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Friday, June 1 • 4:30pm - 5:00pm
(Problematic Materials) The Element of Surprise: contending with historic lead fills on an outdoor bronze Mercury

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Lead has been used for centuries as a filling agent for a wide variety of materials ranging from metals, to ceramics, and even teeth. It’s flexibility, low melting point, and ability to form alloys with a variety of common metals made it an ideal conservation material before the health hazards of lead were well known. As a result, lead fills can be found in a large number of museum artifacts. Despite the prevalence of historic lead fills in collections, there is little published information on how to contend with historic lead fills in modern object conservation treatments. Of particular interest for the authors is the interaction of more current conservation fill materials with lead repairs. This presentation will focus on the challenges encountered in working with in-situ lead fills, as demonstrated through the case study of an outdoor, cast bronze sculpture of Mercury currently on display at the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, CA. With this object, the authors not only had to contend with damage to the bronze caused by leaching lead corrosion, but also the unforeseen complications involved in attempting to apply new, modern fill materials on top of the preserved historic fills. Health and safety concerns were also a consideration when developing the treatment plan, as the complete removal of the lead was not an option due to lack of disposal facilities and suitable protective equipment. In the end, a treatment methodology was developed through trial and error that, while using somewhat unorthodox materials for museum object conservation, resulted in a treatment that preserved the original fills, stabilized the sculpture for outdoor display, and vastly improved the aesthetic appearance of the bronze.

avatar for Sarah Giffin

Sarah Giffin

Assistant Conservator, RLA Conservation
Sarah Giffin is an assistant objects conservator for the Los Angeles studio of RLA Conservation. She graduated with an MA and an MSc in Conservation for Archaeology and Museums from University College London in 2016. Prior to working at RLA she worked for the National Park Service... Read More →

avatar for Humberto del Rio

Humberto del Rio

Chief conservation Technician, RLA Conservation of Art + Architecture
Humberto del Rio holds a B.S. in Chemistry from Instituto Politécnico de Química “Mártires de Girón” in Havana, Cuba, with a specialization in Industrial Chemistry. Prior to joining RLA Humberto worked for Conservation Solutions, Inc. as a stone technician and served as a... Read More →
avatar for Christina Varvi-[PA]

Christina Varvi-[PA]

Senior Conservator, RLA Conservation, Inc.
Christina Varvi, Senior Conservator and Professional Associate of the AIC, holds an M.S. in Historic Preservation with a concentration in Materials Conservation from Columbia University. A specialist in architectural and public art conservation, Christina is RLA’s lead professional... Read More →

Friday June 1, 2018 4:30pm - 5:00pm MDT
Texas Ballroom C Marriott Marquis Houston
  5. General Session, Problematic Materials