Behind the Scenes: African Art Storage

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A picture of the author in front of Racks 5 and 6. Photo: Marianne Weldon.

 

Hello! My name is Allison, and I am a graduate student in the Winterthur Art Conservation program at the University of Delaware. I received a summer internship placement at Bryn Mawr College to develop my preventive conservation skills. While treatment-focused conservation is concerned with knowing how to stabilize and repair individual objects, preventive conservation is focused on controlling the environment where those objects are stored and displayed through HVAC control, pest management, emergency planning, and storage and housing. With good preventive measures in place, there is a low risk for new damage to occur that may result in the need for specialized treatment. For this reason, a lot of museums and collections are focusing their efforts on preventive conservation, and it is a skill set I wanted to develop.

When I connected with Bryn Mawr Special Collections, the African collection and its storage layout was identified as one in need of evaluation and reorganization. Marianne Weldon, the Collections Manager for Art & Artifacts, and I discussed the following goals:

  1. To assess the layout of the collection space and reorganize the African collection objects to improve ease of access and safe handling.
  2. To examine the collection housings and determine where there was a need for adjustments or altogether new housing.

An overall view of Canaday 204 before my reorganization. Many types of objects from multiple collections are housed in this space.

 

 

 

When I began, I could see that all of the collections are overcrowded. But my project was focused on the African collections. These were located across five stationary shelving units, three rolling racks, and two cabinets with pull out shelves. Our main concerns were the proximity of some items to the ceiling, which can be a fire hazard, and the difficult nature of accessing some of the large but fragile objects, such as dance crests and headdresses with suspended elements. The priorities of the reorganization became regaining a ceiling clearance of 18 inches wherever possible and making retrieval and handling safer for the user and the object.

Some objects that are tricky to handle were stored on the highest shelves where they were hard to see and difficult to handle safely.

 

Work began in a hybrid format. My days on site were spent collecting data. I was given a list of the objects that comprised the African collections and slowly but surely I worked my way through it. I took notes about the objects themselves (materials, geographic origin, name and use) as well as about the housing they were in, be it contained within a box or wrapped in plastic or both. While this data collection was time consuming, by the end I had a good understanding of the materials I was working with and a good intuition for where everything was in the space.

A small snapshot of the numerous spreadsheets that kept me organized all summer.

 

 

At home I spent time researching methods to approach storage reorganization. Overcrowding is a problem that every collection ultimately faces, regardless of size, so I knew I didn’t necessarily need to reinvent the wheel. Entire reorganization systems have been developed, and there are brief guidelines published by organizations like the National Park Service. As luck would have it, a comparison of the most popular methods was written in 20141 and this was a big help in determining the pros and cons of each approach.

After comparing some options, I had several takeaways.

  1. Accuracy is important and will save you time and effort
  2. Much of what has been published is designed with creating new spaces from scratch in mind, rather than making minor adjustments
  3. There is no one perfect system that can address the needs of every project

By far the most robust system I found is the RE-ORG2 program put together by ICCROM, the International Center for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Heritage. This program is based on a workshop developed by ICCROM and UNESCO to introduce individuals with little prior experience to collection storage management and design. It lays out step by step, with worksheets included, how to assess the current state of a collection, makes plans for a redesign, and execute object moves and relocations. There is a survey that allows a user to examine four areas that impact collection storage (Management, Building and Space, Collection, and Furniture and Small Equipment) and get a score for how their collection ranks in each area.

A screenshot of  the RE-ORG program’s “scoring” chart for the African Collections at the onset of this project. Calculated scores are circled.

 

While I knew I had no control over most of these factors, I found the exercise of filling out the survey a useful way to get a handle on how many ways a collection can be impacted by its surroundings both from a material and managerial standpoint. I was pleased to see that in each category except for “Building and Space,” only minor adjustments were recommended. This solidified my decision to work with my own process, informed by the research I had done, but not prescribing to any one method because none exactly suited my needs.

Each box and item in the collection is a custom size, so I couldn’t make rough estimates based on standards. Because I was dealing with a relatively small space and a manageable number of objects, I decided that I needed to think at an object-specific level to find the best layout.

When I would talk about this project to friends and family, I would often say, “I’m basically playing a big game of 3D Tetris.”

