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Program for Conservation of Culture

Conservation Science Training and Research Program (CoSTAR) Module 1 Sessions


Module 1:
April 15 – June 20, 2021 


Session 1: Introduction to the Historic and Artistic Works of South Asia

Anupam Sah, Head of Art Conservation, Research, and Training, CSMVS Museum, Mumbai

An overview of the range of artifacts in the subcontinent, their materials, and technologies. The tangible
and intangible aspects and contexts of these objects in society and the present sector background of
such art forms.

Session 2A: The life of an object: Interdisciplinary approaches to technical research and interpretation

Jinah Kim, George P. Bickford Professor of Indian and South Asian Art, Department of Art and Architecture, Harvard University
Francesca Bewer, Research Curator for Conservation and Technical Studies Programs; Director of the Summer Institute for Technical Studies in Art at the Harvard Art Museums
Joan Wright, Bettina Burr Conservator Emerita Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Michiko Adachi, Bettina Burr Associate Conservator, Asian Conservation Studio, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

In a museum setting, we find culturally important historical objects in various states of preservation. Whether these works are ten, a hundred, or a thousand years old, it is the nature of all materials to alter with time both through natural and/or human events. This history is captured in every fiber of the object, figuratively speaking, and is often visible on its surface. There is a tendency to try to make certain types of objects look new, while for others leaving evidence of the passage of time is acceptable or desired. How these decisions about preservation and display are made and executed depends on a variety of factors that have to do, among other things, with the interpretation of physical and other evidence and the value placed on its histories — beginning with its creation. Along with traditional historical documentation, careful examination of technical and material aspects of an object can reveal a great deal about the object’s lived stories.

This session will explore what the technical study of the physical object entails — in terms of not only the scientific tools and expertise required and knowledge gained, but also the crucial role of interdisciplinary collaboration and ongoing dialogue between all stakeholders involved. The rich and nuanced interpretation that ensues from such collaborative work will in turn inform treatment choices and curatorial decisions.

Jinah Kim will open the session by framing questions about archaeological and material culture approaches to understanding a historical object. Starting with a brief introduction to the technical study of objects, Francesca Bewer will delve into examples of how much work has transformed art historical and curatorial understanding of bronze sculptures and their preservation. And she will introduce a resource for such investigations that an international, interdisciplinary group of experts has been working on. Joan Wright and Michiko Adachi will turn to works on paper and share with us their findings in the Asian Conservation Studio of the Boston Museum of Fine Art. They will focus on the cases where changes and damages are present and how their findings inform both conservation and curatorial decisions.

These presentations will be followed by a group discussion on a few practical and ethical questions that arise from pursuing such a multi-layered understanding of an object and its implication for treatment methods and display options. One of the key takeaways from the session will be the importance of collaboration across disciplines, especially the four-way conversations between conservator, curator/art historian, conservation/materials scientist, and practicing artist. Another takeaway is the importance of understanding the material signs of aging and other events witnessed by the object, and how to weigh these in considering possible restoration-conservation interventions. 

Session 2B: The intersection of art history and material science: the importance of systematic data collection and collaboration

Jinah Kim, George P. Bickford Professor of Indian and South Asian Art, Department of Art and
Architecture, Harvard University
Michele Derrick, Retired Conservation Scientist, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

A deep understanding of the material compositions of culturally important historical objects is crucial for their long-term care. The field of cultural heritage conservation has actively embraced scientific analytical tools and methodologies to analyze and identify material characteristics of historical objects. Scientific analytical investigations can be particularly helpful in cases when written historical documents about the objects’ creation, use, and afterlife stories are lacking or obscure, which is frequently the case in India. What is the role of a scientist in a museum? Can science provide all answers to historical questions? This session explores the importance of collaboration and systematic data collection in the material investigation of objects for better conservation and curation of museum objects. Michele Derrick will review some key scientific analysis techniques, focusing on non-destructive methods with examples from the scientific research laboratory of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and introduce CAMEO (Conservation and Art Materials Encyclopedia Online), an open-access database of materials found in Art, including pigments and textiles. She will demonstrate how CAMEO can be used as a reference library for conservation specialists interested in the material analysis of objects. Jinah Kim will discuss how the material analysis data can help explore art historical questions with examples drawn from collaborative research for a digital humanities project, Mapping Color in History, a searchable database for analytical data on pigments in Asian painting that will allow historical research. The presentation will conclude with a conversation about the process of collaboration and the types of questions that science can and cannot answer. The key takeaways of the session include the importance of three-way collaboration (between conservator, curator/art historian, and conservation scientist), the iterative process of scientific analysis, and how to compile and mine analytical data to support conservation interventions and curatorial decisions.

