Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library was awarded a $110,759 grant to research preventive care for objects made of metals like silver and copper.
With approximately 2,900 silver and silver-plated objects and slightly over 2,050 copper, brass, and bronze objects in its collection, Winterthur deems preventive care for metal objects its highest conservation treatment priority.
“Winterthur has a reputation for thorough research into conservation methods that influence international standards,” said Winterthur Senior Objects Conservator Bruno Pouliot. “We hope that our continued work on methods to prevent silver and copper alloys from tarnishing will continue that tradition.”
The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) awarded the money.
“Winterthur is very excited and honored to be awarded an IMLS grant for our conservation and curatorial team to continue investigating and conserving the metals collection at Winterthur,” said Gregory J. Landrey, Dwight and Lori Lanmon director of Academic Affairs. “Winterthur houses a premier collection of American metalwork made between 1650 and 1900, a true national treasure. Thanks to this generous IMLS award, Winterthur can continue to provide a high level of care to this collection and serve as a leader in the field for collection stewardship.”
The metal on most of the museum’s objects is preserved in polished condition, reflecting the historically accurate appearance from centuries past. However, a 2009 survey of the silver collection revealed widespread lacquer failure, caused either by aging coating, application defects, the presence of moving parts such as hinged lids, or the complexity of surface topography.
The copper alloy survey in 2015 confirmed similar issues, but also a possible interaction between some coatings and the metals, requiring research before a new coating can be chosen.
Many of Winterthur’s silver and copper alloy objects are displayed out in the open, leaving them vulnerable to natural pollutants in the air and ambient moisture which causes tarnishing.
Museum leaders said two technicians will be hired to treat approximately 500 silver objects in the two-year project, which starts later this fall. They will remove failing lacquer coatings and apply new ones on silver objects. Simultaneously, Winterthur conservators and scientists will study where a more aggressive corrosion was found and further research how to protect objects made of copper alloys from tarnishing.
Following the condition surveys in 2009 and 2015, Winterthur shared what they learned and best practices throughout the conservation profession, influencing the decisions made by many institutions internationally regarding their own metal coating programs. Researchers plan to share their research and any new findings as a result of the IMLS grant.
Pouliot, Curator of Decorative Arts Ann Wagner and others are expected to present project progress and results in blogs, publications, and events.
Winterthur conservators will also share the best practices that result from this research through public programs to help the general public preserve their family heirlooms. The museum will also hold related silver-themed adult, family and student programs.