Blog Category: Conservation
This post was written by Erica Wong and Brinker Ferguson
Digital media interpretive fellow Brinker Ferguson and graphic designer Erica Wong recently worked together to create a 2D animation geared toward school-age children in association with The Salon Doré: Conservation of a Period Room. One of the first endeavors of its kind at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, this animation was put together jointly by Brinker and Erica. This is their story.
For the first time ever, three prized tapestries from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco’s permanent collection will be exhibited together in the Legion of Honor’s Gallery 1. The entire series, known as The Triumph of the Seven Virtues, consists of seven tapestries that depict allegorical representations of the theological virtues—Faith, Hope, and Charity—and the cardinal virtues—Temperance, Prudence, Justice, and Fortitude. While 10 museums in Europe, the United States, and Russia possess tapestries from this series, the Fine Arts Museums have The Triumph of Fortitude, The Triumph of Prudence, and the only extant example of The Triumph of Justice.
3D scanning and printing have made their mark on popular culture in the past couple of years with eye-catching headlines like “Researchers Closing in on Printing 3D Hearts” and “Tools of Modern Gunmaking.” Many museums have also started using 3D printing to foster greater engagement and creativity between their visitors and collections. As a cultural institution, one of the main challenges when experimenting with new technologies is to understand and evaluate how it can be used to benefit or bolster our collection and mission, and try to get beyond the initial “whoa—that’s cool!” factor.
In 2004 artist Matthew Picton laid a sheet of plastic over the cracks in the asphalt of a playground. He traced the cracks and painted them with black enamel paint. Then he carefully cut and burned away the plastic surrounding the cracks. What was left was a giant spidery web.
One of the most exciting aspects of working in paper conservation at the Legion of Honor is the variety of objects encountered on a daily basis. When working on a 17th-century print, for example, conservation intern Laura Neufeld faced many traditional paper conservation challenges. Pier Gustafson’s Father’s Suitcase, on the other hand, is a one-of-a kind artwork that required unique treatment solutions.
Almost as soon as the Salon Doré was de-installed from Gallery 11 late last year, the comprehensive conservation and restoration project began (and continues today in full view of the public in Gallery 13). Before a single component of the room was removed, however, months of planning and research went into readying the Salon Doré for this massive undertaking.
The special exhibition Rembrandt’s Century, currently on view alongside Girl with a Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuis, is striking both in its breadth and for the fact that the works on view all come from the Fine Arts Museums’ permanent collections. Preparations for this exhibition were lengthy, with some works requiring restoration treatments.
As the digital media interpretive media fellow at the de Young and the Legion of Honor, my primary role is to digitally document and interpret the yearlong project The Salon Doré: The Conservation of a Period Room, currently underway at the Legion of Honor.
Consisting of approximately 250 artworks, Rembrandt’s Century presents a diverse picture of the art and personalities that defined the Dutch Golden Age. Drawn entirely from the Museums’ permanent collection of works on paper in the renowned Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts, this exhibition required months of preparation. Curators, conservators, and art technicians worked together to frame—both literally and figuratively—this important selection of masterworks.
Objects are fussy. They’re susceptible to humidity, light levels, vibrations, and any number of other dangers, both large (floods) and small (mice). And whether it’s a tiny tea cup or a four-ton bronze statue, each object also has its own idiosyncrasies. Wood, for example, doesn’t get along with water, and paper can’t stand light. A museum is carefully designed, in part, to control all these factors and to give objects the secure and stable home they deserve. But what happens when an object needs to travel outside the museum’s walls?
The permanent collections of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco number over 100,000 objects, and only a percentage are on view. However, many of these treasured artworks can be viewed in exhibitions at other institutions throughout the world at any given time. When art objects are loaned in this way, they often travel for long periods of time, which is why it’s so important for our conservators to carefully prepare objects for their extended journeys. Such was the case when the Cleveland Museum of Art requested to borrow an ancient turban from the Nasca culture of Peru, featured in the exhibition Wari: Lords of the Ancient Andes that opened last week.
Museum visitors currently have the opportunity to look inside a rare treasure normally kept locked in dark storage. Marcel Duchamp: The Book and the Box, currently on view in the Logan Gallery at the Legion of Honor, features Duchamp’s iconic artwork, Boîte en Valise, which was made in the late 1930s.
