Penn Artifact Lab

Last night I was thinking about how to age and hang a piece, so I did a google search for combinations of encaustic, wool, cotton, twine, rope, encased in plaster, and hit the Penn Artifact Lab. It is a working conservation space that can be viewed by visitors with a blog component. How cool is that?

While I was in Maryland, I spent part of a day at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. The museum has the FossiLab where you can watch folks working. The access to part of the process of conservation adds another aspect to the exhibitions.

Back to my search. I found this description–

“After prying some of the loose plaster away, I found that luckily, the plaster seen around the outside of the painting is only a thin skim coat layer, and that paper was used as a barrier layer in places between the painting and the plaster.”


I looked around a bit and found so many interesting and amazing images of artifacts. Ran across this bit on a coffin and cedar–

“Cedar is a prized wood because the trees produce chemicals that make them resistant to insect damage and various forms of rot.

I documented the appearance of the board, noting its construction details, such as four wooden pegs and mitered edges. One curious feature was thin metal ribbons running in channels along the long axis of the board.”

coffin detail

Cedar is one of my favorite materials. It is soft, easy to carve, can be yellow or pink in color, stains nicely for my purposes, and it has a great fragrance. I originally started using it when I was making Tools for Rent a series of bronze daggers.

Tools for Rent-Anzen

I was in the hardware store looking for some wood to build boxes when I was hit with the memory of opening my mother’s cedar chest. Got to thinking about the arbitrary value of an individual based on the contents of a box and how that compares to the arbitrary value placed on art. And I really like the fragrance.

Back to my search. I found this image of a bone awl. It is so clean, lovely, and elegant.

bone awl

Folks listed on the Artifact Lab blog–
Project Conservator Molly Gleeson
Senior Conservator Lynn Grant
Conservators Julia Lawson and Nina Owczarek

Penn Museum’s Egyptian Section curators
Curator Dr. David Silverman
Associate Curators Dr. Josef Wegner and Dr. Jennifer Wegner

The Artifact Lab and the Penn Museum blogs have great detailed information. I just subscribed to both.

South Carolina Highlights–Art-o-mat

When I visited the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art I had the pleasure of seeing my first Art-o-mat.


During my undergrad years I started making pocket art. I continue to make small scale pieces so the idea of dispensing art via the Art-o-mat is interesting. I read through the guidelines on the Art-o-mat website a few years back, even downloading the box template.

Art-o-mat Detail Random

Visit the Art-o-mat website for the guidelines and to download the official box template.

South Carolina Highlights–Motoi Yamamoto

South Carolina Highlights–Motoi Yamamoto

I visited the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art to take in the installation Return to the Sea: Saltworks by Motoi Yamamoto.

I was excited to see how Yamamoto used salt in an installation format. The simplicity of the process–a squeeze bottle, a brush, and an idea–wowed me and the work was beautiful.

Yamamoto Salt Demo Set up

When I view work I typically do not like to read or hear much about it. I want to experience the work on my own. Well, can I ever really be on my own considering that all of the stuff that I have seen and experienced comes along with me.

Yamamoto Detail

When I first saw the work I felt an overwhelming calm. Living on the California Central Coast I first thought there was reference to the patterns left on the sand by the tide. I heard a few folks talking about hurricanes and storms. I didn’t see that. The work was too elegant and repetitive for me to think storm and violence.

What was I missing? After I viewed the work from the floor and platform, I watched the two videos connected with the artist and his work. The hurricane reference was there in the form of the satellite images of storms. The exhibition also had several of Yamamoto’s prints that made the storm reference clear.

What does Return to the Sea mean? Actually just that. At the end of the exhibition the folks are invited to help dismantle the piece. The idea is that they will take a bit of the sculpture with them and literally return the salt to the sea. The ritual nature of the process is evocative.

I have used salt in my work for a variety of reasons–reference to preservation, currency, good luck, and as a surface effect to grow crystals on works, and patination. While I was at the exhibition I found out that in Japan salt is used not only to attract good luck but to ward off evil. More reason to continue to use salt in my work with reference to evil.

When is a Piece Done?

I thought that I completed “Preservation and Collection” at the end of 2010. After the work was returned from a show at Western Nevada College, I hung it in my office, above and slightly to the left of my monitor. I specifically hung the piece so that it would loom in the periphery. That it could seep into view when my mind was on another task.

Preservation and Collection

A few days back I realized that the piece made me terribly uncomfortable. It was hung a tad higher than when it was exhibited and didn’t have great lighting, but I couldn’t see what was inside the cups.

Preservation and Collection

I spent loads of time making the cups and the bags filled with poison plant bits. But there was too much distance from the cups to experience the work the way it was intended.

I liked the idea of the 3×3 format–its reference to a nine patch quilt, but the result wasn’t right. I removed the cups and shelf from the wall. I will make new homes for the cups, but I haven’t yet worked out the details. Pretty sure that the cups will be happier hung together, in several separate and open shelves rather than in their original presentation.

Hanging pieces in close proximity was a great lesson I learned from Sharon Tetly. Sharon teaches at Western Nevada College and offered me the exhibition in the College Gallery. My work is rather small and intimate and the space is long and narrow. I was concerned that the work would be lost. Sharon grouped pieces–which I felt emphasized the intimate nature of them wihtout the loss of their autonomy.

Preservation and Collection

Sharon’s presentation of my work offered me a new viewing experience.

The photos were taken by Sharon Tetly.