39th Annual Meeting – Architecture Session, June 3, “Like Twinkling Stars: The Technical Analysis of an 18th Century Ceiling from Damascus, Syria” by Kirsten Travers, Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation

In the summer of 2009, Kirsten Travers and LeeAnn Barnes Gordon performed documentation and conservation treatments on the ceiling of the Turkish Room in Doris Duke’s Shangri La estate in Hawaii.  The ceiling was originally commissioned in 1797 for the Quwwatli family reception room in their home in Damascus, Syria, and was made using a technique called adjami.  The author provided a brief but thorough explanation of the traditional material, which, if I am correct, is made by nailing together thin slats of wood, filling gaps and holes with fiber, applying raised gesso ornament followed by layers of metal foil, tinted glazes and paint.  The ceiling was removed from its original location in the 1920s and spent decades in storage.  Doris Duke, a devotee of Islamic art and artifacts, purchased the ceiling in 1976 and installed it in her Hawaiian home in 1979, mislabeling it the Turkish Room. By 2009, the ceiling colors were dull and the adjami was deteriorated.

The author and her colleague performed conservation treatments during their summer workshop while students in the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation.  While Travers breezed through her discussion of the treatments, which included injection adhesives and brush-applied consolidants, the real subject of her talk was the analysis of 50 finish samples from the ceiling.  She and her colleagues at Winterthur/University of Delaware tested the samples using eight different analytical techniques, including cross-section analysis, fluorochrome staining, PLM, XRF, SEM-EDS, FTIR, Raman and GC-MS.  The author described in detail her findings, particularly the blue, pink and green layers, as well as the varnish and tinted glaze layers.

While the author’s presentation was packed with information, she presented it in a clear and well organized manner.  She distilled a large amount of complex information into an easily understood whole.  This was my favorite talk of the ASG session, which was strong on its own. (Though perhaps I am biased, as I also perform paint investigations.)  I only wish that the author had had a full hour so that she could explain her subject in greater detail.  I would encourage the author to publish her findings.

39th Annual Meeting – Architecture Session, June 3, “Conservation of Dalle de Verre at the New York Hall of Science” by Laura Buchner and Chris Gembinski, Building Conservation Associates, Inc.

Laura Buchner and Chris Gembinski gave a fascinating presentation on the conservation of dalle de verre glass panels at the New York Hall of Science, a building erected for the 1964 World’s Fair.  Unlike many buildings erected for world’s fairs, the New York Hall of Science was always meant to be a permanent structure.  The Great Hall is a 90-feet high ribbon-like structure of dalle de verre glass panels.  The exhibition during the 1964 World’s Fair, “Rendezvous in Space”, made use of the deep cobalt blue dalles, highlighted by bits of ruby, green and gold, which give the interior the appearance of stepping into the cosmos.

The authors presented a brief description of how dalle de verre panels were made, both for this building and for typical buildings of the era.  According to the authors, 1964 was a transition period when Willet Studios, a manufacturer of dalle de verre panels, began switching from the poured concrete panels used at the Great Hall, to an epoxy matrix.

In 2005, BCA began restoring the Great Hall.  The goals of the project were to preserve the “experience of the building” and to address most of the deterioration and moisture-infiltration issues related to the building, but it was acknowledged by all parties involved that it would be impossible to cure all of the moisture-related problems due to the nature of original construction materials.  The authors explained how they treated the typical conditions–cracks, erosion of the matrix, spalls of the concrete matrix, cracked glass, biological growth, and exposed reinforcement mesh.  They replaced several panels with new dalle de verre set in an epoxy matrix, and rearranged some existing panels to minimize differences in light transmission between new and old units.  They repaired cracks by injection and surface-application methods, and used a consolidant and water-repellant to reduce further deterioration of the panels.  They also used a migrating corrosion inhibitor to reduce corrosion of rebar in the concrete grid.

The presentation was clear, informative, and well organized, and the conservation work looks expertly performed.  I enjoyed learning about dalle de verre, as I was not familiar with it prior to the talk.  I especially appreciated the authors’ willingness to share their experience using specific products, and the steps they took to maximize the efficacy of these products.