Current Research and Treatment Highlights - Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library

Three Powder Horns: Treatment and Display

Object conservators Lauren Fair, Linda Lennon, and Bruno Pouliot have recently been working on treatments for three different powder horns, with the goal to make them accessible again to the public. In the process, they have made some interesting discoveries and, with the help of Conservation Assistant William Donnelly, devised innovative display solutions for these objects. One powder horn will be included in the Spring 2013 exhibit: Common Destinations: Maps in the American Experience; one was recently put on display in the Kershner Kitchen; and one is for teaching purposes during varied classes and workshops offered at Winterthur. For more information, click here.


Preserving Winterthur’s Silver

In 2010 Winterthur received a grant from the Institute for Museum and Library services (IMLS) to help preserve its outstanding collection of American silver. Because repeated polishing to maintain the collection in display condition is inherently damaging because each polishing removes a small amount of silver, Winterthur began a lacquering program in the 1980’s. On many objects that coating had reached the end of its useful life, resulting in tarnishing characterized by an overall yellow haze or by small dark areas of corrosion. With funding from IMLS, Winterthur has hired two conservations assistants who work under the supervision of Senior Objects Conservator Bruno Pouliot to clean, polish and re-lacquer almost 800 silver objects. Under the grant, Dr. Jennifer Mass of the Scientific Research and Analysis Laboratory is analyzing the aged coating and its interaction with the corrosion to help better understand the mechanisms of this deterioration. For more a more in-depth look at this highlighted project, read "Preserving the Sheen of Winterthur's Silver".

Gallery in the Iraq National Museum, Baghdad

Iraq Cultural Heritage Program 

In 2008, at the request of the US Department of State, Winterthur began a project to help Iraqi cultural heritage professionals preserve their museums and historic sites. The primary focus of this project, undertaken in partnership with the University of Delaware Art Conservation Program and the Walters Art Museum, was to create a conservation and preservation training program. The Iraqi Institute for the Conservation of Antiquities and Heritage, located in Erbil, the largest city in the Kurdish region, opened in the fall of 2009. The Institute has graduated several classes in Collection Care and Conservation and in Architectural And Site Conservation, instructed by on-site US staff and visiting experts drawn from institutions throughout the US and Europe. Embraced by the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage and the Kurdish Regional Government, who assumed operational responsibility at the end of 2010, the Institute has attracted students representing all of Iraq's demographic groups – Sunni and Shia, Muslim and Christian, Kurd and Arab who have come together to learn to preserve their shared heritage. The US Embassy in Baghdad, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Getty Conservation Institute and the US Department of State Cultural Heritage Center have awarded the Institute additional funding to support academic programs through 2013.


Preservation of Architectural Drawings

Lois Olcott Price, Director of Conservation, recently published Line, Shade and Shadow: The Fabrication and Preservation of Architectural Drawings, an extensive study that explores the materials and techniques used in their fabrication while illustrating their evolution from the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries.  In addition to documenting the drafting process, this exploration also contributes to an understanding of the development architectural design, the architectural profession, and the manufacturers that served its drafting and reprographic needs. This book, available in the Winterthur Bookstore and from Oak Knoll Press, is the winner of the 2010 Historic Preservation Book Prize



Winterthur Museum’s acquisition of a spectacular four-part fraktur metamorphosis series in 2008 has prompted the collaboration of curators, conservators, and scientists in order to more fully understand the object. Made by schoolmaster Durs Rudy Sr. (1766–1843) or his son Durs Rudy Jr. (1789–1850), the drawings have survived in remarkable condition and are signed and dated by the artist—the kind of Rosetta stone object scholars and collectors alike dream of finding. Initially, it was thought the four sections had been tipped into the protective covers of a book, possibly accounting for the irregular losses along some edges and good condition of the paper and media. Careful study of the techniques and materials used in its creation has led curators and conservators to a better understanding of why the metamorphosis has remained in such a remarkable state of preservation, and to figuratively reconstruct how it was made and used.


