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The IMA in Egypt, Part 3: ‘Wrapping up’ our Mummy Coffin Research

Today’s blogger is Dr. Gregory Dale Smith, the Otto N. Frenzel III Senior Conservation Scientist at the IMA. Dr. Smith is reporting through a series of blog posts on the IMA’s involvement in an exhibition at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology in Ann Arbor, Discovery! Excavating the Ancient World.

Fig. 1.  A portion of a painted headdress from a Late Period wooden coffin. The annotations provide the unique data label, the chemical elements identified by X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy, and the most likely pigment inferred from the elements found.

Fig. 1. A portion of a painted headdress from a Late Period wooden coffin. The annotations provide the unique data label, the chemical elements identified by X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy, and the most likely pigment inferred from the elements found.

A year ago this week, I boarded a plane for Egypt carrying a small “mobile lab” to take part in a collaborative fieldwork project studying ancient wooden funerary objects. As I reported earlier, the goal was to determine better conservation methods for stabilizing these beautiful, but fragile painted artifacts, which include decorated sarcophagi and statues. As the group’s chemist, my job was to use portable analytical instruments to identify the pigments, adhesives, and binding media used in the surface decoration of these deteriorated objects. On this one year anniversary, I wanted to wrap up my blog series by presenting some of our results from this exploratory season in the field at Abydos.

Our analyses showed that the ancient Egyptian artists used natural materials to decorate the tombs of their dead (Fig. 1). The binding agents for their paints included glue made from boiled animal skins and resinous gums exuded from plants. The colorants were also largely natural minerals including white chalk, yellow and red earths, soot black, and the poisonous arsenic containing yellow mineral orpiment. The primary blue pigment, however, was synthetic; Egyptian blue, a copper-containing glass frit was first made in Egypt as early as the 4th Dynasty around 3000 BC. Armed with this information about the paint composition, conservators are able to choose the most appropriate consolidants to stabilize these often disintegrating artifacts.

Fig. 2. A composite “eye” from a Ka statue composed of copper sheet, marble, and obsidian. The left eye is shown in pieces while the right one has been reassembled by conservators.

Fig. 2. A composite “eye” from a Ka statue composed of copper sheet, marble, and obsidian. The left eye is shown in pieces while the right one has been reassembled by conservators.

We also encountered other decorative elements including the inlaid eyes (Fig. 2) from wooden Ka sculptures found in the chapels associated with royal tombs. These are composite structures that include metal eyelids identified as pure copper sheet soldered together with lead and limestone whites of the eyes carved around a central black pupil of imported volcanic obsidian. The black gemstone was held in place with a plug of beeswax. Future work might include using chemical analysis to trace the foreign source of these luxury trade items.

Fig. 3. A display panel from the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology’s exhibit Discovery! Excavating the Ancient World showing the Abydos wood project team onsite.

Fig. 3. A display panel from the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology’s exhibit Discovery! Excavating the Ancient World showing the Abydos wood project team onsite.

One further outcome of this highly successful exploratory field season is the exhibit Discovery! Excavating the Ancient World at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology at the University of Michigan.  The work of the conservation team was included in the exhibition’s didactics to show the diversity of disciplines that contribute to our understanding and preservation of archaeological materials (Fig. 3). All of those who were part of this field season are extremely grateful to our home institutions for the latitude to come together to participate in this exciting project, and to the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE) who along with the University of Michigan funded the expedition. Aside from being a fascinating study with components of ancient technology, complex biodeterioration, and delicate preservation interventions, our work in Egypt was a lot of fun (Fig.4)!

Fig. 4. Team leader and Kelsey Museum conservator Suzanne Davis shows off the Ka statue inlaid eyes after reassembling the excavated pieces.

Fig. 4. Team leader and Kelsey Museum conservator Suzanne Davis shows off the Ka statue inlaid eyes after reassembling the excavated pieces.

Filed under: Art, Conservation, IMA Staff, Technology, Travel

 

Creating an Autoportrait: Clifford Graham

Obscured beneath the simple words, numbers, shapes, and colors found in much of Robert Indiana’s work are essential memories and symbols of the artist’s life. Indiana’s visual vocabulary is encrypted with personal symbolism. This is particularly evident in his long series of Autoportraits.

To complement The Essential Robert Indiana, on view through May 4, the IMA invites visitors both on-site and online to Create Your Autoportrait using some of the same elements that Robert Indiana incorporates in to his. During the run of the exhibition, IMA staff members will be creating their own Autoportraits and blogging about it.

The fifth in this series features Clifford Graham III, the IMA’s Gallery Guide Security Supervisor.

autoportrait_cg_032414

Blue, green, and purple are my favorite colors, I LOVE the cool color palette. I used 2 and 11 to represent my birthday; and the 14 is for this year — NOW.

I am not spontaneous; I get too caught up in tomorrow to enjoy NOW. For 2014 I want to learn to enjoy the moment; because right NOW is all that any of us is sure of. I LOVE music! It is my way to unwind, let go, and relax. A melancholy melody, angelic harmonies, or a thumping bass line allows me the space to let everything go. LOVE is my spiritual gift; everyone needs it, and everyone wants it. I also used LOVE in my Autoportrait to pay homage to Robert Indiana.

