Who’s Your Daddy?

Samantha Jovanovic

Or rather, who is Kyle’s Daddy? We don’t know.

 

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The finished product!

 

There is the perception that conservation is reserved for ancient museum artefacts, but the truth is, conservation is done on a wide range of objects, including modern ones. For my high-fired ceramic project, I worked on a modern, rather mundane-looking coffee mug. It was probably made in a factory somewhere with millions of other coffee mugs just like it. This coffee mug ended up being decorated specifically to commemorate someone’s first Father’s Day.

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The mug as it was received.

At some point the mug was damaged and made its way to the UCL IoA conservation lab. As a student interested in taking on more complex projects later in the year, I chose this mug to start on. Another thing about conservation: you cannot necessarily tell how long a project will take until you start. Some objects that look complicated, end up being a breeze, and then there are objects that are deceptively simple-looking. This mug ended up being the latter.

 

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All wrapped up and clamped to ensure tight joins as the adhesive dries.

 

There are times when an object does not have an owner or caretaker—a person that makes decisions on its care. Much of what is done by a conservator is based on the what the owner of the object wants done to it. So what happens when an object doesn’t have anybody? Well, you do the best you can. I had many discussions with Dean, the course coordinator for the MSc programme, about what would be best for the object and me, as a conservation student. As most of the pieces were available, it was decided that cleaning and reconstruction would be the best route. While I endeavoured to maintain some of the ‘evidence of use’, it didn’t always turn out the way we had anticipated.

The mug was very, very dirty; with soiling embedded deep into the ceramic substrate. Cleaning the mug took months of soaking and many runs under the steam cleaner to pull all of the soiling through the ceramic. It turned into a particularly arduous task. By the time I put it back together, I actually had not realized how successful I was in the cleaning. Before, all the fragments were different shades of brown, and now that are a continuous shade of light beige or off-white.

On a personal note, one of the reasons I chose this mug is because a few years ago I made a Father’s Day mug for my dad. Obviously, I was much older than Kyle when I made my mug, but the decoration is similar. I applied hand prints that look like they are cradling the mug in my hands and I put a similar “I ❤ DAD” motif.

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Pictures of the Father’s Day mug I painted for my dad.

 

If you recognise this mug and have any information as to who it may belong to please contact Dean Sully at d.sully@ucl.ac.uk.

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Chedworth Roman Villa

Katie Cook

Term three in the conservation lab started off with an expedition outside of its familiar rooms. On April 26, the UCL MSc Year 1 students made their annual visit to the Chedworth Roman Villa. The villa is one of the largest Roman villas in Britain and is currently managed by the National Trust. The day began with a brief tour of the site, led by Lauren, which provided an overview of the site and some idea of the work that goes into maintaining it during the year and the issues that crop up.

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The introductory tour, talking about covering pilae to protect them during the winter.

Although the forecast looked a bit dreary in the morning, the day certainly had its lovely bits. The villa is situated in a sheltered area where it looks out over the River Coln in the Cotswalds. Although Chedworth villa is prominent for its discovery by the Victorians, its preservation and its status as a National Trust property, it is only one of some 50 villas in the area.

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A look out over the view from the villa.

The villa has had a very interesting history, as it was uncovered nearly 150 years ago by the Victorians, who did their own work on the site to help preserve it and make it accessible to visitors. Their reconstruction and preservation efforts can still be seen around the site today, including the building that today houses the museum.

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Victorian-built museum and National Trust office.

Chedworth Villa is best known for its beautiful mosaics, which can be seen in the triclinium, West Bath House, North Bath House and corridor (also known as the ambulatorium). Unfortunately, such treasures also come with preservation challenges. One of which is the fact that all the mosaics save for that in the corridor are built on pilae, i.e. small columns, that support the floor and allow for a hypocaust system beneath it. A fire would be set at the entrance to this system, and the heat would run under the spaces to heat the rooms and floor. However, deterioration of this system over time has also caused some loss due to collapsed floors.

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A view of one of the West Bath House floors, with the pilae and hypocaust system visible beneath the remaining floor.

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The mosaic corridor or ambulatorium.

UCL conservation students have been making annual visits to Chedworth Roman villa for many years in order to help manage the unique environmental situation that impacts the mosaic floors. The villa is situated slightly downhill from a natural spring, which causes a lot of moisture to be present in the soil. Because the mosaics are situated on the ground in some areas, as in the long corridor, they also take up salts from the ground. If the rooms become too wet, microbiological growth appears, causing damage to the surface of the stones and walls, but when they are too dry the salts crystallize out of the mosaics, also causing damage.

