Author Archive

Wrinkles and Missing Teeth

February 12th, 2010

Wrinkles and Missing Teeth: An Exciting Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I under Closer Inspection

Nicole Wittig

February 12, 2010 a portrait of Queen Elizabeth I arrived at Joyner Library.  Dr. Tise of East Carolina University’s History Department and  Horace Whitfield executive director of Elizabethan Gardens in Manteo, North Carolina initiated a cooperative project to determine the origin of this portrait after speculation arose that it could date to the late 1500s.


Figure I: Dr. Tise and Horace Whitfield with the queen’s portrait.

The piece is an oil painting on wood paneling.  It is mounted in a heavy frame, potentially the original, painted black.  The artist depicted the queen at an advanced age.  Her skin is wrinkled, and according to physical anthropologists, she would have been missing teeth from the left side of her jaw.  Surprisingly the painting exists, because the queen did not typically allow unflattering images of her to survive.


Figure II: Ultraviolet light inspection.

An early benefactor of Elizabethan Gardens purchased the painting in the early 1950s for a grand sum between 50 and 100 dollars.  On display in the gatehouse for the next fifty years, the painting was exposed to fluctuating temperature and humidity while thousands of visitors passed by.  Two years ago the painting was placed in storage after speculation of its early origin dated it to the 16th century.  Today through cooperation with East Carolina University and other resources in eastern North Carolina, the painting will be examined to determine its true age.


Figure III: Susanne Grieve getting a closer look with a head loupe.

 Susanne Grieve, conservator and instructor for the Program in Maritime Studies, made a preliminary assessment of the painting.  Using simple tools including loupes and an ultraviolet light, Ms. Grieve postulated that the portrait exhibits trademarks of an older painting.  The veneer exhibits cracking, an indicator of advanced aging.  Pigments in the paint did not react to the ultraviolet light, a possible indication that the paint used is not of a modern era.  Further analysis using infrared technologies will lead to more in-depth analysis.


Figure IV: Examining the frame.

For more information consult the Virginia-Pilot April 12th 2008 for a newspaper article detailing the paintings history from studio to present.

 Also visit Elizabethan Gardens website at

General Conservation

Disaster Relief Workshop

February 2nd, 2010

Disaster Relief Workshop

Nicole Wittig

MA Student, Program in Maritime Studies

Members of the Conservation & Preservation Department in Joyner Library are organizing a disaster relief workshop.  The workshop details the steps that must be taken when there is water damage to a library’s collection including books, papers, and photographs.  For those of you at home, here are some basic steps to take if your personal collection of books are damaged. 

Step 1:  Lay some bath towels down on the surface where you will dry the books.  Librarians will use blotting paper, but who has that laying around!

Step 2:  Find absorbant materials around your house, the Brawny Man will do just fine!  If the book is only partial wetted then interlace just a few paper towels throughout, but if fully wetted then add more trying not to over stuff the book and damage the spine.  Be careful when pulling apart the pages, they will be more apt to tearing or sticking together when wet. 

Step 3:  Get a household fan and have that positioned to circulate air around the books. 

Step 4:  Monitor the paper towels, when they become damp remove the old and replace with new ones.

These steps should help minimize the growth of mold, warping and staining of your book’s pages.  The book will not be pristine again, but hopefully readable.

General Conservation

Advanced Conservation!

January 26th, 2010

Dr. Rodgers has started the advanced conservation class this semster with an exciting exercise in wood identification. Here are some images of the students during class:


Kate measuring the specific gravity of her wood sample.


Maddie researching wood types during class.


Nicole examining a sample using a loupe.


Emily calculating her wood weights.

General Conservation

Copper…of course

December 8th, 2009

Eunice Gates

MSc Student, Geology


I am a Geology major for those of you who do not know.  My thesis is on copper corrosion so I tend to research more about it.  I wanted to get some information on copper stabilization and in particular, alkaline dithionite. 

This method was first used in 1979 by MacLeod and North, but was investigated further by MacLeod in 1987 for silver.  A solution of 40 g/l of NaOH and 50 g/l of Na2S2O4, sodium dithionite.  Artifacts are sealed quickly in a container with the solution to help keep atmospheric oxygen levels to a minimum.  Bronze objects tend to change color from blue green (copper trihydroxychlorides) to a yellow orange (copper I hydroxide) to a chocolate brown (metallic copper).  The change occurs in minutes of being immersed in the alkaline dithionite solution. 

