2018 MRCG Symposium Presentation Abstracts

These are the abstracts of the talks to be presented at the 2018 Annual Symposium in St. Louis, MO, November 9 – 11. These are listed in alphabetical order by the author’s surname.

Betsy Allaire, Objects Conservator, Allaire Fine Art Conservation, LLC. 15 wax sculptures and a dream (of completing them).

A small institution finds a grant and then locates the most broken item in their collection. A well-meaning conservator tries to determine the best way to carry out the treatment…

Fifteen wax sculptures for a nativity scene, or crèche, created in Mexico, were collected by the University of Dayton Marion Library in the 1990s. Upon receipt of the crèche, each of the artifacts was found to be damaged or broken in some way. The most important and best preserved of the wax figures were displayed together for many years, while the more severely damaged and detached pieces of the objects were carefully packed away. This talk will cover the journey of coming to terms with the artifacts, their unique problems, and a treatment plan that meets the needs of the owner, the object, the grantors, and the conservator.

Beth Edelstein, Objects Conservator, The Cleveland Museum of Art, and Margalit Schindler, Conservation Assistant, The Cleveland Museum of Art. A boy and his mountain: The conservation of a 6th century Cambodian Krishna at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Looking down at us from his nearly eight-foot height, the Cleveland Museum of Art’s (CMA) monumental sandstone figure of Krishna as a boy smiles calmly as he lifts a mountain over his head. This figure is one of a group excavated in the early 1900s at the 6th century site of Phnom Da, a hilltop temple complex in southern Cambodia, thought to have been made at the outset of the world-renowned Khmer stone sculpture tradition. Eight sculptures were excavated from this site, and this example is the only one in the United States; the others are on view at the National Museum of Cambodia in Phnom Penh and at the Musee Guimet in Paris. The work documents the early transition of Hinduism from India to Southeast Asia; the sculptures are the first known to show Hindu themes depicted in monumental Cambodian style art forms.

The Krishna torso was acquired by the CMA in 1973 from a private collector in Brussels, who had owned the sculpture since the 1910s. Additional elements of the figure were excavated by the French in the 1930s. These fragments were sent to Brussels as well, but the collector decided not to assemble the sculpture, and instead placed the legs, hand, base and other fragments in the garden of his estate. These were retrieved by the CMA and brought to Cleveland, where the figure was reassembled in the 1970s. However, the decision was made to not include the upper section comprising the left hand and part of the upper niche, as it was thought not to belong to this Krishna sculpture. The hand and remaining parts were sent back to Cambodia.

In 2012, this decision was reconsidered based on a 3D scan of the hand piece and the torso, and a reevaluation of petrographic samples. The hand piece was returned to the CMA and a plan was initiated to add it to the existing sculpture. However, the orientation of the torso and legs precluded an easy attachment, and the entire sculpture has to be disassembled in order to properly place the hand section. The project began in earnest in January 2018 and will culminate in an exhibition in early 2020.

This project has four major components, proceeding more or less simultaneously:

  1. Disassembly – includes removing previous fills, connecting pins and support pins, all of which were adhered with various epoxy resins.
  2. Reassembly – includes determining proper orientation of the pieces, using a more reversible system to re-pin the pieces, consideration for future exhibitions, and determining proper fill materials and attachment methods.
  3. Surface Treatment: includes stain removal, consolidation and stabilization of delamination.
  4. Mounting: working with a mount-maker and an engineering firm to design and build a custom mount. The goal of the mount is to enable the sculpture to remain in three sections – hand, torso, and base – and be easily assembled for exhibition, to facilitate travel and loan.

The complicated nature and monumental scale of this project have made this treatment extremely collaborative. Support from stone specialists, structural engineers, exhibit designers, and conservators are all necessary for success. These interdisciplinary conversations have led to the use of nontraditional tools and the manufacture of specialized equipment. This paper will serve to introduce the project and present some of the challenges and solutions in disassembly, reassembly and mounting of large-scale stone sculpture.

Thomas Edmondson, Conservator, Heugh Edmondson Conservation Services, LLC. The Allure of Rare Boxes, or, Niche Items create Niche Collectors that create Niche Specialties.

This presentation explores the unique issues and challenges encountered in the conservation and preservation of vintage fishing lure boxes, and their importance to the angling community and the history of angling.

Christine Gostowski, Associate Paintings Conservator, Kuniej Berry Associates. The Separation of a Henry Ossawa Tanner Painting from a William Edouard Scott Painting. 

