A P U B L I C A T I O N O F T H E W I L L I A M S T O W N A R T C O N S E R V A T I O N C E N T E R
VO LU M E 12 , N U M B E R 2 • W I N T E R 2 017
El Anatsui Row on Row Williamstown Art Conservation Center | 1
Contents | Winter 2017
Art Conservator Volume 12, Number 2 • Winter 2017 Director Thomas J. Branchick Editor Timothy Cahill Art Direction and Production Ed Atkeson/Berg Design Photographer Matthew Hamilton Contributors Maggie Barkovic Office Manager Rob Conzett Accounts Manager Terry Haskins Printing Snyder Printer, Troy, NY Williamstown Art Conservation Center 227 South Street Williamstown, MA 01267 www.williamstownart.org T: 413-458-5741 F: 413-458-2314 Atlanta Art Conservation Center 6000 Peachtree Road Atlanta, GA 30341 T: 404-733-4589 F: 678-547-1453
3 Director’s Letter 4 Parts of the Whole
The unfolding layers of El Anatsui’s art Timothy Cahill 7 “An Unwavering Commitment to Africa”
Reflections on El Anatsui by a former student 8 Interaction Zones
Refreshing the gaze of a two-hundred-year-old boy
WACC News & Notes
A Rauschenberg paradox; a new leaf for Louise Nevelson; WACC team helps restore a landmark Georgia theater; gargoyles of the Woolworth Building 15 Technical Bulletin
Removal strategies for lead-based adhesive Maggie Barkovic
All rights reserved. Text and photographs copyright © Williamstown Art Conservation Center (WACC), unless otherwise noted. Art Conservator is published twice yearly by WACC, Thomas J. Branchick, director. Material may not be reproduced in any form without written permission of Williamstown Art Conservation Center. WACC is a nonprofit, multi-service conservation center serving the needs of member museums, nonprofit institutions and laboratories, and the general public.
On the cover Annika Cilke, assistant conservator of objects and textiles, during treatment of Hovor by El Anatsui.
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From the Director
The year 2017 was one for looking back and looking ahead. The lab celebrated its fortieth anniversary in August, which offered an opportunity to reflect on how far we’ve come from small beginnings. Since then, our attention has been on growth and increased capability to serve our members and the public. To that end, we made three major equipment purchases during the second half of last year, two of them motor vehicles. In the summer, we purchased a new Honda Odyssey, our staff transport for client consultations and location treatments, as well as pick-up and delivery of smaller artworks. A few months later, we added a Dodge Ram 3500 extended cargo van to transport all but the biggest artworks for members and others. The year’s last equipment upgrade was the addition of a new camera for our analytic microscope, which greatly increases our capacity to offer client photomacrography services for pigment identification and other applications. This is quite an instrument! At the bottom of the page, you can see dramatic images of just what an upgrade we’ve made. The top-of-the-line Olympus DP74 camera is faster and sharper than our old camera, and exquisitely sensitive, producing images with HD-or-better resolution. The camera is especially excellent for low-light conditions such as fluorescence microscopy, while software enables us to perform more-precise measurements, stitch images together seamlessly, and record video. With a feature called “Z-stacking,” we can, for the first time, produce crisp analytic images of large dimensional particles, where there is a significant distance between the top and bottom focal planes. I am immensely grateful to our Friends of WACC group and the generosity of the Trustees, led by President Sheila Stone, for providing major funding for all the purchases. Along with new equipment, we also welcomed an influx of new staff and interns this past year. These include paintings intern Isaac Messina and paper and objects intern Nicole Schmidt, both part of our pre-program educational internship program. And Brook Prestowitz joined the Paper Department as assistant conservator. Brook holds an MA in Art Conservation from Northumbria University, Newcastle, UK, and spent two years as a fellow at the Conservation Center for Art & Historic Artifacts in Philadelphia. She has also interned at Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library; the Hagley Museum and Library; and the Historic Odessa Foundation. As we enter 2018, we continue working with the Nonprofit Finance Fund on our grant application with the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. We are hopeful that the coming year will bring Mellon funding for educational initiatives including internships, communications, and Art Conservator, as well as for purchase and upgrading of instruments and equipment, and other projects. Finally, I extend my deepest thanks to all our members and private clients for their continued patronage. Your trust and satisfaction are our abiding mission. —Tom Branchick
Advances in photomacrography: Comparison of similar azurite specimens, magnified 400x under normal lighting, photographed with WACC’s old microscope camera, left, and with the newly acquired Olympus DP74.
