Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Riace Bronzes: warriors from a watery grave

The two life-size copper-alloy ancient Greek warrior statues are currently being re-conserved in an open studio at the Regional Council exhibition hall in Calabria, southern Italy.

If you haven't seen these two incredible bronzes, it's really worth having a look at the Riace website - Their conservation and theories about their manufacture are really interesting and quite controversial.

Found by a snorkelling chemist in only eight metres of water in the Ionian sea in 1972, their conservation has been a lengthy and continuing battle against salts and concretions. They were mechanically cleaned for two years in Calabria before being transported to the restoration centre of the Soprintendenza Archeologica of Tuscany for desalination. Unfortunately, the first attempts were carried out with the salt-laden casting cores still inside the statues, so they weren't massively successful.

Work continued through the 1980s and 90s to try to stabilise the bronzes and excavate fully the casting cores, which could only be done through very small holes in the feet of the warriors. A huge amount of information has been revealed and published (in Italian, mostly) in three lavishly illustrated volumes (from 2003, I bronzi di Riace: restauro come conoscenza. Roma:Artemide) and several articles.

The current conservation programme seems to be aiming to undertake chemical cleaning with benzotriazole, to investigate the solders used and to map the ancient repairs. It would have been so interesting to see how this could be accomplished in front of the public, and how the interventions were explained. Unfortunately, there was no time or money for a field trip to Calabria! But if you find yourself in that part of the world, do try to visit the Regional Council exhibition -

Monday, 27 June 2011

Midsummer in London streets: City of London Festival

From the City of London Festival website
The City of London Festival has some some exciting events this week. 

I am curious to see the WAKA ON THE THAMES, when a Maori war canoe takes to the Thames crewed by 16 Maoris of New Zealand’s Toi Maori and London’s Ngati Ranana, in full traditional dress. (Friday 1st July at 10:30)

There will also be a HAKA, a traditional Maori dance performed by  New Zealand guests Toi Maori and London’s Ngati Ranana. (Paternoster Square, Friday 1st July at 13.00)

And  Origins Family Day, a celebration of First Nations with guests from across the South Pacific, music and art activities. (Parliament Hill, Hampstead Heath, Sunday 3rd July  from 12.00 to 7.00pm)

Friday, 24 June 2011

Kelly McHugh talks about collaborative conservation at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI)

Watch conservator Kelly McHugh talk about conservation at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) in this very informative video. Kelly discusses the history of the museum and highlights the collaborative work conservators carry out there. She gives details on recent collaborative projects to conserve gut skin, baskets, an amazing Lakota tipi cover and much more.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Meet conservator Abdullah Hakimzada, from the National Museum of Afghanistan

Gold crown from Tillya Tepe, 1st century AD.
National Museum of Afghanistan © Thierry Ollivier / Musée Guimet.
From the British Museum's website

Conservator Abdullah Hakimzada (and Curator Farhad Sediqy) will give a gallery talk at the British Museum, Thursday 23 June 14.00–15.00 in room 34. 

They will talk about the National Museum of Afghanistan's recent history and what's happened since reopening in 2003. This is free, just drop in. Details here

You can also send questions to #afghanistanBM for a live Twitter Q&A with the Curators on 30 June at 13.00.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Conservation in Egypt

I found an interesting article on the BBC News website a few days ago and I've been dying to post it ever since! You can read the article yourself here. It's called "Newport firm stabilises Egypt's earthquake-hit pyramid" and features the attempts of Cintec (an engineering company from South Wales) to help conserve the Pyramid of Djoser in Egypt (Egypt's oldest step-built pyramid). The company makes use of pressurised air-filled bags, thermo-dynamic steel rods and authentic 2,700 BC mortar.

The plan to preserve this part of Egypt's heritage sounds brilliant, but something worries me... Namely the thermo-dynamic steel rods. They are going to be threaded "...diagonally through the steps of the pyramid, in such a way that the six levels will be knitted together without being visible" (emphasis is mine). I could be mistaken, but to me that sounds as if they're going to damage the original fabric of the pyramid in order to make it more stable... I wonder how the work they're going to do is going to affect the authenticity of the buildings. They are, after all, adding new material to it (and probably removing old material).

I do like their idea of using authentic 2,700 BC mortar. The site explains that with 'authentic mortar' they mean mortar that is "...entirely made from components which would have been available to the ancient Egyptians". This puzzled me in the beginning, since I thought that the Romans were the first civilization to use mortar in the construction of their buildings. But I guess I was mistaken, since after doing some research, I found out that the Egyptian actually already used it before the Romans did. I prefer the idea of using mortar mixed according to an ancient recipe so much more than the use of modern materials on ancient buildings.

Friday, 10 June 2011

News from the World Monument Fund: India, France, Spain, Peru...

If you miss Delhi, like me (oh, saudades de Delhi!), or if you are planning to visit in the future you may want to check out the new Heritage Route put together by the WMF. 

More directly relevant for conservation are the announcements of the two new partnerships for conservation projects. One at the Albi Cathedral in France and another at the Salon Rico in the Medina Al-Zahra in Cordoba, Spain. 

While you are on the WMF website you  may want to check out the conservation work done at San Pedro Apostol de Andahuaylillas Church, in Peru. San Pedro Apóstol was built by Jesuits in the 16th century over a pre-Columbian ceremonial space. The construction of the current temple started in 1570 and completed around 1606. If you are not convinced then look at the keywords for the project: climate changeconflictdevelopment pressureslack of public awareness,neglect/inadequate maintenance, ...

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Conservation of the Begram Ivories from Afghanistan

And, since we are talking about the wonders of the BM, watch this video where BM conservator Clare Ward talks about the conservation of the Begram ivories (excavated in the 1930s). Great stuff!

The ivories  were part of the National Museum of Afghanistan's collection but went missing during the unrest. They re-emerged in 2010 and have been conserved at the BM. They are on display in "Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World" (until 17 July 201) and will be returned to Afghanistan after the exhibition.  

You can see more videos about the Afghanistan exhibition, including the story of how Afghanistan's treasures were hidden here 

The Norwich Shroud

The British Museum's Blog describes the fascinating conservation journey of an Egyptian shroud from the Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery.

From January to May 2011, conservators and curators from Norwich and the British Museum conserved and studied the piece. Initially, the shroud was rolled and not much was known about it. With its unrolling and subsequent investigative conservation came many surprises...

The first post can be seen here, and the last here

More about the Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery collections can be seen here 

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

The Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Latino (?)

The US federal commission has submitted a report calling for the creation of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Latino ( not sure this is really the name though, I have seen different ones) on the National Mall in Washington DC. The commission recommended US Congress provide around US$ 300,000 for the project - the total price has been estimated around US$600,000. 
Read more on  NBC Washington and on SCPR
Read a critique of the project here, where Guy Garcia elaborates on how/why  the proposed museum is being attacked. 

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