points were codified to assist in preparing for costume loans.
1. Factor in enough time for preparation and installation
Specifically, the borrower needs to know about the fragility of the costume, and take the steps necessary to ensure its ongoing preservation, i.e. limiting UV exposure, controlling the environment, and preventing accidents. Most significantly, all costume must be custom mounted, which can take significantly more time than the borrowing institution may be used to. Within the custom mounting process, decisions will need to be made regarding the aesthetics of the final show, for example, whether or not the mannequins have heads. In addition, dressing the mount takes time. These are not objects that can be unpacked and put in place in short order. If they are undressed for travel, it takes time to unpack, check, re-dress, and install the costume. Last, always build in extra time for the unexpected, for example damage occurring during transit. Don’t underestimate the accessories – just because they are smaller does not mean their needs are easier to meet.
2. Communication
This may seem obvious, but here specific points were brought up regarding what information is particularly relevant to confirm while planning a costume loan. Measurements of need to be shared, and their references made clear. This refers to both the measurements of the garment/accessory as well as the display area. For example, head space over a mannequin that allows it to be lifted onto its flange without bumping into the top of a vitrine. Lists of supplies that should be on hand to assist in the dressing and installation process. Work schedules of those involved in installation, expectations of how the time will be spent, and available space for setup. Object lists especially must be confirmed to ensure that no extra or fewer objects are sent than are expected.

3. Involve the Conservators Early On

This is especially true for loaning large numbers of objects, which requires a great deal of advance preparation and adequate lead-in time. Pieces that require conservation before going on loan need to be scheduled into the workload, and any mounting needs will need to be addressed beforehand as well. The more time is given to address these aspects the more likely the loan and resulting exhibition will go smoothly.


45th Annual Meeting – Paintings Session, 1 June, “Color Field Paintings and Sun-Bleaching: An approach for removing stains in unprimed canvas” by Jay Krueger

Jay Krueger’s talk was a great synthesis of the most interesting and exciting ideas running through this year’s conference: interdisciplinary collaboration, a thoughtful and considered approach to complicated and seemingly radical (but necessary treatments), and recognition of the fact that well-intentioned traditional attempts to minimize or limit treatment can cause unintended secondary damage. The talk focused on the National Gallery of Art’s treatment of Morris Louis’ 133, painted in 1972.

Color field painting, as exemplified here in Louis’ work, focuses on areas of pure color, and its abstracted forms are freed from the constraints of representation, brushwork, etc. Unlike traditional paintings with distinct layers of canvas, ground, paint, etc. the direct application of (sometimes thinned) paint to unprimed canvas allowed the paint to soak into the canvas support, staining it rather than sitting on its surface.  The unprimed canvas is integral to the composition: its flat, unbroken expanse of color (i.e. the material itself) and relationship to the paint is essential, and any disruption of this is as detrimental to the work as damage to the paint layer would be.  The painting was already described as having a “smudge” on the canvas when it entered the Gallery’s collection in 1976, and its condition had not improved over time, despite attempts at locally treating damages and defects in the canvas.  By 2007 the stain was so pronounced, and other areas of staining had developed to such a degree, that the painting was suggested as a suitable candidate for more significant treatment.

It was at this point that the NGA felt comfortable enough to consider putting into practice a methodology they have now spent twenty years investigating and testing, and which I found to be the most inspiring part of the talk. Their proposed treatment embraced the rejection of three principles generally regarded as law in paintings conservation: don’t put your paintings in direct sunlight, don’t expose them to water, and limit your interventions to the minimum level of what is necessary to treat areas of damage.  The NGA quite rightly recognized that for these specific conservation concerns, paintings conservation could gain from consulting and borrowing from our colleagues in paper conservation by approaching the treatment of canvas supports in the same ways that paper conservators treat their cellulose-based supports.  They also brought the Getty onboard, since their history of using scientific research to inform and support treatment made them the ideal partner for investigating the material aspects of the painting, necessary vs. superfluous components of various treatment steps, and the longterm success and effects of the treatment itself.  The Getty’s spacious private terraces and steady supply of California sunshine also proved to be very beneficial!

I will leave the details of the treatment to be more rightly and thoroughly covered in Krueger’s contributions to the postprints, but the essential process is an adaptation of the aqueous sun-bleaching technique used in paper conservation. The painting (mounted to a working strainer) is positioned on an incline, completely dampened and held in a steady flow of water, in full sun.  By treating the canvas as the homogenous material it is, you avoid the problems of trying to control the movement and activity of water as applied locally, and instead appropriate and better exploit those same properties to our (and the painting’s) benefit.