This presentation will discuss the treatment to separate two paintings that had their backs adhered to one another – A study of Mary, for The Three Marys of 1910, by Henry Ossawa Tanner, and an untitled painting of a groom and horse, by William Edouard Scott. Both paintings, of similar age, are executed in an oil medium, but have very different styles. Although it is uncertain when, why, and by whom the paintings were conjoined, speculations have arisen based on examination and research. They were found in a frame, not original to either, with the Tanner painting facing out. The Scott painting, on paperboard, was serving as a support for Tanner’s study, which was on canvas. Once the paintings were separated, they received minor conservation treatment. The study of Mary was edge-lined to facilitate mounting to a stretcher. The paintings were housed in complementary frames, allowing each to be individually showcased and enjoyed for years to come.

Dawn Heller, Paper Conservator, Heller Conservation Services LLC. Cleaning and Conductivity Workshop: Useful Information and the Challenges of Incorporating the Techniques Presented into Studio Practice.

The “Cleaning and Conductivity: New Methods for Treating Works on Paper, Paintings, & Textiles” workshop presented by Amy Hughes, Daria Keynan, and Chris Stavroudis in December 2017, primarily explored the principles of conductivity and pH in cleaning systems with a heavy emphasis on their application in stain reduction for works on paper and textiles. The instructors developed these techniques based on the Cleaning Acrylic Painted Surfaces/Modular Cleaning Program workshops. Upon completion of the workshop, participants were to gain an understanding of the theory behind aqueous cleaning systems, learn to prepare the cleaning solutions, and develop the ability to assess the behavior of various media and substrates to assess risk to an artifact and anticipate its response to the treatment. It can be challenging to incorporate techniques learned in a workshop into routine studio practice. This presentation will pass along useful information from the workshop as well as my continuing efforts to more fully integrate these cleaning systems into my treatments.

Amber Kehoe, NEH Fellow, Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation (WUDPAC). Keeping Me Alive: The Preservation of Musician Archives.

This presentation will introduce on-going research into the preservation of musician archives and popular music culture in general. Based on site visits to recording studios, archives, and museums, this research aims to understand current practices and challenges associated with preserving both the material and immaterial culture of music.

Katherine Langdon, Conservator of Art Objects and Archaeological Materials, Langdon Art Conservation, LLC. MacGyver meets MOCRA: necessity becomes the mother of a conservation feature exhibition.

In July of 2017 the small Museum of Contemporary Religious Art at Saint Louis University (staff of almost 2) confronted a daunting challenge. MOCRA had just acquired Michael Tracy’s 1982 Venice Biennale feature artwork Cruz to Bishop Oscar Romero, Martyr of El Salvador, a space-dominating sculpture with a riot of wood, acrylic paint, textiles, metal spikes, and less conventional materials like human hair and cattle horns, comprising about 50 complex components. The artwork had been on almost constant view since its creation and hadn’t received any conservation attention in decades. Now it was slated to be on show by the start of the school year. After unpacking the artwork and consulting with local conservators, it quickly became apparent that not only could the object not be treated by the ambitious installation deadline, but there also wasn’t an inch to spare to store the new acquisition.

Faced with little time and less space, MOCRA collaborated with objects conservator Katherine Langdon of Langdon Art Conservation, LLC, and reinvented the exhibition into Visible Conservation, a multifaceted, educational, conservation treatment and advocacy project. Ms. Langdon consulted on conservation issues, designed the treatment, and led a team of conservation technicians through treatment of the artwork in the main gallery. From treatment to installation the project involved many hundreds of hours of work and meaningful contributions from departments across the university, the artist and his atelier, art handlers, and students. An interactive Q and A gallery feature allowed visitors to learn directly from the conservator and museum directors. The fruitful collaboration benefited all participants, enabling the museum and university to develop new expectations for conservation and collections care, and providing the conservation team the unique opportunity to participate in the creation of an exhibition. (You can visit the artwork with a short excursion from the MRCG 2018 Symposium in St. Louis.)

Daniela R. Leonard, Conservator, Art Institute of Chicago. The Art of Conservation Treatment: an Ode to Sun Tzu.