 

From the measurements of each box and item, I knew I was going to have to change some of the heights on the shelving units to bring the taller objects away from the ceiling. What I needed was a quick and easy way to play with space and see what could fit where without having to move the shelves and objects ten times over. Enter the computer aided design (CAD) app Shapr3D3. Using my iPad, I could literally play 3D Tetris by modeling the whole storage room, shelving units, and objects to scale. From there I could adjust the heights of shelves move objects around and get a plan in place all without having to move a thing in the real world. Starting from zero CAD experience, this intuitive app was a game changer for me, and I can see it having many uses in my future work.

A screenshot from Shapr3D showing Racks 4-7 with adjusted shelf heights and specific objects in proposed locations. This is exactly where these objects ended up!

 

 

With a plan mapped out, it was time to enlist some help for the physical move. Margalit Schindler, a classmate in my graduate program, visited for a day to help adjust the heights of shelves and make some of the initial object moves. With a bit of muscle and a lot of clear communication and teamwork, we made the necessary adjustments and brought most of the fragile and hard to reach objects into their new locations. Having a second pair of hands and an outside critical eye was a huge help at this phase of the project. Over the next two days I finished the rest of the object moves, and I am pleased to say that all of my goals were met. Fragile headdresses from up-high traded places with sturdy boxes that were down low, heavy items that were moved to shallower shelves, and the ceiling clearance I wanted was regained nearly everywhere.

A view of Racks 4-7 after the reorganization. The objects that were once high up and on the back of deep shelves are now accessible from the floor with minimal reaching required. Photo: Joy Kruse.

With the big move complete, I was able to focus briefly on housing adjustments. When I was gathering measurements, I took note of the boxes and items I thought could benefit from new padding, wrapping or housing. With the help of Joy Kruse ’23 and Katie Perry ’21, we were able to implement these changes, improving visibility and better immobilizing some of the objects housed in boxes. We also got to discuss what the ideal conditions for objects housed within boxes are in general and the numerous methods and materials one can use to achieve them. It was a good chance for me to practice my teaching the skills and an excellent way for the students to be introduced to different aspects of collection management and preservation. In the end we adjusted more boxes than I had planned, and even built a brand-new box! Many hands truly do make for light work.

Joy and Katie working on different elements of a new box for the toy elephant pictured below.

Previously wrapped in tissue paper and resting on its side, the new mount on its underside holds the elephant upright, relieving pressure from its delicate ears and preventing it from tipping when the box is handled.

I am so grateful that Marianne and Bryn Mawr trusted me with this project. I gained project management and technical skills, while contributing to the preservation of an excellent collection. I am also pleased that this work can contribute to the overall efforts of Special Collections to confront the legacies of racism and colonialism within their collections. As a conservator, I ask myself two questions when I work on a project: how is my work benefiting the object(s) temporarily in my care and how is my work facilitating interactions with the object(s) be it for research, educational, spiritual purposes or otherwise? Preservation for the sake of making a thing last longer is empty without the motivation of human interaction or engagement with the object driving the work. My hope is that the improved access to the African collections will allow more opportunities for research that can illuminate the complex histories of these objects and aid in any relevant repatriation.

 Footnotes

1 Lambert, Simon & Tania Mottus. 2014. “Museum Storage Space Estimations: In Theory and Practice.” ICOM-CC 17th Triennial Conference, 2014 Melbourne.

2 RE-ORG: A methodology for reorganizing museum storage developed by ICCROM and UNESCO https://www.iccrom.org/themes/preventive-conservation/re-org/resources

3 Shapr3D is a computer aided design (CAD) app. During this project, the iOS version of the app was used on an iPad Air 4 with a 2nd generation Apple Pencil. https://www.shapr3d.com/

 

Allison Kelley is a graduate fellow in the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation. This project was completed in partial fulfilment of her second-year curriculum. All images taken or collected by the author unless otherwise indicated.

Triarte: Newly Improved!!!

Since Spring Break LITS staff and students (Megan Sligar (PhD candidate CNEA), Kaylee Verkruisen (Graduate Student, HART), Esme Read ‘22 and Katie Perry ‘21) have been working to upgrade our online collections database with a new server, software and expanded cataloging.  Upgrading the software gave us more robust features for the user. 

