Treatment of Two Reverse Painted Specie Jars
Shannah Rhynard-Geil has a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology with a focus in Archaeology from Oregon State University and a Master of Arts in the Conservation of Archaeological and Museum Objects from Durham University. She worked in the UK at the National Museum of Wales, National Trust, and for Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre’s CMAS department. She is now three months away from celebrating her first year at the Otago Museum as the “new” conservator!
Otago Museum was requested to conserve two large, reverse painted specie jars by a regional museum for their new gallery display. Being rare examples of decorative jars exhibited in Pharmacy windows around the mid to late 1800s, the museum wanted to stabilize the objects for long term display. Unfortunately, there is not much literature regarding the history, materials, or conservation of these types of vessels. The jars were hand blown glass with accompanying lids, reverse painted with a pigment likely mixed with linseed oil as a binder. Analytical equipment was not available at the time, so materials could not be confirmed. The reverse painting on the interior of the jars was difficult to access and was extremely brittle and curling due to the pigment’s inherent poor adhesive qualities.
Unstable environmental conditions through-out the life of the objects also likely damaged the fragile painting. Treatment was challenging due to the pigment’s insolubility in various solvents, curvature of the substrate, access to and visibility of the interior during treatment, and time limitations due to Covid-19. An important element of the treatment proposal was opening conversations with the museum’s collection manager and other conservators regarding the ethical implications of potentially causing further damage to the reverse painting through attempts at stabilization. This paper will discuss everyday limitations within conservation treatments and managing external expectations.