Conservation at the Museum of Anthropology, Vancouver

Megan Narvey

The conservation program at UCL consists of two Master’s degrees over the course of three years. Two summers of those three years are consumed, more or less, with the writing of dissertations. The middle summer, however, is free. I’m Canadian, and although I’m very happy with my decision to study conservation abroad, I hope to work in Canada when I’m finished. Therefore, I used my free summer to build contacts in Canada by applying for an internship at one of my favourite Canadian museums.

The Museum of Anthropology (MOA) at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, has an impressive collection of objects from all around the world, and is most well known for its collection of objects from First Nations groups of the Pacific Northwest. The museum is also known for having a very inclusive policy of working with the communities it represents.

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Haida house totem pole in the Great Hall, from c. 1870. These poles were originally from one pole, which stood outside the front wall of a house called ‘Plenty of Tliman Hides in This House’, a structure belonging to the family of the clan of ‘Those Born at Gadasgo Creek’, of the Raven moiety. Please read more about them on MOA’s online catalogue, here.

I had visited the museum before and was impressed with the collection, the quality of the facilities (there was a major renovation in 2010), and was intrigued by its use of a glass door separating the conservation lab from the galleries. It didn’t hurt that this is the view outside.

The view from the staff lunch area is not too shabby.

The view from the staff lunch area is not too shabby.

At MOA, I worked under the guidance of the conservators Heidi Swierenga and Mauray Toutloff. I completed complex treatments, worked with volunteers, and learned about and assisted with earthquake-proofing of the storage areas (this is not a problem you come across in London!). The most interesting treatment I worked on was of a Kwakwaka’wakw wooden figure.

Before treatment

The figure would have been displayed publicly to honour the greatness of a chief, and depicts a chief being carried on the shoulders of a slave. You can read more about the context of the object here. The figures are painted with red and black paint, and the wood – likely cedar –  has been stained or varnished. The figure needed conservation as, during handling, the thumb of the chief had fallen off due to a failed previous conservation treatment. At the same time, a curator had come across a historic image of the figure where the outstretched arm of the chief was held in a different position. The historic position was more in keeping with the original context of the object, so we were asked if we could return it to this previous position.

Detail of where the thumb had broken

Detail of where the thumb had broken

The first step of the treatment was to determine how the outstretched arm was connected to the body, and how to remove it without causing any damage. There appeared to be a lot of pieces of wood nailed together around the joint, as well as a bright, new wooden wedge and two different kinds of adhesive.

Detail of the arm joint

Detail of the arm joint

After plenty of examination, it was clear that the arm itself was not nailed in place, but only adhered. The adhesive was found to be soluble in ethanol, so it was softened with the solvent and the arm easily pulled out of the socket.

Stage one of the treatment accomplished!

Stage one of the treatment accomplished!

The next stage of treatment was to remove the tenon, of the open mortise and tenon joint, and reattach it at an angle that would put the arm in its historic position. The tenon was attached to the arm with an overly strong adhesive that was causing the wood on the arm to fracture, as well as with six nails. I removed the adhesive with solvent and had to pry the tenon away from the arm using wooden wedges and hammer. Then I removed the nails from the tenon by hammering them out backwards, with a piece of wood to cushion the blows so as to preserve the nails.

The slow process of driving wooden wedges between the arm and the tenon to separate them without causing further damage.

The slow process of driving wooden wedges between the arm and the tenon to separate them without causing further damage.

Both the arm and the tenon were pockmarked with holes from nails hammered in and removed over time. In order to lower my impact on the object, I chose to reuse two of these holes to attach the tenon to the arm in the new position, and used screws instead of nails, which are easier to remove. Finally, I removed the visually obtrusive wooden wedge and replaced it with a piece of 8-ply black acid-free matboard. No adhesive was needed to secure the arm in place.

The arm joint after treatment

The arm joint after treatment

The last step of treatment was reattaching the thumb. Upon examination, four different eras of previous conservation were detected (all prior to the object’s acquisition by the museum in 1973, and the establishment of the conservation labs at MOA). There were wooden wedges, nails, what appeared to be a type of animal glue, and then what appeared to be a more modern synthetic glue. All of these treatments had failed because the thumb lacked good contact with the body. Therefore, I decided to use a combination of fill and adhesive to reattach the thumb to the body, with a modern, easily reversible conservation adhesive.

The thumb, reattached more securely to the figure.

The thumb, reattached more securely to the figure.

After the treatment, the object was returned to its location on display in the Great Hall of the museum, with what I see as a much grander and more imposing appearance.

The object after treatment.

The object after treatment.

My internship experience at the Museum of Anthropology was highly educational and equally fun. To learn more about conservation at MOA or their conservation internship program, please find more information at http://moa.ubc.ca/conservation/.