Williamstown Art Conservation Center | 3
Parts of the Whole The unfolding layers of El Anatsui’s art
The work of Ghanaian artist El Anatsui exists in a steady state of flux. From across a room, his monumental wall hangings look like shimmering tapestries or textile curtains. Move closer and the work becomes dramatically tessellated, somewhere between a mosaic and weaving. At the surface, the “tessarae” reveal themselves not as glass or woven fabric, but as row on row of colored metal strips, each nearly four inches in length, punched with holes at each end and joined by wires. Upon even closer inspection, the metal strips give up a final secret. Each is a discarded bottle cap or label, salvaged and collected, cut and flattened, hammered and repurposed for the artist’s use. Anatsui’s large, drapery-like sculptures, which today grace the walls of museums around the world, present a unified whole at first, but with each step reveal themselves in their layers of meaning. Depending on viewing distance, the art might function as abstract painting, conceptual assemblage,
political history, or environmental commentary. The everadjusting dynamic between the parts and the whole is at the heart of its appeal. Such multivalence also marked how conservators approached the treatment plan after an El Anatsui was brought to the Williamstown Art Conservation Center. The 2003 work, Hovor, is owned by the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College. In its relatively brief existence, the work had traveled from Nigeria, where Anatsui has long lived and worked, to exhibition in England, Wales, and Ireland, then to Washington, DC, Florida, and Los Angeles, and finally to the Hood itself in Hanover, NH. The wear and tear of repeated handling had begun to show across the textured surface. The Williamstown conservation team, lead by chief objects conservator Hélène Gillette-Woodard, faced two requirements: to devise a way to gain access to every inch of the 20 x 18 foot behemoth, and to clean and repair each of the thin aluminum strips and fine wire ties that make up its surface. Hovor holds a place of distinction among El Anatsui’s work in this country. “You won’t find another work that predates it in a US museum,” said Katherine Hart, Senior Curator at the Hood. In 2004, Barbara Thompson, then the museum’s curator of African, Oceanic, and Native American Collections, “saw El Anatsui first at the Hayward Gallery in London,” recalls Thompson, who at In the WACC corridor, conservators work on a custom loom constructed for treatment of El Anatsui’s massive drapery sculpture. Opposite, El Anatsui, Hovor, 2005.
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C o u r t e s y H o o d M u s e u m o f A r t /J a c k S h a i n m a n G a l l e r y. © E l A n a t s u i
By Timothy Cahill
the time served as the Hood’s Interim Director. “She moved very quickly [to purchase one of the works in the exhibit]. We thought they were incredibly stunning.” The invoice for the Hood’s artwork is dated January 1, 2005. The Metropolitan Museum of Art acquired its first El Anatsui in 2007, the Museum of Modern Art in 2008. “The acquisition at that date is a testimony of the Hood’s engagement with contemporary art of Africa,” said John Stomberg, the Hood Museum’s current director. “It’s a significantly early work.” In 2014, while director at the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, Stomberg organized New Worlds, an exhibition of six monumental works by Anatsui. The director pulled off a
small art-world coup when he convinced the artist to visit the small New England college for a public interview, and where Stomberg got the opportunity to privately consult with Anatsui at length about his philosophy. “It’s hard to decide where to put his work,” Stomberg said, when asked to define the art of the man he calls by his first name, El. “I describe it as a sculpture. There is a sensitivity to referring to it as metal cloth. El is not inclined to [describe it that way.]” Anatsui’s early work, including Dartmouth’s Hovor, bears a resemblance to the banded, brightly colored Kente fabric of the artist’s native Ghana. Stomberg, however, cautions against leaning too heavily on this interpretation. Williamstown Art Conservation Center | 5
Hélène Gillette-Woodard repairs a section of the Anatsui artwork.
“The work has very little to do with reference to Kente cloth,” he said. “It’s about abstraction. He’s keyed into the role of pattern, rhythm, and the arrangement of color in space.” Anatsui is “very much a modern artist, with one key exception,” he observed. “He allows the final installer, curator, or owner to make the final decision about display.” Exhibition of Anatsui’s art ranges from the flat and presentational, like a museum tapestry, to the highly interpretive, with dancing bunches, swooping drapings, and exuberant undulations that emphasize the work’s sculptural qualities. The artist leaves such decisions to others; indeed, he is said to enjoy the different interpretations his works receive. “He’s like a composer,” Stomberg said. “He likes to see how other people play his music. With every installation, the final shape changes. Not every artist will relinquish that kind of control” This attitude of collaboration and surrender is “one hundred percent part of his aesthetic,” Stomberg continued. “The idea is that the work of art has a life that the artist has instigated, but that he relinquishes control over once it’s out of his studio.” In that spirit, “El is okay that the piece over time will take on signs of its own life. Folds, rips, scars.” An oversized assemblage like Hovor is subject to several different types of stresses. Highly dynamic installations involve considerable handling, which increases the potential for “rips and scars.” Even when exhibited conservatively, though, the 6 | Art Conservator | Winter 2017
sheer weight of the sculpture tests the integrity of its construction. The massive work hinges, quite literally, on delicate connections. Also, there is the way Anatsui’s artwork has traditionally been shipped and stored, as Katherine Hart explained. “It [first] arrived at the museum folded like a textile, and so was stored like that,” she said. “We quickly realized that was not helpful for the piece.” Hovor was brought to WACC to be stabilized in advance of its reinstallation as one of the Hood’s signature artworks when the museum reopens after a major expansion. It arrived crated and folded, and was carefully opened in one of the exhibition galleries at the Clark Art Institute’s Lunder Center at Stone Hill. While completely unfolded, the sculpture’s condition was documented. Examination revealed many of the work’s aluminum strips and copper wires to be broken and deformed, and numerous instances where the connecting punch-holes had been torn out, creating large horizontal tears. The grime of time and travel also clouded the work’s complex pattern of color and design. The first challenge was how to get at all of Hovor’s massive 440 square foot surface. The artwork was rolled onto a 23foot long, 18-inch diameter Sonotube support, covered and interleaved with polypropylene plastic sheeting. A second, identical tube was then used to construct a custom-made loom supported on plywood trestles. The untreated artwork on the top spool could now be advanced in narrow sections for cleaning and repair, with the treated portions taken up on the second spool. The loom became a fixture in the hallway outside the Object’s Lab for several months, where Gillette-Woodard and the conservation team of Annika Cilke, Christine Puza, and Nicole Schmidt treated each of the work’s estimated fifty-seven thousand aluminum strips. If Hovor was handled like a textile at a macro level, at the micro level it required the delicate techniques and tools of a jeweler to reattach and replace fine copper connecting wires, mend split metal fragments, and repair
or re-punch torn wiring holes. To remove dirt and grime, the conservators used dry chemical sponges, which resemble small erasers in appearance and use. “We didn’t want to remove the original Nigerian soil, which was red,” Gillette-Woodard explained. “You could see the grime that was on top of the earth. Using dry sponges, we could lift this top layer of dirt without disturbing what was
beneath it. We didn’t want to lose that history.” Like the ethos that defines El Anatsui’s monumental art, the conservation treatment was defined by the interplay between individual components and the whole. The treated artwork was stored on its Sonotube support, ready for transport to Dartmouth. The Hood Museum of Art is scheduled to reopen in 2019.
