Mummy, dear…

Photo from the "in the Artifact Lab" blog by The Penn Museum Conservators.
The Penn Museum, which boasts one of the largest collections of Egyptian artifacts in the US, is giving the general public a chance to get uncommonly close and almost personal with some of them. In an effort to introduce visitors to the behind-the-scenes work of conservators, Penn created a workspace, surrounded by glass walls, in which the preservation processes can be observed. Moreover, Artifact Lab offers visitors a chance to speak with a conservator twice a day (Tuesday-Friday 11:15am and 2:00pm, Saturday-Sunday 1:00pm and 3:30pm). Apparently, the most common question people ask: “Is that a real mummy?”
Museum patrons can watch staff members use microscopes, brushes and other tools while they study and preserve the precious artifacts. Large screens allow visitors to admire the same magnified views as the professionals behind the glass wall. And if for some reason you can’t make a trip to Philadelphia, you can still follow the Lab’s wonderful blog, which features interesting facts about the artifacts, preservation tips (both preventive and restorative), tools and equipment used during conservation treatments and much, much more…

Visiting the Smithsonian’s Lunder Conservation Center

The Lunder
The Lunder by sarahstierch, on Flickr

Many pieces within the the Smithsonian’s Museum of American Art have undergone conservation treatments throughout the years, but the ones that were treated by the Lunder Conservation Center, were done in front of the museum’s patrons. This state-of-the-art conservation lab and studio, housed in the museum’s fourth floor, gives visitors to the museum a unique perspective on the conservation treatment process. Patrons have the opportunity to see conservators at work in five different labs and studios behind floor-to-ceiling glass walls. Interactive kiosks and displays provide visitors with pertinent information about the process going on in front of them and the importance of museum conservation.

Conservation process on John Scott sculpture, Thornbush Blues Totem, photo courtesy of Smithsonian’s Museum of American Art

The Lunder conservators have been working on John Scott’s Thornbush Blues Totem, a sculpture constructed in 1990. In an effort to to prepare the piece for a new exhibition showcasing African-American art, the sculpture needed to have a layer of tape removed from its base. This layer of tape acts as padding for the bottom of the piece. The removal of the tape could result in paint being pulled along with it and sticky residues being left behind. However, the paint adorning the sculpture is highly sensitive to most solvents, including water. The conservation treatment of this sculpture is being documented as part of an on-going series for the museum’s blog, leading up to the April 27 opening of the African-American Art: Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights Era, and Beyond exhibit.

"Flowers" by William H. Johnson

The Lunder Conservation Center routinely informs visitors about what they’ll be doing inside their labs and studios via their Twitter feed. Through this medium, the conservators at Lunder also share photos of ongoing projects. Earlier this month, it was the cleaning treatment of William H. Johnson‘s iconic “Flowers” painting from 1939-40.

If you have art that requires a special conservation treatment,  University Products has a wide variety of conservation materials to help you complete your project.


There’s No Place Like Conservation Lab: The Wizard of Oz Ruby Slippers Scheduled for Maintenance

Smithsonian Institution Ruby Slippers
Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution

American popular culture’s most recognizable pair of shoes were removed from display and went into the Smithsonian’s conservation lab for some much-needed repairs on February 23. The famed ruby slippers, worn by Judy Garland in the 1939 classic film The Wizard of Oz, will return to the Smithsonian Museum of American History display cases on April 5, where they have been featured on a nearly continuous basis since being anonymously donated to the museum in 1979. The shoes will be a part of a new exhibition entitled, “American Stories.”

Originally, the shoes were not supposed to be kept for posterity nor be the iridescent red color for which they are famous. In fact, the shoes designed by the film’s costume designer Gilbert Adrian, were intended to be used solely for the movie. Most film fashion props are just used for the short duration of a shoot, and not showcased for several decades afterward. During an earlier conservation treatment, it was discovered through tests that the shoes’ famous red sequins were made of gelatin, an organic material that would be damaged if cleaned with most cleaning solvents. Smithsonian conservators decided that their best course of action would be to use cotton dipped in ice water to complete the tedious process of cleaning each sequin individually.

PortaScope Digital Microscope In both L. Frank Baum’s 1900 novel, from which the film was adapted, and early variations of Noel Langley’s screenplay, the shoes were originally intended to be silver. However, with the advent of technicolor film, the shoes’ hue was changed prior to filming in an effort to catch the eyes of moviegoers. During the conservation treatment, the original silver color of the shoes was discovered after being examined with a hand-held microscope. Conservators also found a netting underneath the bright red sequins that originally allowed the film’s costume designers to stitch those sequins to the silver slippers. This netting was added to the shoes in an effort to make the process of stitching the sequins to the shoes easier.

Similar conservation projects could be accomplished with the following tools and equipment from University Products: precision miniature fiber-tipped applicators, stainless steel conservation work trays, and PortaScope digital microscopes.