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Hinemihi Maintenance Day

Vanessa Applebaum

For the past 12 years, UCL conservation students have travelled to Clandon Park to assist the National Trust with the care of Hinemihi, a 19th-century whare nui (Maori meeting house) originally from New Zealand. The Hinemihi kaitiakitanga (Hinemihi Maintenance Day), has become an annual tradition at Clandon Park,and is an event that allows us to gain experience with both preserving heritage buildings, as well as with public engagement in conservation.

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Hinemihi survived the recent devastating fire at Clandon Park and remained unharmed. Whilst the site is currently closed for public access, we were allowed a rare opportunity to work on site,  to carry out a  small scale maintenance project.  This was arranged during the first week of July and five of us were able to take part. Rev. Regan O’Callaghan attended and conducted a karakia in order to clear the way for our work to take place.  The mission this year, presented to us by Dean Sully the MSc programme coordinator,  was to clean and document the condition of Hinemihi’s historic carvings. The removal of microbiological growth (algae and lichen) is of benefit to both Hinemihi’s appearance, as well as her structural integrity.

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Our tactic for lichen removal centred first on wetting the microbiological growth, and then on the use of a combination of dental tools, scalpels, and files to clean the wood. When wetting the wood, we used a 1:1 solution of deionised water and industrial methylated spirit (IMS). This helped loosen the growth  and allowed for careful scraping, without damaging the delicate painted surface.

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Though a variety of instruments were used, my personal preference was a metal file— it provided an edge to remove the lichens, but was not as sharp as a blade, and therefore I avoided cutting into or damaging the wood. The results were very satisfying, as one could note an immediate change to the surface once it had been attended to.

One of our favourite parts of the day was teaching these cleaning methods to National Trust staff and volunteers who work at Clandon Park. Though we wish we could help with the preservation of Hinemihi more often, time and distance preclude this from happening. It is therefore very important to help train others how to carry out  conservation cleaning, so that they may continue Hinemihi’s maintenance in the future.

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We had a great time working on Hinemihi’s care at Clandon Park. For a group of (in-training) object conservators , who often focus on smaller-scale treatments, it was wonderful to expand our breadth of knowledge to include a large-scale heritage site. I can’t wait until next year!

For more information about Clandon Park and  Hinemihi, please  go to (http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/clandon-park/)

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A Heavenly Transformation – The Treatment Continues…

Jan Cutajar

Check out the previous posts in the series here, here, and here!

Our last blog post on the treatment of the Norfolk Museums Services angels dealt with some very satisfying flake relaying on Angel A. In this new episode, we shall delve into the treatment of Angel B (shown below in case your memory needs jogging), which had suffered a more severe case of surface delamination than its counterpart. Indeed, the delamination had reached such a severe state that even slights movements of the angel within its packaging resulted in notable loss of gilding!

Angel B, more affectionately known as Gabrielle. Courtesy of Norfolk Museums Service, T1878333.

Angel B, more affectionately known as Gabrielle. Courtesy of Norfolk Museums Service, T1878333.

For this reason, an intensive rescue operation took place earlier this year over three, wintery January days, with the aim of stabilizing the angel so that it may be removed from its packaging and be treated in a similar manner as Angel A. An enthusiastic team comprising of the author, Letty Steer and Dae-Young Yoo was put together and led by a motivating Claire D’Izarny-Gargas.

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The team members hard at work – above, from left to right, Dae-Young Yoo, Letty Steer & Claire D’Izarny-Gargas; below, from left to right, Jan Cutajar, Dae-Young & Letty.

The team members hard at work – above, from left to right, Dae-Young Yoo, Letty Steer & Claire D’Izarny-Gargas; below, from left to right, Jan Cutajar, Dae-Young & Letty.

Given the condition of the angel, it was slightly (if not very!) daunting to actually even consider touching the angel. The first step, therefore, was to develop a method of stabilising very loose flakes. After several initial trials, it was found that the best method, given the time frame we had to work in, was to apply a Japanese tissue paper facing (adhered directly with a 2% w/v solution of Klucel G in isopropanol, a hydroxypropyl cellulose adhesive commonly used with organic materials), which was then heat-activated using the heated spatula. This step allowed the gilding flakes to be slightly re-shaped in the process before relaying. You can see these facings in the pictures above – here are some more detailed shots of the procedure.

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Applying the Japanese tissue facing using 2% w/v Klucel G – where possible, the areas of flaking were cleaned first, as can be seen. Sometimes though, this was not possible and facing was applied directly to severely flaking sections.

Applying the Japanese tissue facing using 2% w/v Klucel G – where possible, the areas of flaking were cleaned first, as can be seen. Sometimes though, this was not possible and facing was applied directly to severely flaking sections.

