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Conservation Spotlight: Turkish Kalkan Many of the objects in the John Woodman Higgins Armory Collection received a close look from our conservators to assess any damage and create a treatment plan. Kari Dodson, Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in Objects Conservation, talked to access about her work on an exceptional early 19th-century Turkish kalkan, a type of one-handed shield. The kalkan has curved iron bars and a copper-alloy umbo, or boss—the name for the round piece at the center — but otherwise is made from organic materials. This makes it lightweight, a blessing for the soldier, who carried it in battle, but a challenge for conservators. According to Dodson, new objects in the conservation lab get examined very closely, often under a microscope and using other non-invasive techniques, such as X-radiography and infrared reflectography. “The kalkan came to the lab with several condition issues,” she explains. “The interior lining fabric was

Conservator Kari Dodson stitches protective netting around tattered shield edge with dyed hair silk Above: Kalkan (one-handed shield), probably Turkish, 1800s, wood, iron, textile, leather and brass, 40 cm diameter, The John Woodman Higgins Collection, 2014.86.

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ripped and pulling away from the shield. Part of the braided leather strapping for holding the shield was missing, and a section of the protective iron rim had become detached from the front edge.” After removing dust and debris, Dodson gently humidified the crumpled and brittle lining fabric so it could be smoothed. The fabric had many tears and threadbare areas, so she carefully stitched it to polyester netting. “The stitches are very tiny and made with fine hair silk, so they are invisible without magnification,” she says. “All of our interventions are detectable upon close inspection, but they never obscure original material.” Next, Dodson replaced the missing strap pieces by braiding a strip of modern leather and painting it to match the 200-year-old leather. “Now the straps give the appearance of being complete, and the broken ends of the original are protected from further harm,” she says.

Finally, with the help of Bill MacMillan, project objects conservator, Higgins collection, modern iron rivets were hammered, painted to resemble others on the piece, and used to reattach the arc of iron rim. Dodson explains that the goal of conservation is not to make an object look like new. “Our goal is to prolong the life of an object and allow it to be presented in a way that conveys the maker’s original artistic message, while still preserving important evidence of its use.” Learn more at Collection/conservation


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