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News Student Blog: Denver Art Museum

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​Several packaged soaps and candles belonging to the AIGA Design archive

Monday July 4th 2016

On one of my first days at the Denver Art Museum (DAM), I learned how to sew a button and then repeated the process about 70 times! By the end, I could sew buttons in my sleep, but this was not just an exercise in button sewing but rather the final step in the refabrication of Ernesto Neto’s interactive installation Walking in Venus Blue Cave.  At that point, I knew this internship would be not only educational, but fun. The Denver Art Museum is known for its collections of American Indian, Modern and Contemporary, Pre-Columbian, Western American, and Spanish Colonial arts. Last year, I visited the DAM and was enamored with their Pre-Columbian and Native Arts objects.  I was eager to start the internship not only because of the collections, but also due to the equally enticing exhibit driven schedule and the wonderful mentors at the museum.  My experience to-date has encompassed almost every aspect of conservation, from preventive care to in-depth treatment.

​WUDPAC Fellow Lauren Gottschlich removing dust from the top of a candle in the AIGA Design Archive (courtesy of N. Feldman).

​As diverse as the collections, the materials I treated include Pre-Columbian archaeological artifacts, packaged toiletries and foodstuffs, European ceramics, contemporary bronzes, and American Indian dance regalia, among others. Rehousing projects, mannequin covering, and artificial aging supported my treatments and built upon my preventive conservation training. Throughout this entire process, I was amazed at how obscure facts learned in the first and second year were integral to my treatments.  The WUDPAC training is invaluable as it formed a solid foundation in materials and their properties that I continually build upon.  Additionally, the science courses and technical research project prepared me for my DAM research into scented soy and paraffin candle waxes.

​An original soap bar and the faux soap wax replica.

One of my favorite projects was the treatment of packaged soaps in the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) collection archive belonging to the DAM.  The AIGA Design Archive documents award winning designs of foodstuffs and toiletries from the 1980’s to the present day.  The soaps were of particular concern as the soap bars were causing discoloration, saturation, and fading of the printed packaging materials. It was decided to remove the soaps from the packaging to prevent further degradation of the materials.  On one particular set, the soaps were a visible component of the design, and the stickers securing them within their sleeves were stuck to the soap.  After gently lifting the labels and opening the sleeve’s side seam, I removed the soap bars and reduced soap residues on the interior.  In most cases, the soaps were stored outside of the packaging.  Since soap is not a stable material, I researched and tested methods of creating replica faux soap bars out of wax.  These replica soaps will allow the integrity of the design to be preserved and displayed once the original soaps degrade.  

My internship is coming to an end, but there are still many projects to pursue.  The upcoming months promise many projects including the continuation of my candle wax research, the treatment of several devotional Spanish Colonial figures, the identification of pigments from a Mayan incensario, and likely a few more surprises! The museum has provided me with solid experience in the field.  Under the mentorship of the staff, I have grown tremendously as a conservator and a professional, and I look forward to the future ahead!   

-- WUDPAC Class of 2016 Fellow Lauren Gottschlich

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In this blog post, WUDPAC Class of 2016 Fellow Lauren Gottschlich shares her internship experience amongst the wide-ranging collections at the Denver Art Museum...

​In this blog post, WUDPAC Class of 2016 Fellow Lauren Gottschlich shares her internship experience amongst the wide-ranging collections at the Denver Art Museum, including how her early days at WUDPAC informed her work with tricky materials, such as soaps and waxes.

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  • The Department of Art Conservation
  • 303 Old College
  • University of Delaware
  • Newark, DE 19716, USA
  • Phone: 302-831-3489