News in brief: Student and early career projects

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Rani de Vos removing the small pieces of tape after the adhesive dried. Image courtesy of Rani de Vos.

It’s no secret that student research projects often highlight new technologies and techniques, require creative problem solving, and radiate great passion for the work at hand. We are thrilled to share a fantastic selection of brief reports on current projects, ranging from air abrasion to 3D printing, submitted by students and early-career professionals located around the world, from Buffalo to Belgium. Enjoy!

INTERNSHIP AT EDOARDO CHIOSSONE ORIENTAL ART MUSEUM, Valeria Pesce

My name is Valeria Pesce, a paper conservation student who is about to graduate from the Brera Academy of Fine Arts in Milan. During my academic career, my interest has been greatly focused on Asian art and culture, which led me to further focus my research on East Asian materials. With this in mind, my internship at the Edoardo Chiossone Oriental Art Museum in Genova has been an exciting experience to be involved in. I started the training program in September 2019. As a student intern, my main task was to work on my thesis project based on the conservation of seven Japanese Ukiyo-e woodcuts and one pictorial fragment belongeing to the Luigi Bernabò Brea collection. Thanks to the  collaboration between the Brera Academy and the Edoardo Chiossone Museum, I was also able to carry out a non-invasive diagnostic campaign. This study has supported both the investigation of a special printing effect and the characterization of colorants employed in six of the seven Japanese woodcuts treated.

Beside my thesis project, the internship has also provided me the opportunity to experience different aspects of museum work-life, such as installing temporary exhibitions. As part of a team, I helped create multimedia content for the Museum’s official Facebook page. This specific environment has offered me the chance to broaden my perspective, not only as a young professional, but also on a personal level. To have been involved in the protection of this cultural heritage, which came from another place, widened my horizons. I strongly believe that the occidental safeguarding of an oriental collection represents a challenge that calls for extensive interdisciplinary participation. It requires goals that foster connection, not only between professions, but also between cultures and societies.

 Use of 3D technology to create a detachable fill for an archaeological object, by Rani de Vos

I am a master’s student in conservation-restoration at the University of Antwerp, and I specialize in ceramic materials. Before my education in Antwerp, I obtained a bachelor's degree in archaeology at Ghent University. This year, as part of my master's thesis, I will be using 3D technology to create a detachable fill for an archaeological object. My study object is an earthenware Attic skyphos dating from the Middle Geometric II period (850-760 BC). It is a piece of ancient Greek tableware and was used for drinking wine. Both the outer surface and the inside are decorated with horizontal geometric motifs including lines, bands and meanders in black and red-brown colours.

The skyphos consists of 17 shards that were glued together during a previous intervention. The old glue residues are visible all over the object and the glue has clearly darkened and yellowed. The abdomen of the skyphos contains one large lacuna that covers about 30% of the total surface.

This skyphos is used in the archaeology studies at Ghent University during the course “Material Study Greek Archaeology”. The absence of part of the object is instructive in this educational context, as it allows for study of the wall cross-section and the clay type.

To improve the stability of the object and increase its readability, we have now opted to fill the loss in a way that allows for safe removal of the supplement so that the broken edge and wall profile can still be studied during lessons. A detachable fill presents an additional challenge, making the use of traditional conservation and restoration techniques (and materials) more difficult. Consequently, we opted for the use of 3D technology to reconstruct and complete the missing part in the skyphos.

Ethical guidelines and reasoning of traditional treatment are also applicable to a restoration performed using 3D technology. Filling the loss provides greater stability and readability of the object, which in turn can increase the object’s educational value. By using 3D technology to make moulds and cast additions, we can obtain a more objective reconstruction of the missing part. In this way, direct contact with the object and the associated risks are also greatly reduced, and accurate mounting on the fracture surfaces can be achieved. Since the treatment goal for this case study is to create a removable supplement, basic principles such as reversibility and recognisability will certainly be met. Additional benefits of using 3D technology for this object include the ability to create multiple copies and to test and assess different materials and techniques, contributing to the expansion of knowledge regarding the use of 3D technology within the heritage sector and for conservation and restoration-related purposes.

In October I started with the documentation part of the project. I then disassembled the object, removing the old glue residues using solvents. After a light surface cleaning, I consolidated the edges of the shards with Paraloid B72 (10% w/w solution in acetone/ethanol [4/1]) and reassembled the skyphos using a 40% solution (w/w in acetone/ethanol [4/1]). The 3D scan is planned for mid-November and if all goes well, I can start test-printing fills before the end of the year!

An unconventional career path during covid, by Joshua Seymour

Last September I completed my MSc Conservation Practice degree at Cardiff University. With the impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on all areas of life, I understood that it would possibly take some time before I found employment in the heritage sector. I initially began my job search strictly within the radius of my degree in conservation and collections care but had no success.

After then applying for more general museum roles, and many months of rejection and stress, I was offered a job as project officer with the Florence Nightingale Museum. I had initially been attracted to the job posting’s description which included aspects of collections care work as well as featured elements that I believed would be important to my career development. These were not necessarily areas I had previous experience in—such as volunteer management—but understood they are crucial within the sector. Although I was initially hesitant about moving away from a pure collections-focused role, I accepted the offer.

