A Columnar Matter Part III: The Conservation and Installation of a 3rd Millennium BCE Mosaic Column from Al ‘Ubaid

By Marci Jefcoat Burton

As a last installment of the mosaic column from Tell al-Ubaid in Iraq, we are pleased to announce the treatment and remounting of the 4,200(+) year-old shell, pink limestone, and black shale tesserae is complete (Figure 1)! After a number of years in collection storage, the recently conserved column is now in the Middle East Gallery, and ready for visitors when the exhibit opens this Saturday, April 21, 2018. The treatment process was a dynamic collaborative project, involving a team of seven conservators to clean, repair and re-mount hundreds of triangular and diamond shaped tesserae over the span of 18 months.

Figure 1: The previous column support (left), with all tesserae deconstructed from each section. Only mounting materials, such as plaster ground and reconstructions, remain on the supports. (Right) The newly mounted tesserae on Ethafoam column supports.

The tesserae were originally mounted at the archaeological site in 1919 – 1924 on four hollow cylindrical sections made of wire mesh and burlap. The tesserae were imbedded in a thick layer of plaster, and the resulting weight on a somewhat flexible base eventually became a structural problem. In addition, each column section had a large area of plaster reconstruction to continue the mosaic design around the column. For a memory refresher of the previous condition and treatment protocol, visit our blog posts, column blog 1 and column blog 2.

After months of cleaning every tessera and adhering many fragments back together, the tesserae were mounted onto a new support made from solid Ethafoam, a chemically stable and dense foam (Figure 2). Each new column section support was reconstructed to the same measurements as the wire mesh and burlap supports. The previous use of plaster proved too rigid and heavy in the original mounting system, causing many cracks to develop in the plaster and tesserae to loosen over time. For these reasons, plaster was not used again, and the tesserae were mounted to the Ethafoam supports with an acrylic paste (Paraloid® B-72 (ethyl methacrylate (70%) and methyl acrylate (30%) copolymer) in acetone bulked with glass microspheres) toned black with dry pigments. This is lighter in weight compared to plaster, and compatible with the shell and stone materials. The black acrylic paste was made to resemble bitumen, a pine resin material used by the Mesopotamians to originally mount the tesserae to the c. 3rd Millennium BCE column.

Figure 2: Mounting process of column section #2. The cleaned and repaired tesserae are mounted to the Ethafoam cylindrical supports with Paraloid® B-72 (ethyl methacrylate (70%) and methyl acrylate (30%) copolymer) in acetone bulked with glass microspheres and toned black with dry pigments to mimic bitumen. Spatulas were used to spread the acrylic resin on the support and tesserae were imbedded into the mixture.

All four column sections stack and connect with an internal wooden dowel system. To accommodate the large areas that were once plaster restorations, our Photo Studio printed high resolution, archival images of the tesserae, which were custom scaled and fit to each column section (Figure 3). The digital photo fills integrate a complete mosaic design to give the appearance of a fully mosaicked column (Figure 4). This is a great example of how recent technological advancements help conservators with approaches to treatment and display options.

Figure 3: (From left), Conservation Interns Tessa Young, Alyssa Rina and Jennifer Mikes installing digital photo fills to the top and bottom mosaic column sections.

Figure 4: (a): Column section #2, after remounting tesserae. The locations with previous plaster reconstructions are padded with Volara (closed-cell polyethylene foam). (b): Column section #2 after pinning archival photo fill into place over the Volara.

The mosaic column, and over 1,500 objects await your visit in the Middle East Galleries (Figure 5)! To our visitors in the Artifact Lab who witnessed our many, many hours of treating these column sections, we thank you for your brilliant questions, comments and curiosity about the tesserae and our conservation process during our Open Window Sessions. You will find the assembled column has transformed into an impressive and complete piece, and we hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

Figure 5: Bob Thurlow (Special Projects Manager) and Marci Jefcoat Burton (Conservation Curriculum Intern) installing the four mosaic column sections in the Middle Eastern Gallery.

