Artlab welcomes five new staff members: Victoria Thomas, Carolyn McLennan, Zora Sanders, Laura Daenke and Dr Maria Kubik.
Image 1: Group photo of the new Artlab staff members
Victoria has recently joined Artlab on the textiles and preventive teams. She joins us after three years at Grimwade Conservation Services, where she worked with the textiles and objects teams on a range of projects for the University of Melbourne’s cultural collections, various collecting organisations around Victoria, and private clients. She is hoping that, in addition to her conservation training and commercial experience, her background in patternmaking and garment construction will make a positive contribution to the Artlab team.
Image 2: Victoria Thomas
The objects team is delighted to welcome two new colleagues into the lab, Carolyn McLennan and Zora Sanders, who are working with us on short-term contracts whilst Sophie Parker is on four months leave.
There has been some more shuffling around the Objects Lab as Renita Ryan has returned to her role as Principal Conservator and Jo Dawe to her role as Objects Conservator. We are grateful to have Carolyn and Zora with us, assisting in getting through our backlog of rehousing, various treatments and exhibition preparation work.
Carolyn is an objects conservator and comes to us from Darwin where she has recently been working as an independent conservator for people caring for collections in regional and remote areas of the Northern Territory and surrounding regions. Carolyn has worked as a contract conservator and collection manager at the Museum & Art Gallery of the Northern Territory and at other collecting institutions.
Image 3: Carolyn McLennan
Zora is an objects conservator from Melbourne. She completed her master’s degree at the Grimwade Centre in 2019 and Postgraduate Diploma in the Conservation of Metals at West Dean College in 2020. She has undertaken work placements at the Australian War Memorial and Royal Museums Greenwich, UK. She has a background in editing and literary publication, was the AICCM web editor from 2015 to 2020 and is currently AICCM’s Communications Officer.
Image 4: Zora Sanders
The paper & books team welcomes new member Laura Daenke in the position of Paper Conservator. Laura has a Bachelor of Heritage, Museums and Conservation from the University of Canberra and a Master of Cultural Materials Conservation, specialising in paper conservation, from the University of Melbourne. During her master’s, she completed a three-month internship in the Paper and Photo Department at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Laura has worked in several conservation studios around Australia, including the National Archives of Australia, the State Library of Queensland and the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art.
Image 5: Laura Daenke
Dr Maria Kubik joined Artlab’s paintings team recently, moving from Perth after many years at the Art Gallery of Western Australia. She’s very happy to again be working in a large collaborative environment, and hopes to get up to speed soon on Artlab’s many analytical facilities. Current projects include the conservation of a large heavily damaged Greek Orthodox panel painting, and preparation of numerous works for AGSA’s Dusan Marek exhibition.
Image 6: Dr Maria Kubik
Ian Miles, Artlab’s Senior Metals Conservator, received a High Achievement honour at the Department of the Premier and Cabinet (DPC) 2020 Employee Recognition Awards. The awards ceremony was held on 29 January 2021 at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Adelaide.
Image 7: Ian Miles awarded at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Adelaide.
Ian’s award was in the ‘Supporting Our Communities’ category for his swift response in the specialist removal of graffiti from A Day Out by artist Marguerite Derricourt, affectionately known as the Rundle Mall Pigs, which occurred in October 2020.
Image 8: Ian Miles at work on the sculpture A Day Out.
Heather Brown, Assistant Director, has recently been awarded a PhD. The abstract of her thesis and the link to the full text are reported in the research section, below.
Roberto Padoan, Principal Conservator Paper and Books, joins a number of Artlab staff in being awarded professional membership of AICCM.
Baptism of Christ, painted by Robert Dowling in 1863, was housed from the 1930s in a church in Scotland. The Art Gallery of South Australia (AGSA) acquired the painting in 2019 before the church was demolished. Dowling was Australia’s first colonial trained artist and first expatriate artist, who left Australia in the 1850s and built a successful career in London.
The painting had never received conservation treatment except for a coat of varnish, which we speculate was applied when the painting was sent from London to Scotland. This varnish had sealed in pollutants acquired in London from traffic, coal fires and gaslights, forming a visible crusty layer over its surface. The church was very damp, causing mould and mildew and further disfiguring the painting’s surface. Dampness caused shrinkage in the canvas, causing paint to erupt from the surface as ridges of loose paint. The back of the painting was thick with sooty pollutants and mildew, and fortunately the artist had had the foresight to apply a reversed loose lining protecting the painted canvas. However, it had rotted along the top edge, causing the painting to slump out of the frame.