New or Greatly improved features include: Browse by Donor, Exhibitions, Publications and User Portfolios. The Advanced Search has been enhanced and the Advanced Search of Artists (including ULAN biographies), Exhibitions, and Bibliography is new.  Additionally, Donor Biographies, an Enhanced Bibliographic Section with Images of Comparanda and a Conservation Section for some Object Records are all new.

Browse by Exhibition lists Exhibitions that Tri-Co Objects have been in on campus and at outside institutions internationally. Within the exhibition you can find things like the objects exhibited, installation views, and catalogs.

Here you can see information about the recent conservation of The Bibliophile; Accession Number: 2011.6.121. The conservation report and technical study conducted by The University of Delaware/Winterthur Museum Art Conservation Program are included along with images before, during and after the treatment.

 

 

We hope you will take the time to explore Triarte.brynmawr.edu and let us know what features you would like to see expanded and what features you find most helpful.

Madonna and Child by Romare Beardon goes on loan

Madonna and Child by Romare Howard Bearden 1945 Oil (?) on canvas 38 in. x 30 in. (96.52 cm x 76.2 cm) Gift of Roy R. Neuberger and Marie Salant Neuberger, Class of 1930 (1948.3)

Bryn Mawr College’s painting Madonna and Child by Romare Bearden will be in an upcoming exhibit at the Neuberger Museum of Art open from September 10, 2017 through December 22nd 2017.  For more information about the exhibition see their website: https://www.neuberger.org/

 

 

Crafting and Visualizing Models: Photogrammetry at Bryn Mawr – by Danielle Smotherman Bennett

Cover of the Training Manual

On June 6th-9th, Mark Mudge (President), Carla Schroer (Founder and Director), and Marlin Lum, (Imaging Director) of Cultural Heritage Imaging (CHI) visited Bryn Mawr College and trained interested recent alumnae, students, faculty, and staff in Photogrammetry for Scientific Documentation of Cultural Heritage through a four-day workshop.  Mark, Carla, and Marlin were a wonderful and welcoming team that made photogrammetry very understandable and accessible to a group with a widely disparate set of skills. CHI is same group responsible for the creation of Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI), a type of computational photography utilizing a movable light source on an unmoving surface with a static camera position that was introduced to the study of objects in Special Collections in 2014. RTI is used presently in Bryn Mawr College’s collections and in many other institutions world-wide. CHI’s training and standards for photogrammetry are another important effort of this group for creating practical methods for digital imaging and preservation that will now be available at Bryn Mawr College.

Model as a mesh showing the position and angles in which photographs used in the model were taken.

For those of you who have not previously encountered photogrammetry, it is a type of computational photography, or digitally captured and processed images, that combines a series of carefully captured images to produce precise 3D surface data. While the technology has been around for awhile, photogrammetry has improved over the years through refined camera technologies and techniques, as well as through improvements in the software. The process is relatively quick, once you know what you are doing, portable, and uses standard photography equipment. All of these factors make it a very accessible technique to an archaeologist such as myself, both for fieldwork as well as for travelling to specific museums and sites in the future. The resulting models can be measured with a high degree of accuracy, even when the subject is not present or even available in the future. Objects may not be accessible to scholars for a variety of reasons, varying from being in a closed museum, located across the country or even the world, as well as for more dire reasons such as if an object has been lost, damaged, or completely destroyed.

Carla lecturing the first day of training

Trainees attending a lecture

Camera set up and Mark showing Zach Silvia, Sarah Luckey, and Del Ramers how to adjust the settings through the laptop

The trainees at this four-day workshop included individuals from collections management, librarians, digital scholarship specialists, anthropologists, and archaeologists, as well as others who joined for specific lectures. In particular, many of us were interested in the use of photogrammetry for the study of artifacts, architecture, sondages, and even bones, to create models. These scaled models can be used to measure features of these objects, to accurately record condition, to allow for more direct comparisons between scaled models of objects, as well as to serve as a digital archive for the future. As an archaeologist who studies Greek vases, objects which are spread out in museums and private collections around the world, can be sold and moved, lost, or broken, and often have limited angles in published photographs, it was very important for me to learn to create accurate models and to understand how to identify the inaccuracies I encounter in models as part of this training.

