Thursday, August 4, 2011

Presentations at the British Museum

This weekend, Ellen Moody, Erin Anderson, and I gave presentations to conservators at the British Museum. One can imagine what a thrill it was for us! Erin presented on her technical study and treatment of
two lacquer tea containers that are part of Winterthur’s collection.
It was very appropriate, as Erin has been working mostly with lacquer
during her internship at the British Museum this summer.

Ellen Moody and I presented on our research and treatment of an
ancient bronze bull relief from Tell al-‘Ubaid, which is in
current day Southern Iraq. The bull relief is from the
University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.
The British Museum has several bulls from the same temple fa├žade,
as they were all excavated by Sir Leonard Woolley in the
early 1920’s. Our treatment involved using Dexpan,
a commercially-available product, to free thebull relief
from its plaster backing. Dexpan contains silicates that
take up more space when they crystallize than when they
are hydrated. Thus, using carefully-planned fault lines,
we were able to pour Dexpan into pre-drilled holes and
remove chunks of plaster from the back of the bull relief.
We opted for this non-traditional method in order to minimize
vibrations that would have occurred with mechanical removal.
(We had tested numerous other methods including steam and
chelators, but they were not efficient enough to be
viable options for the amount of plaster on the bull.)

The conservators at the British Museum could not have been more
welcoming. We started off our visit with a tour of one of the organic
labs led by Erin and her supervisor, Nicola Newman. Then we went to
lunch with Nicola and Anna Harrison, an Organics (Textile)
Conservator, who organizes the lectures for the conservation
department. After the lecture, Marilyn Hockey, Head of Ceramics,
Glass and Metals, invited us for a tour of the inorganic labs.
Alexandra Baldwin (Metals Conservator), Loretta Hogan (Ceramics &
Glass Conservator), Maickel van Bellegem (Metals Conservator), Julia
Barton (Ceramics & Glass Conservator), and Pippa Pearce (Metals
Conservator) all took time to speak with us about their current
projects. Quite a few of the conservators were working on treasures
that were discovered by armature metal detectors – I might have to
pick up a new hobby! The day was definitely the highlight of my time
in London so far.

Conservation lab tours have certainly been a theme recently. I gave
two of the Tate, one to my classmates Ellen Moody and Ellen Promise,
and another to Erin and her supervisors. This weekend, I will be
visiting Ellen Promise in Birmingham, where she has been working on
the Staffordshire Hoard. Check back for details!

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