At the beginning of 2018 I was brought on at the Art Institute of Chicago for a four month project to stabilize a large contemporary painting for loan. The untitled painting was executed by the Thai outsider artist Tang Chang in 1965. It was poorly constructed and had been stored for decades in an uncontrolled environment in Thailand. The most immediate condition issues were severe cracking and lifting of the paint due to poor drying in areas of impasto, as well as significant surface grime and disfiguring staining around the edges. Several conversations took place over the course of the project regarding the goals for the treatment, in particular the extent of intervention to be undertaken beyond securing the paint. I found myself acutely aware of the process involved in planning and executing a conservation treatment and, looking back, I take inspiration from Sun Tzu’s Art of War to articulate the strategy involved in formulating my plan of attack.

LaStarsha D McGarity, Graduate Fellow in Conservation, Saint Louis Art Museum. Sankofa: The Conservation Treatment of “The Surveying of Washington, DC by Benjamin Banneker”.

At the 1940 American Negro Exposition in Chicago, Illinois, a series of thirty-three dioramas were exhibited, and twenty of these dioramas were later given to Tuskegee University, where they later entered the collection of the Legacy Museum. Through the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) Diversity Initiative, the Legacy Museum’s dioramas are being or have been treated at the Winterthur University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation, the

Garman Art Conservation Department at Buffalo State College, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The history, analysis, and treatment of “The Surveying of Washington, DC by Benjamin Banneker” will be the focus of this report. The materials were investigated with Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR), x-radiography, and photographic techniques including infrared imaging, longwave ultraviolet induced visible fluorescence, and three-dimensional imaging. Treatment included dry surface cleaning, aqueous cleaning, consolidation, filling, inpainting, and housing. LED ribbon lighting was incorporated to safely replace the previous incandescent lighting and illuminate the scene in a manner similar to the original display.

Keywords: Benjamin Banneker, Diorama, Tuskegee, White House, American Negro Exposition

Julie Ribits, Assistant Painting Conservator, and Claire Winfield, Associate Painting Conservator, Saint Louis Art Museum. Three Paintings outside Potosi, Missouri.

In the spring of 2017, a Missouri resident contacted the Saint Louis Art Museum regarding a potential gift of local history. The gift contained three paintings in varying states of condition: a portrait of George Cresswell, a double portrait of his wife Hannah and their son Joseph, and a landscape view of the Cresswell lead smelting farm. Until their arrival at the Saint Louis Art Museum, the paintings had hung on the Cresswell farm since their commission. All three paintings exhibited issues such as minor tears, scratches, and tenting and flaking paint with paint loss – common damage often seen in environments without temperature and relative humidity controls. In addition, all three paintings had previous restoration campaigns that aged poorly.

Paintings conservators at the Saint Louis Art Museum are currently working to conserve the paintings and collaborating with curators to reveal the story of the Cresswell family and their role within the establishment of Missouri enterprise prior to the Civil War. Previous conservation campaigns have exacerbated many of the structural and aesthetic condition issues, including locally failing linings, misplaced paint flakes, and particularly tenacious surface coatings. The extent of these conditions varies between the works which provided conservators the opportunity to approach their conservation with some creativity. The unique opportunity afforded the chance for collaboration – three works by one artist treated by two conservators.

This paper aims to highlight and emphasize the importance of conserving local cultural heritage within the context of a larger fine arts institution. The conservators have utilized similar materials and techniques catered to each painting to safely and successfully remove previous conservation campaigns and reveal a piece of Missouri history once again.

Katherine Ridgway, Conservator, Virginia Department of Historic Resources. Monumental Decisions: The role of preservation professionals in the debate over Civil War monuments.

In 2017, the debate over Civil War monuments representing the Confederacy heated up in Virginia. While the public and legislators grabbed media headlines, preservation professionals, historians, and museum educators grappled with their roles where these monumental pieces of history and art were concerned. The Virginia Conservation Association and the Virginia Association of Museums decided to join together and provide a venue for a discussion where these professionals could debate their roles and try to come to terms with their individual feelings and those of their institutions. Why does this matter to conservators? They are frequently the ones providing information, interacting with the public, and having to provide their expertise if the monuments are moved, both at the current site and any new location.

Elizabeth Robson and Keara Teeter, Graduate Interns in Conservation, Saint Louis Art Museum. Conserving Historic Wallpapers in Reel-and-Leaf Time: the Treatment of Two Kempshott Pilasters at the Saint Louis Art Museum.

