Conservation for Exhibitions
For every exhibition, Conservators work closely with the Curators and the Exhibitions Department to ensure that the objects selected will be displayed to their best advantage.
This work begins long before the exhibition opens with reviewing all the objects that the Curators have selected, ensuring that they can be displayed safely, setting guidelines on light intensity and duration, and giving input on possible mounting issues. As exhibition preparation continues, the Conservators are consulted on case materials and specifications and review all mount designs to ensure they provide the proper support without placing stress on any part of the object.
Of course, the greatest effort goes into the treatment of the objects. Each object slated for exhibition comes into the lab for documentation and whatever treatment is necessary to stabilize it and to show it at its best. Frequently the Conservators consult the Curators for information on how an object should look or be presented.
A demolition and construction project occurring very close to the Museum which started last year had the potential to cause problems for many of our artifacts both on exhibition and in storage. Working closely with the Exhibitions Department, the Registrars’ Office, the Building Operations Staff, and outside specialists, we began to assess possible impacts on our collections and to take measures to prevent damage. Some of our most vulnerable monumental objects on exhibition have had to be deinstalled for their protection.
Project Conservators have now completed the triage treatment and deinstallation of the Tomb Chapel of Kaipure in Lower Egypt and the Buddhist murals in the Chinese Rotunda. Meanwhile another Project Conservator is completing the review of the approximately 50,000 artifacts in Egyptian and Asian Storage and stabilizing those that need assistance before they can be moved to a safer location. Staff conservators are working with other Museum staff to monitor artifacts on exhibition as the construction next door proceeds.
The Artifact Lab
Conservation In Action
Our highly successful open conservation lab (formerly ‘In the Artifact Lab: Conserving Egyptian Mummies) has been renamed to reflect its new, wider focus. We continue to learn a lot (Number 1 question asked by visitors: “Is it real?”). Even though the objects being treated in the Artifact Lab have all been in our collections for many decades, the potential for new discoveries (or re-discoveries) has been amazing.
As plans for the reinstallation of the Museum’s signature galleries progress, we will be focusing on treatment of those objects and the Artifact Lab will be an ideal space to treat many of the larger pieces. You can read about these projects, as well as other fascinating topics on our blog.
Objects being prepared to go on exhibition get conserved, but they also need care while on exhibition. Each Monday, when the Museum is closed to the public, our Conservation Technicians, together with staff from the Exhibition Preparations Department, and the relevant Curatorial Section, work in the Galleries.
Conservation of the Tang Horses
The stone reliefs depicting two of the favorite horses of Emperor Taizong (r. 626-649 CE) are among the Museum’s greatest treasures. Examinations conducted in 2008 showed that the mending, done sometime shortly after the reliefs arrived at the Museum in 1918, was no longer stable.
With support from generous donors Mr. and Mrs. John R. Rockwell (W’64; WG’66), the Museum undertook the conservation of these important objects.
The first phase of the treatment took place in the China Gallery. A team led by Julie Lawson of the Museum’s Conservation Department removed decades of grime, accumulated before the reliefs were covered with plexiglass vitrines. At the same time they closely examined and documented the reliefs, looking for clues to how the pieces were originally mended, since there are no records giving this information.
Next, the reliefs were carefully disassembled by specialists in handling heavy works of art, under the close supervision of Museum Conservators. The pieces were removed to a nearby workspace further cleaning and reassembly.
The Museum Conservators worked with engineers and steel fabricators to produce a steel support structure that will provide stability for the reliefs so that they may be exhibited safely in the future.
Visit the Penn Museum Blog where Head Conservator Lynn Grant posts about the conservation of the Tang Horses.
Conservation of the Chama Pots
All of the objects in the Painted Metaphors exhibition were examined by the Museum's conservators, and given any treatment necessary to render them stable for exhibition and travel.
Treatments varied from simple cleaning to complex disassembly of old restorations; re-mending with modern, stable material; and restoration of missing areas. Exhibitions such as this enable the conservators to concentrate on a discreet group of artifacts and, in cooperation with curators and researchers, make interesting observations about the culture that made and used them.
Asian Section Re-Housing Project
Collections care and conservation work at the Penn Museum is ongoing and overseen by the Museum’s Conservation Department. As resources become available, the conditions in which our collections are kept are continually upgraded.
For example, before moving the Asian collections into the Mainwaring Wing in 2002, the Museum commissioned a condition survey of its paper-based materials by conservators from the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts (CCAHA) located in Philadelphia.
Although the Museum’s Conservation Department is responsible for all objects in our collections, we regularly consult CCAHA for information on and treatment of paper-based materials. Based on their recommendations, and with funding from the Carpenter Foundation, we undertook a rehousing project for these vulnerable items. Led by Conservator Julie Lawson and aided by a number of interns, this project involved constructing archival quality folders, study mats, and scroll holders for individual items, and then replacing the previous acidic and damaging storage media. As a result, this collection has been preserved and is newly accessible for future scholars.