Reflections on El Anatsui: “An unwavering commitment to Africa” Ugochukwu-Smooth Nzewi is a Nigerian sculptor and scholar whose personal knowledge of El Anatsui extends back some two decades. Nzewi met the master artist as a first-year student at the Department of Fine and Applied Arts, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where Anatsui, together with notable colleagues such as Uche Okeke, Chike Aniakor, Obiora Udechukwu, Chuka Amaefuna, and Ola Oloidi, had created one of the most prestigious art programs in Africa. Later, Nzewi earned his PhD in contemporary African art from Emory University in Atlanta in 2013, after which he was named the first Curator of African Art at Dartmouth College’s Hood Museum of Art. In 2017, he took on the same role at the Cleveland Museum of Art. He has curated numerous international exhibitions and exhibited his own artwork widely around the globe. What follows are extracts from an email interview conducted in November and December 2017 between Dr. Nzewi and Art Conservator editor Timothy Cahill. Nzewi’s remarks are presented here lightly edited and without accompanying questions. The full interview is available on the Art Conservator page of the Williamstown Art Conservation Center website. “As an art professor, Anatsui was unassuming and somewhat restrained, although he had occasional bursts of mirth at his own jokes. Interestingly, the first class I took with him was an advanced drawing class. That was in my second year in 1998.... I became a sculpture major in my third year and took more classes with Anatsui, which ranged from studio practice to sculpture theory.” “At the time I joined the Nsukka arts program, I was oblivious of Anatsui’s celebrity. Although he had already established a massive international reputation and as such was [the] biggest draw at the arts program, he was yet to become the bona fide art-world superstar that he is today.... I was inspired by him to
the extent that every sculpture student fancied himself/herself as a mini-Anatsui. In our time, his principal medium was wood, which he arranged into panels and made incisions and grooves on them with power machines.... We all made our own versions of the wood panels. It was a badge of honor to imitate the master....” “His influence would [over time] become more conceptual or cerebral for me.... His inventiveness and nimbleness, especially in the tireless search for visual eloquence, are gold standards every artist should aspire to. On a more personal level, I have been inspired by his tenacity, patience, longevity, fidelity to his craft, aesthetic philosophy, and for the fact that he grounds his work in the reality of his immediate material world while communicating to a much wider audience.... The most important lesson that I have learned from him is the political in his work—an unwavering commitment to Africa which he addresses with clarity. This has had the more direct bearing on my work as a curator and scholar. I have conceived of my work to speak honestly about Africa’s experiences; the complexities, challenges, weaknesses, but also potentials for greatness.” “El Anatsui began to make sculpture with discarded bottlecaps in the early 2000s, more likely from late 2002 or early 2003. At that point I had already graduated from college. However, the story goes that he had found sacks of bottle caps in one of his walks around the college town of Nsukka. He had them stay idle in his studio for a while as he contemplated what to do with them.... “I had the opportunity to visit Anatsui’s studio more recently during a trip to Nigeria in the summer of 2015.... Typically, he works with studio assistants, whom he supervises together Continued on page 14 Williamstown Art Conservation Center | 7
Interaction Zones Baron Jean-Baptiste Deban de Laborde was a colonel of Napoleon’s Eighth Hussar Regiment when he died at the battle of Wagram in 1809. Of the treasures he left behind—his ceremonial sword awarded for valor, his Légion d’honneur medal, his plumed cap and cavalryman’s pouch—by far the greatest were his sons, Edouard, five, and Achille, barely a year. Eight years later, in 1817, both boys sat for one of France’s most fashionable military portraitists, Alexandre-Jean Dubois-Drahonet. The painter depicted Edouard, on the cusp of adolescence, in dress uniform embracing a bust of his father. The more haunting and successful picture, however, is the one Dubois-Drahonet made of young Achille. The life-size portrait shows the nine-year-old boy standing in full light, leaning on his papa’s great curved sword. Around him are his father’s military mementos: his chevalier medal hangs in the upper left; his hat and pouch lay crumpled in the lower right. The boy wears a decorative military vest, tasseled riding boots, and scarlet breeches embellished with gold embroidery. The sweetness in his face is tinged by an underlying grief. There is a sad glimmer in one eye. The painting is an elegy to the father and a lament for the son; Achille’s “inheritance,” beyond worldly possessions, is the legacy of a father he will always revere but never know. Before it was purchased last year by the Clark Art Institute, Portrait of Achille Deban de Laborde had been in private hands since its creation and was little known. Prior to exhibition, the work was brought to the Williamstown Art Conservation Center for examination and cosmetic cleaning. It was instantly plain the painting had been lovingly cared for throughout its two centuries. “It was basically untouched,” said associate paintings conservator Montserrat Le Mense. “There were no tears or damages to the canvas. It might have been cleaned once before, but maybe not. That’s quite the exception.” Nevertheless, the grime and yellowed varnish that time accretes on all paintings had muted the painting’s sumptuous colors, the blues, greens, and velvet blacks of the background draperies and furniture as much as the boy’s
coppery hair, blue eyes, and rosy cheeks. “It’s hard enough to see into those background areas,” the conservator said. “But since the entire surface had a thin layer of dirt, which, when you’re talking about a really dark green against a really dark black, makes the colors almost invisible. So getting rid of the grime was the first step in seeing into the picture.” The procedure involved an initial cleaning of the entire surface with pH-balanced water and large cotton swabs. Then the original varnish layer was removed with the use of solvents. The conservator’s challenge was judging how much of the varnish to remove. The picture’s surface can be imagined as a series of vertical bands moving outward from the canvas: first the paint layer, then a varnish layer, then a dirt layer (and in some places, a second varnish layer, where areas of the painting were spot treated at a later date). The thickest band is between the bottom paint layer and the original, thick varnish layer. “I never wanted to go past right here,” Le Mense explained, indicating about halfway into the original varnish layer, thereby leaving some varnish to protect the paint. “You never want to get to the paint layer. Of course, the diagram makes it look simple, but the paint layer is actually like this”—she draws a ragged line—“and the varnish layer is like that”—an equally uneven line—“and the dirt layer is like that—a third serration. This area, between the paint and the varnish, we call the ‘interaction zone.’ You put on fresh oil paint, it dries a little bit, eventually it gets a varnish. But the varnish is applied with solvents, so you have a zone right here between the two, where a little bit of color leeches into the varnish, a little bit of varnish leeches into the color. I didn’t want to be anywhere near the interaction zone. That was the mission.” The mission accomplished, the painting was refreshed with a new glaze of varnish, which revealed its full tonal richness. Portrait of Achille Deban de Laborde now hangs at the Clark, where the compelling interaction zone lies between the viewer and the gaze of a two-hundred-year-old nine-year-old boy. —Timothy Cahill
Alexandre-Jean Dubois-Drahonet, Portrait of Achille Deban de Laborde, after treatment. 8 | Art Conservator | Winter 2017
Williamstown Art Conservation Center | 9
WACC News & Notes
The Pop Art Paradox of Rauschenberg’s Autobiography Rauschenberg was a pioneer of the Pop Art aesthetic, which took its inspiration from the popular and commercial, the immediate and mass-produced. In choosing to create a limited-edition print on cheap commercial paper with a common billboard press, he was expressing the spirit of his age. It seems safe to assume the work’s archival longevity never crossed his mind, or if it did, that the artist who famously created his own artwork by erasing a de Kooning drawing could hardly have minded the thought of his Autobiography being ephemeral. The ethos behind Autobiography reveals an essential paradox of 1960s-era art a halfcentury on. The suite is essentially a set of three posters, each about 5 1/2 x 4 feet in size. As physical objects, such posterprints have a relatively short shelf life that tends constantly toward deterioration. As museum pieces, the three parts of Autobiography represent a signal work by one of America’s most influential artists, and in that sense are timeless. This contradiction faced Rebecca Johnston, conservator of paper at the Williamstown Art Conservation Center, when a copy of the Rauschenberg owned by Ethos versus eternity: Above, the third part of a suite of three prints produced by Robert Rauschenberg for his 1968 Autobiography. The oversized posters were produced using inexpensive paper and commercial offset printing. Opposite, the first and second parts.
the Williams College Museum of Art was brought to the lab for treatment in advance of exhibition. The suite was produced by
n 1968, Robert Rauschenberg produced his three-part suite
Rauschenberg in collaboration with Broadside Art, Inc., a New
Autobiography on an offset press, the same technology
York-based organization co-founded by Marion Javits and Milton
used for newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, and billboards.
Glaser. The work was printed in a single edition of two thousand
Hilton Kramer wrote in the New York Times, “There is, to be
and sold by subscription for $150. The sales brochure announcing
sure, a certain historical interest in Mr. Rauschenberg’s use of a
the prints indicated they could be displayed in sequence vertically
commercial medium, for the artist has long been occupied with
or horizontally; one example shows the piece beginning on a
adapting the techniques of commercial art to fine-art purposes.”
ceiling and bending down the wall.
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A new leaf for Nevelson’s Thrones Louise Nevelson created Gold Throne I and Gold Throne II in 1984 for the St. Louis Opera Theatre’s production of Gluck’s Orfeo and Euridice. The gold chairs were the first stage designs of the 85-yearold sculptor’s influential career. She had studied at the American Laboratory Theatre in New York in the 1920s, but had abandoned theatrical studies in favor of the visual Broadside Art’s objective was “to produce art of such a large scale that it would create a dramatic environment wherever shown.” This large scale was part of the challenge of the treatment. As their size increases, materials not made to be preserved become all the more difficult to conserve. Their degradable nature restricts treatment options. Rauschenberg’s posters could not be washed, since the printing ink is water soluble, nor could they be lined—attached to a paper-backing for support— because the inferior printing paper is highly sensitive to moisture. Adhesives typically used for paper lining, even low-moisture options, would have caused distortions and damaged the paper’s glossy surface. Johnston surface-cleaned each print with a dry, soft brush, and removed stains from non-image areas with a dry chemical sponge. Small tears were mended using Japanese paper and wheat starch paste. The works were then prepared for conservation framing to insulate them against the inevitable toll of time. “Eyelash” hinges, Japanese paper strips cut with a series of projecting tabs,
arts. In 1985, Nevelson gifted the chairs and other elements of the Orfeo stage set to the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine. The sculptures were brought to the Williamstown Art Conservation Center for cleaning and stabilization in advance of a Nevelson exhibition at the museum in 2017. They are constructed of shaped plywood and found wooden objects with what was described as oil-gilded gold leaf. Flaking of the leaf was visible to what appeared to be an alarming degree. Large, cornflake-sized hanging chads of leaf covered the underside and crevices of both chairs, such that even routine handling and cleaning threatened losses of the bright metal foil. All that glitters is not gold, however, particularly in light of the fact that oil gilding does not flake. An examination of the chairs by Hugh Glover, head of the department of furniture and wooden objects, revealed that the thrones’ leaf was in fact not of gold, but brass. Brass leaf is a common substitute for its more precious counterpart. It costs a fraction of the real article and would have made eminent good sense for
were attached around each print’s perimeter using wheat
the construction of theater
starch paste. The hinges allowed the print to be securely
props. Glover determined that
mounted to a paper-faced panel. The mounted work was
the loose-hanging brass was
then positioned between a corrugated plastic backing
simply a result of the artist’s
and museum-grade acrylic glazing held off the print with
decision to not remove the
spacers, and the entire package sealed with foil polyester
loose skewings of metal leaf,
tape. The curator chose a discrete white frame and
which would not have been
specialized glazing to enhance the appearance that the
visible from the stage. He
posters were not framed at all.