The conservation of Baptism of Christ was complex due to the large size of the painting and its damaged condition. The first stage of treatment was to brush vacuum the front and back of the painting removing loose pollutants followed by an aqueous clean to eliminate grime. Solvent cleaning removed the old varnish layer and, finally, repeated aqueous cleaning dissolved stubborn grime ingrained in the paint layer.
Loose areas of paint were temporarily faced with Japanese tissue using a wax-based adhesive and the canvas was removed from the stretcher onto a specially made support. The areas of loose paint were impregnated with consolidant from the back and pressed flat, fragile tacking edges were reinforced by strip lining, and distortions in the canvas were pressed out. Because the loose lining carried an inscription by the artist it was also cleaned, consolidated and its tacking margins strengthened. Both canvasses were placed on the stretcher. The painting was given a conservation-grade varnish, and a small amount of retouching completed the work.
The original frame was quite significant as it was custom made for the painting with religious iconography at top centre, with cherubs in the corners and biblical text on a panel at bottom centre. The frame, covered in grime and with one of the cherubs missing, had considerable areas of worn gilding and a large amount of damage to many elements.
The frame received a thorough cleaning treatment and all elements of iconography were strengthened and repaired. A new cherub was cast and attached followed by an extensive gilding process reinstating large areas of the frame. Baptism of Christ is now on display in Gallery 3 at the AGSA, Adelaide.
Image 9: Before treatment. Robert Dowling, Australia/Britain, 1827–1886, Baptism of Christ, 1863, London,
oil on canvas, 222.6 x 161.0 cm (sight), Gift of Thomas Coats Memorial Church Trustees through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 20191P1.
Image 10 and 11: Chris Payne, Senior Paintings Conservator, removing ingrained grime.
Image 12: Detail of canvas showing contrasts between before and after cleaning.
Image 13: Detail of frame showing contrasts between before and after cleaning.
Image 14: Cherubs before gilding process.
Image 15: Rosie Heysen, Paintings and Frames Conservator, cleaning light burst element from the frame.
Image 16: Rosie Heysen gilding existing cherub elements.
Image 17: Detail of existing cherub used for casting missing element.
Image 18: New cast custom-made cherub in place.
Image 19: Rosie Heysen attaching new cherub to frame before gilding.
Image 20: After completion of conservation treatment. Robert Dowling, Australia/Britain, 1827–1886, Baptism of Christ, 1863, London, oil on canvas, 222.6 x 161.0 cm (sight), Gift of Thomas Coats Memorial Church Trustees through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 2019, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 20191P1.
Filipa Quintela has been working on a polychrome wooden sculpture of Saint Anthony holding Christ child in one of his arms, belonging to one of Adelaide’s cathedrals. The treatment includes overall cleaning, some infilling and in-painting of losses and reconstruction of two missing fingers of Christ. After treatment and improvement of aesthetic appearance, St Anthony will return to his place within the cathedral to be admired by the parishioners.
Our Netley-based Objects team—comprised of Isabelle Waters, Helen Behrens, Jamie Hampton, Fiona Hurel and Kenny Monger—met a major milestone in completing the rehousing of approximately 5000 spears from the South Australian Museum’s Humanities Collection.
To complete this task, the team worked alongside the SA Museum’s collection managers who, over a period of five months, regrouped the spear collection into regional areas so that they could be individually preserved and rehoused in custom-made spear boxes.
This comprehensive and diverse collection includes spears that date from the late 1880s to the present day. Regional variations are evident in the technology used, including barbed and un-barbed, stone and stingray barb styles, reflecting both desert and coastal styles and capturing the differing object purposes, from ceremonial to functional. Additional materials used in manufacture include resins, glass, pigments, reeds and kangaroo sinew.
In response, SA Museum’s collection managers developed new processes to catalogue the collection according to region and community group and the conservators identified conservation techniques so that the spears could be appropriately packed to minimise any future risk to the composite materials.
The spear collection is now regrouped and rehoused into 591 spear boxes! This work is part of the ongoing South Australian Museum Humanities Store upgrade project.
Image 21: Detail of the spear packing (using foam block spacers). Image courtesy of the South Australian Museum collections and Artlab.
Image 22: Detail of pigmented barb decoration. Image courtesy of the South Australian Museum collections and Artlab.
