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Art & Science Collide: The IMA at Celebrate Science Indiana

Guest bloggers Fiona Beckett and Erica Schuler are painting conservators at the IMA.

On October 4, the Indianapolis Museum of Art was present in full strength at the annual Celebrate Science Indiana Fair at the Indiana State Fair Grounds. Conservation Scientist Gregory D. Smith along with Paintings Conservators Fiona Beckett and Erica Schuler demonstrated the link between science and art to fair-goers of all ages. Throughout the day, the IMA booth was filled with lively conversations about art conservation and conservation science, including the different analysis techniques that help conservators examine great works of art and reveal secrets invisible to the naked eye.

Fiona, Erica and Greg representing the IMA at the Celebrate Science Indiana Fair.

Fiona, Erica and Greg representing the IMA at the Celebrate Science Indiana Fair.

Using a photographic examination technique, visitors excitedly observed a painting in-situ with a specialized infrared camera, which allowed them to see beyond the upper paint layer and discover a hidden figure beneath. Guests analyzed artists’ materials with X-ray fluorescence, a technique used to identify the presence of elements (such as iron or lead). Once identified, these elements help the conservator determine which pigments were present on the artist’s palette.

For many, the highlight was handling the raw artists materials including 6,000 year-old lapis lazuli, a rare blue mineral once worth its weight in gold. Visitors also guessed the contents of a test tube containing cochineal insects, which are processed to make the red dye, carmine. Many were shocked to discover that the dye not only provided color for artworks, but is also present in many of today’s food and cosmetic products!

Visit us next year (Saturday, October 3, 2015) and see what else art and science have in common!

In the meantime, you can visit Coat of Many Colors at the IMA to discover how scientific imaging and dye analysis has helped us to pinpoint a creation date for an Uzbek garment.

Filed under: Art, Conservation, Education, Exhibitions, IMA Staff, Technology


#ArchivesMonth at the IMA


… and to celebrate, I am going to share items from some of my favorite collections in the IMA Archives. But first, you may be wondering, “What is an archives?”

An archives is a place where people go to find information. But rather than gathering information from books as you would in a library, people who do research in archives often gather firsthand facts, data, and evidence from letters, reports, notes, memos, photographs, audio and video recordings, and other primary sources.

- The Society of American Archivists

As the IMA’s Archivist, I manage over 130 years of institutional records and special collections that relate to all aspects of the museum’s historic and current operations. While I often work with documents and photographs, the IMA Archives includes textiles, architectural drawings, landscape and sculptural models, scrapbooks, films, and a variety of other unique materials – not limited to the physical. As the IMA and its staff move further into the digital age, I do my best to combat the possibility of a “digital dark age” for the museum by ensuring that both born digital and digitized electronic records are preserved and made accessible for current and future needs.

While the museum’s records date back over 130 years, the IMA Archives was officially established only four years ago. In that short time, some very amazing collections of archival material have become available for research. Not only do these collections document the operations of the museum and the work of IMA departments and governing bodies, but they also give a glimpse into the lives of the people who made the IMA what it is today — our founders, donors, staff members, and patrons throughout the museum’s history. By documenting the actions of these individuals, the archival material also speaks volumes about the vital role that the arts have played in our city and throughout Indiana for generations.

The following are some of my favorite collections and individual items from the IMA Archives …

IMA Exhibition Records
The IMA Archives Exhibition Records document the planning and execution of exhibitions from the first exhibition of the Art Association of Indianapolis in 1883 to the present day. The records of individual exhibitions may include checklists, exhibition catalogues, ephemera, images of installations and artwork, correspondence, press clippings and other documents.

Indiana Art and Artists
Indiana artists and their works are well-represented in the collections of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and have naturally found their way into many of the collections within the IMA Archives. Photographs, correspondence, scrapbooks, exhibition ephemera, scale models, and other artifacts in the IMA Archives document the relationship between the museum and Indiana’s artists since the founding of the Art Association of Indianapolis in 1883.