The Saint Louis Art Museum’s collection of Kempshott wallpapers is being treated in preparation for rotating display in the decorative arts gallery reinstallation. The panels were created in the late 18th century by the French manufacturer Arthur & Robert. They were hung in Kempshott Park, a manor house near Basingstoke, England, when it was being decorated for the Prince of Wales. The arabesque designs were inspired by classical Roman motifs and block-printed, with select colors added later by hand. A variety of treatments have been undertaken to stabilize the wallpaper for display. All twelve pilasters were mounted on aluminum honeycomb panels in 1999-2000 to aid in handling, treatment, and installation. More than four pilasters were subsequently treated in the summers of 2017 and 2018. Interns at various levels of study worked on the consolidation of lifting paper and flaking media, filling substrate losses with laminated paper or cellulose powder, and retouching media losses to match the surrounding color and gloss. Different inpainting mediums, including QoR™ Watercolors and Schmincke Horadam® Gouache, were selected based on the color and opacity of the original media. Dry pigments helped matte out abraded areas and Golden® Gel Mediums were used to increase gloss where required. This project encompassed a combination of paper and paintings conservation techniques, and as a result, encouraged collaboration across the two disciplines. The Kempshott Wallpaper project also stimulated intercommunication between the Conservation Department and other divisions of the museum, including Curatorial and Installation, at the various stages of treatment.

Marcia Steele, Senior Conservator of Paintings, Cleveland Museum of Art. Andrea del Sarto Sacrifice of Isaac, Technical Research and Comparative Study.

This talk compares the materials and techniques of the three versions of Andrea del Sarto ‘s Sacrifice of Isaac from 1527-28. The version at the Cleveland Museum of Art has long been thought to be the first due to its unfinished state. A completed version is located at the Gemäldegalerie in Dresden. A smaller panel of the same subject is housed at the Prado Museum in Madrid. Drawings for various details of the paintings are compared with the paintings. The technique of the Cleveland version is examined in depth. Infrared images of all three reveal the interrelationship between the three paintings, as well as a surprising discovery in the Dresden painting.

Ellen Watt, Conservator, Watt Restoration. Early 19th Century Portrait Keepsake.

Old paintings that pop up on an art conservator’s lab table are time travelers. From the artist’s easel and the patron’s wall, a painting begins a journey through space and time. It arrives at the art conservator when someone wants the journey to continue. A case in point: A modest Portrait of a Gentleman by an Italian artist, Ferdinando Cavalleri, needed treatment. Its owner had been given the painting as a gift from a friend. In deciding to invest in treatment, the owner was not only preserving the painting into the future, but was acknowledging something art historical. In the process of researching, cleaning, repairing and refurbishing, the conservator moved in and out of the historical journey of the painting.

My presentation will focus on the treatment of the painting as it demonstrates art historical concerns.

  • The original canvas is uniquely lined
  • The oil medium varies from the quality of the oil on the figure and the quality of the oil in the background.
  • Alligator shrinkage cracks: do you keep them or inpaint?
  • General deterioration of varnish/overpaint

In conjunction with the conservator’s work, the owner had research of his own on the painting.

  • The patron
  • The sitter: Son of an American literary
  • The artist: An Italian portraitist in manner of John Wesley Jarvis

The art conservator meets the art collector at the juncture of art history: the point, at which, an art object shifts in physical and aesthetic significance through space and time.

Anna Weiss Pfau, Campus & Public Art Collections and Conservation Manager, Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago. Crystal-Mess: The Conservation of John David Mooney’s Crystara.

In 2014, a nine foot long beam of Waterford crystal, hand blown and cut in Ireland in 1984, fell crashing to the ground of the Crerar Library at the University of Chicago. This beam was one of 8 sections of crystal, each constructed of varying length sections of crystal adhered together and suspended between a 24’ bow of aluminum, making up Crystara by Chicago-based artist John David Mooney. The sculpture had been deinstalled to protect it while a new skylight was installed above: the damage occurring upon reinstallation right in front of the artist.  Adding salt to the wound, the new skylight was translucent, against the artist’s intent. Ultimately the sculpture was still rehung incomplete.

This talk details the four-year saga to re-create the obliterated section with, among many others, artisans in Ireland, the rigger who hung the sculpture 40 years ago, the riggers who dropped the beam, scientists from Henkel Adhesives, the insurance company, University Risk Management, and an obviously distraught artist.  Much was learned about the process to fabricate the crystal specifically and about the sculpture, but also about the significance of emotional intelligence when working with artists and individuals who have experienced a traumatic mistake.


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