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).

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).

#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).

Kaipure Catch Up

by Anna O’Neill

Hello again from the “Other Artifact Lab”! It’s been a while since we’ve checked in here from Kaipure’s tomb chapel and a lot has changed in Lower Egypt since the summer. Since June, we have been working to clean and stabilize the painted limestone walls of the Old Kingdom (2415-2298 BCE) mud-brick mastaba tomb chapel for a high-ranking Egyptian official named Kaipure. In the winter of 2015-2016, conservators Emily Brown and Madeleine Neiman worked to disassemble the tomb chapel wall from its wooden 1920s support and performed triage treatments (read more about that here) to keep the blocks safe from vibrations caused by construction next door. This past spring marked the start of the current phase of the project: cleaning and stabilizing the blocks so they can be moved to off-site storage in 2018.

If you’ve been through the Lower Egypt (Sphinx) gallery recently, you may notice some new and familiar faces in the lab. While Céline Wachsmuth and I (Anna O’Neill) have been working on the wall since June, in September we were joined by a third project assistant, Jonathan Stevens. 

The view from our lab space, with two of the blocks reflected in the foreground. We may be biased, but we think we’ve got the coolest lab-mate around.

Between all of us it’s been a very busy fall! We’ve continued to clean and stabilize each individual block from the wall, becoming familiar with some different techniques for cleaning, consolidation, infilling, and documentation, as well as repair methods used by the ancient Egyptians (more on these later). Dr. David Silverman, Curator-in-Charge of the Egyptian Section, stopped by to tell us a little more about the history and imagery of the chapel. We’re also improving our proficiency in fork lift handling as we move the pallets supporting the very heavy stones. Just a few weeks ago, we reached a very important milestone – we officially passed the halfway point, with more than half of the 59 blocks stabilized for their move off-site next year.

A view inside the lab. The largest blocks (up to 700 pounds!) are housed on the red shelves along the back wall; the ones covered in tissue are cleaned, consolidated, and ready to move off-site.

If you find yourself in Lower Egypt any time soon, you are welcome to come watch us work in the lab and read more about the history of Kaipure’s tomb chapel (on our new, informative signage!). While we don’t have open window sessions downstairs, we do occasionally find ourselves in the main Artifact Lab and we’ll be happy to talk about our work then. We’ve got more Kaipure blog posts planned, so keep your eyes open for updates and insights.

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).

BIG changes, little details

On November 1, our Museum announced the commencement of our  Building Transformation  campaign, a monumental project which will include a full renovation of our building structure and reinstallation of many of our signature galleries, including our iconic Egyptian Galleries.

The first glimpse of this work will be the opening of our Middle East Galleries in April 2018. This is not news for readers of this blog – you have been hearing about the conservation work for this project for awhile now (for reference, see these related blogposts).

Graduate intern Marci Jefcoat Burton (standing) and pre-program interns Fallon Murphy, Jennifer Mikes, and Alyssa Rina during an open window session in the Artifact Lab (with one of the al-Ubaid mosaic columns in the foreground)

In fact, you can get a glimpse of several exciting projects that are underway for our Building Transformation right now, on a daily basis, in either of our 2 public conservation labs.

In the Artifact Lab, you will mostly see objects being conserved for the Middle East Galleries and for our Mexico and Central America Gallery, opening in November 2018.

An assortment of artifacts for the Mexico and Central America Gallery in various stages of conservation treatment.

Our other public lab is down in our Lower Egyptian Gallery. Work in that space is dedicated exclusively to conservation treatment of the carved and painted limestone blocks from the Old Kingdom tomb chapel of Kaipure.

A view of the Kaipure tomb chapel lab space in Lower Egypt

Project Assistant Anna O’Neill at work on a block in the Kaipure lab

While you can watch the conservation team at work most days in the Kaipure lab, unlike the Artifact Lab, it does not include open window sessions. But have no fear – the Kaipure team has promised to write some blogposts about aspects of their work, so stay tuned for more information on this project!

Big projects like the Building Transformation campaign come down to a lot of little details, and no one knows details like the Conservation Department. We hope you visit us to learn more about these details, and all the work underway to make these big changes possible.

Sometimes you just can’t get close enough (intern Celine Wachsmuth in the Kaipure lab)

To learn more about the vision of our Building Transformation, check out this ~3 minute video which captures the grandeur of the project (and features Project Conservator Tessa de Alarcon!).