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News Student Blog: Rhode Island School of Design

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​Left: The lacquer hat. Right: View of the head strap underneath the lacquer hat, after treatment with the crepeline encapsulation. (Images: Raychelle Osnato)

​In this blog post, UD undergraduate student Raychelle Osnato discusses her summer internship at the RISD Museum and her work on wide-ranging objects including Samurai artifacts, Windsor chairs, and transferware ceramics. (Raychelle is a recent graduate of the University of Delaware with a degree in Art Conservation and Art History with a minor in Museum Studies.) —

Following the excitement of graduation from UD's undergraduate Art Conservation Program, I traveled from my home state of New York to Providence, Rhode Island, to begin my summer internship at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). There I had the privilege to work alongside objects conservator, Ingrid Neuman. One of the most rewarding aspects of my time spent at the RISD Museum was the hands-on experience I gained with new materials I have never treated and handled before, such as lacquer, silver, furniture, and ceramics.

If you were to explore the galleries at RISD you might just stumble upon the objects I had the opportunity to work with. The conservation of the museum's encyclopedic collection is primarily exhibition driven. As a result, in just 7 weeks, I worked with over 50 objects and wrote over 50 condition reports for two exhibitions, Daimyo Culture in Peacetime and Raid the Icebox Now.

​Left: The lacquer storage box. Right: Raychelle consolidating the red paint on the storage box using funori adhesive.

Participating in these two projects taught me how to better prioritize treatment procedures and work efficiently with important deadlines in mind. I had the opportunity to work with curators and other museum professionals directly and this allowed me to see first-hand the developmental process for exhibitions including mount-making, installation, and exhibition design. Seeing the exhibitions unfold and to be a part of it was very exciting. It was the first time I was able to see an object I treated go on display and see the reactions of visitors!

Curated by Wai Yee Chiong, Daimyo Culture in Peacetime, features Japanese artifacts. These artifacts date to the Edo and Meiji period and speak to a time of peace where daimyo, feudal lords that emerged from warrior bands, controlled Japan's provinces. In preparation for the exhibition I treated a ceremonial Lacquer Hat, Katana Sword, and a Lacquer Storage Box. Military items, such as these, became emblems of family legacies and power.

The Samurai hat is a black lacquer, circular hat with a rounded peak. It is constructed out of wood and is decorated with bronze paint featuring leaves, blades of grass, small flowers, and berries. The most fascinating component of the hat was a head-strap consisting of lacquer wooden slats with a multi-layered padding and leather tying strings. The padding was powdering, torn, and experienced a substantial amount of loss. Because of this it was important to stabilize the padding to prevent further damage from handling and display. With the help of textile conservator, Jessica Urick, I encapsulated the two remaining paddings with crepeline by essentially sewing custom socks!

​Left: The Katana sword and scabbard. Right: A comparison of the original button on the scabbard and Raychelle's reproduction button. (Images: Raychelle Osnato)

The Lacquer Storage Box presented a new type of challenge. The box itself would have stored a part of the Samurai’s armor. Traditionally, when a Samurai’s armor is displayed, it sits on top of the storage box. In this particular case, the lacquer leather was delaminating and the red paint on family crest was very flaky. To stabilize the box for display, I consolidated the leather and paint using funori, a Japanese seaweed adhesive. I used funori because it is soluble in water, dries invisible, and remained within the tradition of Japanese techniques and materials.

The final object I treated for the Samurai exhibition was a Katana Sword and Scabbard. Although the sword functioned as a ceremonial object and would not have been used as a weapon, I had to remind myself that is was still very sharp! The most exciting portion of the treatment was reproducing a missing button on the scabbard for display purposes. I made a mold of the original button located on the scabbard’s leather hanging loop using silicone-release Mylar and a vinyl-polysiloxane putty. I then used a non-yellowing resin mixed with burnt umber pigment and painted the button’s surface with gold pigments. From close inspection, it is clear to museum visitors that the button is a reproduction.

​UD Class of 2019 undergraduate student Raychelle Osnato consolidating a Windsor chair using rabbit skin glue.

In 1969 Andy Warhol was invited by the RISD Museum to create his own art installation using objects within their collection. This year marks the 50th anniversary of this revolutionary practice between museums and contemporary artists. To celebrate, the RISD Museum once again invited contemporary artists to utilize the museum's collections in storage to create their own art installations within the galleries. I participated in the large-scale project by preparing the selected objects for display by conducting conditional surveys, cleanings, and minor treatments and repairs. I worked on 3 of the 9 Raid the Icebox Now exhibitions. This included 22 chairs for Sebastian Ruth's exhibition, Witnessing, 32 ceramics for Paul Scott's exhibition, New American Scenery, and a silver cake basket and tea urn for Pablo Bronstein's exhibition, Historical Rhode Island Decor.

The most extensive treatment I did for Raid the Icebox Now was a transferware ceramic plate featuring a landscape of Louisville for Paul Scott's exhibition. The plate had been previously restored using staples to re-attach and re-align the ceramic shards. The old fills had failed and the overpaint was embrittled and discolored. I removed the overpaint and fills using solvents and a small scalpel. Once I reinforced the cracks using Paraloid B72 adhesive, I used Flugger, a fine acrylic paste, to fill the ceramic losses along the crack-lines and on the rim. I finished the treatment by inpainting the fills.

At the end of my internship, when I presented my summer projects to RISD faculty and visitors, I referred to the seven weeks I was there was "Swab-ulous," as I used thousands of cotton swabs, and it was truly a fabulous and rewarding experience. My time spent with Ingrid and at the RISD Museum has provided me with a stronger foundation to move forward in my career as an art conservator and museum professional. I look forward to my next adventure!

Raychelle Osnato, UD Class of 2019

​Left: The Louisville plate, after treatment. Center: After-treatment detail of fill and inpainting using acrylic paint and a high gloss varnish. Right: Before-treatment detail of rim and crack-line. (Images: Raychelle Osnato)

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​In this blog post, UD undergraduate student Raychelle Osnato discusses her summer internship at the RISD Museum and her work on wide-ranging objects including Samuari artifacts, Windsor chairs, and transferware ceramics.

​In this blog post, UD undergraduate student Raychelle Osnato discusses her summer internship at the RISD Museum and her work on wide-ranging objects including Samuari artifacts, Windsor chairs, and transferware ceramics.

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