Image 23: A completed spear box pack. Image courtesy of the South Australian Museum collections and Artlab.
Paper & Books
National treasures reborn from the fire
Nine framed works were brought to Artlab after being salvaged from a house fire. The works consisted of six privately owned Hans Heysen watercolours, one by Albert Namatjira and two works by RW Sturgess.
All works were wet due to the firefighters’ intervention so immediate salvage work took place to stop the degradation process. The watercolours were brought into the paper lab, de-framed and dismounted from the matting boards using a disaster plan intervention that was completed in less than one hour and involved three conservators. The smoke and water damaged secondary materials were removed and stored in the quarantine fume hood to prevent volatile compounds affecting the air quality. The paintings were dried between felts to reduce the risk of mould growth or cockling.
After three weeks of drying under slight weight, the watercolours appeared in remarkably good condition due to the protection afforded by their framing and glazing. Consequently, the secondary materials—window mats, backing boards, frames and glass—took the full force of the heat, smoke and water, and in most cases suffered irreparable damage.
Where possible, all original secondary materials were reused and all provenance stamps, labels, and inscriptions were retained.
The conservation treatment was conducted by Aquila Evill, Senior Paper Conservator. The treatment focused on removing residual soot from the paintings and rehousing using the original secondary material where possible. Unfortunately, two of the original Heysen mounts with wash-lines could not be reused and were replaced with similar materials, replicating the hand-drawn wash-lines. Only three of the frames could be repaired.
The treatment procedure post-salvage was: surface clean (smoke sponge), humidify and flatten, re-mat using similar materials, draw wash-lines on two mats for Heysen works, rehouse three in original frames with UV filter glass. All the original material that could not be reused for framing such as damaged frames, backing boards and mats were kept and returned to the client.
Image 24 and 25: Before and after treatment. Into the Light, Hans Heysen, 1912.
Image 26 and 27: Before and after treatment. Landscape with Gum Trees, Hans Heysen, 1912.
Image 28 and 29: Before and after treatment. The Gorge, Aroona, Hans Heysen, 1927.
Image 30 and 31: Before and after treatment. Cattle under Gums, Hans Heysen, 1940.
Heather Brown, Assistant Director, has recently been awarded a PhD with her thesis entitled:
Approaches to physical and digital preservation management in Australian national, state and territory libraries / by Heather May Brown.
Abstract: This research investigates the relationship between physical and digital preservation management in Australian national, state and territory libraries. It systematically investigates this relationship from the viewpoint of higher-level principles, then from the aspect of technical and administrative strategies, followed by a special focus on the strategy of disaster management. The results reveal that, in contrast to the widely held view that ‘digital is different’, there are significant interconnections between the two domains. The interconnections include higher-level principles as well as a number of strategies, while noting barriers and areas of disconnect such as the specialist knowledge and skills in each domain. The findings encourage new ways of thinking about digital and physical preservation management, leading to opportunities to link the two domains and to share knowledge.
Roberto Padoan and a number of distinguished international colleagues have recently published an article about monitoring changes occurring in paper artefacts during exhibitions. This study focuses on assessing impact and reproducibility of imaging spectroscopy as a monitoring tool.
Quantitative Assessment of Impact and Sensitivity of Imaging Spectroscopy for Monitoring of Ageing of Archival Documents
Image 32: The imaging spectroscopy instrument SEPIA at the conservation lab of the Nationaal Archief, National Archives of The Netherlands, Den Haag, The Netherlands.
Abstract: Ageing of historical documents often results in changes in the optical properties of the constituent materials. Imaging spectroscopy (IS) can be a valuable tool for monitoring of such changes, if the method fulfils two important conditions. Firstly, compared to natural ageing, the accumulated light dose from repeated measurements of the monitored document must not induce any significant degradation. Secondly, the monitoring instrumentation and procedures should be sensitive enough to detect changes in the materials before they become visible. We present experimental methods to evaluate the suitability of IS instrumentation for monitoring purposes. In the first set of experiments, the impact of repeated monitoring measurements was determined using a set of Blue Wool Standard materials. In the second set of experiments, the capability of the instrument to detect spectral changes was tested using ISO standard materials and several documents representative of European archive collections. It is concluded that the tested hyperspectral instrument is suitable for monitoring of the colour change of documents during display. The described experimental approach can be recommended to test the suitability of other imaging spectroscopy instruments for monitoring applications.