I have been in the role for six months now and have enjoyed every aspect of it. The museum team have appreciated my collections background, and they trust me to get on with collections projects independently; I have taken the time to condition assess the vast majority of objects within the gallery as well as others in storage. Management have also asked me for advice on the likes of lighting and storage. The role has ultimately allowed me to apply my collections knowledge in a professional environment.

Away from my collections work, my role has required me to be involved in the bicentenary events celebrating Florence Nightingale’s 200th birthday. This has provided me with interesting opportunities, such as representing the Museum at the Chelsea Flower Show, as well as helping in the organisation of a celebratory event at St. Paul’s Cathedral and participating in the Lord Mayor’s Show. I am also the volunteer coordinator for the Museum, meaning I am responsible for recruiting and working with volunteers. Having volunteered for multiple museums in the past, it is great to be on the other side providing opportunities to others.

The role has been perfect for me at this stage of my career as I am able to use my conservation knowledge and experience in an environment where I am trusted to do so, as well as being able to develop new heritage skills that traditionally fall outside of conservation and collections care. My advice to students and those looking to start their careers is to not solely focus on collection roles but to expand into other areas of heritage work. You never know what opportunities these may offer.

Conservation of a serpent musical instrument, by Mandy Garratt

As a recent graduate of Cardiff University, MSc Conservation Practice, I was fortunate to work on a variety of fascinating objects during my studies. My most challenging and rewarding project was the conservation of a serpent musical instrument from Cyfartha Castle Museum (Wales).

This instrument was associated with the Cyfartha Band, a renowned early brass band from Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, operational from around 1838 to 1928. The serpent was unable to be displayed at Cyfartha Castle Museum due to several issues including the instability of the outer covering layers, and most significantly, it was missing a large part of the curved bell section.

Conservation treatment was required to stabilise the instrument and to help with the visual interpretation of the serpent, but the goal was not to make the instrument playable due to the fragility of its wooden structure. It was important for the conservation treatment to be fully reversible, cost effective and as environmentally friendly as possible.

This project involved complex decision-making and innovative solutions to create a new bell section that could be slotted over the end of the instrument without being permanently attached. During my research I discovered some exciting new epoxy bio resins created using plant-based renewable carbon rather than petroleum-based carbon. The green chemistry in the manufacturing process of these bio resins results in a 50% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions compared with standard epoxy resins. My university lecturers were also excited by this new product and encouraged me to source and order the materials.  

I created the new bell section using flax fibre cloth strips coated in the epoxy bio resin, wrapped around a core of X-Lite splint bandages moulded into a tube shape, resulting in a significantly reduced carbon footprint when compared to a fibreglass alternative. The new section was light but strong, slotting over the end of the instrument with a comfortable fit to hold it in place without the need for permanent fixings. Covered with strips of cotton cloth painted with black acrylic paint, the new section blended in with the rest of the instrument while also being easily identifiable as a recent addition.

The original outer layers of the instrument were also stabilised, allowing the historic materials to be retained. The reversibility of these repairs means that they can be removed at a later point if deemed appropriate or if materials testing is required. It was a real privilege to work on such a fascinating artefact, and to be able to source and use more sustainable materials for the treatment.

For more information on the green epoxy bio resins used in this treatment, contact Mandy Garratt at: mandy.garratt@googlemail.com

Conservation news from Slovakia, by Eva Videnska

Here we are at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava, in the department of conservation and restoration, the studio of easel and panel painting restoration and conservation (head of the studio, Mrs. Luba Wehlend). As a pair of painting conservators, Marek Kocka and I, Eva Videnska, have been working on the conservation of a Baroque oil painting on canvas by Joseph Zannusi, titled Miracle of five loaves and two fish, from 1775. This project also happens to be the subject of our master’s theses.

The painting comes from the collection of the Priestly Seminary of St. Gorazd in Nitra of the Roman-Catholic Faculty of Theology of Cyril and Methodius of Comenius University in Bratislava. It was decorating the walls of the seminary along with a series of saints by other Baroque artists including Joseph Zannusi (S. Carolo BoromӔo, S.Ioanne EvangelistӔ and S. Emerico).

The past restoration campaigns in the collection are very similar and were probably carried out by restorer Konrád Švestka (1833-1907). Most of the collection was restored in 1868. Zannusi’s Miracle is particular in its size, being almost three meters tall; it might have originally been an altar piece. We found it most interesting to examine the old restoration techniques (filling materials, patches, glues, etc.) and found an oxalate patina unconventionally located on the secondary addition of glue tape covered with overpaint found around the edges; this is a renovation approach probably dating to the 19th century. The painting was executed over two layers of ochre ground, the second layer containing resin. Analysis shows the underpainting, with brown and black colours, building up the darks after the building up of the highlights. The top paint layers cover the underpaint which can be seen only in the aerial perspective of the depicted crowd and in peculiar details.