Recently one of the Museums’ most generous supporters, Dorothy Saxe, purchased a sculpture for the collection in memory of our late director John E. Buchanan. Created by contemporary glass artist Beth Lipman, Candlesticks, Books, Flowers and Fruit (2010) is a complex compilation of multiple elements balanced precariously on a table. My role as an objects conservator is to ensure that all the elements of this fragile sculpture are installed safely and in keeping with the artist’s original intent.
Before there were digital image files and even before there was film, photographers captured images on glass plate negatives. In the collection of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco there are over seventy of these glass plate negatives depicting scenes of Land’s End and old San Francisco. Discovered in the basement of the old de Young, these century-old negatives were in desperate need of cleaning and re-housing. When the negatives came into the paper conservation lab at the Legion of Honor for proper care, the labor intensive project proved a perfect opportunity for pre-program conservation student Jennifer Martinez.
Matter + Spirit: The Sculpture of Stephen De Staebler presents the work of an artist who used a variety of materials ranging from metal to clay to create lasting works of art. Working with stoneware and sometimes porcelain, De Staebler built monumental sculptures that pushed the limits of the media and extended the boundaries of how these materials had been used in the past.
The British Aesthetic Movement, which is the subject of the upcoming exhibition The Cult of Beauty: The Victorian Avant-Garde 1860–1900 opening at the Legion of Honor on February 18, promoted the integration of beauty and art into every aspect of life. William Morris (1834–1896) was a chief proponent of the Aesthetic Movement and contributed luxe designs for wallpaper, carpets, tiles, and furniture. His career as a textiles designer, however, quickly surpassed his involvement with all other areas of artistic production.
Claude Monet’s incomparable Water Lilies has returned to Gallery 19 at the Legion of Honor! Following its display in two important temporary exhibitions, Water Lilies visited the Fine Arts Museums’ paintings conservation laboratory. In celebration of Monet’s birthday today, here is a behind-the-scenes look at the painting’s whereabouts over the past year.
"Will Work for Art" takes you behind the scenes to meet the people who make the Fine Arts Museums work. This week we take you into the intriguing world of frame conservation to meet Natasa Morovic (imagine an “h” after the “s” in her first name, and after the “c” in her last name, and you get the right pronunciation). Natasa is the associate frames conservator working in Paintings Conservation. Originally from Slovenia, she has worked with the Museums for fourteen years!
You may have heard the term alabaster used to describe the pristine skin of a beautiful woman or the smooth surface of statue, as in the case of The Mourners: Tomb Sculptures from the Court of Burgundy, on view at the Legion of Honor through December 31.
In anticipation of The Art of the Anatolian Kilim: Highlights from the McCoy Jones Collection (which opens September 10) the Textiles Conservation team is busy at work preparing each rug for display. It is a meticulous and time-consuming process!
First, the kilims have to be taken out of storage. Normal cardboard contains acid that can cause staining on textiles, which is why kilims are rolled onto blue, acid-free cardboard tubes for storage.To avoid harm from dust, the tubes are shrouded in unbleached cotton fabric.
A monumental 17th-century etching/engraving by the artist Jacques Callot is currently on view in the Jacqueline and Peter Hoefer Print Study Room at the Legion of Honor. In addition to a dramatic naval battle scene, the print depicts many fascinating details of daily life, which are visible upon close inspection. Although the print was acquired by the museums in 1968, it had never been exhibited due to condition issues.
Last week Balcomb Greene’s Six-Sided Planes made its first entry into the Museums and the acquisitions process via the registration department. This week, the painting heads upstairs to the paintings conservation lab for a little makeover.
My name is Elise Effmann and I’m an associate paintings conservator at the Fine Arts Museums. Conservators are entrusted with the care, treatment and technical study of artworks in the collection. When a painting comes to the Museums as a proposed acquisition, our department must examine it to provide the curators with information about how it was made, and to determine if there are any potential problems with the acquisition due to its condition.
For the last several months, Textile Conservation volunteers Kathy Murphy, Jean Scardina, intern Erica Storm and Objects Conservation volunteer Tegan Broderick have all been hard at work making covers for the furniture stored at the Legion of Honor. While most of the chairs were already stored beneath loose-fitting pieces of cloth, custom covers provide the objects with better protection from light and dust. Clearly labeled covers also facilitate quick identification of the objects underneath and prevent unnecessary handling.
