Revealing the Splendor of Gilded Lacquer

The Walters recently received a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to perform the cleaning and treatment of several objects from the Doris Duke Collection of Southeast Asian Art. This collection, comprised of a variety of beautiful and unique pieces, has been in storage for some time, and many pieces require treatment. Conservator Stephanie Hulman, who is working on the pieces in the museum recently, shared some insight into the scope of the project and the work she is doing. Visitors can see her on the 1st floor of the museum, in the Special Exhibition Gallery, on weekday afternoons.

A large portion of Stephanie’s work involves a process called consolidation, which is a technique conservators use to re-adhere flaking media. Many of the pieces in the Duke collection have gilded lacquer surfaces, which can lift and flake in an improper environment. Conservators can carefully consolidate the lacquer layers, stabilizing them to ensure that the piece will remain in excellent condition for many years to come. In addition to consolidation, Stephanie and other conservators are cleaning some of the dust that has accumulated while the pieces were in storage, using carefully selected solvents and chemicals that will remove the dirt without harming the art underneath. One of the pieces, a Miniature Shrine, has been cleaned and can be seen in the gallery now in its full splendor, its gilded surface gleaming brightly.

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The Science of Display Cases

Roman  /  Aged Herakles  /  1st c. BC-AD  /  Acquired by Henry Walters

Conservator Katie Posthauer has been working for two years on a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to help identify and replace display cases in most need of updating to current conservation standards. Some of the display cases throughout the galleries at the Walters are older than others, and are made of less-stable materials than what is available now. This means that the conditions inside the case aren’t always ideal for the objects on display. Katie’s job has been to work with other conservators to determine which cases are at the highest risk and to replace them.

Once a case has been identified for replacement, the objects inside are removed from the gallery and a new case is built using the best materials available. This includes a special silica gel (similar to the little packets you’d find in your new shoes), special acrylic, and other pieces. The environmental conditions inside each case are carefully monitored, and even the fabric on the floor of the case is carefully tested to ensure that it cannot harm the object on display. Once the new case has been built and is ready, each object is removed and is cleaned.

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From the Conservation Lab: Copper-Alloy Color Reconstruction of Three Ancient Egyptian Artworks

Recent research has shown that many ancient Egyptian metal objects were originally exuberantly colored, employing contrasting metal alloys or other inlays to highlight details or portions of a figure. These animated images show three ancient Egyptian artworks’ current condition and how they might have looked originally.

Egypt’s Mysterious Book of the Faiyum, a special exhibition at the Walters Art Museum, gathers together a group of ancient Egyptian objects focused on the Faiyum region, including the illustrated papyrus book of the title, along with many statues and figures made of metal.  Just as the Book of the Faiyum holds untold secrets, many of the metal objects in the exhibition are more than meets the eye.

Recent research has shown that many ancient Egyptian metal objects were originally exuberantly colored, employing contrasting metal alloys or other inlays to highlight details or portions of a figure. Due to corrosion of the metal surface, many of these objects no longer appear as they did when they were first made and used.

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