Tool of the Trade

Light, temperature, and humidity can all harm a museum’s objects and artifacts. In a previous blog, I talked about what damage light can do and how we are combating that at the Frank Lloyd Wright Smith House. The battle for consistent temperature and humidity in the house is another issue.

Frank Lloyd Wright Smith House, 2012. Photo by James Haefner.

In October 2018, we had a Conservation Assessment done at Smith House by ICA – Art Conservation. According to ICA,

Temperature can affect a collection in . . . significant ways. Elevated temperatures have the capacity to increase the rate of deterioration . . . [and] temperature affects relative humidity.

Relative humidity is the ratio of the amount of water vapor in a particular volume of air relative to the maximum amount of water vapor this same volume of air can hold at the same temperature.

As relative humidity fluctuates, the environment and the materials within it will seek equilibrium with one another . . . Within a museum or historic structure, the collection objects and building materials will act like a sponge to these fluctuations, which can cause irreversible mechanical damage.

In the museum community, it is recommended that the relative humidity be kept as stable as possible and the temperature as low as practicable. A relative humidity (RH) range between 55% to 35% is thought to be best for general conditions. However, it is the stability of the relative humidity that is more significant than the actual value. Temperatures below 72˚F and above 32˚F are considered acceptable when the relative humidity is controlled.

So, what was the Center to do? Equipment for monitoring (data loggers) was purchased. We started regular environmental monitoring throughout Smith House. Logs were created to record the environment ranges for temperature and relative humidity for the spaces.

Data loggers are devices equipped with sensors and a microprocessor to monitor and record data such as temperature and relative humidity. We chose Lascar’s EL-USB-2. This standalone data logger measures more than 16,000 readings and features a USB drive so data can be downloaded directly to a computer.

Data logger used to monitor temperature and humidity in Smith House.

However, it is not always practical to carry a laptop around Smith House to download the data or remove the data loggers to download on my office PC. Instead, I use the EL-DataPad. It allows the configuration and download of temperature and humidity data loggers on the spot.

Data pad with attached data logger.

In the Smith House, the temperature and humidity is recorded every 30 minutes. I log this data and graph it, to see trends or issues in the house.

Graph of Smith House Living Room temperature and humidity readings from March to September 2020.

How will this documentation help conservation of objects in Smith House? The data will be useful for establishing achievable set points and ranges for the house environment. It will also be helpful for writing grants to help fund equipment or materials for further environmental management.

Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Clean as a Whistle

In the past, we have discussed how we cover our stone sculptures on campus to protect them in the winter. But what about the many bronze sculptures? Europe and the Bull? Persephone? The Centaurs?

These pieces are more robust and able to withstand what winter throws at them, but they still need some love each year.

Each spring since 1987, the Community has brought in Venus Bronze Works to recondition the bronzes across the campus. Venus Bronze Works is a member of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, which means all the cleaning they do is in accordance with AIC’s Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice.

All sculptures are inspected and cleaned by dusting them off with compressed air or wet down and washed with a mild detergent, sponges, soft bristle brushes, and fine cotton pads.

Terra Gillis of Venus Bronze Works gives Carl Milles’s Sunglitter (also know as Naiad and Dolphin, CAM 2002.1) a quick shower, 2020. Photo by Kevin Adkisson.
Harlow Toland of Venus Bronze Works gives one of Carl Milles’s Running Deer (CAM 1934.30) a good scrub, 2020. Photo by Kevin Adkisson.

When the works are dried, one or two thin coats of wax are applied and the sculptures are buffed. This wax can be applied directly from the container or applied to a hot surface (by heating the sculpture with a propane-fed torch).

Giorgio Gikas, founder of Venus Bronze Works, holds the torch while his assistants Harlow Toland and Sara Myefski help prepare Triton with Fishes in the Triton Pools at Cranbrook Art Museum to receive a hot wax treatment, 2020. Photo by Kevin Adkisson.