Over the years improved shelter buildings and the introduction of drains and conservation-grade environmental controls have helped to regulate the environment around the mosaics, thanks to an HLF-funded project. A UV eradication program has also been implemented to control microbiological growth on the mosaics. Some areas, however, still need to have heavy growth removed manually so that this system can be used.

And that is where this year’s UCL students came in. Aside from assessing the condition of the main mosaics and rooms in the villa, students tackled the removal of heavy microbiological growth in the North Bath House. Plant growth causes deterioration due to the creep of their anchoring systems beneath the surfaces of mortar and tiles, which then pop off as the plants grow larger.

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The North Bath House: Jan and Adriana preparing for the day, with Libby hard at work in the northernmost bath.

Because the UV removal system is only effective when the plant and microbiological growth is thin enough to be eradicated, removing and thinning out thick growth by hand is necessary before it can be implemented in the North Bath House. With the use of brushes, scalpels, and various hand tools, students tackled the thick patches of greenery.

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Monica and Libby cleaning in the North Bath House.

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Amreet and Gabrielle cleaning in the North Bath House.

Although it is task that takes more than a day to complete, we nevertheless managed to make a dent in the green growth in the North Bath House, which in turn will help keep the stones and mortar intact until further cleaning. In the end, this will allow future visitors, like you, to be able to appreciate these remarkable Roman finds in the depths of the Cotswolds.

 

Keep an eye out for more posts, coming soon!

Making the Invisible Visible

Katie Cook

Archaeological objects can be fascinating and beautiful artworks all on their own. Think of the Venus de Milo or the Winged Victory of Samothrace, renowned for their beauty despite the fact that both are incomplete. The really important bits of archaeology, however, are the small everyday objects that inform us about the lives of people: the pottery, the remnants of meals, the waste from the production of various crafts. These objects are valuable when they have context, that is information about precisely where they came from within the geography and time line of a site.

Recently, I was working on an archaeological ceramic, a large body sherd from a storage jar found at Tell Jemmeh in Palestine (EXXXVI.49/75), which had lost its context. Without context, this piece of pottery had lost its ability to inform archaeologists about production, decoration, vessel shape and origins of the object within its site, as it could have come from any place within it and any time period.

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The whole (section) of the storage jar EXXXVI.49/75, pre-treatment

While cleaning, though, I noticed traces of blue writing, which is readily observable on many other Petrie objects which were marked in the field with their context information. Doesn’t look like much to start with, though, does it?

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Having the context information would be very helpful, though! So I undertook a series of imaging tests in order to try and make the faint traces visible enough to read. My first attempt was to examine the object under ultraviolet (UV) light. If it fluoresced, that would make it much more apparent. Unfortunately, it didn’t. While the traces did darken under infrared (IR) light, that wasn’t enough to make it readable, either.

My next attempt was to delve into photoshopping high quality images to manipulate the writing into visibility. And that worked! To one extent or another. I came up with a few final images using a variety of techniques:

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Stuart Laidlaw, one of the photographers at the IoA, kindly tried his hand at bringing the writing up as well, and had a bit more success in keeping the colour visible than I did:

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Luckily, though faint, it is just enough to make out what looks like HK 180, a context number that Rachael Sparks, the Keeper of Collections at UCL for the Petrie Palestinian Collection, was able to confirm as a viable context number for the site of Tell Jemmeh. It looks like the pot has a context after all, which makes it a far more valuable research tool!

All images are provided courtesy of the UCL Institute of Archaeology Collections (https://www.ucl.ac.uk./museums/archaeology).

An Update from the Working World

In addition to the current students in the MSc program, some past students occasionally have a chance to update us on how things are proceeding as they move on to their careers in the wider world of conservation.

Anna Funke (MSc 2014-2016)

I am from the UCL conservation class of 2016 and am now taking the first steps as a fully-fledged conservator.

After having lived in London for seven years, I decided that I wanted to go back to the States. So during my internship year, I applied to a wide variety of internships and fellowships all over the US, so that I would have a place to go after handing in my dissertation in September.

In the end, I did the Materials Research internship with the National Centre for Preservation Technology and Training (NCPTT) based in Natchitoches, Louisiana. The centre is part of the National Parks Service and runs a wide variety of scientific studies related to the preservation of North American heritage. I was originally supposed to be here for ten weeks but will now be staying for a little longer, which gives me time to get involved with more projects as well as elaborate on my original research.

