Conservation

Preserving Images of the 1906 Earthquake

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco is home to a unique collection of 167 film negatives taken by photographer Arnold Genthe chronicling the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake and fires. The negatives were acquired by the Legion of Honor in 1943.

Genthe 1

Arnold Genthe (photographer), American, 1869–1942
Untitled (Earthslip on San Francisco's Union Street), 1906
Cellulose nitrate negative
Museum purchase, James D. Phelan Bequest Fund. 1943.407.6.1

On the day of the earthquake Genthe, an established photographer best known for his society portraits and views of old Chinatown, took to the streets of San Francisco equipped with a handheld Kodak camera and pockets full of roll film.

The film Genthe used was composed of a gelatin silver emulsion on a thin plastic support of cellulose nitrate. Cellulose nitrate film was introduced commercially at the end of the nineteenth century and remained in use until the mid-twentieth century. Lightweight, transparent and flexible, cellulose nitrate film freed photographers from the inconveniences of its predecessors, paper and glass plate negatives.

The Conservator’s Role in Honoring Artistic Intent

When objects conservators design a treatment for a corroded sculpture, they often have to grapple with the issue of the artist’s intent.

For instance, would Henry Moore at age 29, who made a sculpture with a shiny metallic surface, be in agreement with Henry Moore at 75, who, when interviewed about a treatment, stated that he quite liked the idea that surfaces went green, dry and streaky with time?

One way a conservator can help tease out these contradictions is to interview contemporary artists about the materials and techniques they use and then record how these artists would like their sculptures cared for in the future. At the Fine Arts Museums we are developing a database tracking this information for contemporary sculpture under our care.

The artist Al Farrow with

Artist Al Farrow with his sculpture The Spine and Tooth of Santo Guerro previously on view at the de Young

Cutting Edge Photography Technique Comes to the de Young!

My name is Sue Grinols and as the director of photo services and imaging, I witness the intersection of art and technology on a daily basis. This is an exciting time to be working in photography. Just seeing how technology is changing the field can be breathtaking, not to mention challenging.

Photographing artwork is a sub-specialty of studio photography. Here at the Museums, we use the same equipment and techniques as photographers who produce beautiful images of cars, perfume bottles, leather couches, and the perfectly grilled steak. But instead of trying to capture the steak’s sizzle or the couch’s inviting warmth, we attempt to bring out the essential character of the artwork while emphasizing its sublime beauty whenever possible. When we’re not doing that, we can make images that show the hard, cold details of an object in order to help conservators as they work through treating the artwork, or to help curators in their scholarly study of an object. It is this second type of photography that I want to blog about today.

Jacques Neguer discusses the conservation of the Lod Mosaic

Conservators Jacques Neguer and Ghaleb Abu Diab of the Israel Antiquities Authority are visiting from Israel to oversee the conservation and installation of the Lod Mosaic at the Legion of Honor. The mosaic was discovered below the streets of the city of Lod in Israel and arrived to the U.S. in seven panels. This mosaic floor is the centerpiece of the exhibition Marvelous Menagerie: A Roman Mosaic from Lod, Israel, which opens this Saturday, April 23 at the Legion of Honor.

FAM acting head objects conservator Lesley Bone sat down with her two colleagues to discuss the discovery of the mosaic and the conservation treatments they conducted. It is a fascinating conversation that reveals the behind-the-scenes science that goes into an object before it is placed on view and provides a rare glimpse into the way conservators think and talk about works of art.

Jacques Negeur and Lesley Bone

Bouquets to Art 2011: Conservators on Patrol

The sheriffs of the conservation team were back on patrol this year for the annual invasion of the flowers
at the de Young, Bouquets to Art.

Debra Evans and Superman

Sheriff Debbie Evans examining her favorite bouquet.

 

Critters were found in abundance and some in unusual places…


Floral puppy 

A floral version of the Herter Mantlepiece guard dogs.

 

Bouquets to Art 2011: A day in the life of a flower

As Bouquets to Art kicks off its 27th year at the de Young, floral exhibitors poured in with every type of flower and foliage imaginable. We followed floral artist Hiromi Nomura of Belle Flora, who was born and raised in Tokyo, to trace the day in the life of a flower and pay tribute to Japan following last week’s devastating earthquake.

Hiromi Nomura

Interview with the Conservation Interns

Internships are a crucial part of the education and training of conservators. Currently we have three graduate interns in conservation from three different countries, allowing us a unique opportunity to discuss conservation training from an international perspective.

Erin Stephenson and Stephanie Ricordeau are interns in the Paintings Conservation Department. Erin is completing her Master of Arts and Certificate of Advanced Study in Conservation through SUNY Buffalo State College while Stephanie is in the Master’s Program for Conservation-Restoration at La Sorbonne, Paris, France.

In the Objects Conservation Department, Tegan Broderick is an intern completing her Master of Cultural Materials Conservation at the University of Melbourne, Australia.

The interns recently shared some interesting insights into their experiences in conservation.  Here are excerpts from our conversations followed by the full text of their interviews.

 FAMSF Conservation Graduate Interns 2011 

FAMSF Conservation Interns Erin Stephenson, Tegan Broderick, and Stephanie Ricordeau

Olmec: An Exercise in Scale

Olmec: Colossal Masterworks of Ancient Mexico is the perfect exhibition to show the range of artworks an objects conservator can work on. The pyramid from Complex C at the Olmec site of La Venta is first object represented in this exhibition that I helped conserve.  At the beginning of the exhibition you will see a large color photograph of this pyramid showing the result of the conservation treatment.


What exactly is a conservator’s role when dealing with huge, monolithic objects?

The objects conservation lab is busy doing their part for the installation of Olmec: Colossal Masterworks of Ancient Mexico. So what exactly is a conservator’s role when dealing with huge, monolithic objects?


 

Are you dusting the art? Common questions about our dusting routine

Even in a museum environment, objects can become dusty and it is the responsibility of the objects conservation department to dust each artwork. We sometimes dust artworks when visitors are in the galleries and we have noticed that many people are curious about what we are doing.  Here is a brief selection of the most common questions about dusting artworks and our responses:

Dusting the suspended Ruth Asawa sculptures.

Assistant Conservator Alisa Eagleston dusting the suspended Ruth Asawa sculptures.

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