Marek Kocka and I are completing our theoretical thesis work, which will include our final papers:  Issues in lining of paintings executed on canvas support (by Videnska Eva) and Filling materials used in conservation practise for paintings on canvas (by Marek Kocka).  A part of our project (in the Slovak language) is available on the Academy web site here: https://www.digitalnyprieskum.sk/restaurovanie-diela-zazrak-rozmnozenia-chleba-a-ryb-j-zannusi-mgr-eva-videnska-bca-marek-kocka/

Many thanks to the chemist, Mrs. Mgr. art. Zuzana Machatová, PhD, for her assistance with the project.

Investigations of a Doctor's Saddlebag, by Lorna Brundrett

In the fall semester, second-year students at the Buffalo State Garman Art Conservation Department decide on their master’s projects. I chose to study a medical saddlebag that was used in the Elba, NY area from 1825 until 1864. Inside each of the two leather compartments of the saddlebag were glass vials with cork stoppers and small paper packages bound with string. The packages are all incredibly lightweight and equally tempting to open. I want to explore how much information can be derived from these paper packages without them being opened.

There are a total of eight paper packages, and they vary in size from 1 ¾ inches to 4 ½ inches long. One of the packages has lost its string allowing for little windows to have opened, revealing its contents. However, the other seven packages remain bound and their contents unidentified.

This investigation began by studying the smallest of the paper packages: a neatly folded package that had been bound and knotted with a two-tone string, carefully securing its contained goods. To help determine the contents, an x-radiograph was taken of this package to detect areas within the object of differing densities, thickness, and atomic weights. The degree to which the object was penetrated by x-ray beams was recorded on an imaging plate. To retrieve the imaging plate, all the room lights were turned off in the imaging studio to prevent exposing the plate and losing the recorded image. A green working light was emitted from the x-radiograph room casting a suspenseful glow over the studio. The imaging plate was then scanned, slowly producing a digitized version of the captured image.

Within the package long, lance-shaped leaves were found crammed together, with some of the stems and margins of leaves defined. The species of plant has not been determined at this point, and therefore its medical application remains a mystery.

Of the other six paper packages that I have not yet investigated, some of their paper wrappings require stabilization to safely house their medicines, while others are already successfully containing theirs. Some may contain dried leaves, like the package discussed here, but others may contain hazardous substances that must be addressed. I anticipate each package requiring a unique treatment to correspond with the variety of conditions and contents.

Beneath the Layers: Conserving Archaeological Iron from Ferrycarrig, County Wexford, by Alice Law

Most people start their conservation careers with a single object. I started mine with 52. One of my first projects at Cardiff University was the conservation of a selection of wrought iron small finds excavated from Ferrycarrig, County Wexford, in Ireland. These consisted of 48 nails, a horseshoe, a knife-blade and two unidentified items. Eleanor Evans, a previous student, had already started treatment on priority objects, removing the layers of solid brown corrosion crust which still covered the untreated items.

To be faced with such an array of objects in the first weeks of my conservation degree was certainly a daunting task, but it became a fascinating challenge as my knowledge and experience grew. I learned about the layers of corrosion that develop as iron reacts with water and oxygen and how some of these objects could have completely lost their original metal.

I tested methods of mechanical cleaning—using a scalpel, dental tools and air abrasion—on some substitute nails (not from the assemblage) which could be sacrificed if necessary and found that cleaning by hand was slower and more dangerous to the object. I chose air abrasion as the best option.

On placement in the Cardiff Labs over summer, I spent several days on the air abrasive machine, getting to know the process. After spending six hours a day air abrading, I started to see lifting corrosion everywhere: in uneven concrete pavements or stone bricks. I also started to find my rhythm. It became meditative. I got faster and better able to recognise when I had reached the desired dense product layer—the more compact corrosion in the original shape of the object. What had taken me several hours before could now take me as little as 20 minutes on small, less corroded nails.

Once I understood this end of the process, I had the opportunity to go to Ferrycarrig with the Irish Archaeology Field School to learn about its beginning. I took part in their summer excavation, joining about 30 other international students in learning about archaeological digs and working on a live excavation. I was there when a new nail was found as well as an arrowhead, which was the star find of the season. I even found a piece of medieval pottery!

Between unpredictable bouts of rain, we removed layers of soil from features, cleaned soil from finds (I worked on bone fragments), and floated soil, soaking and filtering it to extract organic matter and charcoal for radiocarbon dating. I also helped with some experimental archaeology, mixing mortar in a medieval mixer (reconstructed) and helping to build the facsimile of a wall excavated on site. It has been built over the top of the original to illustrate to the public what has been learned while also protecting the original walls from the elements.

It was a fantastic, enriching experience to take part in both excavation and conservation of archaeological artefacts, and I hope that what I learned is useful in my future career.

(Read the full article and see all the images in the special issue December-January 2022, "News in Conservation" Issue 87, p. 6-13)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It’s no secret that student research projects often highlight new technologies and techniques, require creative problem solving, and radiate great passion for the work at hand. We are thrilled to share a fantastic selection of brief reports on current projects, ranging from air abrasion to 3D printing, submitted by students and early-career professionals located around the world.
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