Ancient faces in the Middle East Galleries

Our new Middle East Galleries open next week and they will feature over 1200 artifacts from our collection, including many iconic objects like the Ram in the Thicket, the Bull-headed lyre, and Queen Puabi’s headdress. Oh, and for those of you who are always asking about our cuneiform tablets, do we have a treat in store for you – there are dozens and dozens in the galleries. The majority of the objects in the exhibition were excavated by Penn archaeologists, many nearly a century ago.

ALL of these objects came through our Conservation Labs to prepare them for the galleries and many needed significant treatment in order to ensure their stability for long-term display. Our Middle East Galleries (MEG) team has worked diligently and tirelessly on this project – you can read more about some aspects of this work on the Penn Museum blog here.

The triumphant column team poses next to the 4 recently conserved mosaic column drums from Tell al-‘Ubaid, Iraq. This project took months to complete.

In just over a week, visitors to the Museum will have the opportunity to get up close and personal with these newly-conserved objects. Everyone will be drawn to the highlight pieces mentioned above and here, but the other pieces are worth lingering over too. It’s usually impossible to see them as closely as we do during the conservation treatment process, so I thought I’d give you the opportunity to see 2 small but beautiful objects closer than you can in the galleries.

B8997 (left) and B9026 (right)

These 2 female figures, both excavated from Nippur, Iraq, will be on display in the same case in the Middle East Galleries. They’re small, just several inches long. The figure on the left was likely a doll which would have had articulated arms; you can see the holes where they were once attached. Fortunately, both artifacts required very little treatment. B8997, the figure on the left, does have a large, but stable crack that did not require any treatment. Examination under the binocular microscope revealed small amounts of burial dirt on both figures which had escaped previous cleaning campaigns, so both were carefully surface cleaned to remove this soil.

Detail of B9026 before (left) and after (right) cleaning, 7.5X magnification

As I worked on these figures, I captured some images with the camera attachment on our Leica microscope. Both objects are made of bone and are delicately carved. The reverse side of the doll’s head has an unworked area that nicely shows the cancellous (or spongy) bone features.

B8997 detail of front (left) and reverse (right), 7.5X magnification

Their time in the lab was brief – they only stayed for a day or 2. But in the midst of the hustle and bustle of preparing for these galleries, it’s nice to take a moment to appreciate the details.

The Middle East Galleries open to the public on Saturday, April 21. Our department has a few loose ends to wrap up with that project (and a few loose ends on the blog – stay tuned for a last blogpost on the mosaic column treatment) but we’re already turning to our next big tasks – the renovation of our Mexico & Central America Galleries, Africa Galleries, and Egyptian Galleries.

Transformation Tidbits on a Tuesday

By: Anna O’Neill, Jonathan Stevens, and Céline Wachsmuth

It’s Tuesday! And time for another transformation post. As the Kaipure team is wrapping up our work, we have been reflecting upon how different everything has become from when we first started the project in June 2017, almost a year ago. We have seen many transformations, both big and small. Here are some snapshots of transformations we’ve seen throughout the project:

First thing’s first, we have our simple, but satisfying, surface cleaning transformation. Jonathan shares one of his blocks in the middle of cleaning:

Photo by Jonathan Stevens Cleaning in progress. Most of the background of this limestone block has been dry-cleaned using white rubber erasers, vulcanized latex sponges and cosmetic sponges. The brighter areas are clean and any area that looks gray has not been cleaned yet.

Cleaning is fun, especially when the results are so nice and neat!

Anna had the chance to rejoin two block fragments, something that we haven’t been able to do much of because of the size and weight of most of the blocks, even though some are broken and we know how they fit together.

Photos by Anna O’Neill For this piece, both the main block and missing fragment were cleaned and the break edges consolidated with 2% w/v Paraloid B-72. Then the fragment was adhered with 40% w/v Paraloid B-72 and held in place with straps overnight until the join had set. The cracks were filled with a white Paraloid B-72/glass microballoon mixture, which provides support to areas of loss and helps to protect the fragile edges along the break. The fill was then painted with Golden acrylic paints to integrate it with the rest of the piece.