Casey Barrier getting photographs of the bottom of a vessel

The training divided into lectures and practical lessons, which consisted of both camera shoots and computer processing of the images. The practical lessons featured us breaking up into groups, so that everyone could get hands-on experience. Most of the training took place in the Carpenter Library, with excursions around campus to shoot particular objects as the subjects of our practical lessons. These objects include the two casts of reliefs and books in Carpenter Library, a plaque and marble sarcophagus in Thomas Cloisters, two vases in Special Collections, and the marble bench outside of Dalton. The diversity of subject objects provided us with experience in capturing images for photogrammetry in a variety of settings and with objects of varied scale that each required their own problem-solving.

Carla showing trainees (Caroline Vansickle, Sarah Luckey, Marianne Weldon, Zach Silvia, and Danielle Smotherman Bennett) how to adjust camera settings before a large project

Those of us who own personal Digital SLR cameras learned how to capture images for photogrammetry on our own cameras, but others used the cameras owned by CHI or Bryn Mawr College. The other equipment we used included a remote switch, remote flash(es), a monopod, a tripod, color card, scale bars, and a turntable, although not all of that was required for every shoot. For instance, at times we could use the ambient lighting, especially outdoors, but other times we needed to use flash or two in order to create an even illumination over the object surface. Similarly, we could only use the turntables occasional since a turntable is only practical for small, movable, and light-weight objects. Occasionally we used other materials, such as when we had to find make-shift back drops to cover reflective backgrounds, or use white foam board to reflect light.

Mark observing the creation of a model by one team (pictured: Matthew Jameson, Camilla MacKay, Del Ramers and Alicia Peaker)

After pre-processing the images through Adobe Bridge, we produced models through the use of Agisoft Photoscan Professional and the very capable Visual Resources computers. The resulting models and data can be shared with scholars around the world through as the models themselves through photogrammetry software, but also as 3D PDFs, which can be viewed in many PDF viewers. Thus, along with being a method of digital archiving of these objects, photogrammetry models can also provide more accessibility to collections.

Along with learning about how to capture and create accurate photogrammetry models, Mark, Carla, and Marlin also taught us about creating and sending verifiable data with our models. One aspect of this is generating a report within the photogrammetry software itself that contains information as to the camera information, number of images, camera locations, camera calibration, scale, error, and processing procedure and time. Another aspect is the importance of recording the process in a Digital Lab Notebook, which can be sent along with the data itself and the report to scholars looking at or using the model. This recording process includes not only the camera specifications, which are already included in the report, or only the subject of the project, but also who was involved, what equipment was used along with the camera, where and when the images were captured, and other possibly significant information.

Through the very capable training we received, we can now share the methodology that we have learned with others in the community. We can also apply the methodology and use the resulting photogrammetry models to our own research. Photogrammetry for scientific documentation has many implications for the future study of objects and architecture, in which Bryn Mawr College can now take part.

 

De-Installation of Presidential Portraits in Thomas Great Hall

IMG_8558(1) IMG_8550The presidential portraits that hang in Thomas Great Hall were de-installed today to protect them during repair work on the building’s roof. Professional art-handlers were hired to take the paintings down, to pack them, and then transport them off campus to climate-controlled art storage. The portraits will return in November of 2016.

More information about the portraits can be found here: http://triarte.brynmawr.edu/PRT537IMG_8578

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Bryn Mawr College Lends Artwork to Mary Cassatt Retrospective in Japan

marycassattTwo of Bryn Mawr College’s prized Mary Cassatt prints are now on view in Yokohama, Japan. The artist’s retrospective at the Yokohama Museum of Art includes 80 works, many of which are on loan from museums all over the world. The exhibition travels to a second venue, The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, in September.

Bryn Mawr has loaned Afternoon Tea Party and Woman Bathing (see below). Both are part of a series of ten color prints exploring the domestic activities and roles of women in the nineteenth century. Cassatt translated her admiration of Japanese ukiyo-e prints into this series, all ten of which are included in the current retrospective.

