The Rodin Museum and Beyond

Ten years ago I would never have believed that I would be assisting in the treatment of one bronze sculpture by the sculptor Auguste Rodin, let alone five of them. My name is Emily Brown, one of the newest members of WUDPAC as part of the class of 2015.

Ten years ago I was a fairly recent graduate of Moore College of Art and Design and intent on pursuing a career in children’s book illustration. I was also an employee at H. A. Eberhardt and Son, Inc., a long-standing Philadelphia antiques dealership and restoration firm. There I gained experience repairing and restoring ceramic and glass objects and discovered something very important about myself—a passion for making objects whole. After attending the WUDPAC oral presentations in 2008, I decided to pursue a career in art conservation.

The facade of the Rodin Museum after installation of The Age of Bronze (left) and Eve (right).

So I set out and followed a path that surprisingly took me back to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where I had spent many hours among the collection during my college years—this time in the PMA’s Decorative Arts and Sculpture Conservation Laboratory. From August 2011 through this past June, I was fortunate enough to assist Andrew Lins, the Neubauer Family Chair of Conservation and Senior Conservator, project conservator Kate Cuffari, and graduate intern Ryma Hatahet as they undertook a mighty task: treating several life-size and larger than life-size bronze sculptures in the collection of the Rodin Museum as part of the Rodin Museum Rejuvenation Project. These works include Adam, Eve, The Shade, The Age of Bronze, and the monumental The Gates of Hell.

Testing chelating solutions on polished bronze coupons.

The scope of this project has included analytical and materials testing, removing corrosion with both a laser beam and a chelating gel, reapplying a patina, and applying a protective coating. My tasks have included assisting in many of these steps; one of the first was conducting materials testing on bronze coupons. These coupons are made from small pieces of scrap bronze for the sole purpose of conducting fatigue, stress, or other types of materials testing. Under the direction of Andrew Lins, I applied several formulations of a chelating solution, which contains a chemical that dissolves metal corrosion products, to polished bronze coupons and let them dwell for different lengths of time. Andrew then examined the coupons for any detrimental surface effects, from which he could determine safe thresholds for use on the sculptures.

Heating bronze coupons for patination tests.

I got to play with fire while assisting Kate Cuffari with patination experiments. Bronze testing coupons similar to those in the chelating solution tests were used to test differing chemical solutions, heating conditions, and application methods to produce a well bonded and historically accurate, colorful patina. Again, these tests provided valuable information to both Kate and Andrew to determine the final patination process on the sculptures. I was lucky enough to assist Andrew, Kate, and Ryma with the patination of Eve and The Age of Bronze.

Contributing to this project has been an incredibly rewarding experience as was time spent alongside the many other conservators and curators in the engaging environment at the PMA. I am thrilled to continue my journey into art conservation at WUDPAC and can only wonder: what will the next ten years bring?

In addition to her experience at the PMA, Emily has prepared for the WUDPAC program by participating in internships in Winterthur Museum’s objects and textile conservation laboratories and at the Mütter Museum. While she is passionate about art conservation, Emily also enjoys reading, watercolor painting, cooking, and a variety of interests too numerous for her own good.

Winterthur is celebrating 60 years of graduate programs in art conservation and material culture studies in the current exhibition A Lasting Legacy: Sixty Years of Winterthur Graduate Programs, on view through June 16, 2013.

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