A Peek into the Conservation Lab

Hello, my name is Stacey Kelly, and I’m the new Paper Conservation Fellow at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art. Today, I’m going to give you a little behind-the-scenes tour of the conservation lab at the Amon Carter.

The lab houses three of us: Paper Conservator Jodie Utter, Photographs Conservator Fernanda Valverde, and me. We try to get as much natural light as we can in the lab because it is essential for examination and treatment. The windows all face north, which provides the most consistent light throughout the day, great for looking at color in an artwork. We are immensely pleased to have such splendid windows in our workspace, and our colleagues have of course expressed their jealousy and intent to move their desks into our lab.

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A view of the lab showing the worktables, the sink, and the windows!

The main bulk of the lab consists of large worktables for documentation, examination, and treatment. We have a fume hood for treatment involving solvents, a large sink for wet treatment, drawers for the temporary storage of artworks and photographic prints, a paper cutter for cutting board, and different types of materials for packing and storage.

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Temporary storage for works of art in the lab, and our little library for conservation-related information

We also have a wide range of scientific equipment that we use for the examination and documentation of artworks; this is usually done when we are working on a technical study for research, or if we need to look at a particular artwork in greater detail for exhibition or treatment. These tools include UV light to help identify materials, a spectrophotometer that measures material (or image) density (usually employed to examine the levels of fading that have occurred in colored prints and photographs), a stereo microscope to examine and treat artworks under magnification, a handheld X-ray fluorescent analyzer to assist in the identification of inorganic materials, and a polarizing light microscope for pigment and fiber analysis.

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Our handheld X-ray fluorescent analyzer that we use to identify nineteenth-century watercolor pigment samples, as well as other inorganic materials

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Paper Conservator Jodie Utter working under the stereo microscope to consolidate flaking paint on Romare Bearden’s Poseidon, the Sea God–Enemy of Odysseus, 1977

We are actively collecting and building a historical artist pigment reference library as a resource for pigment analysis and identification. Here you can see the wonderful (and steadily growing) assembly of nineteenth-century artist materials we have here in the lab. All these pigments will be sampled, analyzed, and added to our pigment reference library to aid in the current and future research of artworks in our collection.

Images of collected artist materials for analysis and inclusion to the reference library set
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So this ends the really quick tour of the lab! Hope you enjoyed it. If you have any questions, please email me at stacey.kelly@cartermuseum.org.