One of the last blocks Céline had the chance to work on also had one of the most fragile surfaces of any of the blocks. It was a lengthy, but incredible treatment. Both images below show the process of stabilizing the block’s surface. After cleaning, loose and lifting fragments were secured by injecting a 30% solution of Paraloid B-72 in acetone beneath the flakes. The unprotected edges of the flakes were supported and protected with a mixture of Paraloid B-72 and glass microballoons, applied by injection with a syringe, and then in-painted with acrylics to match the surface.

Photos by Céline Wachsmuth Detail of before, during, and post treatment of a section of the block. There was significant lifting and destabilization over much of the block’s surface.

Photos by Céline Wachsmuth Detail of before, during, and post treatment of a section of the block. This section was floating on the surface, meaning it was no longer attached.

Stay tuned for a final post about the finishing touches on the Kaipure Tomb Chapel project.

The Kaipure Conservation Project is funded through a generous grant from the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE) Antiquities Endowment Fund (AEF) which was established though a grant from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Many new faces in the lab…

by Williams Project Conservator Alexis North

Yesterday, I was able to make several new friends, when the American section brought these objects up to the lab, in preparation for the reinstallation of our Mexico and Central America gallery:

 These are a group of Zapotec ceramic effigy vessels from Mexico. These types of vessels are usually found in tombs, and their meaning depends on where and how they were buried. They are often found in groups, and with other associated burial materials.

Each of these effigy vessels is elaborately and uniquely decorated. Some have human faces, some are wearing masks, and some even have animal features.

These two vessels (NA6361; 29-41-707) depict humans wearing masks.

Most of these vessels are in good condition, intact or with only small losses. At least two, however, will need a little more conservation to get them ready to display. This vessel was originally covered with a white stucco coating:

Vessel 29-41-702, depicting a masked seated figure.

The stucco is now starting to lift from the surface, and any handling can cause small pieces of the stucco to fall off. It will need to be carefully stabilized before the vessel can go on display.

Detail of the headdress of 29-41-702. The red arrows show areas where the stucco is lifting off the surface of the ceramic.

And this vessel shown below has some loose fragments which will need to be rejoined. Thankfully the amazing duck bill on his face is still intact!

Before treatment photo of 31-26-1.

For (a lot) more information and other examples of these types of vessels, check out the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc., and their database on Zapotec effigy vessels.

A typical Tuesday in Kaipure

Anna O’Neill, Assistant Project Conservator

The Kaipure lab space in the Lower Egypt (Sphinx) Gallery lets visitors observe as conservators work on a tomb chapel wall, but we don’t often have the opportunity to explain what’s going on. So, here’s a glimpse into what we might be doing on any given day.

9:00 am: We arrive in the conservation hallway, drop off our bags and grab a quick cup of tea to warm up before our weekly department meeting.

9:15 am: Department meeting! It’s getting a bit crowded in here with so many conservators working on lots of different projects. We give our updates – “Still working on Kaipure” – and listen to everyone report their progress. Since we spend most of our time working in the Lower Egyptian Gallery, it’s fun to hear all about all the various objects being treated.

10:00 am: Céline finished up the block she was working on yesterday, so our first order of business is to put her completed block back on the red shelves along the back wall and pull out a new pallet for her to work on.

Jonathan brings Big Joe into the lab.

10:15 am: We’ve completely rearranged the lab, clearing space in the middle and in front of the shelves so that we can bring in Big Joe, our forklift (no, really – his name is written on the side). Most of the time, people tend to think of conservation as a very delicate task, but we’ve had to become experts in heavy machinery, too.

Carefully maneuvering Big Joe to pick up a pallet with a completed block.

10:30 am: We use Big Joe to move Céline’s completed block to a shelf, measuring to make sure that it fits, and then raise the tines all the way up to the top shelf. It’s the first time we’ve had to reach this high, so we’ve brought in Bob Thurlow, Special Projects Manager and resident forklift expert, to supervise while we bring down a new pallet. Fortunately, everything goes smoothly and we land the pallet on a wheeled table made specifically to hold the heavy weight of the blocks.

Left, Céline pulls a block from the top shelf – it’s eight feet off the ground, but feels much higher! Right, Making sure the pallet is centered on the rolling table.

10:45 am: It’s time to play Jenga with our workspace again as we put Big Joe back in storage and get our tables back in working position.