As a follow up to our last post about the conservator’s role in dealing with artistic intent, the Objects Conservation Department has been working with outdoor sculpture contractors from Tracy Power Conservation to conserve the Louise Nevelson sculpture Ocean Gate. The sculpture is located at the south corner of the Osher Sculpture Garden at the de Young.
In my last post, I introduced you to the cutting edge photography Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI), a technique invented by Tom Malzbender at Hewlett Packard Labs. Here at the Museums, we have been using RTI to gain better understanding of objects in our permanent collection. We have just completed another round of RTI photography of this 5th-century Greek pelike.
The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco is home to a unique collection of 167 film negatives taken by photographer Arnold Genthe chronicling the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake and fires. The negatives were acquired by the Legion of Honor in 1943.
On the day of the earthquake Genthe, an established photographer best known for his society portraits and views of old Chinatown, took to the streets of San Francisco equipped with a handheld Kodak camera and pockets full of roll film.
The film Genthe used was composed of a gelatin silver emulsion on a thin plastic support of cellulose nitrate. Cellulose nitrate film was introduced commercially at the end of the nineteenth century and remained in use until the mid-twentieth century. Lightweight, transparent and flexible, cellulose nitrate film freed photographers from the inconveniences of its predecessors, paper and glass plate negatives.
When objects conservators design a treatment for a corroded sculpture, they often have to grapple with the issue of the artist’s intent.
For instance, would Henry Moore at age 29, who made a sculpture with a shiny metallic surface, be in agreement with Henry Moore at 75, who, when interviewed about a treatment, stated that he quite liked the idea that surfaces went green, dry and streaky with time?
One way a conservator can help tease out these contradictions is to interview contemporary artists about the materials and techniques they use and then record how these artists would like their sculptures cared for in the future. At the Fine Arts Museums we are developing a database tracking this information for contemporary sculpture under our care.
My name is Sue Grinols and as the director of photo services and imaging, I witness the intersection of art and technology on a daily basis. This is an exciting time to be working in photography. Just seeing how technology is changing the field can be breathtaking, not to mention challenging.
Photographing artwork is a sub-specialty of studio photography. Here at the Museums, we use the same equipment and techniques as photographers who produce beautiful images of cars, perfume bottles, leather couches, and the perfectly grilled steak. But instead of trying to capture the steak’s sizzle or the couch’s inviting warmth, we attempt to bring out the essential character of the artwork while emphasizing its sublime beauty whenever possible. When we’re not doing that, we can make images that show the hard, cold details of an object in order to help conservators as they work through treating the artwork, or to help curators in their scholarly study of an object. It is this second type of photography that I want to blog about today.
Conservators Jacques Neguer and Ghaleb Abu Diab of the Israel Antiquities Authority are visiting from Israel to oversee the conservation and installation of the Lod Mosaic at the Legion of Honor. The mosaic was discovered below the streets of the city of Lod in Israel and arrived to the U.S. in seven panels. This mosaic floor is the centerpiece of the exhibition Marvelous Menagerie: A Roman Mosaic from Lod, Israel, which opens this Saturday, April 23 at the Legion of Honor.
FAM acting head objects conservator Lesley Bone sat down with her two colleagues to discuss the discovery of the mosaic and the conservation treatments they conducted. It is a fascinating conversation that reveals the behind-the-scenes science that goes into an object before it is placed on view and provides a rare glimpse into the way conservators think and talk about works of art.
The sheriffs of the conservation team were back on patrol this year for the annual invasion of the flowers
at the de Young, Bouquets to Art.
Sheriff Debbie Evans examining her favorite bouquet.
Critters were found in abundance and some in unusual places…
A floral version of the Herter Mantlepiece guard dogs.
As Bouquets to Art kicks off its 27th year at the de Young, floral exhibitors poured in with every type of flower and foliage imaginable. We followed floral artist Hiromi Nomura of Belle Flora, who was born and raised in Tokyo, to trace the day in the life of a flower and pay tribute to Japan following last week’s devastating earthquake.
Internships are a crucial part of the education and training of conservators. Currently we have three graduate interns in conservation from three different countries, allowing us a unique opportunity to discuss conservation training from an international perspective.