 

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Anna in front of NCPTT

 

While here, I have been running a study on the use of chelating agents to remove iron stains from marble. This has always been a challenging treatment because the acidity of the chelating agent will cause damage to the calcium carbonate in the marble, which can lead to etching. The aim of this study has been to gather data on the damage done to marble by the use of chelating agents, which could then be combined with data on their effectiveness at stain removal. Five different chelators were tested both at pH 9.2 and pH 10. Based on this combined data, the tested treatment solutions could be ranked according to their effects both on the marble and the staining.

 

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Anna cleaning samples after treatment, unstained samples, and stained samples

 

Now that I have completed the data collected on this project, I will get involved with a study on the effectiveness of different glazing agents in the preservation of historic windows. For this I will be testing the durability of different products using a freeze-thaw chamber.

While I have been here, I have learned how to operate and interpret the data from a wide variety of scientific instruments available to conservation, as well as how to effectively design and run a study in materials testing. It has been a great way of learning more about material science and conservation research.

It has also been interesting working for an organization that is very focused on conservation communications. I have written several blog posts, given a lecture and recorded a podcast in the short time that I have been here. Finally, it has also provided me with an interesting research project, which I can now publish and present at conferences, which will hopefully help me further in meeting people throughout conservation.

 

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Anna taking colorimetry readings on stained samples

 

Introducing: the MSc year ones, 2016/2017

Clare Lim

Another year, another batch of MSc year one students!

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There are twelve of us this year. We come from Canada, Colombia, Singapore, the UK, and the United States. Our academic backgrounds range from archaeology and chemistry to fine art and biblical studies. For some of us, it hasn’t been so long since we were undergrads, while some of us have had several years of work experience in different fields. But what we are very happy to have in common is a great interest in conservation.

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This year, we will be very busy with lectures, seminars, research projects, lab work, and extra projects.

During lectures, which are delivered by our course coordinators and guest lecturers, we learn about the materials that many objects are made of, and how they are usually conserved. In lab skills sessions, we learn more about specific conservation techniques.

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James Hales demonstrating the application of epoxy resin as an adhesive by capillary action

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Demonstration of a plaster fill on a ceramic object, using dental wax as a mould

We will spend much of our time in the lab working on interventive treatments. Each of us will treat at least ten objects during the year. We have the privilege of working on objects from various collections, including those of the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology. For each round of object allocations, we get to choose from a selected range of objects. (If more than one person wants the same object, the conflict is settled by very civilised rounds of rock-paper-scissors.) While each object allocated does mean adding another task to a growing list of deadlines, it’s still always exciting to have the opportunity to work on and learn about interesting objects.

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An object allocation session

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Hard at work in the lab

We have access to several analytical techniques at the UCL Institute of Archaeology (IoA), including, but not limited to, Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR), scanning electron microscopy (SEM), and portable X-ray fluorescence spectrometry (pXRF). We use these analytical techniques in our research projects. They are also useful for helping us to find out more about our allocated objects, so that we can make informed conservation decisions.

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An SEM training session with Dr Tom Gregory

Not everything takes place just within the walls of the IoA. We also get to go on trips outside the lab. Click here to read about our fieldwork on Hinemihi, a Maori meeting house, at Clandon Park!

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A visit to the Stone conservation lab at the British Museum

These are just some of the things we will do in our first year in the MSc in Conservation for Archaeology and Museums. Stay tuned for more, and keep an eye on our Facebook page, Twitter and Instagram too!

How is magic done in the lab?

Adriana Paez

Have you ever seen Ratatouille, the 2007 movie by Pixar about the friendship between a rat and a garbage boy, told in a captivating story about food, solidarity, and the pursuit of happiness and perfection sought after in French haute cuisine? Well, as conservators we have a lot in common with chefs. Let me tell you why, and I promise not to be too cheesy!

ratatouille-picScene “Keep your station clean”, Ratatouille, 2007. Youtube

We spend a lot of time in the lab during the first year of the MSc in Conservation at UCL – at least 729 hours, 63% more “classroom” time if compared to the average timetable of a MSc student in the Institute of Archaeology of 264 hours. This situation inevitably changes our perception of what we are doing, strengthens the bonds among the group, increases shared moments around a cuppa or a coffee (I’m Colombian), and transforms the lab into our second home, as one of the strongest identity references for the students of conservation.