11:00 am: Céline begins documenting her new block, which means getting to know every inch of the object. She begins photography and condition mapping, while Jonathan and I get back to work on the pieces we already had out.

12:30 pm: Lunch time!

1:30 pm: We’re back in the lab, each working on our blocks. Céline has finished documenting her new block, so she gets started on the first phase of cleaning – dusting with a soft brush and gentle vacuum.

Jonathan is busy with solvent cleaning, painstakingly rolling tiny cotton swabs saturated with acetone or ethanol over the surface to remove soiling, staining, and other substances that may have accumulated over the nearly 100 years the wall was on display.

Everybody busy at work in the Kaipure lab.

I’ve done all the cleaning I can on my block and now I’ve moved on to stabilizing loose and lifted flakes of paint and stone. This is done by a process we call “edging”, using a syringe to apply a mixture of Paraloid B72 bulked with glass microballoons and fumed silica to fragile areas, then gently shaping it with a solvent-soaked swab so they fill any gaps between flakes and the stone surface. These tiny fills serve multiple purposes: they fill empty spaces so they won’t collapse under pressure; they protect the edges so the flakes won’t be popped off if touched; and they provide light adhesion between the flake and the stone. Once inpainted, the B72/microballoon mixture blends right into the stone, but we feel much better knowing that the surface is more stable.

5:00 pm: The guards are making their rounds in the gallery to make sure all the visitors have left for the day. That means it’s time for us to close up the Kaipure lab for the evening and head home.

All photos by Lucia Scanlan

The Kaipure Conservation Project is funded through a generous grant from the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE) Antiquities Endowment Fund (AEF) which was established though a grant from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

A glimpse of upcoming changes

There are a few new objects on display in the Artifact Lab this week, which give visitors a glimpse of upcoming changes in the museum.

Newly-installed case with objects slated for the renewed Mexico & Central American Gallery

These 4 pieces were recently conserved in the Artifact Lab to prepare them for installation in our forthcoming Mexico & Central America Gallery (from left to right: a stone metate from Costa Rica 11819, two burnished ceramic jars from Mexico 31-41-34 & 87-42-1132, and a ceramic tripod vessel from Costa Rica 2013-11-1) .

You can see many other objects that will be going into that gallery, both on display in our current Mexico and Central America Gallery as well as being worked on in the Artifact Lab.

Artifacts currently being treated in the Artifact lab.

Visit our Building Transformation website to learn more about this gallery, which will look something like this:

#Transformation Tuesday: Getting our Ducks in a Row

The transforming treatment of the Al’Ubaid frieze of three birds (B15883) from the new Middle East Galleries in now complete! (To be more correct, they are probably doves not ducks.) More information about the frieze can be found here. Click here for more information on the exciting new galleries, opening this April!

The frieze before treatment

The frieze after treatment

Originally, the three stone birds (initially called ducks but now identified as doves) would have been surrounded by black shale tesserae and the borders would have been copper alloy sheets. The frieze would have originally looked much like the marching bulls frieze. Unfortunately, neither the shale pieces nor the copper alloy borders made it. The birds had been embedded in a plaster background carved to look like the shale tesserae, and the borders were made from modern machined copper alloy sheets.

The old support system had to be removed due to some condition issues and to prepare the frieze for long-term exhibition. Once taken off, the grimy birds could then be laser-cleaned. The blog post about laser-cleaning them can be found here.

Applying the bulked Paraloid B-72 to the Ethafoam© support

Although the only ‘real’ parts were the stone birds, the curator wanted the entire frieze to be reconstructed to help visitors put the birds in context. It will be displayed next to the marching bull frieze.

After cleaning, the birds were adhered onto a piece of dense archival foam. The black tesserae background was created with Paraloid B-72 (ethyl methacrylate and methyl acrylate copolymer) bulked with glass microballoons and toned with dry pigments. Bulked Paraloid B-72 is stable, reversible, and easily manipulated with either solvent or heat. The shallow lines to make it appear there are tesserae were put in with a heated spatula. The copper alloy borders were also created with Ethafoam© coated in bulked Paraloid B-72 tinted in various shades of green to mimic copper corrosion. The fills in the ducks were inpainted with acrylics to integrate them better.

