A high-tech tune-up
Penn Museum artifacts benefit.
The rare stringed instrument - a sarangi, made of dark tropical hardwood in colonial India - was falling apart. The rawhide sounding board was starting to separate. Only one of the instrument's four strings was attached to the bridge. The item was covered in grime.
Enter LeeAnn Barnes Gordon.
A graduate student at the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation, she spent more than 50 hours cleaning, repairing, and stabilizing the object.
She was one of three students from the program this year who worked on objects from the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Gordon, Rose Daly and Carrie Roberts delivered their findings last week at the Penn Museum.
The partnership between the museum and the Delaware program has been around for years. Each year, students get to borrow a few objects and practice the skills of their newly acquired trade; the museum benefits from the painstaking care given to a few of its one million artifacts.
Besides the sarangi, this year's items included an early-20th-century woven hat from the Pacific Northwest; two bronze Etruscan vessels more than 2,300 years old; and a ceremonial model of a boat from the Mesopotamian city of Ur, dated to about 2,500 B.C. and made of a tarry substance called bitumen.
The gentle cleanings and other treatments were done in consultation with museum conservators and the students' professor. One part of the sarangi's care involved reshaping a loose section of bone trim with the help of a humidification chamber; the trim was then reattached with resin.
The exchange can result in a learning experience for the museum staff as well. They get to hear about the latest forms of spectroscopy and other high-tech imaging used to study the items' conditions. After hearing the students' earlier presentation in May, the museum's head conservator, Lynn Grant, recalled: "I felt like Galileo at NASA." - Tom Avril