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First steps in pottery and leather conservation

May 7, 2014

Hello everyone,

My name is Sandra and I am one of the interns who have been working on the post-excavation of pottery from Nunalleq. I have also had the opportunity to work alongside museum conservator, Nicole Stahl. For the past couple of weeks we have been focusing on conserving leather and pottery, which require different kinds of treatment.

Conservation of leather involved cleaning it under a microscope using deionised water to gently remove dirt with a soft brush, as the soft leather surfaces can be abraded quite easily. I followed Nicole’s directions to prepare a solution of Glycerol in deionised water and the cleaned pieces were bathed in this mixture for 4-5 days. During that time I had to stir the mixture twice a day to prevent Glycerol from sitting at the bottom of the tub as it is heavier than water. The next step was freeze-drying, but first leather had to be stabilised: we had to put all leather pieces between plastic bags and cardboard, and then put them into protective sympatex sheeting. We will be able to freeze-dry the treated leather soon to see the results, but for now it is happily sitting in the freezer.


Leather conservation steps: clean piece being placed into the Glycerol bath (left) and another piece removed from the bath after having been immersed for 4 days (right).

Conservation of pottery involved several consolidation trials with both dry and wet pottery as they require different treatment. To consolidate dry pottery Nicole suggested using a B72 (paraloid) solution in acetone. We experimented with different concentrations and after examining the sherds tested, we decided that 5% will be the most suitable for both lamps and vessels. To consolidate wet pottery we used Primal AC33 in distilled water. Nicole has explained that the reason for choosing this consolidant is that the wet pottery’s main component is water and so it has to be replaced with a water soluble solvent.

Now that we have established a suitable treatment for wet and dry pottery, I am discussing with Ana plans to consolidate selected items from the collection, which is very exciting and scary at the same time! Working with the Alaskan material has been very challenging at times but has taught me skills no lecture or practical would have ever given me!



Pottery conservation trials (left): Sandra applying different concentrations of B72 in acetone to dry, cleaned sherds to test for level of consolidation. First stage of consolidation of a clay lamp (right): Nicole applying the B72 solution. You can also see wood conservation going on in the corner.

One Comment leave one →
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