cleaned the thrones’ visible,
As Johnston completed the Williams College treatment,
upward-facing surfaces in
two more sets of Autobiography found their way to WACC,
advance of the exhibition,
one from a private owner and the other from Columbus
and left the gold-colored leaf
College in Atlanta. As the saying goes, blessings come in threes. So, in this instance, did Rauschenbergs.
Gold Throne I
Gold Throne II
undisturbed. Williamstown Art Conservation Center | 11
WACC News & Notes
WACC team aids restoration of a landmark Georgia theater
his past November, a team of Williamstown Art Conservation
WACC was called in.
Center conservators and technicians spent a week in
Before the conservators could treat the murals, they needed
Augusta, Georgia, to complete treatment on a pair of Art Deco
first to repair the walls behind them. Time, neglect, and necessary
murals for the landmark Miller Theater.
repairs had left the bottom quarter of each mural punched with
The team, led by assistant conservator Maggie Barkovic
holes. Piles of fallen plaster and debris had accumulated at the
and associate conservator Christine Puza, with assistance by
base. After cleaning and prepping the area, conservators used
Rob Conzett and Matthew Hamilton, cleaned and repaired the
wire lath and plaster to patch the larger holes, and spackling
murals to reverse the damage caused by many years of neglect.
paste for smaller fills. A missing section of one of the paintings
The work was part of a full restoration of the former cinema
was discovered buried under the rubble.
and vaudeville house, now owned by the Symphony Orchestra Augusta (SOA). The murals were created in 1940 by Paul Simone, a commercial
The team then set about re-adhering the painting where it had peeled away from the wall, particularly at the edges. Due to their great size, the paintings were each constructed from four pieces
muralist of Miami hotels. Spanning approximately 20 x 35 feet,
of canvas butted together, causing several vertical seams that ran
the twin paintings are oil on canvas, adhered to plaster walls. The
the entire height of the mural. Age and water damage had caused
murals frame the flamboyant show palace’s stage on both sides;
the edges to lift and bubble, while at the base, some of the seams
each features a pair of nude chorus girls sauntering in their best
had been deliberately split and pulled back to permit construction
Busby Berkeley exuberance. For more than forty years, the “Miller
access to the wall behind. Not only were these lifting seams
murals” were a cultural touchstone of downtown Augusta, until
and detached areas visually distracting, ruining the graceful
the area was slowly abandoned by the growing encroachments of
flow of the painted imagery. If left unchecked, they would have
suburbia. The theater went dark in 1984, and lay derelict for twenty
compromised the attachment of the mural to the wall.
years. In 2005, a local philanthropist bought the theater with the
Working inch by inch, the detached edges were made secure
promise of returning it to its former glory. Three years later, he
by slipping thin sheets of thermoplastic adhesive film behind the
offered the building to the SOA. A capital campaign raised funds
lifting seam and activating it with heat. To affix the large lifted
to undertake the restoration, which was in its end stages when
areas of canvas at the base, the wall behind the painting was coated with a thin layer of heat-activated adhesive, then ironed
WACC conservators restore a mural with the help of a scissor lift at the Miller Theater in Augusta, Georgia. 12 | Art Conservator | Winter 2017
into place. Much of the work was done forty feet up, using both a
boom lift and scissor-lift as portable scaffolding. Working that high off the floor is always fraught, and was especially so in the scissor-lift. When extended at full height to the top of the mural, the lift had a pitch and sway that required steeling of the nerves and constant attention to balance by the conservator-technician team. Compounding the challenge were the overhanging coves at the base of the murals, which required creative measures to get close to the wall.
Thomas Branchick Director Conservator of Paintings/Dept. Head Maggie Barkovic Assistant Conservator of Paintings
stains, and construction dust. Loose particles were lifted using a feather brush and
Mary Catherine Betz Conservator of Paintings
vacuum, after which both paintings were cleaned. Tests revealed that the painted
Working like this, surface cleaning progressed to remove decades of grime, water
surface was highly sensitive and required a delicate and conservative approach to remove the dirt and stains without damaging the paint and pigment. A cleaning system was developed using pH-adjusted water, an aqueous solution treated with salts and surfactants designed to mitigate swelling and dissolution of the pigment layer. This treatment removed a significant amount of accumulated grime and freshened the colors evenly overall. As a final step, watercolors and pastel pencils were used to minimize the appearance of seams and retouch areas of damage. Work was completed in six days. The conservators recommended to the owners that the murals be covered with plastic until building construction was completed, then protected with plexiglass glazing for display. The theater is scheduled to officially open in January 2018.