Filed under: Audience Engagement, Exhibitions, IMA Staff, Protection Services

 

SPRING! Spring? … spring …

Let’s hope it really is here. And it doesn’t have to be one of those crazy springs that is more like summer. Just a nice “normal” spring. Whatever the hell normal is now. So far, like winter, spring is trending cooler than average (look beyond the 65 of today). But that may make all the spring flowers last longer so long as it does not turn frigid. Which is to say – No More Polar Vortexes! You got that, Mother Nature? I certainly hope we understand one another.

Real signs of early spring are finally upon us. Every blog, tweet, and Facebook posting you come across is talking about the same group of plants. And that’s okay. We are all so hungry for the return of spring each year it is only natural. This year, our appetites for spring are ravenous! Nothing like a diet of barren white snow and subfreezing temperatures to make you drool over a simple meal of bright green and sunny yellow. I strongly suggest you get out there and eat it up.

 

Filed under: Greenhouse, Horticulture, IMA Staff

 

Getting “To The Point”

What do Brussels and Indianapolis have in common? Belgium spawned several artists who fell under the spell of Georges Seurat, the French artist who invented the technique of Pointillism (also known as Neo-Impressionism) upon seeing the ground-breaking painting “Sunday on the Grande Jatte” (The Art Institute of Chicago) at an exhibition in Brussels in 1886. These artists carried on Seurat’s innovative style, and the IMA is proud to have masterpieces in its collection by several of these Belgian masters as well as our own painting by Seurat and his French and Dutch followers.

Photo by David Miller.

Photo by David Miller.

However, our finest pointillist portraits are not on display now because they have made a trip to Brussels to be included in the IMA organized exhibition To The Point – The Neo-Impressionist Portrait, 1886-1904. Angie Day, Associate Registrar for Exhibitions, and David Miller, Chief Conservator and Senior Conservator of Paintings, also made the trip to Brussels to accompany the IMA paintings and install the exhibition at the ING Cultural Center.

Angie was responsible for managing the arrival of the paintings and works on paper that had been lent to the exhibition from prestigious collections in the US and Europe: including transport, unpacking, safe handling, and installation according to the lenders’ requirements and international

ING lighting designer with IMA’s "Portrait of Père Biart" by Henry van de Velde, 79.320. Photo by David Miller.

ING lighting designer with IMA’s “Portrait of Père Biart” by Henry van de Velde, 79.320. Photo by David Miller.

exhibition standards. David performed detailed condition reporting of each artwork to ensure that they had travelled safely and were stable for exhibition, and monitored that light levels, temperature and humidity settings, and security of the artworks were correct. The IMA team worked with Belgian customs brokers, contract art handlers and conservators, lenders’ couriers, and the ING co-curators over six long days to prepare the exhibition for its gala opening on February 17.

Angie and David will return to Brussels to bring the exhibition to the IMA, where it will open on June 15 as Face to Face: The Neo-Impressionist Portrait, 1886-1904.

Here it will include some fantastic artworks not shown in Belgium, including a Self-Portrait by Vincent Van Gogh – not to be missed!

Filed under: Art, Conservation, Exhibitions, Guest Bloggers, IMA Staff, Travel

 

Creating an Autoportrait: Alba Fernandez-Keys

Today's blogger, Alba Fernandez-Keys, is the head of the libraries and archives at the IMA.

Obscured beneath the simple words, numbers, shapes, and colors found in much of Robert Indiana’s work are essential memories and symbols of the artist’s life. Indiana’s visual vocabulary is encrypted with personal symbolism. This is particularly evident in his long series of Autoportraits.

To complement The Essential Robert Indiana, on view through May 4, the IMA invites visitors both on-site and online to Create Your Autoportrait using some of the same elements that Robert Indiana incorporates in to his. During the run of the exhibition, IMA staff members will be creating their own Autoportraits and blogging about it.

The fourth in this series features Alba Fernandez-Keys, head of the libraries and archives at the IMA.

autoportrait_afk_031714_01

I’ve spent the majority of my professional career with the IMA Library and Archives so this department figures prominently in my auto-portrait. I have worked at the IMA for almost 14 years in various capacities—I am currently the Head of the Libraries and Archives. I graduated from the University of Arizona in Tucson.  It was the job at the IMA that brought me from the sunny Southwest to snowy — but beautiful — Indy.

Ledger dated 1908.

Ledger dated 1908.

The library was first listed in the annual report as an individual department of the John Herron Art Institute in 1908. The first item accessioned in the ledger also dates from this year. What began as a small group of books and magazines donated by members has now grown to be a collection of over 100,000 items in multiple formats and languages. When the new IMA building opened in 1971 (at our current location on the former Lilly Estate) the library was named in honor of Eleanor Evans Stout, trustee and board officer from 1968 to 1972. Green, purple and orange were the three colors used in the original design of the library.

autoportrait_afk_031714_03

The old library on Krannert Pavilion.

This year marks the 4th anniversary of the establishment of the IMA Archives. Starting an archives is a huge endeavor that requires dedicated staff to organize, arrange and process large volumes of historical materials. I think of the Archives as the place where we maintain our institutional memory. Many of the decisions our staff make with regards to our collections and buildings are based on documents and correspondence preserved by our department. Although we still have a lot of work to do, we are proud to have several  fully processed collections accessible to researchers and are in the middle of a large digitization project, Documenting Modern Living: Digitizing the Miller House and Garden.

Filed under: Audience Engagement, Exhibitions, Guest Bloggers, IMA Staff

 

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