Onya La Tour Papers (M005)
An avid art collector and dealer, Onya La Tour traveled extensively and made connections with many modern artists. After amassing her personal collection of artwork, La Tour returned to her home state of Indiana and founded the Indiana Museum for Modern Art in Brown County. Before her return to Indiana, La Tour served as director of the Federal Art Gallery  and the Onya La Tour Gallery in New York City. The collection contains La Tour’s diaries, daybooks, correspondence, personal memorabilia and research files, exhibit and gallery brochures and catalogues, published books and journals, and historical material related to the Onya La Tour art collection at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Select items from the Onya La Tour Papers will be on display October 17, 2014, through April 12, 2015, in the exhibition, The Onya La Tour Collection: Modernism in Indiana.

Miller House and Garden Collection (M003)
The Miller House and Garden, one of the country’s most highly regarded examples of mid-century Modernist architecture, was designed by Eero Saarinen, with interiors by Alexander Girard and landscape design by Daniel Urban Kiley. Commissioned by industrialist and philanthropist J. Irwin Miller and his wife Xenia Simons Miller in 1953, the Miller House and Garden was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2000. In 2009, members of the Miller family donated the house and garden, along with many of its original furnishings, and the archives collection to the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The archival collection documents the design, construction, decoration, and maintenance of the Miller House and Garden from 1953 to 2009 and includes documents, photographs, architectural and landscape drawings, and material samples. This collection is currently being digitized by IMA Archives staff, and unique and interesting finds are shared on the Documenting Modern Living Tumblr.

Filed under: Art, Conservation, Design, History, IMA Staff, Indiana, Technology


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


IBM Selectric II Typewriter

Today's blogger is Mary Inchauste, Design Arts Society Board member and Associate Principal at CSO Architects, Inc.

Right near the entrance to the new Contemporary Design gallery, proudly displayed is an electric typewriter, a big blue IBM Selectric II.

The original Selectric was introduced in July 1961, and changed the way offices functioned until the advent of the personal computer. The industrial design is credited to Eliot Noyes. The Selectric II entered the market in 1971 with additional features.

Eliot Fette Noyes, designer (American, 1910- 1977), The IBM Corporation, manufacturer IBM Selectric II Typewriter, 1971 Indianapolis Museum of Art, Gift of Lee and Dorothy Alig, 2011.283

Eliot Fette Noyes, designer (American, 1910- 1977), The IBM Corporation, manufacturer; IBM Selectric II Typewriter, 1971; Indianapolis Museum of Art, Gift of Lee and Dorothy Alig, 2011.283

I had to smile as I noticed it in the case, remembering the ones my Dad had in his dental office. It was a big deal, and cost a lot. As Dad recalls, people thought he was crazy spending that kind of money. At the time, there were no effective office copier, no word processors. The Selectric Typewriters had many ingenious features that opened up a whole world of possibilities in a small office and saved lots of time (efficiency!) for his staff of one.

Manual typewriters used fixed keys, which moved up to strike the carbon and paper to make each letter. Some practice and skill was necessary to get the fingers to push the keys hard enough to make a good imprint, and rhythm to hit the keys in a way that didn’t jumble the flying letter arms. The paper carriage moved across the machine and, to start another line, one pulled the lever (advancing the paper one line) and then pushed it to the right to start position. Only one typeface and type size was available with no way to change it. You had either a pica or elite type size, one typeface.

For a good typist, the manual typewriter worked fine for letters and manuscripts, but not so great for forms and other kinds of documents, as needed in a dental practice. For me, the manual typewriter was a significant challenge. I was terrible on the keys – it was tough to get consistent pressure on the letters. I made lots of mistakes, so had to either start over or try the challenge of erasing tape and white out. Despite my efforts to learn to spell, I made lots of spelling mistakes also, with no easy way to quickly correct them.

Photo courtesy of:

Photo courtesy of: us__en_us__ibm100__selectric__selectric_2__900x746.jpg

The innovative typewriters by IBM were electric, so mastering the key stokes was so much easier. The type was positioned on a “ball” with four rows of 22 letters. The mechanism moved the ball, rotating and raising it to the letter matching your key stroke, then “throwing” the ball against the ribbon and paper. Every letter had the same pressure and looked the same. The ball moved across the paper which remained stationary. At the end of a line, just hit the return key, no worries about not getting paper in the right place, and faster!

