Solving an ancient puzzle in the Conservation Lab

This summer the Conservation Lab is filled with fragments, even more than there usually are. All these fragments of Islamic lustre and stained glass don’t belong to one object. Most of them were once part of the extensive fragment collection of Ray Smith and came into the Museum’s collection in two batches in 1951 and 1968.

Islamic lustre and stained glass fragments in the conservation lab

Although fragments aren’t as visually pleasing as whole or nearly whole objects, they still provide a lot of information about glassmaking techniques. It is also a lot easier to take a sample for analysis from a fragment than from a complete object.

Individual fragments in baggies waiting to be sorted

In order to really study fragments like these, we need to be able to keep track of them just like any other object. Unfortunately, the Museum’s record keeping wasn’t always as comprehensive as it is now and many of these fragments were never formally accessioned. As you can imagine, accessioning and cataloguing hundreds of fragments is a big job. We’re trying to reduce that number by looking for joining fragments. This might sound like looking for a needle in a haystack, and in some ways it is, but laying out all the fragments in one place and arranging them according to colors and patterns makes it a little easier.

More fragments

We have found several joins already!

fragments waiting to be joined

After we get done with all the lustre and stained fragments, we get to start the whole process again with our enameled Islamic fragments.

Enameled Islamic fragments waiting for the next round of join finding

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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.

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