This blog comes to us from Annika Blake-Howland, a graduate intern with the Museum’s Conservation Department in March 2022. Annika is currently completing her final year of her Master’s in Art Conservation at SUNY Buffalo State College. She is an objects conservation specialist with a strong interest in glass conservation. During her time at CMoG, Annika focused on objects that were damaged or treated after the flood of 1972.
Art conservation is a professional field that works to preserve cultural heritage objects for the future through environmental controls, scientific research, and other passive and active preservation strategies. Similar to many other fields, there have been considerable advances in technology and methodology within art conservation over the last 150 years. Glass is an ancient material and, therefore, one can expect that a historic glass object may have lived many lives and potentially been repaired or conserved several times.
This is very true for a 2-Part Candelabrum from early 18th-century England (CMoG 60.2.39), where several campaigns of repair or conservation work are evidenced.
The earliest technique visible is the use of metal staples or wires for reattaching fragments. This technique is known to have been used in Ancient Greece and Rome all the way through the late 20th century, although recent examples are significantly less common and were usually done outside of a museum environment. The use of staples is best suited to cases where an object has broken into larger fragments. Paired holes are drilled on either side of the break, and a metal wire or staple is inserted into the holes and secures the previously detached fragment. The metal used was frequently lead or bronze (early repairs), brass (17th and 18th centuries), or similar pliable metals. In this candelabrum the staples or wires were removed before the object was accessioned into the collection of The Corning Museum of Glass, so the metal used is unknown. Removal of staples is done less commonly today as these pieces of metal can be considered to be part of the object’s history. However, staple or wire removal was a common practice in the early to the mid-20th century. Therefore, the paired holes along the break, and the absence of a connecting wire or staple, are evidence of two historic practices: the use of staples and the 20th-century preference for staple removal.
The next technique evidenced in the candelabrum is the use of a rod to stabilize the stem. The stem had broken prior to the candelabrum entering the Museum’s collection and had been repaired by drilling through the center of the stem and inserting an iron rod into the stem to reattach all of the fragments and add structural stability to the object. At the same time, it is likely that a portion of the stem had been lost and another existing portion had been ground flat to accommodate this loss. This object was affected by the flooding from Hurricane Agnes in June of 1972. This will be discussed more below, but flooding caused the iron rod to rust, and this rust stained the glass object. The corroded iron rod was replaced with a brazing rod in 1974.
The candelabrum entered the collection of The Corning Museum of Glass in 1960. In 1961, during photography, the object was damaged. One arm detached from the central knop and the bobeche (wax-collecting collar) broke, and an older chip on the base was also damaged further. The damage was documented by Axel von Saldern, a curator. At the time, The Corning Museum of Glass, like most museums, did not have an art conservator on staff. There is little documentation from the 1961 incident beyond a brief note, but it is likely that the candelabrum would have been repaired with a clear adhesive.
The most recent conservation treatment of the candelabrum occurred in 1974 in the aftermath of Hurricane Agnes. The hurricane had downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it reached Corning, but it still caused significant damage to the town of Corning, the Museum, and the collection. After the flood, the candelabrum was found covered in mud and in several fragments. Additionally, as mentioned previously, the iron rod had stained the surrounding glass.
There were also areas of loss where the corresponding fragment was never found in the aftermath of the flood. The candelabrum was gently cleaned by conservators to remove the flood mud, and the rust staining was also cleaned. A replacement piece for the lost portion of the stem was created by throwing a positive out of clay on a potter’s wheel. This positive was then used to create a silicone mold, and the final replacement piece was created from Plastogen G, a poly(methyl methacrylate). While this is not a solution conservators would use today, it was a very clever way of creating the necessary component for the stem. With the replacement piece created, the stem was reassembled by inserting a new rod through the fragments and adhering the fragments together with an epoxy adhesive. The detached arms and other fragments were reattached with an epoxy adhesive and areas of loss were filled with Plastogen G.
The candelabrum has now not been treated for almost fifty years as the 1974 conservation treatment provided stable, long-lasting results. However, not all materials last forever, including conservation-grade adhesives, and slight yellowing of the areas of fill has occurred. While this yellowing poses no danger to the candelabrum, it may be necessary in the next decade to replace the yellowed adhesive with a new, clear material that is less visually distracting. Through close observation, we can see the many repairs and conservation treatments this early 18th-century English candelabrum has had. The evidence of these also illustrates how the repair and conservation of glass objects have changed over the last 150 years.
For Further Information:
Information on the Corning Flood: https://www.cmog.org/collection/exhibitions/flood-72-community-collections-and-conservation
Information on Conservation at CMoG: https://www.cmog.org/collection/conservation
Goldstein, Sidney M. “A Fix, a Fracture, and a Fake.” Journal of Glass Studies 57 (2015): 13–20. http://www.jstor.org/stable/24726944.
Pilosi, Lisa, and Mark T. Wypyski. “Technical Examination and Conservation of Glass.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 59, no. 1 (2001): 66–68. https://doi.org/10.2307/3269175.
“Techniques for Treating Glass and Ceramics.” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin, 2010, 84–87. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41000893.
Tennent, Norman, Suzan de Groot, and Stephen P. Koob. “The Identification and Long-Term Stability of Polymer Fills in Ceramics and Glass Artifacts: A Retrospective Assessment Involving FTIR Characterization.” Recent Advances in Glass and Ceramics Conservation 2019. Interim Meeting of the ICOM-CC Working Group. September 5-7, 2019. London, England.