Katie, author of our first Hinemihi blog post (see here), once posted a very illustrative picture on Facebook with a caption that read “I’m not saying our lab is dangerous … But we do have more warning triangles than most other doors.” The lab is a space of learning where you need to balance rigorous behaviour and sets of instructions with great doses of creativity and experimentation, just as in a professional kitchen. Like medieval alchemists, we pursue the elusive goal of “transforming lead into gold” with conservation treatments, i.e. reshaping decay into glory through the assessment of the significance or values that must be preserved.

warning-trianglesOur “warning triangles” at the lab door.

How does this happen precisely? Every few weeks pick up an object that embodies an inspiring set of problems. Objects are allocated to us and a precious exchange occurs: each of them allows us to discover how it has survived the ravages of time, and through its materiality allows us to learn about the chemistry of decay and about conservation materials. We can grasp an idea of the values that have saved it from being discarded in this time in which things are constantly being disposed of and renewed. In exchange, conservators devote precious time and skill to investigating them, removing layers of dust, looking into their damage, sometimes identifying previous conservation treatments, and so we apply our best knowledge to transform them, letting them have a new life afterwards.

As in haute cuisine, such a double-edged deal is rooted in a deep connection and understanding of the objects, giving a formal result that can be evaluated according to the highest standards of academia and owner’s satisfaction – or food critics and customers, depending on the case. And just as in haute cuisine, there is a synchrony between time and energy that cannot be wasted, roles and responsibilities necessitating order, cleanliness, high quality supplies (thankfully, we don’t need to haggle with a provider to have fresh products), cutting and heating tools, and working at individual stations to finally produce results as a group.

Last but not least, there is a scene in the movie that reminds me of one of my most beloved aspects of conservation. In this scene, Colette tells Linguini: “People think that haute cuisine must be snooty, so chefs also must be snooty. But that is not so… we are artists. Pirates who can cook, aren’t we?” And the same thing happens in our profession. Every fortnight, some of the students present to the rest of the group her journey in the conservation world (yes, here conservation also remains predominantly a female-led career, taught mainly by men… but this is another story!). And it is mesmerising to know how diverse and enriching our paths are as we strive to become professional conservators, embracing the possibilities for the future.

So, in a nutshell, here’s where everything begins!

Keep your eyes peeled for more stories from the lab, coming soon!

PS: Thanks to Clara and Jan for the proofreading!

Caring for Hinemihi

Katie Cook

On October 13, the new intake of MSc conservation students undertook their first field work expedition to work on Hinemihi at Clandon Park.

Hinemihi is a wharenui, or Maori meeting house, built in 1880 in Te Wairoa, on the North Island of New Zealand by Ngati Hinemihi people.  Following the devastating eruption of Mount Tarawera in 1866, Hinemihi was purchased by the fourth Earl of Onslow, and relocated to the gardens of his home at Clandon Park in England, now managed by the National Trust. In 2015, Hinemihi experienced another devastating event with the fire that destroyed the Palladian Mansion at Clandon Park.

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Hinemihi at Clandon Park nowadays.

Fortunately, Hinemihi was left undamaged by the fire, and this MSc student fieldwork is part of an ongoing effort to maintain Hinemihi as a living building. Our work was guided by Maori protocol, supported by Te Maru Vice-Chair Sam Callaghan, and within the conservation protocols of the National Trust.  On this outing students carefully removed microbiological growth (MBG – lichen & algae) from the exterior carvings of Hinemihi in preparation for the winter cold. Since Hinemihi is outdoors, MBG can retain water and increase the damage caused by frost when the temperature rises and falls during the winter months. It doesn’t hurt that removing green and grey growth from the carvings allows Hinemihi’s beauty to shine through as well!

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Getting set up for the day!

In order to carefully remove MBG without damaging the carvings or removing the flaking paint, students used a variety of tools: scalpels, bamboo skewers, dental tools, cotton swabs and deionised water and brushes.

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It was a bit crowded since we could only reach so much of the outermost carvings without a ladder.

Although we didn’t have time (or ladders) to reach every surface, Hinemihi certainly looked better when we left and the conservation students will certainly be visiting again to help care for Hinemihi. Look out for upcoming blog posts on the subject!

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Before and after: With less lichen and algae, Hinemihi should endure the winter weather much better.

Caring for Wounded Objects

Vanessa Applebaum

Editor’s Note: MSc Year 2 students often write blog posts for the museums where they currently intern. This example was originally posted to the Science Museum blog, found here. Reposted with permission.