The type balls were interchangeable, opening up the flood gates for users’ creativity! Type “balls” are available in pica or elite size, italic, different fonts and also with foreign language alphabets, scientific characters … endless possibilities! Eventually, Dad had six type balls and I remember typing high school math and science reports using the scientific symbols. One had a conversion chart (looking like a keyboard) showing “A” key = which scientific symbol. Sounds tedious today, but a big deal then. One could type a paragraph in italics or increase the type size, such as a heading, very easily in the same page. These type balls were genius!

Another great feature was the erase key. Prior typing errors had to be corrected by manually moving the paper back to position of the error letter, inserting a white erase paper and typing the wrong letter to be covered by the white carbon. The carriage would still advance, so you had to realign the paper again and type the new letter. Or use the liquid white out, wait for it to dry and try to line up the text to retype. Either way, mistakes were pretty glaring. Usually it was best to just start over on a new piece of paper. Blah! With the IBM Selectric, you could just back space to the letter or word that needed to be changed, and press the erase key. Type the wrong letter and it would bring up a white erasing ribbon, remove/cover the error and not advance the ball. Then type the correct letter. Easy!

My third favorite feature was the memory. Depending on the models, the IBM Selectric could save text and reproduce it. The typewriter Dad had in the late ’60s could save whole documents, up to a limited number of characters, about two pages. Type your document, then insert another piece of paper and it would type out an exact copy from memory.

The whole story of the IBM Selectric II is pretty amazing and highlights the impact that good industrial design has on our lives. If you want to learn more, there is a wealth of information available online. Check it out!

Filed under: Design, Guest Bloggers, Technology


Style and Science: Assessing a Rembrandt, Part 2

Today's blogger is Jacquelyn N. Coutré, the Allen Whitehill Clowes Curatorial Fellow, European Painting and Sculpture before 1800.

Figure 1:  Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606-1669), Self-Portrait, about 1629 Indianapolis Museum of Art, Courtesy of the Clowes Fund, C10063

Figure 1: Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606-1669), Self-Portrait, about 1629
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Courtesy of the Clowes Fund, C10063

In the last posting on the Rembrandt self-portrait in the Clowes Collection (Fig. 1), we considered how art historians evaluated its status according to characteristics visible on the picture’s surface. But we can also gather scientific data to support this stylistic analysis.

In the early 1980s, IMA conservator David A. Miller examined the surface of the painting with a stereomicroscope and looked below its surface using X-rays (Fig. 3). The high magnification showed the “RHL” monogram to be contemporary with the painting, which means that it was applied while the painting was still wet. The x-radiograph, in turn, provided important insights into the artist’s creative process. It illustrates, in fact, two significant changes below the surface: the beret was originally poised more squarely on the head, and the contour of the proper left shoulder had previously extended further to the right. In other words, the artist had made changes to his painting while working on it, changes that would not have been visible to a student in his workshop or a later artist making a copy. The best of the other versions of this painting, the one in Atami, Japan, shows a strong correlation between the surface and underlying layers – telling evidence for the Atami version being a copy after the Clowes original! (It also omits those pesky pimples.)

Figure 3: X-radiograph of Figure 1

Figure 3: X-radiograph of Figure 1

But could the Clowes panel have been done by a later artist in order to look like a painting by the 17th-century master?

The investigations of Peter Klein, a wood biologist at the University of Hamburg, in 1999 help us to understand more about the panel upon which the painting was executed. It is made of oak and comes from the Baltic region, a profile typical of panels used by 17th-century Dutch artists. Relying on the facts that tree rings grow at different rates in different years and that trees of the same species in a particular region will show similar growth patterns, Dr. Klein has determined that the youngest growth ring in our panel dates to 1581. Add on a few years for the panel to dry and become less porous, and the painting could have been executed as early as 1598. While this may seem quite a few years before our estimated date of c. 1629, it confirms that the panel was ready to be used during Rembrandt’s lifetime.

Combining the stylistic and technical evidence yields the conclusion that our painting is indeed a self-portrait by Rembrandt. What was first supported only by connoisseurship is now augmented by scientific study – a wonderful demonstration of the important role that science plays in the museum.

Filed under: Art, Guest Bloggers, Technology, The Collection, Uncategorized


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