Antwerpeni Astrid

Oma tööd konserveerimisosakonnas tutvustab praktikant Astrid Marie Decruyenaere.

I am Astrid and I am an Erasmus student from the University of Antwerp, Belgium. I’m studying at EKA in Tallinn at the department of Cultural Heritage and Conservation. I’m in my 3rd bachelors of my specialization in ceramic materials and for my practical work I have been given the opportunity to work in KUMU.

My task is to conserve and restore two sculptures made by well-known Estonian artists.

One is ‘Merehelinate kuulaja ’ made by Amandus Adamson in 1904, it is made out of unglazed porcelain (bisque) and it depicts a young woman who’s watching at the sea with a dreamily gaze whilst leaning on a rock at the shore. The other artwork is by Edgard Viies in 1968 with the title ‘Eile ’. It’s a woman who’s carrying two big buckets with a wooden aid on her shoulders. This sculpture is made of high fired ceramics.

In this post I will show something more about Adamson’s sculpture and the conservation process of the cleaning treatment it is getting.

You wouldn’t say it at first, but the sculpture was actually quite dirty. The surface was covered with a dirt layer due to the environment and there were a lot of darker stains of different composition: pencil dots or lines on the arms, darker spots where the dust gathered more than in other places and near the feet there are four long yellowish and oily stains visible which resemble fingerprints. They lead the attention of the viewer away from the beauty of the object. Also, environmental compounds and humidity can be bad for the sculpture because they can accelerate the degradation of it. That’s why we decided a cleaning treatment was necessary.

But before the conservation-restoration treatment for the sculpture could start, it was necessary to do several tests with different methods and products that might help to remove the pollution layer from the surface (see table).

After the tests, we decided that the general dirt, dust and darker stains on the sculpture are best to be removed with the hot steam method (number 7 in the picture), using only distilled water which is heated by a device which produces steam. Cleaning with this method is a good option because it’s very fast and very easy to use. Because only distilled water is used no anorganic salts or other organic particles are present which can harm the sculpture and its materials. After cleaning with water is not necessary. Also, it is the least dangerous for artwork and conservator since no toxic solvents or chemicals are being used.

Because the cleaning includes a lot of water, the sculpture was placed upon  wooden slats, then the water can be removed more easily. It is important that the water doesn’t stay on the surface because it could  penetrate the sculpture itself and attract dirt etc. Using the hot steam method, one can literally ‘draw’ the dirt away. That’s why you have to be careful that there’s no irregular cleaning, because when the surface has dried the difference is really visible. After cleaning a part some cotton wool or paper towels are used to dab the surface dry again.

All of the cleaning happens cautiously to guarantee the least as possible loss of the original material of the sculpture. The cleaning process of the surface of the sculpture takes a lot of time and because the sculpture is part of the permanent exhibition of the museum it is only possible to work on it when the museum is closed. The cleaning has to happen in different stages, so that’s why it is possible that when you go to the exhibition visitors can see where the cleaning has stopped  in the conservation studio. That explains the difference in colour.

For me personally, it was very interesting to experience how things (documenting of artworks, the paperwork, the actual conservation treatment and working together with somebody) go in ‘real life’ in a real museum with real people and real artworks. To encounter the big difference between the working methods and -materials in school life and in a museum has been very refreshing. The same can certainly be said on macro level: it was pleasing to experience the difference in routines, systems and ideas in Estonia, comparing to my home country.

I am very grateful for this opportunity, it has been an enrichment of my viewpoint on conservation of ceramics.