Significantly, the extraordinarily successful treatment uncovered secondary damage caused by those previous localized attempts at canvas cleaning/stain reduction: after aqueous sun-bleaching (which in and of itself could not overclean the canvas), these were visible as noticeably lighter patches of canvas which then had to be toned back. Additionally, the project included investigation of whether the treatment had material as well as aesthetic benefits.  Paper conservators report that paper supports are stronger after washing, and there was some thought that washed canvases could show similar improvement.  Alan Phenix ran tensile strength and color change tests on canvas after washing and sun-bleaching.   The canvas did show some improvement in strength, and both washing and sun-bleaching helped prolong the life of the canvas by removing damaging degradation products.

Krueger’s talk forms a natural trio with two others given at this year’s conference: Maggie Barkovic and Olympia Diamond’s “Pioneering Solutions for Treating Water Stains on Acrylic Paintings: Case Study of Composition, 1963, by Justin Knowles” and Jonathan Ashley-Smith’s “What’s so ethical about doing nothing?”.  Barkovic and Diamond’s presentation highlighted their successful treatment of a similarly damaged painting using a modified agar gel, and their different approach emphasizes (as Krueger himself did) that aqueous sunbleaching is not suitable for all paintings (the Knowles’ canvas is sized, unlike Louis’ 133).  Ashley-Smith’s provoking contemplation of the future of conservation elegantly pointed out that an overemphasis on minimal intervention can, and has had, unintended consequences; one of these is unknowingly damaging the pieces themselves.  By being so risk averse as to avoid treatments that seem unnecessarily invasive, are we in fact contributing to the degradation of the works we are charged to care for?  Although the pendulum swing towards minimal intervention and preventive conservation is understandable, these talks serve as a valuable reminder to continue to explore new treatment methodologies supported by our increasing wealth of collaborative knowledge and technical advancement.

45th Annual Meeting – Paintings Specialty Session, June 1, “The Conservation of Alexander Calder’s Last Work Mexico #3: The cross-disciplinary treatment supported by SEM and TEM paint cross section analysis using focus ion beam (FIB) sample preparation,” by Sara Wohler and Ralph Weigandt

Author Sara Wohler discussed the fascinating history of Alexander Calder’s airplane model, Mexico #3, the last work he completed before his death, and then presented the conservation treatment of the model. Author Ralph Weigandt then discussed the technical analysis of the paint film on the airplane.  This presentation served as a fun continuation of the painted airplane theme, following Lauren Horelick’s May 30th talk “When an Airplane Acts like a Painting: Applying Established Conservation Methodologies to Ephemeral Aircraft Materials.”


Wohler described the beginning of Alexander Calder’s airplane-making career: In 1972, New York advertiser George Gordon approached Calder with the idea of painting an full-scale airplane.  Calder loved the idea, as it would combined his experience in kinetic art and his background in engineering.  Gordon paired Calder with Braniff International Airways, and Calder created the designs for two airplanes: Flying Colors of South America and Flying Colors of the United States. These were both tremendous public successes.

^Braniff International Airways employee ceremony, 1975, with Flying Colors of the United States.

The author then described the process in which Calder painted the planes: He began by experimenting with designs on several 1/25-scale Westway Aircraft Models.  The chosen design from the model was then scaled up using graph paper that was attached to the full-size airplane.  Calder and his team then used pounce wheels to poke holes through the design on the graph paper, and black spray paint was applied through the pounce holes.  The graph paper was removed, and the paint colors were spray applied by a Braniff team.  Calder supervised the entire process, and hand-painted the engine necelles during the spray process.

Then the author described the artistic process for the model Mexico #3. In 1976, Braniff commissioned a third plane from Calder, this one to celebrate the great relationship between the U.S. and Mexico.  The author provided amazing historic film footage of Calder painting the Mexico #3 model plane.  She noted that the plane itself was made of fiberglass, and Calder created his design using gouache. On November 11, 1976, Calder completed and signed the work, and tragically, passed away later that evening.  Although the design was completed, Mexico #3 was not transferred to an airplane, as Calder was no longer alive to approve of the final result.

^Calder painting the Mexico #3 model.


The model airplane was brought to Kuneij Berry Associates, Chicago, for conservation treatment. Through examination, the author found that the fiberglass model airplane had two priming layers, blue and grey, and a final, even, white coating. Calder painted onto the proprietary white surface using gouache, possibly that he made himself. While the airplane was quite dirty and structurally had sustained a few losses, the treatment was relatively straightforward.

The plane was in poor aesthetic condition; it had previously been displayed in a planter with dirt and plants around it, exposing it to both dirt and moisture. Fortunately, the gouache paint layer was generally in good condition and intact, aside from a few abrasions.  The synthetic varnish layer, which had protected the gouache layer, was covered in surface dirt and grime.  The plane was first surface cleaned with deionized water and PVOH sponges, but a lot of the dirt remained embedded in the varnish.  The synthetic varnish was removed with aromatic solvents.  Care was taken to only thin the varnish on top of the gouache paints, as the paints were sensitive to aromatic solvents.