Assistant Conservator of Objects & Textiles Rob Conzett Office Manager Hélène Gillette-Woodard Conservator of Objects/Dept. Head Hugh Glover Conservator of Furniture and Wood Objects/Dept. Head Matthew Hamilton Photography Technician Terry Haskins Assistant to the Director/Accounts Manager Mary Holland Paintings Apprentice Rebecca Johnston Conservator of Paper Henry Klein Conservation Technician Montserrat Le Mense Conservator of Paintings Eric Mallet Office Assistant/Technician Isaac Messina Pre-Program Intern Paintings
Architect Cass Gilbert modeled his design for the 1913 Woolworth Building on gothic cathedrals, medieval guild halls, and London’s Houses of Parliament. One hundred fifty newly discovered technical drawings for the Manhattan headquarters of the F. W. Woolworth Company’s chain of “five and dime” stores were recently purchased by Vanderbilt University; eight of these were brought to the Williamstown Art Conservation Center for stabilization and presentation. The century-old pencil and ink drawings, made on architect’s tracing paper, arrived at the paper lab folded, torn, and too brittle to be handled or studied. After reducing stains with deionized water, chief paper conservator Leslie Paisley mended or lined the drawings using thin Japanese paper and starch paste, then pressed, mounted, and matted the works for exhibition. Above, detail with gargoyles from an elevation view labeled, “Exterior Detail/
Leslie Paisley Conservator of Paper/Dept. Head Brook Prestowitz Assistant Conservator of Paper Christine Puza Associate Conservator of Furniture and Wood Objects Nicole Schmidt Pre-Program Intern Paper & Objects Samantha Skelton Associate Conservator of Paintings/Atlanta
Terra Cotta 46th Fl to Roof with Cast Iron—Architect’s Drawing #124A.” Williamstown Art Conservation Center | 13
El Anatsui continued from page 7 with his studio manager, Uche Onyishi, a former student and art professor. There is a system in place that governs the creative process. It is a division of labor that easily imitates artisanal practices around Africa. It begins with flattening piles of bottle caps and twisting some of them into a variety of forms by studio assistants working in groups. The resulting flattened or twisted bottle caps are organized as piles on the basis of similarly looking forms or colors. They are then stitched together to create smaller sheet ensembles. The stage is then set for a variety of arrangements, combination, and recombination, to create the much larger cascading forms under the supervision of Anatsui, who continues to fiddle with the forms until he arrives at his perfect aesthetic object.” “The element of reverence still governs my relationship with him, but it is not necessarily because of his renown. It has more to do with the fact that he is my former teacher and also an elder. In Africa, we treat our elders with deference. It is also the case that Anatsui is my father’s contemporary. Both were born the same year, 1944. So I see him and I think of my father and accord him the respect that is due to him.”
“The Hood piece was part of the international traveling Gawu exhibition in 2003–2007. The exhibition commenced in the United Kingdom in 2003.... In the United States, Gawu traveled to many institutions, including UCLA’s Fowler Museum, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art, and the Hood Museum. It was Anatsui’s first solo museum exhibition in the United States. More importantly, it was the first exhibition totally dedicated to his metal sculptures and included most of the early examples. As such, it was a sort of coming-out parade which formally marked a new direction in his practice. This was before he took the art world by storm at the 2007 Venice Biennale. The fact that the Hood’s piece was from that exhibition makes it particularly significant.” “Undoubtedly, Anatsui’s work operates on several levels. One immediately responds to the undeniable elegance and beauty. The shimmering cadence and sheer materiality of the hanging sculptures invoke that sense of wonder about how abject detritus can be so transformed. It is this transformation which holds the viewer’s imagination hostage. But more importantly, it is Anatsui’s ability to address existential questions that people can easily relate to which makes his work particularly powerful. Through his work, he addresses the continued impact of European colonialism in shaping the African collective psych. When he began exploring bottle caps in the beginning, he made allusions to how illicit gins, as gifts or items of exchange, marked Africa’s initial relationship with Europe, at least on the West African Coast. Anatsui’s enduring interest in illuminating Africa’s history is a hallmark of his long and illustrious career.”