Color image of illustration below Wyeth family portrait

NC Wyeth Painting Revealed

Jennifer Mass, Senior Scientist, Scientific Research and Analysis Laboratory, gave a talk at the American Chemical Society Conference on confocal x-ray fluorescence microscopy of oil paintings that attracted siginficant media attention and an interview on NPR's Science Friday program. The research involved identifying and mapping the original pigments used by N. C. Wyeth in a 1918 illustration that he overpainted with a family portrait in the early 1920's. This research allowed the buried painting to be reproduced in full color. Jennifer collaborated with physicists at Cornell University High Energy Synchrotron Source (CHESS) to develop a confocal x-ray fluorescence microscope to identify the hidden colors non-destructively. The story was carried by dozens of websites and print media sources ranging from the Washington Post , LA Times, and Altoona Mirror  to London's Daily Telegraph and Taiwan News.


Significant Publication on Architectural Finishes

Catherine Matsen, Associate Scientist in the Scientific Research and Analysis Laboroatory, co-edited the proceedings of the January 17–19, 2008 conference, Architectural Finishes in the Built Environment. Catherine also co-organized the conference which was held at Columbia University and attracted 200 scholars from 14 countries. The articles presented spanned architectural paint research from Colonial Williamsburg to Virginia City, Montana and from vernacular architecture on the Norwegian coast to a Qing dynasty decorative painting at Shuxiang Temple, China.


After treatment view of a treated leaf, the letter "G," of the ABC book

Treatment of Christian ABC Book presented at AIC

Joan Irving, Winterthur Paper Conservator, and Soyean Choi, Senior Paper Conservator, Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts, presented a paper on the Ephrata Cloister's Christian ABC book at the recent annual Conference of the American Institute for Conservation. They discussed the decision-making process and treatment of a unique, and among cognoscenti, iconic, work of early American fraktur know as the Christian ABC Book. This work is neither convincingly a book nor a primer for learning the ABC’s, but a mysterious object that has intrigued scholars for decades. The designs are composed almost entirely of iron gall ink, bringing into debate the use of aqueous anti-oxidant treatments and the appropriateness of them on a unique work of art. Ultimately, decisions guiding treatment protocols included ample input of the owner while drawing on key trends in the treatment of iron gall ink – though ultimately leaving the application of an antioxidant to a future generation to consider. The authors offered lessons learned from treating  these delicate fraktur and a glimpse into an 18th century religious order that has left its mark in beautifully scripted letters whose meaning is still unknown today.

Page from scrapbook with image of dress pattern and fabrics

Geraldine's Scrapbook Subject of AIC Poster

Anna Friedman, a post-graduate fellow in the Library Conservation Laboratory, presented a poster on the treatment of a scrapbook the annual conference of the American Institue of Conservation in Milwaulkee, May 12 –16, 2010. 

Mrs. Ella Brown compiled a sewing diary of notes and fabric swatches from 1889-1904. She called it Geraldine’s Scrapbook of Dresses because the swatches of fabric were from the clothing that she made for her daughter Geraldine. The swatches are accompanied by manuscript annotations referring to when the swatches were used and for what kind of garment, and sometimes the price per yard for the fabric. The pages often include small printed pictures from the Butterick’s paper sewing patterns showing the style of the clothing she made.

Mrs. Brown used a little blank notebook with a red leather spine and marbled paper covers for her sewing diary. The book was originally designed to be a manuscript diary or sketch book, and the structure of the book has been severely compromised due to the bulk of the inclusions. Book conservators generally prefer to recreate the original structure of a book because the methods used to create a binding can inform researchers about the context in which the book was created. In this case, the original structure could not be recreated because it would reintroduce all of the structural problems the book had before it was disbound. The innovative structure designed for Geraldine’s Book of Dresses creates an allowance for all the extra material scraps added to the binding while restoring the book to a sewn codex form.

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