Erin Stephenson and Stephanie Ricordeau are interns in the Paintings Conservation Department. Erin is completing her Master of Arts and Certificate of Advanced Study in Conservation through SUNY Buffalo State College while Stephanie is in the Master’s Program for Conservation-Restoration at La Sorbonne, Paris, France.
In the Objects Conservation Department, Tegan Broderick is an intern completing her Master of Cultural Materials Conservation at the University of Melbourne, Australia.
The interns recently shared some interesting insights into their experiences in conservation. Here are excerpts from our conversations followed by the full text of their interviews.
FAMSF Conservation Interns Erin Stephenson, Tegan Broderick, and Stephanie Ricordeau
Olmec: Colossal Masterworks of Ancient Mexico is the perfect exhibition to show the range of artworks an objects conservator can work on. The pyramid from Complex C at the Olmec site of La Venta is first object represented in this exhibition that I helped conserve. At the beginning of the exhibition you will see a large color photograph of this pyramid showing the result of the conservation treatment.
The objects conservation lab is busy doing their part for the installation of Olmec: Colossal Masterworks of Ancient Mexico. So what exactly is a conservator’s role when dealing with huge, monolithic objects?
Even in a museum environment, objects can become dusty and it is the responsibility of the objects conservation department to dust each artwork. We sometimes dust artworks when visitors are in the galleries and we have noticed that many people are curious about what we are doing. Here is a brief selection of the most common questions about dusting artworks and our responses:
Assistant Conservator Alisa Eagleston dusting the suspended Ruth Asawa sculptures.
Viola Frey’s monumental sculpture, Man Observing Series II, is back from its travels! This is a larger than life sized sculpture made of 13 heavy sections of glazed earthenware ceramics. Teamwork by staff at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco returned the sculpture to its original home in the Saxe Gallery at the de Young.
Installation of Japanese Books in the Reva and David Logan Gallery of Illustrated Books
Go behind the scenes at the Legion of Honor as paper conservators prepare and install 37 rare Japanese books for the exhibition Aspects of Mount Fuji in Japanese Illustrated Books from the Arthur Tress Collection.
Hokusai, Untitled (Fuji Seen from Above the Waves), [detail] from the book
One Hundred Views of Fuji, 1835. Collection of Arthur Tress.
Utagawa Hiroshige, Fuji seen through cherry trees, in the book
One Hundred Views of Fuji (Fujimi Hyakuzu), 1859. Collection of Arthur Tress.
The Chinese artist Shi Guorui produced this photograph of the Donner Pass by creating a pinhole camera obscura. The photographic method is just like the oatmeal container pinhole camera you might have made in grade school, but on a much larger scale. The artist put a single small hole in the side of an otherwise light-sealed semi-trailer truck. The light rays passed through this small hole forming an inverted image on a long, curved sheet of sensitized photographic paper. We were told that the artist meditated during the hours-long exposure time.
At 4 feet 2 inches x 17 feet 2 inches, Donner Pass is one of the largest photographs in the Museums’ collection. Due to its unique size, installation required much advanced planning to come up with a method of hanging that was not only safe for the photograph, but also met the visions of the artist and curators. As the artist preferred the immediacy of the uncovered photograph placed directly on the wall, a tailored system of hinging materials and frame installation methods was devised by the paper conservation laboratory to safely meet this vision.
After much preparation, the day of installation had arrived.
Amazing art comes through the photo studio on a regular basis.
We tend to save Mondays (when we’re closed to the public) to photograph artworks that are normally installed in the galleries. This way we can take the objects out of the galleries and into the photo studio without impacting the public.
Recently we shot two recent acquisitions from the AOA department. The images will appear in the next edition of the museums' Fine Arts magazine.
The Fine Arts Museums’ annual floral extravaganza, Bouquets to Art, takes place in March every year. It’s FAMSF’s biggest fundraiser of the year, and it’s extremely popular with museumgoers. It can be especially challenging to the FAMSF conservation staff, however, given the potential to admit insects and pests to the museum. This photo essay chronicles the conservation staff (a.k.a. The Conservation Patrol) at Bouquets to Art 2009.
Bouquet in front of Stela with Queen Ix Mutal Ahaw.