April, 2009: Conservation begins

View of the conservation lab, with no room for enormous sculptures to be worked on.

Julie began working on the reliefs in situ in the Harrison Rotunda in April. The work location was a no-brainer, since we didn’t know how to move them or have any place to take them (they definitely wouldn’t fit in our Conservation Lab, even if we could have gotten them there).  Our carpenter built us a wonderful working platform so Julie could get up close and personal for her examination and treatment.

Cleaning off decades of grime accumulated before the reliefs were covered with Plexiglas took several months but the difference was startling.

This photograph from April 2009 shows Julie Lawson hard at work removing years of accumulated grime from the surface of C 395 with a steam gun (white machine to Julie’s left).

As the months passed, Julie began to remove the old fills along the join lines and some of the structural fills in missing areas. As she did so, she became more concerned with the stability of the fragments as she could not see any signs of adhesive or pins holding anything together. By the end of June we started planning for the disassembly of the reliefs.

Riggers at work in the Lower Egyptian Gallery on an earlier project

For this, we needed to hire riggers. A rigger is a person or company that specializes in the lifting and moving of extremely large or heavy objects. When that object is a priceless work of art, we use riggers who specialize in museum work.  Although we’ve frequently hired riggers for moving our objects, I hadn’t really understood that the reliefs would be a special problem. This was because a) they had been installed right up against the curving wall of the Rotunda, leaving no room for equipment behind them; and b) the floor of the Rotunda could not support heavy equipment like forklifts.

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  • Lynn

    We’ve thought about that but it’s a lot of space to cover. To be meaningful the streaming video would require a lot of oversight, which we can’t manage right now. However, we plan to post videos of some of the work on the Museum’s Youtube channel. Keep an eye out for that! And maybe, eventually, we’ll figure out the streaming thing – this is very much an evolving project.

  • Penn Museum

Beneath the Surface at the Penn Museum