This wax acts as a barrier to the air and humidity on the bronze surface and prevents damaging oxidization or corrosion from developing. When deciding how each individual work is cleaned, we look back to the artist’s intent for each sculpture (was it meant to be patinated green? dark bronze? polished? gilded?) and treat it accordingly.

Venus Bronze Works cleans and waxes all the Milles sculptures at the Cranbrook Art Museum and Cranbrook Academy of Art and the Cranbrook Institute of Science. They also work on such sculptures as Brookside’s Birds in Flight; Kingswood’s Dancing Girls and Diana; Cranbrook House and Gardens’ Fortuna delle Tartaruga (Turtle Fountain); and Cranbrook School’s athletic sculptures. Check out a recent Instagram post about the athletic sculptures below:

We are excited to start welcoming visitors back to our campus this summer, so you can all see the beautiful sculpture in their freshened-up glory.

Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Sunscreen for Smith House: UV Window Film

Sunlight is the enemy of artwork and textiles. As the sun’s rays filter through unprotected windows, they cause fading. In addition to colors changing, sunlight can cause holes in fabric, paper to become brittle, plastics to fall apart, and wood to warp.

Woven Tapestry by Urban Jupena.

You can see the effects of light and heat from the windows on the woven tapestry by Urban Jupena in Smith House. On the left is the part exposed to sunlight, and on the right (folded back) is the underside that has been protected.

Recently, the Center had a Conservation Assessment for Preservation (CAP) done for the Frank Lloyd Wright Smith House by ICA-Art Conservation. In the report, one of the recommendations was to protect the artifacts in Smith House from visible and UV light streaming in the wonderful floor-to-ceiling single-pane windows of the house.

Rear exterior view of Smith House.

Rear exterior view of Smith House.

To protect the house, we would either need to create storm windows to apply to the outside, put up shades on the inside, or apply a UV-blocking film to the windows. As you can imagine, the storm windows and shades would alter the look of the house, so they were rejected outright. The UV film, however, was something we could consider.

What we discovered is that not all films are created equal. There is dark film, light film, mirror film, frosted film – we needed a clear film that diffused 99.9 percent of the harmful ultraviolet light but still allowed natural daylight into the house. Every company promised theirs was the best and gave the most protection. How would we choose? This was a pretty long-term decision. We decided to turn to the experts.

When there is a question about the condition, the best environment for collections, or the damage caused by environmental factors, we turn to experts called conservators. We were able to find some studies of the effectiveness of window film by conservation experts published in the Western Association for Art Conservation (WAAC) Newsletter: UV-Blocking Window Films for Use in Museums and the follow-up Aging Properties of Select UV-Blocking Window Films.

After we got through all the scientific talk about procedures and data and met with product representatives at the house, we landed on a film. Aging Properties of Select UV-Blocking Window Films stated that “CPFilms (Llumar and Vista) performed well according to all criteria used. None of the films tested showed a significant change in UV absorbance . . . Because this brand easily met all our criteria, it can be strongly recommended with regard to optical performance”

Llumar/Vista films had performed well in the conservation studies, they had the clear film we were looking for (SpectraSelect VS61 SR CDF), and we had a distributor/installer in the area: SRF Enterprises, Inc. William Kish, the owner, stood behind his product with an excellent warranty, personally acting as the installer of the film, and proof that the product lasted, in some installations, for up to 40 years.

Bill Kish of SRF Enterprises, Inc. installing window film in Smith House.

Bill Kish of SRF Enterprises, Inc. installing window film in Smith House. Can you tell where he has put the film and where he has not?

Other benefits of the film: you can still clearly see in and out of the windows; there is reduced glare from the sun; the textiles will last longer and book jackets can stay on (they were beginning to crumble and fade); and the house will be cooler in the summer. Finally, the windows will be safer. When Smithy installed the windows, they were not safety glass. With the film on the windows they now function as safety glass should one ever break (heaven forbid).

Rear exterior view of Smith House after the installation of the window Film.

Rear exterior view of Smith House after the installation of the window film.

All of this research for Smith House served us well– we decided to use it in the Studio at Saarinen House to protect the textiles on display in our 2019 exhibition Studio Loja Saarinen.

