UCLA/Getty Conservation Program

A graduate conservation training program focusing on the conservation of archaeological and ethnographic materials

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1st Year Students’ Summer Internship Placements

The end of the Spring Quarter is fast approaching and the 1st year students will be getting ready to head out on their summer internships. Here are the projects and institutions where they’ll be working this summer:

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2010 ANAGPIC Presentations

We had another great time at this year’s ANAGPIC conference held at Queen’s University and were able to hear (and participate in) a great program  of presentations given by students from the graduate conservation training programs.

The papers and posters presented this year will be published on the ANAGPIC website, but here is a preview of the UCLA/Getty Program’s papers and posters.

Treatment and Technical Study of a Lakota Beaded Hide
Nicole Ledoux

This paper discusses the conservation and technical study of a Lakota (est.) beaded hide object in very poor condition. The piece, whose original function is not known, was reported as collected in the late 19th or early 20th century by John Anderson, a photographer living on the Rosebud reservation in South Dakota. It was passed down through family lines until it was recently donated to the UCLA/Getty conservation program. At some point in its history, the piece suffered liquid damage that has drastically altered more than half of the hide area, causing darkening, embrittlement, fragmentation, and damage to the associated beadwork, including localized staining resulting in part from bead corrosion. In order to better understand these alterations and their implications for conservation treatment, a technical study has been undertaken that includes both morphological characterization and materials analysis of the hide and tannins. Continued work has included identification of bead composition and characterization of the various alteration products, as well as consultation with tribal and museum experts about original function and appropriate loss compensation. This object provides an interesting case study for investigating the deterioration of semi-tanned hide and the approach taken in treating such significantly altered material.

The Chemical Characterization and Removal of Lac Dye Staining on White-Ground Ceramics
Cindy Lee Scott and Elizabeth Drolet (UCLA/Getty), Rita Blaik, (UCLA Dept. of Materials Science and Engineering)

A late fifth century B.C. white-ground lekythos from the Antikensammlung Museum in Berlin was loaned to the J. Paul Getty Museum (JPGM) in 2006 to be re-restored and studied.  The vessel fragments were poorly assembled with crude shellac in the nineteenth century.  As a part of the conservation efforts at the Getty, the vase was disassembled by fuming in a solvent saturated environment of a 1:1 mixture of ethanol and acetone, which caused a pinkish-purple stain to develop.  Although  numerous materials and techniques were tested, an adequate method for removing the stain has not yet been found.

This paper builds upon the research conducted by conservators and conservation scientists at the JPGM-Department of Antiquities Conservation and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and aims to characterize the nature of the chemical bond formed between the lac dye- a constituent of crude shellac- and the substrate of the white-ground.  The methodology is based on experimental and analytical testing on mock-up tiles and has two phases: first to replicate and characterize the staining and second, to perform cleaning trials using a variety of poulticing materials and organic solvents to adequately reduce or remove the staining without altering the white-ground surface. <BR>

A Comparison of Block Lifting Materials and Techniques
Lily Doan, Nicole Ledoux, and Robin O’Hern

Technical Study and Conservation of an Apache Coiled Basket
Linda Lin

The Conservation and Reburial of a Greco-Roman Wall Painting: The Site of Karanis, Fayum, Egypt
Suzanne Morris

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To microwave, or use the stove top: that is the question…when making wheat starch paste

Two weeks ago paper conservator Christel Pesme lectured in the organic materials conservation course (CAEM 238) on some basics of paper conservation. After going over the history of paper making and agents of deterioration, Christel talked to us about repairing tears and spent the afternoon showing us how to make wheat starch paste, one of the preferred adhesives for these types of mends.


Christel Pesme explains how to repair tears on paper-based art

She went over what starch paste was and how the process used to make it affected the properties of the paste. Then it was time to go up to the conservation lab to try out different recipes. There are several ways to make wheat starch paste (one we’ve used before can be found on the Northeast Document Conservation Center’s website), but the majority of the recipes seem to have the same things in commons: heating wheat starch paste and water, using really clean utensils of a specific material that are used only for making wheat starch paste (so as not to contaminate the paste) and that it generally takes a really long time to make the paste.

Christel had previously worked at the Balboa Art Conservation Center in San Diego so we used their recipe for making wheat starch paste on a stove top (or in our case a hot plate). After mixing together the water and the dry wheat starch and letting it soak for a bit, it was time to turn on the heat and start mixing. Then there was more mixing, and more mixing, and about 45 minutes later, the paste had turned translucent, seemed a little more stringy and tacky and was done. Good thing there were so many of us in the lab that day to take turns mixing or we would have had some very sore arms!


Christel demonstrates how to make starch paste using the stove top method.

Christel then demonstrated another method for making wheat starch paste using the microwave. This method lets you make the paste in a much shorter time and in smaller quantities. We put a little more water in this mixture and took our beaker down to the pantry to cook the paste. The beaker was put in the microwave with the stirred paste mixture and cooked initially for a minute and then in 30 second increments.

Wheat starch paste cooking in the microwave

Of course, making wheat starch paste can never be completely easy, even in the microwave. We had to keep a close eye on the contents of the beaker while it was heated. As soon as we saw the mixture start to rise and just reach the edge of the beaker, we had to have quick reflexes in order to stop the microwave and wait till the paste level dropped so we could continue heating it. It was then mixed by hand between heating cycles. The heating was completed when the paste had a similar appearance and texture to the one made up in the lab on the hot plate.

Cindy Lee Scott mixes the wheat starch paste during heating cycles.

After the paste was cooked, a few more steps had to be taken before it could be used for the repairs. First the wheat starch paste was submerged in deionized water. This would help cool it and stop any skin from forming on the paste and and drying out, as well as prevent any changes to the composition of the paste.

The wheat starch paste we made using the two methods. Microwave method is on the left, stove top on the right.

After it had cooled, we separated out a small amount of paste we wanted to use for the mends and then strained it.

Christel demonstrating how to strain the wheat starch paste

Elizabeth Drolet tries her hand at straining the paste.

We then took the strained paste and worked it by brushing it against the bottom of a glass dish. Deionized water was added until we got the consistency we needed for the mends. Christel suggested we continue working the paste and brushing it back and forth on the bottom of the glass dish until we got a “sour cream consistency”.

Tessa de Alarcon (left) and Nicole Ledoux (right) work some strained paste.

Once the paste was worked and diluted, it was time to learn to make tear repairs. The tears in our “artwork” were mended using Kozo Japanese tissue.

Lily Doan water tears strips of Japanese tissue to for the mends.

We applied some starch paste to the edges of the tear and then gently brought the edges of the tear together. A strip of the tissue, onto which we had brushed starch paste, was placed on the back of the tear. We then put blotter paper and glass weights on top of the mend to apply pressure and absorb any moisture keeping the paper flat and preventing any buckling from occurring.

Lily Doan applies a strip of tissue coated with wheat starch paste to the back of a tear on a piece of paper.

Working with a paper conservator to make the wheat starch paste and mend torn paper was interesting and fun. It was great to discuss differences in the application of starch paste to paper and objects. We also discussed how the moisture content of the paste and how the mends need to be held while drying posed challenges to the repair of organic three dimensional objects. But the most important lesson learned is that unless you want to work on your biceps, the next time we need to make wheat starch paste, we should make sure the microwave is available or we should invest in a sauce stirrer!

by Vanessa Muros

Conservation Specialist