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When dirt of the centuries clings to an object, cleaning is required.Now technology allows conservation scientists to identify paint pigments and their components and recommend the least invasive, least detrimental method of cleaning an object.In conjunction with the University of Delaware, it is part of the art conservation department that awards master’s and doctoral level degrees in art conservation and preservation studies, in addition to the American material cultural program.One of the best-equipped facilities in the country, Winterthur’s SRAL boasts an impressive array of equipment worth several million dollars: two x-ray fluorescence spectrometers, a scanning electron microscope with x-ray microanalysis capabilities, a Fourier transform infrared microspectrometer, a Raman microspectrometer, a liquid chromatograph mass spectrometer and a gas chromatograph-mass spectrometer.Analysis proved, however, that the overglaze was of a Nineteenth Century composition and the tureen was relabeled.Such discoveries always lead to a correction of exhibit labels.
Other questions arise as to condition and possible restoration.They operate under the medical axiom, “First, do no harm.” The goal is minimal intervention.The essential function of the scientific conservation laboratory is to assess age, condition, method and materials of construction, and the history and authenticity of irreplaceable objects in the least invasive way possible. From these findings, appropriate conservation methods are formulated, and these are meant to be reversible, as future discoveries in scientific conservation may bring new treatment methods. Mass is pictured with one of the many modern high-tech machines in her department used to analyze chemical content of specimens.Winterthur’s SRAL also prepares objects for exhibition, affirming their authenticity and helping undo prior restorations.
As an example, Dr Mass notes that a Meissen tureen from the Campbell collection bore a decorative pattern from the 1730s.A rare Windsor sack back settee made by Ebenezer Tracy Sr of Norwich, Conn., and painted in generations of green paint was chosen for study because of its rare form and its extensive finish history. Mass, director and senior scientist of the Winterthur SRAL, outlines the questions posed by objects in conservation. Briefly, there is decay, which presents mystery, sometimes deception, and then analysis, sometimes comparison, leading to understanding.