As a member of the conservation team that has cleaned, documented and repaired items for the Wounded: Conflict, Casualties and Care exhibition, I’ve become acquainted with a range of fascinating objects used during the First World War.

Among those I readied for display, my favourite is the field surgical pannier set, which was made in Britain in 1905 and would have been used in field hospitals near the front line.

I particularly like the pannier set because of the many remarkable smaller objects – over 100 – inside the case. They include instruments used to open up the body and stitch wounds, as well as mundane items such as bandages and plasters. There’s also a saline infusion apparatus that was used to wash wounds, dilute drugs and provide a substitute for blood plasma.

A field surgical pannier set, made in Britain in 1905. Credit: Science Museum.

A field surgical pannier set, made in Britain in 1905. Credit: Science Museum.

The interior of the pannier and the items inside were treated extensively last year by Louise Stewart Beck, who worked on almost all the objects going on display.

However, the exterior – specifically the pannier’s leather components – also needed conservation. And that’s where I came in.

My task involved documenting the pannier’s condition, cleaning it, repairing certain areas where the leather was lifting and tearing, and stabilising spots on the surface that were crumbling.

Parts of the leather were suffering from ‘red rot’, a form of degradation – not actually rot, despite the name – that occurs in vegetable tanned leathers from the late 1800s and early 1900s. It usually appears as a reddish colour and a crumbling surface, and results from high temperatures and high humidity. To fix the problem I used a ‘consolidant’ to treat the surface locally, which helped to stop the crumbling and stabilise the pannier for the future.

Because of its age and how it was used, other areas of the leather – mostly the bottom edges and corners – had split and were lifting from the wicker interior. The location of the damage and the reduced flexibility of the material made this one of the trickier parts of the job.

Vanessa at work conserving the field surgical pannier set. Credit: Science Museum

Vanessa at work conserving the field surgical pannier set. Credit: Science Museum

In some cases the treatment was as straightforward as sticking down the leather with an adhesive, but for other sections that were fragile and unable to bend I had to resort to humidification. Where the leather needed extra support to reattach to the wicker, I used Japanese tissue paper colour matched to the brown leather as a kind of patch.

Treating the surgical pannier set was both interesting and informative. I look forward to seeing it on display in the exhibition, and I’m sure others will enjoy learning from it just as I have.

Conservation of the Cruciform Hub’s Historical Busts

By Emma Prideaux and Cyril Maucourant

Following the introduction of the busts (Here!), we explain the conservation process. The process involved four main steps: observation, investigation, deliberation and treatment.

Observation

Students need to work out what needs to be done to these objects before a plan of action can be drawn up. So each statue will be first examined thoroughly and these observations will be recorded, through written descriptions, photographs and illustrations. These records also function as a record of what the object was like before treatment. Observation can be simply viewing the object with the naked eye, but magnified lenses or digital microscope using visible light, IR and UV, can be used to observe specific details related to decay mechanisms or highlight traces of materials from past conservation treatments (Fig. 1.) .

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Figure 1. Recording evidence of dry corrosion on a tip of a dowel pin (Maucourant, 2016)

Investigation

This stage is essential to determine the chemical nature of materials the object is made of. This can inform us of the correct chemicals needed to instigate conservation work.

This can be as simple as removing a sample of adhesive from the surface of the object, placing it on a clear slide and dropping acetone on it, to see if it will dissolve. More intensive analysis, usually involves equipment such as a pXrf or a Scanning Electron Microscope, which can be used to provide information about the surface morphology and micro-crystalline matrix. With this information, a critical analysis about the choice of materials used for conservation treatment can be proposed.

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Figure 2. Location of two different accretions in the surface of the bust (Wang, 2016)

Deliberation

When the conservators have decided what is feasible, the next step is to consult with the ‘stakeholders’. In this case, those in charge of the marble busts, and each other. This is to ensure that the conservation work aligns with the goals of the owners of the object.

The fact that these marble busts are part of a set can complicates matters. This group of objects will all be displayed together. The conservators must consult each other to ensure that all the marble busts and both the plaster busts retain the same aesthetic after conservation.

Once a conservation treatment has been formally agreed, the students can then move onto conservation treatment of the objects.

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Figure 3. Testing cleaning methods – results (Maucourant, 2016)

Conservation treatment

Finally, after observation, investigation, and deliberation these objects can begin to be treated.

