19th Century Chinese Glass Rod Panel

Last year the Museum acquired an interesting new object. It is a panel made up of two rectangular sheets of assembled thin glass rods with painted paper cutouts sandwiched between them and held together at the edges with paper tape. The cutouts represent a scene of Chinese glass blowers. The panel was probably made for a table screen or room screen. So far the only similar objects we have found are three panels in the Museum’s collection. Their sizes and imagery are different, but their constructions are basically the same. Although no other glass rod panels have been found outside of the Museum’s collection, the panels produce an effect very similar to carved slates of hardstone, and painted panels of porcelain and ivory of which numerous examples were decorated in the nineteenth century.

2010.6.26 Before Treatment

2010.6.26 After Treatment

Because these panels seem to be so rare, our curator of European glass, Florian Knothe, and I have been studying the four panels to better understand their constructions and history. As part of the study we analyzed the glass with our handheld XRF (x-ray fluorescence) spectrometer.

XRF analysis of the panel.

XRF analysis allows us to detect the composition of the glass and paint pigments. The results are only semi-quantitative, so they can’t give us the exact compositions, but they can tell us if the glass rods in the different panels are similar and help identify some of the paints. We are hoping to present a paper on the panels at a conservation conference next year.

The panel also needed some conservation treatment. It was very dirty and the edges were very fragile.

Edge of the panel with small losses of paper and glass beside it. The panel is lying on top of a sheet of plexiglass which was used to move the panel.

The treatment took 28 ½ hours, most of which was spent on cleaning the glass surfaces with saliva.

The panel was cleaned with cotton balls dampened with saliva and a water/ethanol mix.

Saliva is often used in conservation because it has enzymes which help dissolve and pick up dirt. Because of its viscosity, saliva also wets the object less than other solvents such as water.

The panel partially cleaned.

The edges of the panel were consolidated with a thin solution of a very stable acrylic resin. They were further stabilized by folding strips of Japanese tissue around the edges.

Strips of Japanese tissue were folded around the edges and glued in place with a thin solution of an acrylic resin. Small weights were placed on the tissue while the glue set.

Even the new frame for the panel has some special features protect the edges.

There is a strip of volara (a closed-cell polyethylene foam) between the object and the frame to provide a cushion for the fragile edges.

Unfortunately the paper elements in the panels are sensitive to light and would be damaged and become faded if exposed to too much light. This means that the panel will not be on view permanently. But, the panel is currently on view in the “East Meets West” exhibit in the Museum’s West Bridge Gallery.

Panel on view in the Museum.

If you get a chance stop by and see it! Be sure to look at it from different angles to see how the glass rods produce a unique light effect. At certain angles the painted figures really pop out at you.

Posted by

Astrid van Giffen is the Museum's associate conservator. In 2007, she completed the conservation training program of the Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage (ICN) in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, with a specialization in glass and ceramics. Her training included internships at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, MD, and The Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, NY. Since completing the ICN program, she’s worked as a private conservator in Oregon and was the Samuel H. Kress Fellow in Objects Conservation at the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies of the Harvard Art Museum (2008-2009). She also holds a BA (2001) in Classical Studies from Willamette University.