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Friday, June 1 • 3:30pm - 4:00pm
19. (Objects) Cosmetics as artifacts: the analysis and conservation of a 1930s theatrical makeup kit

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A 1930s era theatrical makeup kit in the collection the Buffalo Museum of Science was analyzed and treated at the Garman Family Art Conservation Department at Buffalo State College. The kit, contained within a tinplated-steel L. Leichner brand expandable makeup box, was tightly packed with 105 individual items that included: paper, metal, and glass containers of powder- and cream-based cosmetics that had broke, spilled and smeared; insect-eaten wool crepe hairs; makeup-stained cotton balls; degrading plastics; and paper documents, including a hand-written journal with notations made in lipstick. The kit was gifted to the museum in 1983, where it had since remained in storage. Discussions with the curator lead to the idea that the kit, while not typical of the museum’s collections, could nonetheless serve as an interesting launching-off point into science for visitors interested in cosmetics or the theatre. A treatment philosophy was developed that would approach the kit as an “archeological artifact,” with the goal of maintaining the kit’s original appearance as it was assembled by its owner. Materials analysis, treatment and preventive conservation strategies were employed in tandem to stabilize the object group for display and storage. Materials analysis was performed to gather information about the components of the make-up kit that could be used to inform decisions about treatment and display. Significantly, the box’s strong “old makeup” odor was considered a potential concern to both to the paper and metal components in the box and to other objects housed nearby it. The questions posed for the first phase of analysis were: what types of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) comprise this strong “old makeup” smell? Could these components be problematic to other materials? In collaboration with the Rochester Institute of Technology, solid-phase microextraction headspace analysis (HS-SPME) was performed on the unopened box and some components, to detect volatile and semi-volatile species present. In a second step, experiments to replicate a “low fi” approach to non-invasive VOC analysis were performed in the BSC science laboratory. Pellets of sorbents were tested for their ability to adsorb VOCs from a two strong off-gassing objects and low temperature pyrolysis was performed to desorb analytes for gas chromatography-mass spectroscopy analysis (py-GC-MS). A third phase of analysis began with research into the history of theatrical cosmetics to lend context to the historical moment from which the items emerged. This is best emblematized by the greasepaints, the main group of objects in the kit and the precursor to modern-day foundation. To characterize colorants, six pink greasepaints in the kit were sampled for analysis that combined X-ray fluorescence (XRF), Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (transmission-FTIR), optical microscopy (OM), polarized light microscopy (PLM), and selective py-GC-MS. In the treatment phase, extensive collaboration from across the BSC conservation department was solicited in order to approach a variety of object types including: mends to sprung three-dimensional paper containers filled with cosmetics, fills in broken glass jars, stabilization of a hand-written journal, and fabrication of missing metal components.

avatar for Mary Wilcop

Mary Wilcop

Fellow in Objects Conservation, Yale University Art Gallery
Mary Wilcop is the Fellow in Objects Conservation at the Yale University Art Gallery. She was previously a third-year graduate intern in Objects Conservation at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. Mary received her M.A./C.A.S. in Art Conservation... Read More →

avatar for Nathan Eddingsaas

Nathan Eddingsaas

Assistant Professor, School of Chemistry and Materials Science, Rochester Institute of Technology
avatar for Jonathan Thornton

Jonathan Thornton

Conservation Professor, Patricia H. and Richard E. Garman Art Conservation Department State University of New York College at Buffalo (SUNY Buffalo State)
Jonathan Thornton has taught objects conservation at the Art Conservation Department since 1980. Following an earlier career as an artist/silversmith, he studied conservation in this department when it was still located in Cooperstown, NY, and received his M. A. and Certificate of... Read More →

Friday June 1, 2018 3:30pm - 4:00pm MDT
Texas Ballroom (Foyer outside Ballrooms - Poster Session) Marriott Marquis Houston