After all that, the ducks look much happier!

The frieze after treatment and ready for display

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#Transformation Tuesday: New Year’s Edition

By: Céline Wachsmuth

It’s Tuesday and that means it’s time for another transformation story. This one comes from an object going into the Middle East Galleries (click here for more information on the exciting new galleries, opening this April!).

It’s hard to believe the first month of January is almost over! Many people make resolutions for the New Year, hoping to make an improvement, big or small (myself included, I have a Google doc with a list of resolutions). Most resolutions are easier said than done, including the prevalent resolution to shave a few pounds. This bowl had similar thoughts, but made losing some weight look like a piece of cake!

Bowl before treatment (left) and after treatment (right)

This bowl had been repaired in the past, but the joins needed to be taken down because the old adhesive was failing. The bowl was pretty clean when it came into the lab so it wasn’t long before I began solvent testing the adhesive in order to make a vapor chamber. The adhesive was soluble in acetone and most of the sherds separated with gentle prodding after eight days in a vapor chamber. The old fills (made of plaster), however, did not budge. This was probably due to the likelihood that they had been cast in place.

Outlines of Old Fills
Fill outlined in dark blue was dremeled out
Fills outlined in light blue were softened with deionized water and then removed

These ounces had to go! When a fill resists detachment by solvent, other, usually mechanical, methods have to be implemented. One mechanical treatment is to use a dremel, just like the one you might use at home for some smaller detailed work, to carve away the fill. This is tricky because the dremel can put the object at risk if used improperly. Once I was all set up and had been shown the proper technique, I slowly moved around the entire area of the fill.

using the dremel to remove the fill

two of the sherds sitting in a bed of glass beads while the adhesive sets

Once the large fill was removed and those ounces had been shed, it was time for some TLC. I cleaned the break edges on each sherd with acetone (for the sherds previously joined with adhesive) or deionized water (for the sherds adjacent to the old fills). All the break edges were then coated with a dilute solution of Paraloid B-72 (ethyl methacrylate methyl acrylate copolymer) and the sherds were put back together with a 50% solution of Paraloid B-72 in 1:1 acetone:ethanol. Two small areas of the bowl had some gaps that needed to be filled; one for added structural stability and one to help complete the shape. This was done using a mixture of 3M microballoons, Paraloid B-72 in 1:1 acetone:ethanol, acetone, and some dry pigment to approximately color match the fill to the bowl. The fills needed some additional color to help blend in more and they were painted with light washes of acrylics.

This bowl made losing a couple ounces look easy even though we all know how much work really has to go in to something transformative! Thankfully, it’s only the beginning of the year and there is plenty of time to make your own transformations. Just like there’s plenty of time for another transformation to happen in the labs before our next Transformation Tuesday post – stay tuned!

PS – If you’re looking for some “ancient workout tips” check out these fun suggestions

A Columnar Matter Part II: The Conservation Treatment of a 3rd Millennium BCE Mosaic Column from Al ‘Ubaid

By Marci Jefcoat Burton

As a follow up to my previous blog post, conservation treatment of the second of four sections comprising a mosaic column from Tell al-Ubaid, Iraq is well on its way! For a quick recap, the column is dated to 2400 – 2250 BCE (Figure 1). After centuries of burial, the triangular and diamond shaped shell, pink limestone, and shale tesserae (also referred to as tiles), were excavated in 1919 – 1924. The original wooden column interior did not survive the centuries of burial, so after excavation, the tesserae were mounted with plaster to four hollow cylindrical supports of metal mesh covered with burlap. After nearly 100 years, shifts in the internal support have caused structural instability to each section.

Figure 1: (left) Before treatment image of the four column sections stacked together to make a complete column. Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. (2003). Art of the First Cities: The Third Millennium B.C. from the Mediterranean to the Indus. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: New York) (right) Column section 2 detail, before treatment.

First step of treatment: Remove tesserae from the current support.

