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).

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!).