BY CARRIE ROBERTS, Conservator, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology
The Kelsey Conservation Lab recently hosted two hands-on conservation workshops for PhD candidates in the Interdepartmental Program in Classical Art and Archaeology (IPCAA): one covering ceramics and the other copper alloy (bronze) conservation. Our goals were to help familiarize the students with archaeological conservation best practices, learn about condition issues and field recovery, and gain some useful hand skills. In essence, we wanted to provide them with conservation information they could take with them into the field.
The first workshop covered ceramics conservation, beginning with an overview of deterioration phenomena. We spent some time looking at artifacts that demonstrated springing, spalling, and other structural condition problems; and we talked about lifting, transport, and temporary storage, as well as long-term ceramic storage considerations. We then proceeded with the hands-on part: the smashing and subsequent reconstruction of thrift store ceramics (the most challenging object proved to be the purse-shaped cookie jar adopted by Shannon Ness). The students learned how to make their own Paraloid B-72, a conservation-grade adhesive, and label their homemade adhesive tubes with hazardous materials labels. Fun times!
The second workshop covered copper alloy conservation. This time we discussed deterioration, field recovery, and the goals of cleaning small metal finds (to stabilize artifacts and reveal information). The students participated in a cleaning exercise, where they learned how to use various tools — from bamboo skewers to scalpels — to clean archaeological copper alloy artifacts. They wore Optivisors during this step of the workshop. These magnifiers allowed them to better see the progress of their cleaning. The Optivisors also provided a fun talking point, as they basically transform the wearer into a lab tech/Star Trek-looking character. We finished by making Ethafoam cavity-cut supports for their artifacts and talking about the pros and cons of using silica gel in microclimate storage.
We conservators had a lot of fun working with the IPCAA students. They had many questions for us and participated in the hands-on sections with real enthusiasm. I think they’ll be taking some useful information with them into the field. We’ve benefitted too; teaching drives home the fact that one of the best preservation strategies we have is to share our knowledge with others. We hope to provide interested students with other conservation workshops in the coming years!