The same procedure used to relay flakes on Angel A was then used, applying solutions and heating through the paper facing, which was possible due its fibre-thin nature. Once the gelatin (5% w/v in deionised water) had set hard after 5–10 minutes from heat-activation, the facing was removed by first moistening it with lukewarm deionised water and then peeling it off at a 180o angle with a pair of pointed tweezers. Any clean-up of excess gelatin or paper threads could then take place with warm water swabs.

Here’s an example of the complete treatment procedure: (1) flakes before treatment; (2) facing applied; (3) application of 50% IMS and gelatin, followed by heat activation; (4) after setting, the facing is removed with a warm, wet swab; (5) tweezers are used to pull the facing gently off; (6) the area after treatment, success!

Here’s an example of the complete treatment procedure: (1) flakes before treatment; (2) facing applied; (3) application of 50% IMS and gelatin, followed by heat activation; (4) after setting, the facing is removed with a warm, wet swab; (5) tweezers are used to pull the facing gently off; (6) the area after treatment, success!

Once we were confident that this method worked, the angel in its packaging was set on the operating table and the areas identified as most fragile were faced and treated. There definitely was a ‘surgical theatre feel’ to all this, with two conservators each working on each side of the box, passing around spatulae, brushes and adhesive solutions. Everyone fell promptly into their roles and the rhythm of work got going.

Here, Claire and Dae-Young are stabilising the angel, before its removal from its temporary packaging.

Here, Claire and Dae-Young are stabilising the angel, before its removal from its temporary packaging.

The “operating table” so to speak, with different parts of the treatment taking place at the same time.

The “operating table” so to speak, with different parts of the treatment taking place at the same time.

Letty and Young heat activating the Klucel G and gelatin using heated spatulae.

Letty and Young heat activating the Klucel G and gelatin using heated spatulae.

After the first day, the angel was lifted out of its box successfully without any severe loss of gilding. This allowed us to access more surface area on the angel and so the work intensified during the next two consecutive days, as you have seen already in some of the photos. Facings were applied, flakes were relayed and facings taken off. The most challenging areas were the face, wings, chest and feet on the angel due to the undulating surfaces and level of decorative carving. At times, some flakes were broken or damaged during treatment which was heart-wrenching, however, the solution to this was very straightforward: document it and then repair it.

Some stunning work achieved by Claire on the face of the angel.

Some stunning work achieved by Claire on the face of the angel.

Similar successes on the left wing – clearing the facing was particularly tricky here, as it tended to catch on the decorative carvings, lots of care and caution were thus necessary to achieve these results!

Similar successes on the left wing – clearing the facing was particularly tricky here, as it tended to catch on the decorative carvings, lots of care and caution were thus necessary to achieve these results!

At the expiry of the available time, the angel was miraculously looking in much better shape than before, and in turn was also much more stable! Indeed, the success of the treatment allowed us to move the angle from a lying, horizontal position to a standing, vertical one. Advantageously, this then permitted an improved packaging solution to be implemented whilst more work was carried out at a later stage.

The angel after three days solid work – and finally standing whole!

The angel after three days solid work – and finally standing whole!

Yes, despite the advances made at this stage, the treatment was not yet over and further relaying of gilding and paint was necessary. This was completed in part during another similar session in February. In fact, should you wish to know about this session, we will be more than happy to answer your questions in person at this World Archaeology Day Festival at the UCL Institute of Archaeology, come Saturday the 13th June! There’s an even more exciting part though! We shall be working on the angels this Saturday and you will have the opportunity to see how this work is done in real-time. So don’t miss out on this fantastic opportunity to set your eyes on these angelic beauties, we look forward to seeing you!

WE LOOK FORWARD TO SEEING YOU THIS SATURDAY!

WE LOOK FORWARD TO SEEING YOU THIS SATURDAY!

N.B. All photos by Claire D’Izarny-Gargas & Jan Dariusz Cutajar. Permission to post courtesy of the Norfolk Museums Service.

Let the Treatment Begin!

Abigail Duckor

Following the research conducted by Claire d’Izarny-Gargas, further examination led to the formation of treatment plans for Angel A and Angel B. As discussed earlier, Angel A was in decidedly better condition, so it was tackled first.

Claire starting the treatment on Angel A

Claire starting the treatment on Angel A, courtesy of Norfolk Museums Service, T1878333.

On the front and the back of the angel were two different types of surfaces. The front was a gilded layer, which was flaking and delaminating. The back featured a painted layer, also undergoing flaking, but not as extensively. The front and the back of Angel A therefore underwent different treatments. This blog post discusses the relaying of the flaking gilded surface. For the front of the angel the main goals were to clean the surface (which was very, very dirty!) and to relay the remaining flakes. An initial gentle clean was done with a cotton wool swab and a solution of 50:50 IMS (industrial methylated spirit) and deionised water. This method was selected after some cleaning tests were carried out in an inconspicuous area.

Cleaning tests on Angel A.

Cleaning tests on Angel A. Courtesy of Norfolk Museums Service, T1878333.