Here’s a look at the geochemistry occuring:

3Cu2(OH)3Cl + S2O4 2- + OH- = 6Cu(OH) + 3Cl- + 2SO4 2- +4H+

6Cu(OH) + S2O4 2- = 6Cu + 2SO4 2- + 2H2O + 2H+

3Cu2O + S2O4 2- + OH- = 6Cu + 2SO4 2- + H+

The alkaline solution is a reducing agent but can alter the patina, so use will need to be taken into account before using this as a stabalization technique.  MacLeod used it on several Greco-Roman coins, but they were so badly corroded that no inscription would be possible to see.  After treatment, the corrosion on the coins was reduced to a loosely adherent powder that when brushed off revealed the original inscription.  Artifacts needs to be rinsed after treatment, MacLeod used deionized water.  He found that this is a viable treatment for consolidation of heavily corroded bronzes and may even reconsolidate the original surface.  This treatment is not meant for every bronze artifact; some fragile artifacts may disintegrate in alkaline dithionite. 

This treatment is costly.  High-grade chemicals can be expensive and commercial-grade reagants can have impurities.  After the treatment is over, the left-over chemicals must be disposed of properly because it will imbalance the microbiological balance of sewage systems. 

I got my information from David A. Scott “Copper and Bronze in Art: Corrosion, colorants, conservation” The Getty Conservation Institute.  2002.



General Conservation

It’s A Page Turner

December 4th, 2009

Nicole Wittig

MA Student, Program in Maritime Studies

For eleven months I have been working with the Preservation/Conservation Department in Joyner Library.  The department is divided into two core specializations handling general collections from the stacks and the other dealing with rare material from the archives, special collections, and North Carolina collections.  Ultimately the goal for preserving material from both general and rare collections is to stabilize the document so the item can return to circulation.  Preservation is not limited solely to books, but encompasses all documents in the collection.  As a graduate assistant my talents are applied to more delicate material from special and North Carolina collections.

            A typical day at my job consists of a multitude of tasks applied to the various documents in need of stabilization.  Before any actions are taken the material is assessed and treatments discussed with the senior conservator.  The very first step before applying any treatment is to clean the object.  Most cleaning is done with a dry cleaning sponge.  Then the appropriate treatment is applied.  In the instance that pages have been bent, they can be flattened mechanically with the application of heat, usually with a specialty iron.  If there are any tears, each tear must be assessed separately.  Some tears only require that an adhesive, usually wheat paste which is a natural, reversible adhesive made from wheat starch and water, be applied and the two edges of the tear joined.  If the extent of the tear is too great, Japanese paper acts as a band-aid for the document.  Japanese paper comes in a variety of thicknesses and colors and is applied over the tear with wheat paste.  These methods entail the basic treatments for book and paper conservation.

            Recently my skills have been tested with more severely damaged objects.  More difficult examples include books with damage to the cases.  Sometimes the document actually needs to be dismantled to be re-cased.  If sewing is damaged, the signatures or pages must be re-sewn before the text block can be replaced in its new cover.  Case, or cover, repairs can be quite difficult depending on the damage.  A leather case can suffer from red rot, which is remedied with Klucel G, a brand name for a consolidate.  Applying new material to the spine allows the conservator to reattach the case to the text.  This process involves adding new material, for example leather products or book cloth, to stabilize the outer structure of the book.  Ultimately the goal is to retain as much of the original object and applying as little new material to the document, while stabilizing the document so it may be used and enjoyed for years to come.  


For a brief explanation of paper conservation refer to the following web video:

General Conservation

The Copper Lab

December 4th, 2009

Whitney Minger

MA Student, Program in Maritime Studies

Maybe it is the Christmas colors of red gleaming copper along with a green corrosion that made the copper lab feel festive. Maybe it was the sudden revelation of words on a copper button, a hyperlink to the past, that made the history and archaeology students in Hist 6840 excited during the copper lab. Several different things made this lab interesting and it was truly enjoyable to use a little elbow grease and a few simple ingredients to produce a stable, beautiful artifact. This was the best part for me, Whitney Minger, a graduate student in the Maritime History Department. I received a BA in Anthropology from the University of Hawaii and spent two years working as a CRM Archaeologist. Like most archaeologists, I find it extremely satisfying to remove sediment, or more recently, corrosion products and find a clue to the past and have recently discovered the satisfaction of preserving those artifacts for the future.