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Bryn Mawr’s Collections Manager, Marianne Weldon, couriered the prints to Japan, ensuring their safe arrival. The crate had to be inspected in Philadelphia by TSA, after which point it was never left alone.  Either Marianne, or a US Customs-assigned security agent, was with the works of art as they traveled first from Philadelphia to JFK airport, where they were placed on a pallet with works from other institutions, and then onto Tokyo, Japan.

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Once in Tokyo the works were transported by truck to the Yokohama Museum of Art (along with couriers from the represented institutions) to await Japanese Customs Agents, who authorized opening the crate for installation.

 

 

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As you can see, the prints have arrived safely and are a wonderful addition to the exhibition.

For more information about the exhibition, visit:
http://yokohama.art.museum/eng/exhibition/index/20160625-466.html

X-Radiographs of a Mummified Crocodile

Mummified Crocodile

ca. 1550 BCE – 600 CE
Linen and faunal remains
12 11/16 in. x 1 3/16 in. x 7/8 in. (32.3 cm x 3 cm x 2.2 cm)
Gift of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia
24225
Geography: Africa, Egypt
Classification: Raw Materials and Organic Remains; Organic Remains

Today our mummified crocodile, #24225 was x-rayed to help verify that the skeletal structure was in fact that of a crocodile and not some other type of lizard.

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The x-radiographs created will become part of the object’s permanent record.

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Lab 5: pXRF

On December 4th, for our final lab session, Dr. Anthony Lagalante, from Villanova University presented a lecture and lab session on utilizing a portable X-ray Fluorescence Spectrometer.

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Dr. Lagalante demonstrating the spectrum capture software.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Portable XRF units are commonly used to help non-destructively identify the surface elemental composition of metal alloys, pigments and other fine art and archaeological artifacts.  The data is generally qualitative when used in a non-destructive manner.

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Analyzing pigment on an Egyptian polychromed wood sarcophagus fragment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Students were able to operate the instrument and the computer during the data capture and looked at a variety of object types including; Roman coins, polychromed Egyptian materials, and Greek pottery.

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Determining where to take a spectrum on a polychromed terracotta Ushabti.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Analysis of differences in the surface composition in Attic pottery between the black-glaze and clay body.

New Features on TriArte!

Triarte

There have been a few upgrades to TriArte this summer that provide more information about individual objects and enable new ways for users to interact with the collections.

 

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Provenience, Bibliography, Comparanda, and Catalogue Raisonné

1. Expanded Bibliographic Information

First, more information has been made available that expands upon the existing general information about the object itself in four new sections added to an item’s page. The history of ownership for the object leading up to its arrival at Bryn Mawr College is under Provenance History. Sources that have published about the object are included in the Bibliography List and the Catalogue Raisonné notes the authoritative publication. A Comparanda List provides references to objects that are considered similar to our examples. These new sections present some of the ongoing research to the general public that students, faculty, scholars, and staff have completed over the years.

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Mapped Creation and Findspot Locations for P.93

2. Additional Map Features

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Attic Black-Figure Kylix (Drinking Cup) Fragment (P.93)

Second, TriArte now maps data on both the creation and find spots for objects. On a map within the record, visitors can trace the journeys of exported vases or coins in circulation. For example, on the map above the Creation Location (Athens) and its eventual Findspot (Egypt) for the Attic Black-Figure Kylix Fragment with a Gorgoneion (P.93)  is indicated.

**It is exciting to note that these two sections are continuing to expand on a daily basis with additions and corrections.**

3. New Feature: Portfolios

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A Portfolio of our favorites! Portraits of Bryn Mawr College Presidents.

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Tagged: A wreath was once visible in the figure’s hand. It was likely removed during an aggressive cleaning prior to 1905.

Third, Students and Professors can now create their own “Portfolios” on TriArte. Similar to the existing portfolios under the Featured Collections tab, one can save a collection of objects that are of interest for a class or for a project. A quick email to collections (artandartifacts@brynmawr.edu) will provide you with a username with which you can login to your own version of TriArte and start creating portfolios. Students can collect a group of objects in a portfolio to examine for a paper on Byzantine coins or Daguerreotypes. Professors can plan out visits for their classes to collections or store objects of interest together for future research. Furthermore, portfolio users can “tag” part of an object with notes, such as on P.95 here.

 

 

 

So check out our new features on TriArte!