The flakes were then relayed by first saturating the area with the 50:50 IMS/ deionised water solution. Then, using a small brush, a drop of warmed gelatin solution (5% w/v in deionised water) was placed under the flake. Saturating the area first reduced the surface tension and allowed the gelatin to penetrate under the flake.

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The gelatin was dissolved in warm deionised water. It was kept at 60°C in a water bath. Photograph by A. Duckor

After the gelatin cooled a bit (a few minutes), heat was applied to the area with a heated spatula. A piece of silicone-release paper was used between the  spatula and the angel, to prevent damage to the surface from the tackiness of the gelatin. Pressure was gently applied to the flake with the heated spatula, in a ‘rubbing’ motion. The gradual heating softened the gilding and allowed it to be re-shaped onto the surface of the angel. The heat ‘activated’ the gelatin and adhered the flake onto the substrate.

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The heat spatula and brush used in the flake relaying. Photograph by A. Duckor

This method was very successful in relaying the flakes with little breakage. Following re-laying, further cleaning could be done without risking additional damage to the surface.

The left hand of Angel A before and after the flake relaying. Courtesy of Norfolk Museums Service, T1878333.

The bulk of this treatment took place during the summer months of 2014 and allowed for the involvement of both MSc and MA conservation students – a great opportunity to work together and learn from one another!

Erin Murphy using the heat spatula to gently press down a flake and seal it with the gelatin.

Erin Murphy using the heat spatula to gently press down a flake and seal it with the gelatin. Courtesy of Norfolk Museums Service, T1878333.

Rachel Altpeter and Romina Quijano Quinones working together.

Rachel Altpeter and Romina Quijano Quinones working together. Courtesy of Norfolk Museums Service, T1878333.

Yuqi Chock applying gelatin to flaking areas of gilding.

Yuqi Chock applying gelatin to flaking areas of gilding. Courtesy of Norfolk Museums Service, T1878333.

Photographs by A.Duckor and Claire D’Izarny-Gargas.

“Shorty, you’re my Darling Angel…”

Jan Cutajar

Forget Shaggy and that catchy tune, drum-roll on cue, allow us to introduce you to two fascinating objects, straight from heaven above.

Fig. 1: Ladies and gentlemen, we present to you Gabriel and Gabrielle (blandly named Angel A (right) an B (left) respectively).

Ladies and gentlemen, we present to you Gabriel and Gabrielle (blandly named Angel A (right) and B (left) respectively). Courtesy of Norfolk Museums Service, T1878333.

Well, more precisely, this stunning pair of wooden gilded statues is originally from Blo Norton Hall Chapel in the Breckland district of Norfolk. They have recently been entrusted to the UCL Institute of Archaeology Conservation Department, by Norfolk Museums Service,  as they were in need of some tender care. In this first chapter of our series on this ongoing conservation project (run by fellow MSc. Conservation colleague Claire D’Izarny-Gargas at UCL Qatar and us students in London), we shall first describe the initial condition of the angels we have come to love here at the conservation lab. So, without further ado, let’s jump into the thick of it!

Both angels had their outer gilded layer present in a state of dramatic flaking, such that the gold leaf was detaching all over the surface and uncovering the remains of earlier gilded layers. A detailed physical examination revealed that several campaigns of gilding had taken place. Further examination was not easy as the extent of surface delamination meant that handling the object was not possible without risking further surface losses. The following photos reveal the extent of this damage:

The faces of both Angel A (left) and Angel B (right) had particularly suffered from surface delamination. Courtesy of Norfolk Museums Service, T1878333.

Fig. 3: Angel B was in much worse off a state than A - note the extent of flaking as well as the acuteness of the flaking (not to mention all the dust!).

Angel B was in much worse off a state than A – note the extent of flaking as well as the acuteness of the flaking (not to mention all the dust!). Courtesy of Norfolk Museums Service, T1878333.

Fig. 4: Whilst Angel B suffered on the front, Angel B had more severe problems on its back, where delamination had taken place to reveal the various gilding campaigns, painted layers and ground layers. Although rather despairing, the deterioration allowed insights into the preparation of the object during its creation.

Whilst Angel B suffered on the front, Angel A had more severe problems on its back, where delamination had taken place to reveal the various gilding campaigns, painted layers and ground layers. Although rather despairing, the deterioration allowed insights into the preparation of the object during its creation. Courtesy of Norfolk Museums Service, T1878333.

From these visual observations, it was clear that the sensory significance of the objects was being compromised and necessitated immediate recourse. This was also since both angels were missing fingers and Angel A in particular was suffering from a fractured arm!

In the next chapter, join us as we report the analytic tests and research which were undertaken to  further comprehend the active deterioration and finally guide the treatment choices for the angels.

N.B. All photos by Claire D’Izarny-Gargas.