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Tuesday, May 17 • 3:30pm - 4:00pm
(Research and Technical Studies) Binders and pigments used in traditional Aboriginal bark paintings

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In conjunction with the upcoming exhibition Everywhen: The eternal present in Indigenous art from Australia, the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies, Harvard Art Museums has conducted a major survey of the pigments and binders used in traditional Aboriginal bark paintings from Arnhem Land, Groote Eylandt, the Kimberley and the Tiwi Islands. Paints were analyzed for: 1. binding media using Fourier transform infrared spectrometry and pyrolysis gas chromatography mass spectrometry and 2. pigments by laser ablation-inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry to determine if an elemental fingerprint could be identified. Approximately two hundred samples from fifty paintings were analyzed from: Museum Victoria; Ian Potter Museum of Art, University of Melbourne; National Gallery of Australia; Art Gallery of New South Wales; Australian Museum; National Gallery of Victoria; Macleay Museum, University of Sydney; Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University. The following art centers provided standard pigments and binders: Buku Larrnggay Mulka, Yirrkala, NT; Tiwi Design, Bathurst Island, NT; Warringarri, Kununurra, WA. Binders were present in 77% of the samples we analyzed. No proteins, waxes, fats or blood were detected as a binder. The presence of nitrocellulose on Groote Eylandt paintings was connected to records from the 1948 expedition linking the condition of the paintings to an application of Duco to consolidate them. Orchid juice was chemically identified as a binder in a painting for the first time and was identified in the oldest bark paintings dating to pre-1878. The use of a variety of blacks from Groote Eylandt was identified as originating from natural manganese ore, dry cell batteries and charcoal. The differences in elemental fingerprints between ochres of the same location, as well as from painting samples indicates that more studies are required on a local level to determine the source and movement of ochres.

avatar for Narayan Khandekar, [Fellow]

Narayan Khandekar, [Fellow]

Director, Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies, Harvard Art Museums/Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies
Narayan Khandekar leads the Straus Center’s conservation and research activities, as well as those for the Center for the Technical Study of Modern Art. Specializing in the scientific analysis of paintings and painted surfaces, he has published extensively on the subject. His laboratory... Read More →

avatar for Dan Kirby

Dan Kirby

Scientist, Private practice
After careers as an analytical chemist in semiconductor electronics, pharmaceuticals and academic research, Dan turned his interest to conservation. With over 30 years experience in analytical mass spectrometry, Dan is currently in private practice specializing in applications of... Read More →
avatar for Georgina Rayner

Georgina Rayner

Associate Conservation Scientist, Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies
Georgina Rayner is the Associate Conservation Scientist at the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies, Harvard Art Museums. Prior to this role Georgina was the Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Conservation Science at the same institution. Georgina holds a Masters... Read More →

Katherine Eremin

Patricia Cornwell Senior Conservation Scientist, Harvard Art Museums
Katherine Eremin is the Patricia Cornwell Senior Conservation Scientist at the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies/Harvard Art Museums. She previously worked as an inorganic scientist at the National Museums of Scotland and received her PhD in 1994 from the University... Read More →

Tuesday May 17, 2016 3:30pm - 4:00pm EDT
Room 511 B/E