Cour tesy Hood Museum of Ar t
“I have long considered Anatsui’s metal sculpture through the prism of recycling, a socio-economic and increasingly cultural phenomenon in Africa. For some time now, Africa has served as a dump, a burial ground ... [for] rejects from electronic waste, engines, tires, to thrift store clothes.... [Artisans] turn them into a wide range of consumer products, including kitchenware, sandals, slippers, etc. Similarly, African artists source these objects of modern life and quotidian experience from the environment. And, just like the artisans, they transform them into art. They give the objects a new lease of life ... re-introduce them into the global art circuits, and some ultimately end up in major art institutions and collections in the West. It is a fascinating ecosystem.” Ugochukwu-Smooth Nzewi consults with WACC objects conservator Hélène Gillette-Woodard on El Anatsui’s Hovor. 14 | Art Conservator | Winter 2017
Tech Notes, Winter 2017
Removal strategies for lead-based adhesive By Maggie Barkovic Assistant Paintings Conservator
In 2014, Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, by John de Critz the Elder [Fig. 1], came to the Department of Conservation and Technology at Courtauld Institute of Art in London for technical examination. The portrait, from a private collection, was examined by Dr. Caroline Rae.1 It was deemed in poor condition and kept at the Courtauld for further assessment, treatment, and analysis. The Jacobean-era work (c. 1607) had undergone several conservation campaigns in its lifetime, including a nineteenthcentury lining to support several tears and lacunae in the original canvas, adhered using a lead white adhesive.2 The painting was extremely stiff and brittle with prominent structural deformations, the result of delamination of the lining canvas. The failed lining also contributed to flaking, loss of paint, and propagation of tearing beyond previously treated areas. The paintingâ€™s condition was extremely compromised3 and Fig. 1: John de Critz the Elder, Robert Cecil, involved lengthy and careful analysis and treatment. This article First Earl of Salisbury, 1607, before treatment. will focus solely on the complex process of removing the lining and lead-based adhesive. The process included the use of solvent gels with mechanical action and heat ablation with a Q-switched Nd:Yag laser for the removal of the tenacious lining adhesive. Analysis and Considerations for Delining
XRF, cross-section analysis,4 and transmittance absorbance spectrophotometry5 were used to confirm the presence of a lead-based, non-protein organic adhesive. Lining with lead white pigment and a combination of oil and/or natural resin was common to the nineteenth century, confirmed by recipes in manuscripts from the period.6 The rapid drying of the adhesive, due to the siccative character of the lead, prevents even application and results in shrinking, loosening of the ground, and delamination. Removing the lead adhesive and old lining canvas would ward off continued embrittlement of the painting and loss of paint, and allow the deformations to be corrected.7 Careful consideration and extensive planning were undertaken to evaluate the risks and concerns of delining the painting and relining to a new support. Part of the risk assessment included evaluation of health and safety hazards for the conservator due to the presence of lead.
Williamstown Art Conservation Centerâ€‚ |â€‚ 15
Healthy and Safety Precautions and Preparation
Prior to delining, two layers of facing tissue were applied as a protective measure to the front of the painting. A layer of varnish, Paraloid B72 in Shellsol A, at twenty-five percent (w/v) followed by a mixture of 2:1 five percent wheat-starch paste and five percent isinglass were applied through wet-strength tissue.8 The painting was removed from its strainer and loomed. The brittle deformations protruded forward; an insert of memory foam enveloped in melinex and foam board was used to create a firm but cushioned support that would conform to the shape of the painting. The support fit into the recess of the loom, allowing the painting to be treated face down. A tent made of high-density polypropylene, PVC pipe, and resealable windows was fabricated. Ventilation was hooked up to the tent. The painting was placed face down in the tent. A mask, gloves, and hazard suit were worn while working within the tent. A HEPA vacuum was used within the window space to minimize airborne particles of lead paint. Removal of auxiliary canvas
Fig. 2: After removal of auxiliary canvas, showing extent of lead white lining adhesive.
A variety of solvent gels were tested to swell the lead white lining adhesive. The goal was to use the gel as a poultice to swell the adhesive beneath, so that the auxiliary canvas could be released. This would allow access to the thick layer of adhesive so it could be removed. The following were tested with Carbopol® 934: 100% (w/v) acetone, 100% (w/v) benzyl alcohol, 100% (w/v) n-methyl-2-pyrolidone, 1:1 n-methyl-2-pyrolidone: acetone, 1:1:1 n-methyl2-pyrolidone:stoddards:benzyl alcohol. Proprietary products, Bartoline™ Water Soluble Paint Stripper, and Nitromors™ were also tested. The gels were compared after being on the surface for forty-five minutes. Bartoline™, an emulsion with sixty percent benzyl alcohol, was selected. It is a proprietary product but wouldn’t contact the original canvas or ground. The removal of the auxiliary canvas revealed a thick and uneven application of lead white based adhesive [Fig. 2]. Removal of the Lead White Adhesive
Facing tissue was periodically removed and replaced during testing to determine if any changes happened to the paint film on the front of the painting. Evaluation of Gels
Based on testing for removal of the auxiliary canvas, a Carbopol® 934 n-methyl-2-pyrolidone solvent gel and mechanical action was compared to a Pemulen™ TR-2 gel made 15% (w/v) Benzyl Alcohol.9 The Pemulen™ TR-2 gel was more successful. It was applied to the surface, a piece of melinex was placed on top, and the gel was left for increments of 45 minutes.10 The adhesive became very soft and was removed mechanically, using a number 15 blade with suction from a HEPA vacuum to clear the gel.11 To prevent risk of damage to the original canvas fibers or ground, a “skim” or thin layer of adhesive remained on the reverse of the canvas.12 [Fig. 3] Fig. 3: After treatment with solvent gel, leaving a skim of the adhesive.