The first portion of the lab treatment was conducted on objects not from the archaeological or historic record. The students were to test various polishing and stripping techniques on a cheap hardware copper rod. The rods had been corroded on purpose for the experiment, through the addition of chlorides. Each student was to use Calcium Carbonate, Haggerty 100 as a polish and Citric Acid as a stripping agent on the corroded and tarnished portions of the rods. The results were varied and some students preferred Haggerty 100, while I personally preferred the Citric Acid on the tarnished portion, and Calcium Carbonate on the corroded portion.

The second portion of the lab treatment was conducted on objects recovered from the Hayes House near Tryon Palace. These artifacts were excavated during an ECU archaeology field school under the direction of Dr. Ewen. Numerous artifacts needed conservation and the basic procedure was to mechanically clean the artifact using bamboo sticks and dental picks, chemically clean sediment and corrosion product with an acetone spot treatment and finally apply coating for long term preservation of the artifact. The first coating was 3% Benzotriazole and acetone which worked as a corrosion inhibitor. The second coating was 10% Paraloid B-72 and acetone which worked as a sealant, protecting the artifact from common sources of deterioration. During this experiment, many students, including myself, realized that their plain copper buttons had designs and/or writing under the corrosion layers. It was satisfying to realize that through our efforts, we were providing additional clues to understanding the Haye’s House site.

Overall, it was wonderful to uncover the past, learn about the conservation treatment of copper and assist Dr. Ewen in preserving these artifacts which are a part of our North Carolina cultural heritage.

General Conservation

The Job of the Conservator

December 4th, 2009

Valerie Rissel

MA Student, Program in Maritime Studies

Museums are a huge part of modern civilization.  Sometimes they display humanity’s successes and in other cases, its failures.  Through it all, the history of our world is presented. Museums do not work alone though. Conservation efforts are the glue that hold together the two worlds of archaeology and museums.  Without conservation in the middle these two would not exist together in the harmony that they generally do now. 

            When an item is originally recovered, either from a terrestrial site or from underwater, it is rarely in a state that could be presented in a museum.  Even if the surface of the item looks pristine, there is still cleaning that must be done to stabilize the item.  This is the job of the conservator.  Without conservation efforts, these items would most likely be crudely cleaned in a way that could possibly damage them.  This would not be out of negligence, but instead would stem from a simple lack of knowledge on the subject.  Also because of the lack of stabilization to the artifact, it would most likely decay before the visitor’s eyes.

            Conservators, museums, and archaeologists work to recover, preserve and display history for years to come.  Each of these groups are equally important.  Because of this, each would be unable to survive if one of the other groups was to dissolve.  Despite this, in this case I have chosen to focus on conservators to highlight their part within this cycle.  Funding may always be an issue for all of these groups, but as long as museums display objects and archaeologists recover artifacts, there will be jobs for conservators.  

General Conservation

Deaccessioning-Equal Opportunity?

December 4th, 2009

Joseph Lengieza

MA Student, Program in Maritime Studies

A considerable ethical issue in conservation and museum work in general is that of accessioning and de-accessioning, and the responsibilities implicit to the institution in undertaking either.  When an institution accessions an artifact, it is typically understood that the institution, in doing so, agrees to care for the artifact in question in perpetuity.  In practice, however, forever is a long time.  A museum may come to regret acquiring an artifact or an entire collection and the inherent financial burden that each artifact brings with it.  This may lead to various abuses of said artifact, some more explicit than others.  The author has seen artifacts sawn up and sold for fundraising, an event which occasioned much curatorial wailing and gnashing of teeth.  More commonly though, unloved artifacts are simply neglected, allowed to deteriorate in storage, until their historical and interpretive value is badly degraded or lost entirely.

            Ethically, it is necessary to consider each artifact as priceless individual snowflake.  Upon close inspection, this premise must be conceded to be a polite, if necessary, fiction.  Let us imagine a hypothetical situation.  Suppose a museum accessions both the Mona Lisa and an old tennis shoe of uncertain provenance.  Depending on the museum, either artifact might be considered germane to the museum’s interpretive goals – the Bata shoe museum in Toronto must be supposed to have different priorities than an art museum.  Suppose also, that the museum catches fire.  Which artifact does the curator grab on his way out the door?  In all likelihood, it will be the Mona Lisa.  Although in theory both artifacts are to be given equal billing, and preserved for the general betterment of humanity, in practice one will be preferred over the other.  This reflects a broad array of economic and cultural biases, and these biases are not always a bad thing.  All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.