Bill Kish of SRF Enterprises, Inc. installing window film in Saarinen House Studio.

Bill Kish of SRF Enterprises, Inc. installing window film in Saarinen House Studio.

To learn more about conservation, you can read “What is a Conservation?” on the American Institute for Conservation and the Foundation for Advancement in Conservation website or attend our free 2019 Bauder Lecture with Timothy Whalen, Director of the Getty Conservation Institute, this Sunday, May 5, 2019 in de Salle Auditorium. Whalen will discuss the Getty’s conservation work in the tomb of Tutankhamen, repainting sculpture by Louise Nevelson, restoring building of Louis Kahn and other modern masters, and the future of conservation and cultural preservation.

Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

Three Women and a Conservator

One of the interesting components of our jobs as collections managers, registrars, and archivists is that we get to interact and learn from conservators in our fields. On Friday, three of us went down to Detroit and met with Giogio Ginkas of Venus Bronze Works. A non-descript warehouse building sported a gray metal door which led us into the lobby gallery where Giorgio has displayed art from his personal collection of metro-Detroit artists, including Cranbrook’s Gary Griffin. Then we walked into the “shop” where his tools and equipment are interspersed with numerous sculptures (primarily metal) in various stages of repair, restoration, and conservation.

Giorgio Ginkas explaining the conservation process for the Wishing Well. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Giorgio Ginkas explaining the conservation process for the Wishing Well. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Currently, Venus Bronze Works has three of Cranbrook’s works in his shop – two are awaiting reinstallation on the grounds, while the metal “arch” from the Wishing Well at Cranbrook House is just undergoing restoration.

Parts of the Wishing Well “arch” removed for restoration. One element was missing so a replacement piece had to be fabricated. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Parts of the Wishing Well “arch” removed for restoration. One element was missing so a replacement piece had to be fabricated. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Orpheus figure, restored and waiting to be reinstalled at Cranbrook Academy of Art (CAM 1931.9). Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Orpheus figure, restored and waiting to be reinstalled at Cranbrook Academy of Art (CAM 1931.9). Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

For more on Venus Bronze Works, including Detroit’s own RoboCop statue, see: http://www.dailydetroit.com/2015/08/24/remember-robo-cop-statue/

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

The Case of the Bogdani

The other night I saw the most interesting show on PBS called “Fake or Forgery.” An investigative journalist and two noted art sleuths joined forces with cutting edge scientists to discover the truth behind a painting the owner thought to be a Degas. They thoroughly searched the provenance of the painting, and used scientific methods like X-ray fluorescence (XRF) to determine if the pigments used in the painting were compatible with Degas’ known palette. It made me think of the many works of art across the Cranbrook campus that could benefit from in-depth scientific research like this. And, it prompted me to relay the story of a discovery the archives staff made several years ago.

The painting we fondly refer to as “The Bogdani” was originally purchased by George Booth for Kingswood School for Girls, where it hung in the Domestic Science Dining Room. Purportedly painted by noted Hungarian Jakob Bogdani (1658-1724), the still life was found in a storage room badly in need of cleaning and restoration.

The painting was conserved by Ken Katz of Conservation & Museum Services in Detroit. During the several months of conservation, we were able to visit the studio in order to see the work in process, and the results were amazing.

during

During conservation.

As I looked closely at the work, my heart almost stopped beating. Bogdani’s signature was gone, and in its place was another name! My first thought was how hard I had lobbied to get the painting conserved and now it was a forgery!  However, after doing additional research, I discovered that the artist, Tobias Stranover (1684-1731) was actually Bogdani’s son-in-law and former student. Phew! Although this meant the still life was painted around 1810 instead of 1790, at least we still had an original painted by an artist who, with his father-in-law, provided the finest exotic bird and animal paintings in England. The painting currently hangs in the reading room of Cranbrook Archives.

Before conservation.

Before conservation.

after

After conservation, details in the painting can be seen can be seen more clearly, and the brilliance of the colors pop.

 

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

 

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