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Blog Category: Conservation

X-rays in a Conservation Lab: Looking Into Our American Chairs

Catherine Coueignoux is an associate object conservator with an expertise in furniture conservation. In this post from the object conservation lab, she discusses a how X-rays can reveal otherwise unseen details about how a piece of furniture is constructed.

Definitely Not Boring Brown: the Legion of Honor’s BVRB Writing Table

Catherine Coueignoux is an associate object conservator with an expertise in furniture conservation. In this post from the object conservation lab, she discusses a decorative technique known as marquetry used in the making of an 18th-century French writing table.
 

Mounting the Weisel Family Collection

The Thomas Weisel Family’s recent gift of Native American art is comprised in large part of pottery, including rare Mimbres pieces that date back to the 11th century. Approximately 50 pieces of Mimbres and Pueblo pottery will be on view in the upcoming exhibition, Lines on the Horizon: Native American Art from the Weisel Family Collection, which highlights the gift. Pottery presents an interesting set of challenges when being considered for display, especially here in earthquake country. Our team of mount makers has been busily crafting custom-made mounts for each pot slated to go on view when the exhibition opens this Saturday, May 3.

A painted pot sits on a riser while a female technician adjusts its base

Animation Collaboration

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.

A Conservation Triumph: 1994–2013

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.

The monumental tapestry (and the only one of its kind) The Triumph of Justice

Triumph of Justice from The Triumph of the Seven Virtues Series, ca. 1535. Belgium, Brussels, Flemish. Wool, silk; tapestry weave. Gift of The William Randolph Hearst Foundation. 1957.125

3D Printing a Custom Support for an 18th-century French Clock

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.

The MakerBot

Cracking the Conservation of a Curious Contemporary Construction

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.

A conservator installing the web-like construction by Mattew Picton

A Trompe-l'oeil Traveler

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.

Behind the Scenes: De-installing the Salon Doré

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.

A Devil in the Details

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.

Researching the Renovation of a Period Room

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.

carving

Framing Rembrandt's Century

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.

Framing Rembrandt's Century

Have Turban Will Travel

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.

Turban, 200–600. Peru, South Coast, Nasca. Cotton cord wrapped with a band of camelid fiber fringe. The Caroline and H. McCoy Jones Collection Gift of Caroline McCoy-Jones. 2000.17.5

Marcel Duchamp’s World in a Box: Fixing a Famous Valise

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.

Victoria and the box

Conservation in 3D: Skype, Stereographs and Silicon

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.

Mystery Glass Negatives from Land's End

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.

Foundation of Cliff House

Foundation of Cliff House, c. 1895

Under Wraps: The furniture at the Legion gets custom-made covers

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.

Preserving Images of the 1906 Earthquake

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.

Genthe 1

Arnold Genthe (photographer), American, 1869–1942
Untitled (Earthslip on San Francisco's Union Street), 1906
Cellulose nitrate negative
Museum purchase, James D. Phelan Bequest Fund. 1943.407.6.1

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.