From Tamara Dissi's blog, entitled "Through the Eye of the Needle: Treating a 1940 Diorama":
Injecting artwork with medical-grade syringes was not included as part
of my job description, yet this is precisely what I found myself doing
three weeks into my Conservation Internship for Broadening Access (CIBA)
this summer. Conservators are often described as art doctors, and I now
understand the almost literal association as I load my medical-grade
syringe with diluted consolidant. Objects come into the lab for routine
check-ups, examinations, and treatments as necessary. My patient this
summer was (and still is) a fantastic multimedia diorama which was part
of the 1940 “American Negro Exposition” in Chicago. My fellow CIBA
intern, Matthew Fields, and I spent these few months treating this
artwork, entitled Reconstruction after the War. This diorama was one of 33 included in the original exhibition, but only 20 remain today, all of which are in the Tuskegee University Legacy Museum collection.
Over 70 African American artists created these intricate works which
aimed to depict important moments in African American history. The
specific one in our lab this summer is modeled after Eastman Johnson’s
1859 painting, Negro Life at the South, which is in the New York Historical Society
collection. With the passing of 80 years between the painting and
diorama, the diorama underwent artistic liberties yet the reference to
Johnson’s painting is made clear with exceptional attention to detail.
After the exhibition, the artwork was placed in a dark basement where it
remained for the next 70 years. It came into the Lunder Conservation Center in June needing some extra TLC. As a pre-program conservation intern looking into master’s programs, I
am interested in pursuing paintings or objects as my specialty. I was
particularly interested in working with this diorama because of its
composition of a variety of materials. . . . Before starting the treatment, we essentially had to conduct an
archaeological excavation, carefully sorting and cataloguing salvageable
fragments among the debris. Next, the diorama needed some serious
consolidation (re-binding the surface material to its support). Since
every object is unique, cleaning and consolidating agents needs to be
tested first to assess its reaction to the object’s materials. At this
point, we removed four of the figures from the diorama and treated them
as individual objects. Their painted surfaces were very friable, meaning
that even a light dusting removed integral paint layers.
To read more of this blog post, via the SAAM website here.