The “conservation story” of Nefrina’s Funerary Mask, Part 2: Tear Repair and Reshaping

As promised in the previous posting on the condition of Nefrina’s Funerary Mask, here is the next installment on its conservation treatment.  Because this treatment was so involved, in this post I am just going to talk about the temporary stabilization of the exterior and the repairs on the interior of the mask.

1)     Facing: Facings are often used by conservators to temporarily stabilize surfaces so that an object can be handled and other structural problems can be addressed first.  In this case, the flaking and cracked paint on the mask had to be temporarily stabilized before the tears and deformed areas could be repaired.  I used Japanese tissue that I adhered onto the exterior of the surface so that the object could be safely handled and the interior examined.

Left - detail of facing test before the facing was applied overall. Right - image showing     the front of the mask after facing was applied (it may look like clear tape but it’s not).

Left – detail of facing test before the facing was applied overall. Right – image showing
the front of the mask after facing was applied (it may look like clear tape but it’s not).

2)     I made a temporary support to hold the mask safely so I could flip it over, remove the storage mount made in 1993, and examination the interior.

The mask after it was flipped over in the temporary support

The mask after it was flipped over in the temporary support

3)     Removal of the previous treatment: In 1993 patches of spun-bonded polyester had been adhered onto the interior.  I had to remove some of these so that the object could be reshaped and the tears aligned.

Left - detail of a spun bonded patch; Right - detail of the same area after removal of the spun bonded polyester patch

Left – detail of a spun bonded patch. Right – detail of the same area after removal of the spun bonded polyester patch.

4)     Humidification: I humidified and reshaped distorted and crushed areas using localized humidification with our Preservation Pencil.  The preservation pencil allowed me to apply warm moisture to discrete areas of the object (you can see the stream of moisture coming through the orange nozzle in the picture below).  Once an area is humidified, it becomes soft and pliable.  The humidified area is reshaped by supporting it with ethafoam inserts or with rare earth magnets and ethafoam padding.  This support is critical to maintain the correct shape as the humidified area losses moisture and stiffens again.

Clockwise from top left - the preservation pencil in use; ethafoam supports used to hold the correct shape; interior view of rare earth magnet used to re-shape the area; exterior view of the same area with the magnet on the exterior

Clockwise from top left – the preservation pencil in use; ethafoam supports used to hold the correct shape; exterior view of rare earth magnet used to re-shape the area; interior view of the same area with the magnet on the interior

5)     The tears were repaired from the inside using Japanese tissue patches toned with acrylic paint and adhered using methyl cellulose.

Interior of the mask after tear repair

Interior of the mask after tear repair

Once the interior problems were addressed, I could return to the instability on the exterior parts of the mask, but you will have to wait for my next post to hear about that!

- posted by Tessa de Alarcon

 

Conserving a child mummy

A couple weeks ago, I introduced you to our child mummy Tanwa, and now I’m happy to report that I’ve completed her conservation treatment.

Tanwa before conservation treatment

Tanwa before conservation treatment

Tanwa has been in our collection since 1898; she was collected through the American Exploration Society, an organization founded by Sarah Yorke Stevenson, the museum’s first curator of the Egyptian section.

Tanwa was exhibited in the museum early on, but she has not been on display for a long time. When she came up to the Artifact Lab, we could see that she was generally in good condition, expect for the fact that some of the narrow bandages wrapped around her body, especially those around her feet, were fragile, torn, and partially detached. Many of the strips on the underside of her body were also damaged – although these aren’t usually visible since Tanwa is always lying on her back, they are at risk of detaching with any movement or handling.

Details of damaged linen around the feet (left) and on Tanwa's back (right)

Details of damaged linen around Tanwa’s feet (left) and on her back (right)

After fully documenting Tanwa’s condition, I first removed excess dust and grime from the surface of her wrappings using a soft-bristled brush and a HEPA-filtered vacuum. Cleaning the exterior surface significantly brightened the linen, and I think at this point Tanwa was already looking much better.