Session 3A. Researching and Exhibiting “Prince Shōtoku at Age Two” at the Harvard Art Museums

Rachel Saunders, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Curator of Asian Art, Harvard Art Museums

This presentation discusses the ongoing collaborative research process that has evolved over the last four years around the sculpture of Prince Shōtoku at Age Two (ca. 1292), which now resides in the collection of the Harvard Art Museums. Widely acknowledged as one of the oldest and finest sculpture of its type, this diminutive image continues to exert a powerful auratic presence, drawing in both those with and without any particular interest in Japanese Buddhist sculpture. Brought to the USA in 1937 by Bostonian Ellery Sedgwick (1872–1960), the sculpture was found to contain a cache of dedicatory objects, which were removed at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston soon after its arrival there. The presence of both the sculpture and all but one of the dedicatory objects in a university museum makes the ensemble almost uniquely accessible for visitors to see and scholars to study. Nevertheless, despite art historical research efforts initially begun more than 50 years ago, a number of fundamental questions about the origins of the sculpture, its journey to the United States, and its facture remained unresolved. Since 2016 an international team has been working on resolving these questions from a variety of different disciplinary angles. The ultimate aim is to provide the best possible information from which to make decisions about how to care for the sculptural ensemble in its present home materially, intellectually, and spiritually. This presentation outlines the fundamental research questions being asked, and the collaborative processes through which these questions are being addressed. We have attempted at all times to keep the sculpture’s unambiguous sense of enlivenment firmly in view so that we might forge a new path towards overcoming the persistent cognitive and experiential gaps that so often remain between conventional authoritative written avatars of such sculptures and the remarkable presence of this one.

Session 3A (contd.). A Technical Study of the Sedgwick Shōtoku: the Materiality of the Sculpture and its Contents

Angela Chang, Assistant Director, Conservator of Objects and Sculpture and Head of Objects Lab, Harvard Art Museums

Interdisciplinary research and scientific analysis of the materials and techniques of the Sedgwick Shōtoku sculpture and its contents (dated 1292) have been undertaken to complement the art historical understanding of this significant object at the Harvard Art Museums. While previous documentation and scholarship of the Sedgwick Shōtoku have focused on interpreting the written and printed content of the paper-based nōnyūhin, they have not examined the materiality of the sculpture and its dedicatory objects. Until the recent availability of non-destructive analytical techniques, it was not possible to study the closed sculptural form, its structure, and other physical qualities. This paper presents the findings of a technical investigation of the traditional materials and methods used to create the sculptural ensemble and a study of its condition. Through the application of imaging techniques and materials characterization with scientific instrumentation, this research sought to elucidate and document its manufacture and condition history, and in the process, to learn more about the original community surrounding the object’s creation. Specific curatorial questions that prompted this investigation included: How was the sculpture made? How were the nōnyūhin arranged? When was the sculpture opened, and what alterations have occurred?

Session 3B: Plastics in Collections

Georgina Rayner, Associate Conservation Scientist, Harvard Art Museums
Susan Costello, Associate Conservator of Objects and Sculpture, Harvard Art Museums

Since the early 20th century, plastic has been a popular material for many artists due to its ability to be transformed—bent, shaped, molded, stretched. However, when works made with plastic enter a museum collection, they bring numerous challenges. Join conservation scientist Georgina Rayner and conservator Susan Costello to learn more about the materials, condition and treatment issues, and the demands this material poses for storage and display.