            Why is it important then, to conserve the tennis shoes of uncertain provenance along with the Mona Lisa?  Because each artifact can answer questions about the past when properly interrogated.  Some artifacts may be more culturally and economically significant than others, but all are equally historically significant.  Some artifacts simply answer humbler questions than others.  Ignoring the tennis shoes in preference to the Mona Lisa leads to a certain plutocracy of the past.  We only learn about the wealthy and successful, the people who had nice things, and to do so is to look backwards through a lens that is inherently distorted.  More people have owned tennis shoes than Renaissance masterpieces, and their story is not less important because it is unglamorous.  Thus, the conservator and the curator must tend all of the members of their flock equally, even if some of those animals are more equal than others.  To fail to do so is an abdication of professional responsibility to both the past and the future.

General Conservation

Exhibits on the Destruction of Cultural Property

December 4th, 2009

Emily Powell

MA Student, Public History

While doing some research for our first conservation term paper, I came across an article by Catherine Sease that discussed the effects of the sale of looted and stolen art and artifacts on conservation and on our cultural heritage.  Sease brought up some very interesting points, namely how the improper retrieval and sale of unprovenanced artifacts denies us the ability to learn from these items, and leaves holes in our cultural record and our understanding of the past.

 Sease wrote this article in the late 1990’s, and I can only imagine that the statistics on the trade of unprovenanced items has increased dramatically with the advent of websites like Ebay.  As historians, archeologists and conservators we understand the dangers involved in these practices, but for a majority of the people who search the internet looking for items that catch their interest, they may have no idea of the implications making these sorts of purchases.

 Because I am usually thinking about things from a public history perspective, I started to wonder if there was a way that we could use the resources we have to educate the public on the damages that the sale of unprovenanced material really has.  I was thinking that it might be interesting to have an exhibit on such material that could illustrate several dimensions of the problem.  The exhibit could show items that have been improperly removed from sites, and mounted or treated improperly for easy transportation and sale, showing the damage and destruction this practice causes on the artifacts themselves.  Another part of the exhibit could show items that have gone missing, and items with no provenance, and describe the parts of our historical record that are incomplete because this information is not here to teach us.  This could be paired with items that have perhaps been saved from this fate, illustrating what was almost lost had the item been taken and hastily sold.  The last part of the exhibit could show the damage that these items are incurring in the hands of private owners.  There could be a display of items that have not been conserved and treated properly, illustrating the deterioration and loss of items that were improperly recovered and handled, or that never received professional treatment..

 There are a variety of ways that an exhibit like this could be approached, but regardless of the specific script and displays, I think that there is a lot to be said for the value of an exhibit as a medium for educating the public.  Exhibits provide the experience of encounter for the viewer, and have a tendency to resonate with the viewer because of the emotional response this experience fosters.  How widespread the reach or impact of such an exhibit is hard to guess, but it’s a good place to start.  It seems that many of the things that have become taboo in our society do so because enough people have become aware of the problem.  I think that an exhibit might be a great way to begin to incite awareness and educate the public on just how damaging this sort of practice really is to our culture and the preservation of our past.

 Refrerence: Sease, Catherine, “Conservation and the Antiques Trade,” Journal of the American Institute for Conservation, Vol. 36, No. 1 (Spring 1997), pp. 49-58

General Conservation

Build an Ark, We Need to Save the Artifacts!

December 4th, 2009

Jennifer Jones

MA Student, Program in Maritime Studies


Disaster preparedness is becoming a faucet of concern for nations around the world when looking to protect the museum and library collections that house the world’s cultural heritage. Hurricanes, tsunamis, floods, earthquakes, and fires are catastrophic events that are affecting communities physically and emotionally. One aspect people often don’t think about though is the safety and recovery of the cultural heritage housed in small or large museums or libraries. Disaster conservation and prevention for museums and libraries is being discussed now more than ever, despite previous occurrences of artifact damage that shaped the current state of artifact conservation.

