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Saturday, May 31 • 10:30am - 11:00am
(Paintings + Wooden Artifacts Session) Painted Totem Poles at the American Museum of Natural History: Treatment Challenges and Solutions

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Object conservators at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) conducted a project focusing on the treatment of a large collection of monumental wooden carvings from the Northwest Coast (NWC) from 2011-2013.  Approximately 80 carvings, many of which are painted, were collected between the 1880s and 1920s and have been in open display in the museum for over a century.

Many of the carvings had significant condition issues resulting from of a combination of factors, including deterioration due to original installation in the wet environment of the NWC, and long term open display at AMNH without climate control or protective barriers.  Heavy dust accumulation resulting from high visitorship necessitates regular surface cleaning of fragile wood and painted surfaces.  Previous undocumented interventions by museum staff prior to the establishment of a conservation laboratory had also contributed significantly to both structural and surface problems.

Because of its scope, this project posed a number of practical and logistical constraints requiring both creativity and adaptability to successfully address. Planning and execution were often complicated by staff and budget limitations and the large size and number of objects involved.  Challenges encountered and solutions generated will be addressed, including addressing ethical issues appropriately with limited resources, development of efficient documentation and low-tech rigging and moving techniques, and investigation of complex structural and surface issues within the limitations of the project. Treatment procedures that adapted and streamlined standard wood treatment protocols for consolidation and fills were developed, as were controllable cleaning systems for the fragile and complex painted surfaces.

avatar for Samantha Alderson

Samantha Alderson

Conservator, American Museum of Natural History
Samantha Alderson has worked in the Anthropology Division of the American Museum of Natural History since 1993. She was trained in art conservation at the Institute of Fine Arts (NYU), where she is now an adjunct professor, teaching advanced courses in the treatment of ethnographic and archaeological objects. Her current research interests include adhesives for conservation, and technological investigations of ceramic urns... Read More →

avatar for Gabrielle Tieu

Gabrielle Tieu

Associate Conservator, American Museum of Natural History
Gabrielle Tieu is currently an Associate Conservator of Objects at the American Museum of Natural History in New York working on ethnographic and archaeological collections. Trained in Paris, she has worked at the Auckland Museum in New Zealand, the Quai Branly Museum in Paris, the Horniman Museum in London, and in private practice in Los Angeles and Chicago.

Judith Levinson

Director of Conservation, American Museum of Natural History
Judith Levinson is Director of Conservation in the Division of Anthropology, American Museum of Natural History. Working with the museum’s archaeological and ethnographic collections, she also has extensive experience with the museum’s dioramas and other permanent and temporary exhibits. She has been a lecturer at the Conservation Center of the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, teaching advanced courses in inorganic... Read More →

Karl Knauer

Collections Conservator, George Washington's Mount Vernon
Karl Knauer is Collections Conservator at George Washington's Mount Vernon. He previously worked in the Anthropology Division Conservation laboratory at the American Museum of Natural History and trained at the Winterthur University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation.

Saturday May 31, 2014 10:30am - 11:00am
Bayview A-B