So, for the past couple of weeks, I've been going to the conservation labs at the University of Penn's Anthropology and Archeology Museum for this an internship. I'm getting a good taste of art/artifact conservation under the helpful supervision of Dr. Lynn Grant. Dr. Grant was kind enough to let me into her labs and become a part of her team. Before her, I'd been striking out on all fronts finding an internship or volunteer gig at a museum's or gallery's conservation lab. Turns out most places outsource their conservatory work to a single company in Philadelphia. I had contacted this company but they said I'd be a liability because I'm not formally trained or even all that familiar with conservation. Luckily Dr. Grant understands the "Catch-22" (a great book, by the way. READ IT!) of art conservation and was generous enough to open her doors to someone who's curious about the field and would like to know more before attempting grad school for art conservation. So, I get to hang out in a lab all day on Mondays and Tuesdays.
So, she said I could help out with re-housing textiles owned by the Turkish government. These textiles are about 3000 years old and were in a fire long ago, mostly preserved in ash. These artifacts are from a dig from the 1940s/1950s. Afterwards, they were never properly archived and even the cataloging of them was attempted 3 separate times, never to fruition. Our first task was labeling and cataloging the fragments.
They arrived to us in all manner of small boxes: Kodak film boxes, jewelry boxes, tins, weird little cylinders, boxes for toys and martini sets, etc. They had cotton in them, paper towels, dryer sheets (or something similar)....I suppose they thought they were protecting the artifacts in this junk. In actuality, they probably did more damage then good. Afterwards, we started moving the fragments as CAREFULLY as possible from these various kinds of boxes to their new, archive-safe homes.
This is the other intern on this project, Erica. She's going to UCLA for anthropology, loooooooves animals and has dreams of finding a good and personally satisfying way of saving the world, even a little bit, like with saving primate habitats or going into environmental law. I'm pretty sure she'll reach her goals too. She's smart and enthusiastic.
This is me while I'm carefully placing fragments of ancient textiles into the archival folder. These particular pieces have crystallized and are particularly brittle.
Often the fragments were packaged in jewelry boxes with that layer of cotton. This is detrimental to the artifacts because as the fragments continue to age, the cotton fibers hook onto the delicate fragment fibers. When we would go to pull the weaving away from the cotton, the caught fibers would snap the brittle tapestry bits, snapping and tearing the pieces further. It really didn't matter how careful we were, some stray cotton would still damage the artifacts.
These are fragments of some sort of gauzy fabric being laid into the archival folder. This was before I pulled the layers of the bulkier pieces apart to show the fabric off.
Some of our artifacts were preserved between glass, with electrical tape sealing the edges. This might seem like a good way to preserve these pieces, but they were pressed so hard that often, what looked like a whole structure between glass would actually have long turned to dust when we'd go to extract it.
Even the dust and debris at the bottom of the samples had to be preserved. We'd funnel this stuff into tiny plastic ziploc bags. The dust is typically textile fragments that have long since deteriorated.
Unfortunately, what you can't see is that many of these artifacts have incredible detail. The tapestries are very well crafted with tiny, very regular weaving. It's a real joy to be able to handle these objects and learn about them. I very much appreciate the time and energy that went into producing these textiles and I marvel at how they survived a fire and 3000 years of wear and tear to make it into my hands as I delicately help to preserve them.
Boxes within boxes....
Our lab is this little cluttered room in the conservation area. The metal table that all that junk is piled onto is not just any metel table. It's an autopsy table! Coooooooooool. But there are no real autopsies going on for art conservation (though I had hoped we'd maybe get to see it used for a mummy or something). However, this sort of table is handy for paper preservation (chemical baths, cleaning, etc) since it's got such a great flat working space.
So, that's what I'm currently doing while still looking for a job and making my own artwork. Busy lady for being unemployed!