Tanwa had a few straight pins stuck into her wrappings in areas, apparently as a measure to temporarily secure some of the fragile linen. I removed all of these pins and adhered the linen in place as necessary with small amounts of methyl cellulose adhesive.

A pin stuck into the bandages on Tanwa's head (left, indicated by red arrow) was removed and the linen was secured to prevent further loss (right, after treatment)

A pin stuck into the bandages on Tanwa’s head (left, indicated by red arrow) was removed and the linen was secured to prevent further loss (right, after treatment)

I then proceeded to repair the linen around her feet and in all other places where the linen was fragile and at risk of detaching or becoming further damaged. All repairs were carried out using similar materials and methods to those I used to repair our falcon mummy. Distorted linen was relaxed and reshaped by humidification with either a damp blotter and Gore-tex sandwich, or using the Preservation Pencil. Detached linen was tacked down using a 6% solution of methyl cellulose adhesive, and fragile areas of linen were backed/supporting using Japanese tissue paper toned with acrylic paints.

Backing a fragile area of linen with toned Japanese tissue paper - the blue clamp is holding everything in place while the adhesive dries

Backing a fragile area of linen with toned Japanese tissue paper – the blue clamp is holding everything in place while the adhesive dries

Here are some after treatment details to compare to the before treatment shots seen in the second image on this post:

After treatment details of the linen around Tanwa's feet (left) and on her back (right)

After treatment details of the linen around Tanwa’s feet (left) and on her back (right)

All of Tanwa’s linen wrappings are now fully stabilized and she is ready to be exhibited for the first time in decades!

An overall view of Tanwa, after treatment

An overall view of Tanwa, after treatment

 

Tawahibre all tied up

When I wrote about the fantastic image we retrieved from our Archives a couple weeks ago showing our Mummy Gallery in 1935, I promised to provide an update on the treatment progress on Tawahibre’s coffin.

Well, why don’t I start with this:

A view of Tawahibre's coffin from above

A view of Tawahibre’s coffin from above

While you may not be sure what you’re looking at here, this looks like progress, doesn’t it? I’ll tell you what you are seeing – the coffin is tied in several places with cotton twill tape, holding small pieces of white Volara foam and blueboard (acid-free, lignin-free corrugated board) in place against the coffin surface.

A detail of the Volara foam and blueboard held in place with cotton twill tape

A detail of the Volara foam and blueboard held in place with cotton twill tape

The purpose of this system, other than looking kind of intriguing, is to place select pressure in areas on the coffin (whenever I say this I always think of the useful book The Gentle Art of Applied Pressure-the title speaks for itself). As I have described previously, the coffin is pretty distorted in areas, due to the fact that many of the individual wood elements have separated and moved apart and that the plaster has separated from the wood substrate. We are trying to realign these pieces as much as possible using humidification with a Preservation Pencil, which allows us to direct a small stream of warm humidified air in select areas, which helps the plaster and wood relax a bit and encourages movement. Once we get an area to move sufficiently, we then apply pressure to the area to hold everything in place.

Here Nina is directing a stream of humidified air with the Preservation Pencil and I am applying pressure with my hands.

Here Nina is directing a stream of humidified air with the Preservation Pencil and I am applying pressure with my hands.

We’re also continuing to consolidate the painted surface and readhere loose pieces of plaster and wood.

We don't usually work in teams, but yesterday we had a little group humidification and consolidation party!

This treatment has been a team effort, and yesterday we had a little group humidification and consolidation party!

While we’re making progress and becoming pretty comfortable with the coffin and the treatment, there are still some scary areas to deal with. This is an area that I’ll be tackling next:

A detail of a badly damaged area on the coffin, showing significant cracking and flaking and detached and displaced fragments

A detail of a badly damaged area on the coffin, showing significant cracking and flaking and detached and displaced fragments

Wish us luck as we continue this work!