Session 4: Sustainable Preventive Conservation

Joelle Wickens, Assistant Professor of Preventive Conservation University of Delaware and the Associate Director of the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation

Session 5A: Intangible Cultural Heritage and Challenges to Conservation: Perspectives from working within Indigenous collections

Ellen Pearlstein, Professor, Getty Program in the Conservation of Archaeological and Ethnographic Materials

Intangible cultural heritage has been defined as the practices, representations, expressions, as well as the knowledge and skills (including instruments, objects, artifacts, cultural spaces), that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage. Abbreviated as ICH, this heritage is by definition immaterial, although important tangible cultural heritage is almost always intimately connected to intangible properties and practices. Intangible cultural heritage changes over time as generations of people imbue objects, practices and cultural spaces with different meanings. Consequently, ICH has emerged as something that cannot really be collected by museums or conserved by conservators, challenging the roles that both can play.

Alarm about the protection of ICH took shape over the fifty years leading to the passage by UNESCO in 2003 of the International Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage. The Convention, and then law, developed in response to the fear that local community practices were being obliterated through globalization and the rapid spread of Western cultural norms. While this Convention has a great deal of support internationally, and it serves as a vehicle for listing and even funding significant ICH at risk, it remains contested. In debates surrounding Indigenous cultural heritage in the U.S., Convention opponents note how listing could force public revelation of ICH meant to remain private. The arguments against the Convention are that it takes a top-down approach, that it places academics in charge of community decisions, and that it assigns ICH to countries while culture bearers may identify locally. Language is an example of ICH that is so pervasive that the decision to list one language over another is disputed.

If you associate ICH with underrepresented populations at risk of loss due to the bias and privilege of the global West, then museums and conservators have everything to gain in redefining their roles relative to ICH. Motivated by this need to change, the most consequential step taken by museums and conservators toward this heritage–that can be neither collected nor conserved– is to redefine our own processes and practices dealing with collections. I will use examples from Indigenous communities primarily in the U.S. to illustrate these ideas.

Session 5B: Practical Applications of Traditional Ecological Knowledge in Conservation: Advantages, Challenges, and Planning Research

Elizabeth Salmon, Ph.D. Candidate, Conservation of Material Culture, UCLA

This talk introduces traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) and describes potential pathways to incorporate traditional knowledge systems into practical cultural heritage conservation, with a focus on pest management and preventive care of collections. Though regionally and culturally specific, traditional knowledge of the environment offers solutions that are broadly accessible to collections care professionals and both environmentally and culturally sustainable. The challenges, both practical and conceptual, of incorporating traditional knowledge into conservation science as well as a methodology for planning TEK research geared towards a conservation audience will be described.


Public Talk

Talk on Arches Getty Conservation Institute
Wednesday, May 12, 7:00 am – 8:00 am PST/ 7:30 am – 8:30 pm IST

Alison Dalgity, and Anabelle Enrique, Getty Conservation Institute

The Arches project began as a collaboration between the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) and World Monuments Fund (WMF) to develop for the international heritage field an open-source software platform for cultural heritage data management. Since 2016, the Arches project has been led by the GCI. Our long-term aim is improved data management to support effective heritage conservation and management. This enterprise-level system is freely available for organizations worldwide to install, configure, and extend in accordance with their individual needs and without restrictions. Arches are built using opensource software tools to make their adoption cost-effective, and to allow heritage institutions to pool resources to enhance Arches in mutually beneficial ways.


Session 6: Arches for Science: Linking Data through Technology

Catherine Schmidt Patterson, Getty Conservation Institute
Dennis Wuthrich, CEO of Farallon Geographics

The Arches for Science project seeks to improve the ways scientific and technical studies contribute to the conservation and understanding of works of Art through the development of open-source software that will integrate conservation science data by facilitating better data management, extraction and data sharing practices. The GCI is building upon and leveraging existing data integration efforts to provide a software system tailored to benefit and strengthen the fields of art conservation and conservation science for a broad community of users. This presentation will discuss the development of the project, and the benefits of improved data management systems for technical studies researchers both at the GCI, and
more generally.

