Hello from the Egypt (Sphinx) Gallery (or Lower Egypt as we often call it here at the Penn Museum)! We are Emily Brown and Madeleine Neiman, two project conservators working on the Vibration Mitigation Project at the Penn Museum. Currently, we are working in view of the public on an Old Kingdom tomb chapel (Figure 1). The painted limestone walls were once part of a mud brick mastaba tomb for a high-ranking official named Kaipure. In order to protect the chapel from vibrations resulting from the demolition of Penn Tower and subsequent construction on that site just to the south of the Museum, it must be taken apart. Before that happens, however, the fragile painted surface first needs to be stabilized. This is our job.
The walls of the chapel currently on view were originally installed in 1926. The wooden structure previously built to hold up the walls no longer provides adequate support for the hefty stone blocks. The paint is also very fragile, and the limestone surface is blistering and delaminating from the stone underneath. To prevent loss of the painted surface, it will need to be consolidated and stabilized prior to taking apart the blocks.
We began our work in September by carrying out a condition survey (Figures 2 and 3) to identify areas most in need of help. The biggest issues we found were powdery and flaking paint as well as areas of powdering and blistering stone (Figure 4). If the blocks are moved in their current state, they would suffer significant loss of the fragile surface. We then tested appropriate adhesives and developed a plan for treatment – and we were on our way (Figure 5)! The chapel will be dismantled in early December, which gave us only 6 weeks to stabilize the surface.
Look for future posts about our work on the Vibration Mitigation Project and please stop by to see us in action in Lower Egypt!
Photos by the authors.