This post will be a bit shorter than the others because of the holidays! However, I wanted to share an update on the progress of the treatment of 1969.4732.012., one of the tiles from the "sea monster" set.
This tile and others decorated with various "sea monsters" were once part of the fireplace in the "New York Bedroom" at Winterthur. However, the room and the fireplace were both de-installed in the 1960s. The tiles were removed, but huge remnants of plaster (outlined in purple, below) were left on the backs of the tiles. Areas on the front surface of the tile had chipped off and become lost (outlined in red, below).
Prior to starting any conservation work, I consulted Senior Curator of Ceramics and Glass Leslie Grigsby to discuss treatment goals for this tile. These included: removing the plaster mounting material, removing yellowing fills and replacing them, and in-filling chips in the glaze to restore aesthetic integrity to the tile.
Picking away at Plaster
After testing a variety of methods, I determined that the easiest way to remove the thick plaster (2 cm in areas!) was to create channels in it using a small file. I then could chip sections away using a scalpel. This work was done under an elephant trunk, or extractor, to reduce the amount of dust in the air while I was working. I also wore a surgical mask to prevent breathing in fine plaster dust. As you can see below, this is messy work!
Removing the FIlls
A historic restorer had used an epoxy covered in yellowed paint to fill chips in the edges of the tile (below, left). This adhesive had turned dark brown and was brittle and flaking (below, middle). I removed it by softening it in acetone and using a scalpel to pick it off (below, right).
After coating the chipped areas with an acrylic adhesive to protect the underlying ceramic, I began filling the missing chips using Flügger, a conservation-grade acrylic spackle (and my absolute favorite thing).
After sanding and perfecting my fills, I will in-paint them with acrylic paints to match the surrounding glaze. This color is proving tricky to replicate as it contains small flecks of brown, gray, yellow, red, and blue rather than being one solid color. Stay tuned!
Thanks for checking back! Be sure to check Twitter for updates under #WeirdTileoftheDay and #WeirdTileWednesday. Tune in January 18th to explore an incredibly brief history of western fireplaces.
Winterthur Postgraduate Fellow in Objects Conservation