Session 7: A Case Study: Mark Rothko’s Harvard Murals

Narayan Khandekar, Director of the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies, Harvard University

A series of five paintings known as Mark Rothko’s Harvard Murals were painted in 1962 and installed in the Holyoke Center, Harvard University in January 1964. The paintings changed color due to the presence of Lithol red, a fugitive red pigment, and excessive exposure to natural light in a room with large windows. They were removed from display to dark storage in 1979 and rarely displayed. Traditional painting restoration would have resulted in a non-reversible treatment due to the matte and unvarnished nature of paint surfaces thus considerably limiting treatment possibilities.

An innovative treatment using projected light to compensate for the lost color on a pixel-by-pixel basis was recently developed. The original color of the works was determined by the digital restoration of Kodak Ektachrome photographs taken in 1964, and also with comparison to unfaded passages of a sixth mural. With a camera-projector system, a compensation image was calculated – in effect a map of the lost color over 2.07 million pixels. The compensation image was then aligned and projected onto the original canvas resulting in a restored color appearance. This was repeated for each of the five paintings. As a result the original color appearance was created without physically altering the painting and is
therefore completely reversible. In fact, one can easily compare the unrestored and color corrected object by switching the projector on or off. The group of murals now works together in a way that has not been possible for many decades. This approach of inpainting with light is compared with considerations of cleaning and inpainting in conventional conservation treatments. Overall lighting and architecture play a key role in the treatment of the Mural cycle as an environment. In addition, a detailed examination of Rothko’s materials and methods for these paintings was carried out to understand how the murals were made and why they have aged differently.

To our knowledge, this novel approach has not been used for the display of paintings before. Microfading tests ensured that the paintings will not alter as a result of this treatment. As a result, Mark Rothko’s Harvard Murals, which had fallen out of step with each other, can be viewed as a single harmonious installation again.

Session 8: Understanding historical pigments in Indian painting: case study from Harvard Art Museums

Jinah Kim, George P. Bickford Professor of Indian and South Asian Art, Department of Art and Architecture, Harvard University
Katherine Eremin, Conservation Scientist, Harvard Art Museums

Drawing from ongoing research on Indian painting in the collections of the Harvard Art Museums, Katherine Eremin will discuss methods for analysis and share some findings from recent scientific analytical research at the Straus Center for conservation and technical studies at the Harvard Art Museum. Jinah Kim will explore how changes in pigments may have informed certain color perceptions and how the scientific findings may relate to changing historical circumstances. This discussion will be followed by a conversation between Dr. Eremin and Jinah Kim about historical questions regarding the findings and their importance for art historical studies on paintings of South Asia.

Session 9: Designing a Research Project

Vinod Daniel, Chairman & CEO, AusHeritage & India Vision Institute
Anupam Sah, Head of Art Conservation, Research, and Training, CSMVS Museum, Mumbai

Participants identify and design a research project informed by the previous sessions.

Session 10: Setting the road map for developing practical work in Conservation Science and Research

Narayan Khandekar, Director, Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies, Harvard Art Museums
Anupam Sah, Head of Art Conservation, Research, and Training, CSMVS Museum, Mumbai

– Recommendations and methodology for Module II (2021-22)
– Participants’ feedback
– Program Evaluations

Subsequent modules will teach conservation science training to inform art conservation, art historical research, and museum studies. Topics include: How to set up technical studies or scientific analysis section, how to analyze and identify pigments and other museum materials, multi-spectral imaging, etc. Selected participants from Module 1 and new applicants who demonstrate potential background and interest in sciences and arts can apply. We will announce further information for module 2 and subsequent modules at a later date.

For further questions, please write to email


Program Coordinators:
Meena Hewett, Arts Program Advisor, Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute, Harvard University; Narayan Khandekar, Director, Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies, HAMs, Harvard University; Jinah Kim, Professor of Indian and South Asian Art, Harvard University; Anupam Sah, Head of Art Conservation, Research, and Training, CSMVS Museum