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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.

Speakers
avatar for Narayan Khandekar

Narayan Khandekar

Director, Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies, Harvard Art Museums/Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies
Narayan Khandekar is Director of the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies, Director of the Center for the Technical Study of Modern Art, and Head of the Analytical Laboratory, Harvard Art Museums. He received a B.Sc. (Hons.) First Class and Ph.D. from the Department of Organic Chemistry, University of Melbourne and a Post-graduate Diploma in the Conservation of Easel Paintings from the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of... Read More →

Co-Author(s)
avatar for Daniel Kirby

Daniel Kirby

Conservation Scientist in Private Practice, Self employed
After careers as an analytical chemist in semiconductor electronics, pharmaceuticals and academic research, in 2004 Dan turned his interest to conservation science and began investigating the use of mass spectrometry for the analysis of artists' materials. Areas of interest include developing Laser Desorption-Ionization MS for the analysis of modern organic pigments and applying bioanalytical mass spec methods to the characterization of... Read More →
avatar for Georgina Rayner

Georgina Rayner

Postdoctoral Fellow in Conservation Science, Harvard Art Museums/Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies
Georgina Rayner begun her academic career as a chemist at the University of Warwick (UK) where in 2008 she obtained a Masters in Chemistry. After developing an interest in polymer science she proceeded to obtain her PhD in Chemistry, completed in 2012, at the same institution where her research interests were the use of verdazyl radicals for a sulfur and metal free controlled radical polymerisation and dopamine functionalised polymers. After... Read More →
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Katherine Eremin

Patricia Cornwell Conservation Scientist, Harvard Art Museums/Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies
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Tuesday May 17, 2016 3:30pm - 4:00pm
Room 511 B/E


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