The plaster was softened with distilled water applied by brush, then carved away to expose the sides of the each tessera. The tesserae could then be separated from the plaster and burlap backing one by one (Figure 2). Like the first slice of pie, the first piece was the most difficult to remove. Once extracted, access to adjacent tesserae became easier.

Figure 2: (left) Removing plaster surrounding the tesserae with a scalpel blade. Plaster was first softened with distilled water. (middle) Carefully extracting a shell tessera from the plaster. (right) Shell tessera after removal from column section.

The tesserae were removed from the support and placed on an enlarged reference photo in a tray to maintain the order of composition (Figure 3).

Figure 3: All tesserae were removed from the support and placed on top of a rolled out image of the column section to maintain their original placement. All that remains on the exterior of the cylindrical support is a layer of grey plaster and previously filled areas. As a bonus, the Egyptian female child mummy named Tanwa can be seen in the background, just outside of the Artifact Lab window!

Second step of treatment: Cleaning

After removal from column section 2, all tesserae were covered with a layer of powdery plaster, which was removed with distilled water applied with hand-rolled cotton swabs. Medical scalpels were used to gently lift and remove thick remnants of plaster as well as adhesive from previous repairs. In addition, years of dark-brown dirt, dust and grime were removed with distilled water, and Stoddard solvent (a petroleum-derived organic solvent) was applied to the pink limestone and shell pieces to remove greasy grime trapped in the surface (Figure 4).

Figure 4: (left) Removal of adhesive and plaster remnants from a diamond shaped tesserae using a medical scalpel. (right) Shell tesserae being cleaned with distilled water. Note the dark grey-brown grime picked up on the cotton swab.

Third step of treatment: Repair

Once cleaned, tesserae that exhibited breakage such as cracks, detachment, and delamination were repaired with a thin layer of a semi-viscous solution of Paraloid® B-72 (ethyl methacrylate (70%) and methyl acrylate (30%) copolymer) resin in acetone. The majority of the shell tesserae experienced separation between the layers comprising the shell. Some even separated into several pieces, making their reassembly somewhat of a puzzle (Figure 5)!

Figure 5: (left) A triangular shell tessera delaminated (separated) into six pieces. (right) The same shell tessera with all pieces adhered together with Paraloid® B-72.

The shale was even more temperamental to remove from the column section (Figure 6). Shale is a soft sedimentary rock composed of mud, clay, and minerals, such as calcite and quartz. The inherent nature of the shale causes breakage and crumbling. Water can remove particles from the shale surface, therefore these pieces were cleaned with dry brushes and if needed, cotton swabs lightly dampened with distilled water.

The most resilient material was the pink limestone. While some pink limestone tesserae are weathered on the surface, most likely from centuries of burial, these tiles exhibited very little breakage and cleaned up nicely with distilled water and Stoddard solvent (Fig. 6).

Figure 6: (left) A diamond shaped shale tessera exhibiting a lack of cohesion, best observed around the edges, which caused cracks and areas of material loss. (right) A resilient triangular pink limestone tessera with a weathered surface, noted by the lighter, speckled locations. The pink limestone tesserae have strong cohesion and required very little repair.

After a month of cleaning and repair of the shell, pink limestone and shale tesserae, their overall appearance is quite transformative. The tesserae look brighter and truer to their original colors (Figure 7). This is especially the case for the pink limestone, which went from a dark peach-brown, to a brighter light-pink hue.

Figure 7: (left) Shell, pink limestone and shale tesserae after removal from the former support, and kept in their original arrangement. (right) All tesserae after cleaning and repair, ready for re-mounting to a new support.

…..What’s next?

The next phase of treatment for section 2 of the mosaic column is to mount the shell, pink limestone, and shale tesserae to a new solid cylindrical support. More information and updates on the column treatment progress will be featured in an upcoming post, so please stay tuned!

#Transformation Tuesday ft. The Big Guy

By: Céline Wachsmuth

It’s #TransformationTuesday! And that means I get to show off a wonderful transformation that happened right in the Lower Egyptian gallery here at the Museum.