Conservation is, at its heart, problem solving, and each statue will provide its own challenges and solutions. This can be as simple as brushing the dust off the surface of the object, to reconstructing missing fragments of stone. A range of tools can be used, from bamboo sticks and cotton wool to scalpels and Plaster of Paris fills. The techniques used on this object set will vary widely – some of the statues are plaster, some are marble. Some objects need to have aesthetic repairs whilst others need structural repairs.

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Figure 4. Some need significant repairs (De la Serna, 2016)

 

More on the treatment soon!

 

 

A tale of significance: The confused porcelain

Lucie Altenburg

Once upon a time, on one fateful afternoon, we were asked to choose our first object for treatment. I immediately spotted a small porcelain figurine broken in two at the midriff. It appeared to be a Japanese woman in an ornate and gilded kimono and holding a fan, which would suggest a dancer. It was one of those “Aha!” moments: that Asiatic looking young lady “sang” to me.

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The Japanese figurine studied. Photograph by Lucie Altenburg

Objects, even when we know little to nothing about them, can be powerful engagers. What had actually happened was that, as a slightly atypical Japanese with a German surname, I felt compelled to choose this dainty but slightly sorry looking figurine because there was a link… Even before I started any sort of work on this object it already held significance for me.

Significance is a vital concept in 21st century conservation. It refers to the values and meanings that heritage objects hold for individuals and communities. These values and meanings determine the object’s ability to engage people, and people’s ability to connect and relate to the object. The aim of conservation is to retain, reveal or recover the cultural significance of an artefact. We do this not simply through the treatment of the object’s fabric, but also through the development of an understanding of its history and any meanings it may hold. In the MSc we learn to make significance a key focus in any treatment design. Our treatment proposals must include an assessment of significance that identifies the important elements of the object‘s fabric, history, and meaning.

So I set out to do this. The figurine was broken in half and heavily soiled, so that it was difficult to see some of the decorative patterns on the garment. After a preliminary visual examination, no manufacturing marks were observed, making it difficult to provenance and even date the figurine. It looked like the representation of an Asian lady, possibly a dancer, and the statement of significance was first written with this interpretation in mind.

But the more I looked at it, the more it bothered me. There was something very much off about the figurine, and this irked me to no end.

That’s when it hit me. Not literally. It is an inanimate object after all.

The way the hair was styled was completely wrong for a young woman, especially in a traditional kimono. It can clearly be seen in the pictures other Japanese porcelain figurines. That particular hairstyle was actually one that young men usually sported.

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Other Japanese figurines. Photograph from ebay.co.uk

The investigation deepened as I reached out to some relatives back in Japan, who confirmed that the hairstyle and in fact the short sleeved kimono suggested that this was a young man instead of a young woman. This new information would not change my proposal for the way the figurine is conserved or handled in this case, but it was revealing hitherto hidden values in the figurine, and enriched its capacity to engage. This underlines how important it is to fully understand the object being treated.

I finally had a stroke of luck. A virtually identical figurine online, was described as a Kabuki geisha. In Japan, we have a form of theatre called Kabuki. Traditionally men act out female roles and dress as such. As far as I know geishas are all women, since they are hostesses and entertain men. So the description may be wrong. However, it was the same stance, the same fan and kimono (just decorated differently), and the same puzzling hairstyle. Also, there was a manufacturer name. All this added to the understanding of the figurine and finally gave a potential provenance.

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Detail of Kabuki performance. Photograph from seejapn.co.uk

At this point, my cousin, who is a traditional painter, got back at me saying she was 99% sure this was a man. She was puzzled by the way the bottom of the kimono folds to the sides, showing a rather dainty foot, a very effeminate trait. While the proper right arm shows a red under-garment, more of a male feature.

The figurine would have been a Kutani ware porcelain that towards the end of the nineteenth century, produced almost exclusively for import towards Europe. This meant that accurate depictions of the Japanese culture were not necessarily a priority; mostly the figurines had to be exotic and beautiful explaining the confusing mixture of male-female markers in the figurine. At this point, it becomes difficult to affirm what it is trying to represent.

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Other Kutani figurines. Photograph from acientpoint.com

As conservators, we often achieve a degree of knowledge and intimacy with the object that few other heritage practitioners have. So far, the result of my work, even before I started on treating the problems with the object’s fabric, is that the figurine has regained some of its values. It is now more than it was when the treatment started, and has an interesting and engaging tale to tell. It has certainly increased its appeal and interest to me as I research and work on it.

So we all lived happily ever after. The end