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Saving Time: Conserving a Cox Clock

There’s a magnificent cabinet clock in the collection of the Walters Art Museum. Until recently, little was known about how the clock and musical mechanism functioned. What type of timepiece was inside? Did it have an alarm or chime? Who made it and when?

Within the Walters Art Museum’s collection of timepieces, clocks, and watches there’s a clock that is said to have belonged to the dowager empress of Russia, Maria Feodorovna. Agate panels framed by elaborate rococo cage-work form the body of the clock, which contains a complex musical mechanism.

Conservation staff treated the clock to reduce silver tarnish and reattach some loose elements. This provided an opportunity to investigate the object further. Though it was known that the clock was assembled in a London workshop owned by James Cox, little was known about the timepiece and musical mechanism inside. What type of timepiece is it? What tune does the musical mechanism play? Who made them and when?

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Yemeni Heritage: Museums United for Yemen

Rich in natural resources and famed for its artistic traditions, Yemen is now a center of international concern. Since conflicts erupted in March 2015, nearly 3,000 civilians have died, and Yemen’s cultural heritage has been irreparably damaged. Under the sponsorship of the United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO), museums around the world are highlighting Yemeni heritage.

Historians of the Greek and Roman world named ancient South Arabia, centered in present-day Yemen, Arabia Felix (“Happy Arabia”). They praised South Arabia’s fertile lands, which yielded grains, vegetables, fruits, and other commodities that were exported throughout the eastern Mediterranean. Between 1000 BC and the 6th century AD, South Arabian kingdoms prospered through a sophisticated economy based on long-distance trade. One such kingdom was Saba, the land of the Queen of Sheba, who, according to biblical traditions, traveled to Jerusalem to present King Solomon (10th century BC) with gold, precious stones, incense and other goods carried on Arabian camels.

Rich in natural resources and famed for its artistic traditions, Yemen is now a center of international concern. Since conflicts erupted in March 2015, nearly 3,000 civilians have died, and Yemen’s cultural heritage has been irreparably damaged. Under the sponsorship of the United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO), museums around the world are highlighting Yemeni heritage for Yemeni Heritage Week (April 24-30, 2016). Follow #Unite4Heritage on social media to see what partner museums are doing to raise international awareness on the great richness of Yemen’s culture and history.

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Unlocking a Fifteenth-Century Flemish Casket

This casket hasn’t been opened since Henry Walters first acquired it.

A fifteenth-century Flemish casket with scenes from romances was recently brought to the conservation lab to be evaluated for a possible loan to another museum. It is a rare example of painted and gilded locking caskets with secular imagery. Purchased from the Parisian bookbinder and antiques dealer Leon Gruel by Henry Walters, only a handful of similar examples are known.

This casket is made of wood covered with leather that has been cut to create images and designs.  Iron straps surround the exterior, and there is a large lock on the front, suggesting the casket was intended to hold objects of great value.  When it arrived in the lab, the casket was locked.  There is no key and no record of it ever being opened at the museum.

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Q&A with Sara Shahabi

Graphic designer Sara Shahabi was commissioned by the Walters to create the title wall for Pearls on a String: Artists, Patrons, and Poets at the Great Islamic Courts. We talked to Sara about how the title wall came to be, from concept to execution.

Sara Shahabi’s background in exploring experimental English and Farsi typography made her a perfect fit for executing the evocative title wall that greets visitors at the start of Pearls on a String. Her installation continues a theme in the exhibition that considers how artists, patrons, and poets form a constellation of relationships. In Sara’s work we see a contemporary expression of that theme, to compliment works from the Islamic courts of the sixteenth- and eighteenth-centuries. We talked to Sara about how the title wall came to be, from concept to execution.

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Art Conservator Q&A with Julie Lauffenburger

Julie Lauffenburger, Director of Conservation and Technical Research shares her passion for conservation, curating the Gold in the Ancient Americas exhibition and her journey to the Walters Art Museum.

Why are you so passionate about preserving art?

I am a bit of a history nerd. Just ask my children—always a historic site wrapped into a family vacation! Preserving art to me is about preserving the legacy of human creativity: what makes us human and what is universal about all of us wherever we live. I have always been fascinated by material culture and have always wanted to travel and see the world; preserving art ensures that material culture from around the world will be there for future generations to discover. It makes you feel like you are a part of something bigger.

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Conserving an Ottoman Helmet

Recently, while re-installing one of the exhibition cases of Islamic arms and armor, conservators noticed bright green corrosion around the copper rivets on one of the helmets. What was causing this corrosion, and could it be stopped?

Helmet engraved with floral patterns, before conservation treatment. Sixteenth century Ottoman Turkish or Persian. Walters Art Museum 51.1, acquired by Henry Walters, 1911.

Recently, while re-installing one of the exhibition cases of Islamic arms and armor, conservators noticed bright green corrosion around the copper rivets on one of the helmets. What was causing this corrosion, and could it be stopped?

Detail of corrosion on copper rivets, before conservation treatment.

The helmet engraved with floral patterns (WAM 51.1) was made sometime in the 16th century in Turkey or Persia (modern day Iran), and was purchased in 1911 by Henry Walters. A circular mark cut into the proper right side of the helmet indicates that it was once part of the Imperial Arsenal of the Ottoman Empire in Istanbul.

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