^Detail of the varnish removal, cleaned (left) and with remaining varnish (right).

Structurally, the plane had suffered a few chips to its wings and there were a few areas of flaking paint. The flaking paint was consolidated with Paraloid B72. To recreate the tips of the wings that had been chipped away, molds were made of Elastosil M4600 A/B and cast using Milliputti. The cast pieces were sanded and adhered to the wings using Paraloid B72.

Shallow losses in the white priming layer were filled and inpainted simultaneously with Golden MSA colors. Losses in the gouache colors were then inpainted with QoR watercolors.  The model was then sprayed with a few, light, protective layers of RegalRez 1094. After the successful treatment, it was recommended that the painting be displayed in a new, more environmentally stable location.

^Sara Wohler inpainting Mexico #3.

Technical Analysis

The technical analysis of Calder’s gouache paint was carried out by Ralph Weigandt, who is currently the primary researcher on the collaborative National Science Foundation (NSF-SCIART) grant with the University of Rochester’s Integrated Nanotechnology Center to advance the scientific understanding and preservation of daguerreotypes. The authors carried out technical analysis of the gouache paint in order to better understand Calder’s materials and techniques, potentially inform the conservation treatment, and to pioneer the use of Focus Ion Beam (FIB) milling for SEM-EDX analysis and PLM examination on paint films.  Through Transmission Electron Microscopy, SEM-FIB allows for the elemental analysis of paint layers at the nanometer scale!

Weigandt explained in depth about the sample preparation process, the Focus Ion Beam milling of the larger sample into the much smaller (~12 um x 0.5 um) cross-section, the comparison between traditional SEM-EDX spectroscopic elemental analysis and mapping vs. the Transmission Electron Microscopy and associated SEM-EDX elemental analysis and mapping capabilities.  In essence, the FIB milling and TEM allows for highly precise, high resolution elemental analysis and mapping, allowing scientists and conservators to see the inorganic composition of individual pigment particles.  A poster from University of Rochester graduate student So Youn Kim outlines the project with excellent photographs and illustrations.

In the end, the elemental analysis did not contribute greatly to the decision-making process of the treatment, but did provide excellent information about Calder’s painting techniques and materials for Mexico #3, which can inform a discussion about his art-making process for this piece and his art in general.  It is clear that this Focus Ion Beam technique coupled with Transmission Electron Microscopy and SEM-EDX elemental analysis is an exciting analytical technique that will be extremely useful in the precise identification of inorganic pigments, fillers, etc., in paint films. Furthermore, it is great to see yet another example of private conservators working with scientific departments at universities (or elsewhere) to investigate materials of cultural heritage objects!

45th Annual Meeting- Paintings Session, June 1, 2017- “Our Lady of Mercy: The discovery of a hanging scroll painting by José Gil de Castro, by Mónica Pérez”

Our Lady of Mercy with St. Peter Nolasco and St. Raymond Nonnatus. Oil on canvas. ca. 1814-1817, 74.8 x 53.3 cm. Image courtesy of Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Santiago de Chile.

Mónica Pérez, Paintings and Frames Conservator at the Centro Nacional de Conservación y Restauración in Santiago, Chile, introduced us to the painting Our Lady of Mercy with St. Peter Nolasco and St. Raymond Nonnatus, the painter José Gil de Castro, the independence movements of Chile and Argentina, and hanging scroll paintings. There is a lot of history, iconography, and treatment to unpack here. I was initially interested in blogging this presentation as I have a special interest in Spanish Colonial Art, and am currently research Our Lady of Mercy and the development of the devotion during the colonial period in South America. My interest was further peaked by the fact that it was a hanging scroll painting as many of these rarely survive in their original format.

José Gil de Castro was a Peruvian portrait painter who worked in Chile and Argentina in the first half of the 19th century. Gil de Castro started by signing his name in Latin and writing the date in numbers to show he was a cultured man. He progressed to writing out the date in letters, and later switched to writing in Spanish. Gil de Castro was involved in the liberation movement of Chile in the 19th century so his move towards writing and signing in Spanish could be seen as him adopting a more patriotic stance. He transitioned from painting Spanish leaders and royalty to painting military leaders, local aristocracy, and patriots, and is considered the father of Chilean national painting. Starting in 2008 a team of Latin American scholars conducted a six-year study on José Gil de Castro that resulted in the Getty supported publication Más allá de la imagen (Beyond the Image) as well as the colloquium Gil de Castro contemporáneo. El pintor en su tiempo y en el nuestro. I was not able to access the publication Beyond the Image online, but I did find a blogpost related to it in The Iris, the Getty’s blog. Unfortunately the existence of Our Lady of Mercy with St. Peter Nolasco and St. Raymond Nonnatus was unknown at the time and the painting was not included in the publications.