Before Treatment Shot of the Big Guy

After Treatment Shot of the Big Guy

Tah-dah! Looks great, doesn’t it? The Big Guy looks so much better. (I affectionately nick-named this block “Big Guy” because it’s the heaviest block on this side of the wall (it weighs approximately 720 pounds). If you’re in need of some context for this project, check out this Kaipure Catch Up)

Though there isn’t much visible difference between these two photos, in terms of the stability of the block’s surface, much has changed. All in all, this treatment took me about two months to complete and it was quite the journey.

I began my treatment by condition mapping the block in Photoshop and then surface cleaning with gentle vacuuming. Once the dirt immediately on the surface had been removed, I used a variety of sponges and erasers to clean the more stubborn grime. In just these first two steps I realized how fragile much of the surface was. Small flakes would break off easily and not always predictably. Swabbing with a cotton swab was no different and in some cases was more problematic. I proceeded slowly and carefully. Once the Big Guy had been safely cleaned, you could really see his brightly painted surface. The colors were more visible, but so were the fragile and lifting areas. I next faced the biggest challenge of this treatment: how to efficiently and effectively stabilize and consolidate the surface.

Photoshop Condition Mapping of the Big Guy

I began stabilizing all the lifted areas by injecting a dilute adhesive under the surface using an insulin syringe. This worked for some areas but caused some of the surrounding surface to darken. If it came in contact with the surface, the needle also had the potential to disturb it and cause a piece to break off. I then tried to apply the adhesive by brush; I saturated the brush with adhesive and gently tapped the exposed stone next to the prepared surface, wicking the adhesive underneath. This worked but had many of the same issues as the syringe. Both application methods would have taken a substantial amount of time, as almost all of the surface was in need of some consolidation. I began to explore other options for effectively consolidating the surface. In speaking with conservators in the department, we decided to try applying the adhesive via spray canister.

Preval Spray System

Before spraying the entire block, we tested it to see how even the spray application would be and if it would cause any darkening or staining. I was very happy with the tests but thoroughly discussed all the potential shortcomings of this application method with Kaipure project supervisor Molly Gleeson. Spraying the adhesive wouldn’t penetrate below the prepared layer and would only provide superficial consolidation. For those areas that were significantly lifted, I went around with a higher percentage of adhesive and used the brush method of application mentioned above. Once I was satisfied those areas had been stabilized, I sprayed a layer of adhesive on the surface, let it dry completely, and then applied a second layer in areas that were still more concerning. The Big Guy was much more stable and happier but you can’t see any evidence of this because the adhesive is clear!

(I bet if you ask him though, he’d tell you he felt much prettier!)

This figure grabbed a bunch of food to celebrate the Big Guy’s transformation! In actuality, this figure is bringing food for the REAL Big Guy, Kaipure

The Big Guy was almost complete but I had one more task to finish before he would be ready to be handled. Many areas of loss had unprotected edges at risk of being lifted off the surface. Take this area for example, there are quite a few spots with unprotected edges ready to break off with added pressure. 

Detail of unprotected edges

To solve this problem, I edged (put up a protective and supportive layer of material around the exposed edge) those spots with Modostuc. Notice the white spots now on his body?

Can you see the white areas?
Detail of area of edging on figure

I went around to the many places on the Big Guy with unprotected edges and did the same thing. Once I was satisfied all edges had been protected, I painted over all of them with watercolors, a process called “inpainting”. And, if I did my job well, you can’t see it!

Can you find the areas of edging?
Detail of inpainting

The Big Guy is now stable and ready to be moved off-site until the next phase of treatment: re-installing him in the Museum with his many brothers and sisters! This is all part of a larger picture of transformation (for more information on the museum Building Transformation Campaign, click here). It’s a transformation inside a transformation! Inception, anyone?

Two weeks ago, conservator Alexis North posted about one of her recent treatments where the before and after treatment photos are indeed worlds apart and more what you might expect from a Transformation Tuesday post (see her post here). However, don’t judge a book by its cover or an object by its treatment photos! Though you can’t always see the changes, rest assured that once an object passes through conservation it has been changed for the better. Stay tuned for more of our exciting (and perhaps surprising!) Transformation Tuesday series posts!

The Kaipure Conservation Project is funded through a generous grant from the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE) Antiquities Endowment Fund (AEF) which was established though a grant from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).