Evaluation of Nd-Yag Laser
Laser ablation was tested using a Lynton Laser Phoenix™ Q-switched Nd-Yag laser from City and Guilds of the London Arts School, under the direction of Dr. Marina Sokhan and Dr. Christina Young. The laser parameters were set at a wavelength of 1064nm, a rate of 10Hz, and energy set to 130W.13 The laser ablation took place within a hazard tent while the painting was loomed and 16 | Art Conservator | Winter 2017 2015
displayed vertically on an easel.14 The lead turned a gray intermediate after thirty seconds.15 A second pass of thirty to forty-five seconds completely removed the adhesive. [Fig.4] Heat produced by the laser in the far infrared range could darken vermillion16 used to paint red passages. Designing a heat sink for the front of the painting to overcome this issue was out of the scope of this project.17 Discussion and Results
Laser ablation completely removed the adhesive, where the gel did not. The risk of darkening pigments was weighed against the possibility of a solvent gel swelling the ground and related damage to the canvas fibres caused by mechanical removal. Laser ablation had a potentially greater health risk due to vaporisation of lead; it’s easier to control lead exposure if it’s contained within a gel. Additionally, acquiring a laser, including rental or purchasing costs, was considered. The Pemulen™ TR-2 gel with fifteen percent (w/v) benzyl alcohol was the preferred method of removal; this method provided more control in fragile areas and better health parameters. The canvas started to relax and regained flexibility18 when the lead adhesive was removed. After the lining adhesive was removed, the facing was removed and all of structural deformations were corrected on a hot vacuum table. Canvas inserts were placed in areas of lacunae, the painting was relined to sailcloth19 and fixed to a new stretcher. Conclusion
Both solvent gels and a Q-switched Nd:Yag laser were successful in the removal of a tenacious lead-based lining adhesive. Each method presented a level of risk. Laser ablation in the far infrared range could darken vermilion in the composition through photothermal interaction. Further testing should consider evaluating thermally conductive materials that conduct heat away from the painting. The gel had the potential to swell the ground, but also afforded more control and better safety parameters. Delining allowed stabilization of the painting onto a new support and the correction of large planar deformations. Further treatment included filling, retouching, and varnishing: this was completed by former student, Molly Hughes-Hallett, at the Courtauld Institute of Art. [Fig. 5]
Fig. 4: Stages of laser treatment, from top: lead white before ablation, gray intermediate, complete removal.
The author would like to thank Dr. Caroline Rae, Prof. Aviva Burnstock, Prof. Christina Young, Dr. Marina Sokhan, Pippa Balch, Maureen Cross, Alison Stock, William Luckhurst, Dr. Simon Fairclough, Matt Cushman, Richard Wolbers, and Molly Hughes-Hallett. Notes 1. It is linked to a series of four portraits by John de Critz the Elder, commissioned by Robert Cecil in 1607, and has been recently attributed to the workshop of de Critz through technical analysis and research. See Rae, Caroline, “Anglo-Netherlandish workshop practice from the 1580s to the early 1600s with a focus on the works of John de Critz the Elder and Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger,” PhD dissertation, University of London (The Courtauld Institute of Art), 2016. 2. The tacking margins were cut during the lining and the painting was attached to a strainer with nails from the front of the picture plane, several of which were covered with fill and overpaint.
Fig. 5: The painting after treatment.
3. Its condition also included multiple layers of degraded varnish, discolored overpaint, and several lead white-containing fills which were out of plane. 4. This included both SEM-EDX and Rhodamine B and Amido Black staining to identify the presence of oil (Rhodamine B) and rule out the presence of protein or animal glue (Amido Black) 5. Spectrophotometry was carried out by Dr. Simon Fairclough on a scraping of the adhesive by the Physics department at Kings Williamstown Art Conservation Center | 17
College, London. This was specifically used to determine the wavelength necessary to ablate the lead-based adhesive with an infrared laser. 6. Carlyle, Leslie. The Artist’s Assistant: Oil Painting Instruction Manuals and Handbooks in Britain, 1800-1900, with Reference to Selected Eighteenth-Century Sources (London:Archetype Publications), 2001. 7. Careful testing carried out on the removal of this adhesive was used to determine if the original canvas could withstand delining and would regain its flexibility, allowing for the correction of planar deformations. 8. This mixture was selected after testing different solutions to include BEVA® gel in stoddards and wax. 9. Richard Wolbers was consulted in determining the right parameters for making this gel. 10. This time was carefully determined after several time-based tests with the solvent gels. 11. Residues were first cleared with water. After the water evaporated, acetone was used to pick up any remaining residues or softened adhesive. 12. Careful testing carried out on the removal of this adhesive was used to determine if the original canvas could withstand delining and would regain its flexibility, allowing for the correction of planar deformations. 13. Lead waste was disposed in a separate lead-waste hazard bag. 14. Spectrophotometry conducted at Kings College, London confirmed the absorption spectrum and wavelength for lead oxide in the sample of lining adhesive, which was then used to set the parameters for laser ablation. 15. This intermediate reverts to white after exposure to oxygen. 16. Its presence was identified with SEM-EDX and XRF by Dr. Caroline Rae and Maggie Barkovic. For more information on De Critz’s methods, see Rae, Caroline (2016). 17. A heat sink or cooling apparatus would need to be built to lessen this risk. Matt Cushman was consulted regarded his use of a Q-switched Nd:Yag laser to remove a lead lining at the Worcester Art Museum. He makes considerations for heat sink materials. See Albertson, Rita. et al. “A Case Study in the Removal of a Lead Lining Using a Q-Switched Nd:Yag Laser,” AIC Paintings Speciality Group Postprints 25 (2012). 18. While older deformations started to relax, new deformations formed in response to the moisture from the gel. These were addressed after the adhesive was completely removed. 19. BEVA® gel dissolved in stoddards (1:1) was used.
Maggie Barkovic graduated with a postgraduate diploma in the
Conservation of Easel Paintings from the Courtauld Institute of Art, London, in 2016. She has a BA in Chemistry from Virginia Tech (2008) and an MA in Art History from George Mason University (2012). She has interned at TU Delft, the Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute, the Phillips Collection, and the Barnes Foundation. She joined WACC in January 2017 as assistant paintings conservator.
18 | Art Conservator | Winter 2017 2015
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Conserving at Piece by El Anatsui The Portrait of Achille Deban De Laborde by Alexandre-Jean Dubois-Drahonet at the Clark Institute of Art...
Published on Feb 19, 2019
Conserving at Piece by El Anatsui The Portrait of Achille Deban De Laborde by Alexandre-Jean Dubois-Drahonet at the Clark Institute of Art...