Our Lady of Mercy with St. Peter Nolasco and St. Raymond Nonnatus (1817) is in the collection of the Museo O’Higginiano y de Bellas Artes de Talca, Talca, Chile. The painting, measuring 74.8cm x 53.3cm, is a typical depiction of the Virgin Mary as the crowned Virgin of Mercy wearing the white habit typical of the Mercedarian order and with arms wide open. In one hand she holds the Mercedarian scapular and in the other a yoke, symbol of the order’s original dedication to the ransoming of Christians taken captive by the Moors. In the lower part of the painting are St. Peter Nolasco on the left and St. Raymund Nonnatus on the right. At the very bottom of the painting is a banner with an inscription that indicates it was commissioned by María del Carmen Ruiz Tagle from Santiago, Chile, in 1817 and signed “Fecit me Josephus Gil”. In terms of the iconography, Mónica Pérez talked about how devotion to Our Lady of Mercy was transferred to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, who became the patron of the liberation and was adopted as the patroness of Chile in the 19th century. This information, couple with what we learned about the evolution of the artist’s signature, could be used to place the work within the context of Gil de Castro’s shift from vice regal to patriotic painter.

Our Lady of Mercy before treatment. Image courtesy of Centro Argentino
de Investigadores de Arte.

Interest in the painting and its subsequent 2015 treatment at the National Center for Conservation and Restoration was motivated by its inclusion in the then upcoming exhibition José Gil de Castro, Artist of Liberators at the National Fine Arts Museum in Santiago, Chile. The painting as well as its frame were in need of repairs. The painted canvas was nailed to a plank of wood. Although it is common for Spanish Colonial paintings to be nailed or glued to the front of a strainer, paintings nailed to a full board are not. There were horizontal distortions and tears, particularly towards the bottom of the canvas. There were losses to the paint layer and overpaint over the text at the bottom of the composition which made it hard to read, all topped by a yellowed varnish. These are all common condition issues found in paintings and as such, they proceeded with a treatment proposal typical for an easel painting which included removal of the discolored varnish, removal of planar deformations, lining, and compensation for loss. If you read the title of the presentation then you know they were in for a big surprise!


Detail of ribbon around the edge of the painting. Image courtesy of Centro Argentino de Investigadores de Arte.

Upon unframing the painting, they came across signs that this was not a typical easel painting. There was a silk ribbon hand stitched around the perimeter of the canvas which combined with the horizontal cracks and distortions, suggested this was a hanging scroll painting. The scroll format and a note containing a prayer suggested the painting was used for private devotion. The painting would have initially be composed of the extant canvas with a rod and case attached at either end, all together making a single unit. Study of other paintings by Gil de Castro shed further light into his use of the scroll format. Displayed on the wall behind two other sitters that the artist painted were hanging scroll painting of Our Lady of Mercy. Paintings within paintings! In addition to this, IRR analysis revealed that the artist modified the date at the bottom of the painting. It was initially painted in 1814, that same year Gil de Castro made two other versions with similar iconography of Our Lady of Mercy. Pérez did not venture to guess why the change of date.

Detail of portrait of José Manuel de Lecaros Alcalde (1814) by Gil de Castro. Notice the hanging scroll painting of Our Lady of Mercy on the back wall. A more close up detail on the image to the right. Image courtesy of Centro Nacional de Conservación y Restauración and Centro Argentino
de Investigadores de Arte.


In light of this new discovery, the team of conservators in conjunction with a team of curators, art historians, and the painting’s owners decided to re-evaluate the initially proposed treatment. They wanted to preserve the evidence of the original format and history of use of the painting which meant limiting themselves to addressing issues that affected the interpretation of the image. Although cracks affected the visual appreciation of the painting, they attested to its intended use. They removed the painting from the board, removed the yellowed varnish, relaxed the planar deformations, carried out tear mending with the application of welded stitches, did some visual reintegration, revarnishing, and placed a Crepeline ribbon over the edges to protect the original ribbon. The painting was then mounted like a hanging textile. The treatment provided a new interpretation and context for the painting, and added to the understanding of Gil de Castro’s materials and techniques.

You can read more about the treatment of this painting at the Centro Nacional de Conservación y Restauración’s website, including images of the painting’s original condition and examination. The National Fine Arts Museum’s website also has some online resources related to the exhibition José Gil de Castro, Artist of Liberators as well as the catalogue in pdf form . Most of the resources are in Spanish so time to brush up on it!