Getty 3

Textiles being dried after flooding, Image:

            During World War I and II, the British Museum in London, England dealt with impending disaster with the threat of bombing. The staff was able to remove their artifacts, artwork, sculpture, and architectural pieces to safety in the tube lines; this maneuver saved the artifacts from the immense damage that was inflicted upon London during both wars although it led to some additional problems with artifact deterioration that led to the genesis of one of the first scientific conservation labs in the world. Many institutions have not been as luck in the removal or recovery of artifacts due to lack of disaster planning. It is true that in some situations, such as the levee break in New Orleans after the flooding from Hurricane Katrina, certain factors are not taken into account because they are freak acts of nature or twisted dealings of fate, but having an alternative disaster plan could prevent the loss of some cultural heritage.

 Getty 2

Staff removing paintings from the tube after war-time threats, Image: Getty Institute

            Recent developments and a keener sense of awareness of the outcomes of certain disaster-related situations have made designing and implementing plans for disaster planning and recovery a feasible prerogative for museums and libraries. Although not all situations begin as emergencies, without the proper procedures, situations can progress and often rapidly. The first step is identifying and defining potential threats such as natural disasters (i.e. floods, earthquakes, etc.) or man-made disasters (i.e. arson). Planning a response to as many threats as possible is a key step to producing a plan that can prevent as much damage as possible.

Getty 1

Curator examining cross after flooding in Florence, Italy, Image:

            There are numerous networks that can aid in developing disaster and recovery plans for artifacts and artwork. Current research is being developed on software than help collections managers plan for the worst case scenarios. Additionally there are numerous organizations that can not only help prevent damage but also aid in the recovery of artifacts after the fact. Hopefully, with combined efforts the amount of loss being seen from disasters can be decreased. In this case, awareness and the old adage, “expecting the unexpected,” is the beginning of a successful avenue for artifact preservation.

Useful Links:  – National Center for Preservation Technology and Training  – Resources for Disaster Preparedness and Response – Disaster planning for collections

General Conservation

Field Trip!

November 24th, 2009

Today, the Intro to Conservation class took a field trip to the NC Department of Cultural Resources Conservation Lab, also known as the Queen Anne’s Revenge Lab, to see the very exciting collection of artifacts that the staff is working on. We got an excellent tour of the facility and artifacts by Shanna Daniel, an Assistant Conservator at the lab. She was assisted by Myron Rolston, a Conservation Technician, and Jon Schleier, an Anthropology student.

Shanna started off by giving us a history of the wrecksite which is located in Beaufort Inlet.



We then got to see some of the concretions that were excavated and some of the artifacts before and during treatment. Shanna is explaining the electrolysis process that this cannon is undergoing while Jennifer, Kate, and Joe look on.

Cannon in Electrolysis

We then moved over to Shanna’s favorite material type of organics and examined the sternpost in treatment. Jennifer, Emily, and Nicole deeply reflect on the objects treatment.


After seeing objects before treatment, we moved into the main lab and looked at some objects that are currently being conserved. Today’s lecture was on “Other Metals” including gold, silver, lead, tin, pewter, and aluminum so it was really great to have the opportunity to see gold flakes and some pewter objects.

Objects In Treatment

Shanna explained the molding and casting process for some barrell hoops.


Barrell Hoops

Whitney, Nicole, and Joe examine some treated artifacts.

Examining Objects

We then went to a documentation area where x-rays are taken and artifacts are photographed. Shanna explained the importance of x-rays in the documentation and treatment process while Eunice, Whitney, Valerie, and Nicole look at some examples.


The last stop on the tour was to look at the X-Ray Flourescence (XRF) that the conservators are using to analyze the metal artifacts. This was a rare opportunity since many conservation labs are not able to afford to rent or purchase a machine.


Here is the fall 2009 intro to conservation class with our generous hosts. We are missing Brown and Lauren who weren’t able to make it that day. Thank you again for a wonderful tour of a working conservation lab!


General Conservation ,

Waterlogged Wood Experiment

November 20th, 2009

We are getting closer to the end of the fall semester! Earlier in the semester, the students started an experiment on some non-archaeological waterlogged wood that we recovered from the Tar River. They applied some commonly used wood treatments that archaeological conservators use and wrote observations on how the wood changes during the treatment.


Valerie Using Stir PlateNicole Selecting Wood SamplesJennifer Weighting Wood Samples in WaterBran Measuring Chlorides

Research and Experiments ,

Welcome to the ECU Maritime Conservation Lab Blog!

November 20th, 2009

Welcome to the new Maritime Conservation Lab (MCL) blog! The blog will allow students to share their thoughts and ideas on conservation related topics. They will share what they are learning about in class and discuss how conservation relates to their main field of study.

General Conservation