Pukerua Bay School Museum visit the Conservation Lab

Aurelia, Paddy and Isaac visited Te Papa’s conservation team to find out all about picture framing and paper and painting conservation.

Pukerua Bay School Museum with Te Papa team

Pukerua Bay School Museum team and the Te Papa team, 2016. Te Papa

Our friends from Pukerua Bay School Museum have recently created their own YouTube channel to help them reach out to their audiences.

One of our favourite videos, so far, has involved the children explaining the process of restoring a painting for their current exhibition – The Secrets of the Art.

Video: Restoring a painting by Pukerua Bay School Museum.

As a result, Te Papa’s Conservation team invited Aurelia, Paddy and Isaac to see their lab space last week and korero (talk) more about the important mahi (work) that happens here.

Pukerua Bay School Museum has many works on paper in their collections, so it was great to first meet up with Jennifer Cauchi (Conservator Paper) and see the prints she is currently working on.

Talking with Jennifer Cauchi, Conservator Paper

Talking with Jennifer Cauchi, Conservator Paper, 2016. Te Papa

We found out how she works to remove materials like sticky tape, and uses watercolour paints for retouching (because the results aren’t permanent).

Sometimes Jennie needs to reinforce paper with a backing, put it under very bright lights, or even wash it, to bring it back to its best condition.

As paper conservation work is very detail orientated, having some magnifying specs definitely helps!

Looking even closer with magnifying specs

Looking even closer with magnifying specs, 2016. Te Papa

Linda Waters (Conservator Paintings) is helping determine the presence of a hidden Mervyn E Taylor mural in the old Soil building in Taita through collecting and analysing paint samples.

You can find out more details about this project in her blogs ‘Can you see through the paint?’ and ‘Using paint analysis to find a hidden mural‘.

Linda talked to us about the processes involved, and helped us to position and look at some samples from the project under the microscope.

We quickly noticed that there were several layers of white paint on top of that of the brightly coloured mural. Conservation must sometimes feel be a bit like treasure hunting, we think!

Looking through the microscope

Looking through the microscope, 2016. Te Papa

Cross-section 100X from top of mural showing artist's red/brown paint under two layers of white

Cross-section 100X from top of mural showing artist’s red/brown paint under two layers of white, 2016. Te Papa

Cross-section under the microscope at 100X showing a thin layer of the artist’s blue paint

Cross-section under the microscope at 100X showing a thin layer of the artist’s blue paint, 2016. Te Papa

Next we met Tijana Cvetkovic (Conservator Painting), who showed us two paintings she is restoring:

  • Mount Rolleston, Otira Gorge, West Coast, New Zealand (circa 1911) by Petrus van der Velden (1958-0008-1)
  • Huru Te Hiaro (c.1884) by Gottfried Lindauer (1992-0035-1632)

Tijana asked Aurelia, Paddy and Issac to share their ideas about what conservation work might need to be done on these pieces, and how they would approach it. She then enhanced and extended the children’s understanding through outlining her own practice.

Tijana explaining the stretcher

Tijana explaining the stretcher, 2016. Te Papa

Linda showing the children some of the different chemicals used in painting conservation

Linda showing the children some of the different chemicals used in painting conservation, 2016. Te Papa

We discovered that painting conservation also requires practical skills (like knowing how to take a painting off a stretcher so a tear can be fixed); chemistry knowledge (like knowing what materials will dissolve a vanish – or having the ability to test until you do); and artistic flair (for activities like exact colour mixing).

Painting conservation can also take a lot of time – Tijana thinks that the van der Velden might take a whole year to restore!

The children are shown a big oil painting

A big job ahead, 2016. Te Papa

Frames are of particular interest to the history curator from Pukerua Bay School Museum, and so we were very lucky to also have time with Matthew O’Reilly (Object Support – Framer of Paintings).

Matthew shared his process in making a frame-for-life for a painting. It starts with a lot of design thinking – because the frame he makes needs to fit the artwork based on its period and style.

Matthew showing us different styles of frame

Matthew showing us different styles of frame. This twisted style was popular in Victorian times, 2016. Te Papa

If the frame is going to be quite decorative, Matthew will often used a mouldable resinous plaster called composition ornament, or “compo” as part of his frames. This can be shaped using a carved negative mould in wood. Compo is most often used today in gilded picture frames.

Matthew with one of his relief carvings

Matthew with one of his carved negative moulds, 2016. Te Papa

Laura Jones (Art Education Specialist) and the children looking more closely at the example

Laura Jones (Art Education Specialist) and the children looking more closely at the example, 2016. Te Papa

Matthew also very kindly showed us some gold leaf used in gilding – which had everyone very excited!

Gold leaf used in gliding

Gold leaf used in gilding, 2016. Te Papa

Picking up such fine gold is a delicate process. Aside from a very special brush called a ‘gilder’s tip’, you need a minuscule amount of oil. Matthew recommends sweeping the brush over your forehead, or even hair – but he will also use Vaseline. 

These pictures show some of the process of gilding.

Laying out the gold leaf, Photograph by Matthew O'Reilly, Te Papa

Cutting and moving the gold leaf with a gilding knife. Photograph by Matthew O’Reilly, Te Papa

Wetting the area to be gilded with water. Photograph by Matthew O'Reilly, Te Papa

Preparing the area to be gilded. Photograph by Matthew O’Reilly, Te Papa

Measuring the leaf, Photograph by Matthew O'Reilly, Te Papa

Measuring the leaf, Photograph by Matthew O’Reilly, Te Papa

Placing gold onto wet surface, gently pressing down, Photograph by Matthew O'Reilly, Te Papa

Placing gold onto wet surface, gently pressing down, Photograph by Matthew O’Reilly, Te Papa

Burnishing, Photograph by Matthew O'Reilly, Te Papa

Burnishing, Photograph by Matthew O’Reilly, Te Papa

At the end of our visit, Aurelia, Paddy and Isaac were presented with their own conservation kit (with samples of pigments, canvas and paper, plus some scrap gold leaf!!) and to take back to their museum to help continue their restoration and framing work.

 

 

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