Art conservation that does more harm than good

Hindsight is 20-20, as they say. This week Art Daily* reported that a widespread preservation treatment, developed to help canvases survive humid environments, actually makes paintings more vulnerable when humidity levels soar.** “The wax-resin treatment was enormously popular in Europe and the U.S. during the 1950s and 1960s,” says Cecil Krarup Andersen at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, who made the discovery. “Many...

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Dead Sea Scrolls – Scientists In Berlin Criticize Israeli Cultural Authorities For Treatment Of Sacred Documents

Last week, a peer-reviewed journal called the Restaurator published a controversial article about the Dead Sea Scrolls written by two Berlin-based scientists who charge that these sacred documents are not receiving proper care from the Israeli cultural institutions responsible for their well-being. The article’s abstract does not mince words: “Examination of the properties of the scrolls proves that frequent travel, exhibitions and...

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Arsenic Contamination Of Artifacts

A few weeks ago I got to touch the hairy underbelly of an armadillo. Even though it hadn’t been alive for some time, I was still pretty chuffed about the whole experience—I mean, it’s unlikely I’ll ever have such an intimate moment with an armadillo again. The beast in question had been briefly removed from its basement cupboard home at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences as part of a behind-the-scenes tour during the recent...

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Conserving Mosaics: A Nod To The Chemistry Nobel Prize

In honor of today’s Nobel Prize in chemistry to Dan Shechtman for the discovery of quasicrystals, I thought I’d write a little post on the world of mosaic art conservation. Bear with me–there is a connection. (This is precisely what I said when Paula Artal-Isbrand, a mosaics conservator at the Worcester Art Museum, answered the phone. Luckily, she didn’t deem me a random freak and then hang up.) OK. So back to the Nobel Prize....

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The Peculiar Life Of The Dead Sea Scrolls

After spending more than two thousand years in peaceful hibernation, the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) have had a rough six decades. Discovered in several dry caves near the Dead Sea from 1947 through 1956, the texts experienced a series of travel and conservation adventures that border on mishandling, says Ira Rabin, a staff scientist at Germany’s Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM). Rabin has published several...

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Plastics Denial Syndrome

Sometime during the 1960s, artists en masse began using plastics to make art–a trend that continues today. The problem is that many plastic polymers have a shelf life of just a decade or so, after which they begin to crumble or crack. Consider an old rubber band or a plastic bottle left out in the sun. And just as bisphenol A leaches out of baby bottles and into the surrounding liquid, many of the components of plastic-based art...

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