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Saturday, June 2 • 10:30am - 11:00am
(Research and Technical Studies) Big Things Come in Small Packages: The Materials Analysis Lab at Colonial Williamsburg and its Impact Throughout the Foundation

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In 2014, the Conservation Department at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation (CWF) established its first-ever Materials Analysis Laboratory to serve the needs of the Foundation’s conservators, curators, architectural historians, and historic area tradespeople. Current instrumentation includes an upright microscope for cross-section and polarized light microscopy, a handheld x-ray fluorescence spectrometer (pXRF), an infrared microspectrometer coupled with a conventional light microscope, and a desktop scanning electron microscope with energy dispersive x-ray spectroscopy (SEM-EDS). The creation of this lab at CW was made possible through donor funds coupled with recent advancements in analytical technologies which have led to the development of smaller, more compact instruments with comparable sensitivities to their larger counterparts at relatively affordable prices and with more intuitive, user-friendly software. (This lecture will include a special review of the IR microspectrometer and desktop SEM-EDS for those who may be interested in the advantages and disadvantages of these smaller instruments). Most analyses are carried out by the Foundation’s first-ever Materials Analyst, allowing the conservators to focus on their busy treatment schedules. However, with minimal training conservators can use instruments for their own research, as time allows. The Materials Analysis Laboratory has been a major contribution to the work of conservation staff. Case studies will illustrate some of the straight-forward ways in which having on-site analysis has been an advantage – from minimizing the time spent on empirical materials testing for the reversal of a modern glass repair, or the characterization of exhibit fabrics to assess their eligibility for dyeing. We have found, across the board, that this leads to more effective assessments, treatments, and the development of more appropriate storage environments. Another department that has embraced the lab is our historic trades program. CWF tradespeople are not simply actors – they are artisans and scholars dedicated to better understanding and mastering 18th c. tools and technologies. Collaborations between the lab with historic trades, using museum collection objects as subjects, makes CW a unique resource for material studies. Tradespeople use historically accurate materials whenever possible and they practice their craft in view of the public, providing opportunities for outreach and education relating to the role of analysis at CWF. Case studies will illustrate the variety of ways in which the lab has contributed to their work – including the study of 18th c. felt hats to identify animal fiber blends for our historic area hat-maker, to determining the color and composition of paints used on 18th and 19th c. tin lanterns in our collection that would be replicated by our tin shop for use in the historic area. As historic area tradespeople engage with the public, they often discuss the evidence provided by scientific analysis. This juxtaposition of modern technology within an 18th century setting gives our guests an unforgettable visitor experience and a new appreciation for the depth of our research.

avatar for Kirsten T. Moffitt

Kirsten T. Moffitt

Conservator & Materials Analyst, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation
Kirsten Travers Moffitt is a conservator of painted surfaces with a specialty in the microscopy and analysis of historic finishes. She received her B.F.A. in Fine Art from the State University of New York at Purchase in 1997, and spent the next eleven years working as a decorative... Read More →

Saturday June 2, 2018 10:30am - 11:00am MDT
Meyerland Meeting Room Marriott Marquis Houston