UCLA/Getty Conservation Program

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

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Class of 2016 3rd year Internship & Thesis Presentations

It’s the end of the quarter and today, the class of 2016 returns to our conservation training labs at the Getty Villa to give their final presentations as graduate students in our program.  They will be presenting on their 3rd year internships, as well as discussing the work they did for their MA thesis projects.  The day will end with a  small reception to celebrate the completion of their conservation degree and graduation!

A list of their 3rd year internship placements can be found on this previous post.   Here is a list of the M.A. thesis research they will also be sharing with us:

  • Colette Badmagharian – Piecing together the History of an 18th-century printed Armenian Prayer Scroll: The Study of Cultural Context and Manufacturing Techniques
  • Betsy Burr – Dye analysis of archaeological Peruvian textiles using surface enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS)
  • Lesley Day – A Study of the Moiré Pattern of Tortoiseshell: Morphology of the Pattern, Techniques for Documentation, and Alterations of the Pattern and Shell by Accelerated Light Aging 
  • Tom McClintock – Documentation and Technical Study of Torqua  Cave
  • William Shelley – Biocorrosion of Archaeological Glass
  • Heather White – An Analysis of Unidentified Dark Materials Between Inlaid Motifs on Andean Wooden Qeros

Congratulations to the class of 2016 and good luck on your presentations today!

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Class of 2016 Summer & 3rd Year Internships

The quarter is coming to an end and students are busy finishing up treatments and thesis projects, as well as writing papers and studying for finals. On top of all that, they’re busy getting ready to leave LA for their summer and 3rd year internships. Below is a list of all the great places they’ll be working at in the upcoming year.

We wish them good luck on their internships and safe travels!

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Class of 2014’s Summer/3rd Year Placements

It’s finals week and the students are getting ready to head off (or some have already left) for their summer internships and 3rd year placements.  Here’s a list of all the exciting places they’ll be working at:

We wish them lots of success during their internship year and will see everyone again in Spring 2014!


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The Inherent Vice of a Tattooing Instrument

What do you do with an object, purchased as a central part of an exhibition, which is corroding on display? This was the question conservators were faced with at the Pitt Rivers Museum at the University of Oxford (where I have been completing part of my third year internship) when deciding what to do with a tattooing instrument which was exhibiting signs of deterioration while on display.

The tattooing instrument (2001.41.1) was made by a tattoo artist and donated to the Pitt Rivers Museum for its Body Arts display in 2001. Since the object’s installation, it has been displayed along with other components of modern western tattoo application such as different colors of ink in plastic bottles, tracing paper, and needles. A museum guard noticed its corrosion in the winter of 2011 and drew the attention of conservation to it.

The Body Arts display with the tattooing instrument in the upper left corner.

The tattooing instrument consists of the body of the instrument, a needle, and the power cord. There is a coiled wire around the power cord where it attaches to the instrument’s body. This coil had developed loose white needle-like corrosion crystals covering most of its surface.

The object before treatment

Detail of corrosion on tattooing instrument.

The conservators reviewed the object’s condition and decided that it would be best to try and analyze the corrosion that had separated from the tattooing instrument before deciding to remove it because of the central role it played in the display. The loose white powdery corrosion below the object was collected and brought back to the lab. Spot tests for chlorides and carbonates were conducted using the protocols in Odegaard et al. (2005). The corrosion products tested negative for carbonates and positive for chlorides.

A lead spot test was conducted using the Plumbtesmo papers, which produce a pink color in the presence of lead. However, the area around the sample turned orange. A known sample of lead turned the paper a pink color, indicating that the orange result was not due to issues with the test paper but to the sample.

The Plumbtesmo papers with the known lead on the left and the unknown sample on the right

Due to the inconclusive spot tests, the tattooing instrument was removed from display for analysis with XRF. The coil and corrosion products were examined with X-Ray Fluorescence spectroscopy (XRF) (Bruker Tracer III-V). Based on the XRF results, the coil is composed of iron coated with cadmium. The corrosion product, when analyzed on its own, had a strong cadmium peak indicating that it was the cadmium that was corroding. When the exhibition case was opened to remove the object, it smelled strongly of pesticides like dichlorobenzene or naphthalene. There is a possibility that the organic acids from the pesticides or other materials in the case reacted with the cadmium, as discussed by Scott and Derrick (2007).

Portable XRF spectrum showing the presence of cadmium.

Once the corrosion product was identified as cadmium, which is hazardous to our health, we took additional health and safety precautions by wearing particulate masks in addition to gloves and lab coats when handling the object and samples. The corrosion product was removed from the object with a scalpel and brush and kept inside a glass jar for later analysis that might be able to indicate the cause of the corrosion. After removal of the loose white corrosion, the coil had a dull fogged silver-white appearance consistent with cadmium corrosion (Scott and Derrick 2007). The surface of the coil was slightly uneven in sheen and not uniform in appearance.

The object after treatment.

Detail of the coil after treatment.

After deliberation, we decided to place the object back on display even though the exhibition environment may be contributing to its corrosion. The tattooing instrument comprises a central part of the exhibit and was made and donated for the purpose of being displayed in it. These factors were weighed against the fact that the object had taken ten years to develop the corrosion we had just removed and therefore we expect that it will take several more years for the corrosion to return. Its condition will continue to be periodically monitored for the growth of additional corrosion. Now after examination and treatment, the tattooing instrument can be viewed again within the context of various components used for Western tattooing and enjoyed by visitors to the Pitt Rivers Museum.

The tattooing instrument back on display after treatment.

Odegaard, Nancy, Scott Carroll and Werner S. Zimmt. Material Characterization Tests for Objects of Art and Archaeology. London: Archetype Publications Ltd, 2005.

Scott, David A. and Michele R. Derrick. “Deterioration of Cadmium-Coated Instruments in Museum Storage.” Studies in Conservation 52 (2007): 59 – 68.

Robin Ohern (’12)

All text and images on this blog are © Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford. The posting is the opinion of Robin Ohern and doesn’t necessarily reflect the Pitt Rivers’ position, policies or opinions.


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Class of 2012 3rd Year Placements

The quarter is over this week and the class of 2012 is getting ready to head off to their internship sites for the summer and 3rd year.  Here are the exciting places they’ll be working for the next year:

The UCLA/Getty Program extends thanks to the NEH Preservation and Access Education and Training Grants, and to the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, for internship support.

We wish our students every success in their internships and can’t wait to hear about all their exciting work when they get back next June!