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Monday, May 16 • 11:00am - 11:30am
(Objects + Wooden Artifacts) Encountering the Unexpected in Southeast Asian Lacquer: Treating the Doris Duke Collection at the Walters Art Museum

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In 2002, the Walters Art Museum received a gift of 153 objects of Southeast Asian Art from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. Many of the objects originated from Thailand and Burma (Myanmar) and were created in the 19th and 20th centuries. In 2014, the Conservation Division embarked on a three-year grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to treat sixteen of the objects that were previously identified as conservation priorities. These objects exhibited varying degrees of deterioration due to age, flood damage, and prior intervention. Many of the lacquered and gilded surfaces were actively flaking, and a majority of the objects were covered in an unusual sticky brown coating. Prior to removal, the coating was identified as modern due to the inclusion of a synthetic plasticizer. Additional information was collected about the decorative techniques that were used to create the surfaces through cross-section microscopy, XRF, FTIR, and Py-GC/MS. There were also questions regarding the visual reintegration of loss and how much inpainting was appropriate. Research travel to Thailand and Burma helped to address those questions in conjunction with input from museum professionals in the region.

Due to space constraints related to the large size of many of the objects, much of the treatment work was completed in view of the public in an open conservation lab. Over the course of the grant period, over 5,000 museum visitors were able to speak directly with conservators and see many of the objects during treatment. While furthering the strong history of public outreach at the Walters, the open conservation lab also created unique challenges for conservators in terms of materials and working methods which in turn shaped the treatment protocols.

Once the initial analysis was complete and the treatment work began, it was readily apparent that Southeast Asian lacquer behaves differently than East Asian lacquer. The largest issues were encountered with consolidation and cleaning. For those objects that required consolidation, polar solvents such as ethanol and acetone distorted the lacquer, which limited the consolidant options. Lascaux P550-40TB (butyl methacrylate resin) was selected in some instances because it could be dissolved in solvents like mineral spirits and xylene. Additionally, the extreme lifting of the flakes and the inability to move the objects into horizontal positions necessitated the use of cast sheets of adhesive that could be reactivated with solvents once in place. Removal of the sticky surface coating was possible with a water gel on some of the gilded lacquer objects, which was advantageous because so many surfaces were extremely solvent sensitive and the work was being completed in the public. In some instances, polar solvents were safe to use and removed the coating quickly without the need to clear the surface of gel residues. It is hoped that the information gained from this project will be a catalyst for future research and study regarding the treatment of Southeast Asian lacquered objects.

avatar for Stephanie Hulman

Stephanie Hulman

Assistant Conservator, The Walters Art Museum
Stephanie Hulman is an Assistant Conservator at the Walters Art Museum and was hired as the Institute of Museum and Library Services grant-funded conservator for the Doris Duke Collection of Southeast Asian Art.  She earned her B.A. degree from the University of Delaware with a double major in Art Conservation and Art History in 2008.  In 2012, she earned her M.S. degree from the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation... Read More →


Glenn Gates

Conservation Scientist, Walters Art Museum

Herant Khanjian

Assistant Scientist, Getty Conservation Institute
Herant Khanjian received his undergraduate degree in chemistry from California State University, Northridge and has been a member in the Science department of the Getty Conservation Institute since 1988. His research interests involve the detection and identification of organic media found in historical objects and architecture including paintings, photographs, sculptures and decorative art pieces. He has co-authored articles in a number of... Read More →

Meg Loew Craft

Terry Drayman-Weisser Head of Objects Conservation, The Walters Art Museum
Meg Loew Craft is the Terry Drayman-Weisser Head of Objects Conservation at the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, MD. She has worked at the Walters since 2000. Earlier she ran a private conservation practice focused on treatment of objects and surveys of historic properties. Meg was president of the AIC from 2009-2013 and had served as vice president (2007-2009) and secretary (2004-2007) previously. She was an associate editor of the JAIC for 18... Read More →

Michael R. Schilling

Senior Scientist, Getty Conservation Institute
Michael R. Schilling, who began his career at the Getty Conservation Institute in 1983, is a Senior Scientist and head of the Materials Characterization group. Given the prevalence of organic materials in works of art, the group studies a broad range of traditional and contemporary museum objects, and participates in field projects at world cultural heritage sites. The group teaches workshops about their analytical methodologies to scientists and... Read More →

Monday May 16, 2016 11:00am - 11:30am
Room 710 B

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