A Peruvian ceramic, otherwise known as Gerald, was the first object I was allocated at Cardiff. Communication with Newport Museum confirmed they wanted an invisible repair, however the task was not that simple. Further examination showed that the ceramic had been damaged on two occasions. The original break, in which one piece came away, was adhered with Paraloid B72. When the ceramic was damaged a second time the ceramic fabric failed and a piece was lost. The cohesion strength of the Paraloid caused the fabric to fail and there was extensive fabric transfer along the break. These details all made my first task quite complicated.
With no information I first turned my attention to material and production analysis and understanding. The fabric contains unburnt organic material, which is dark grey and runs through the centre of the ceramic. There is also medium density inclusions; they vary widely in colour and size. With very little in the way of manufacture marks it was difficult to work out the construction. The thickness of the ceramic wall is very consistent and smooth, implying that is was made from a sheet. Given the homogeneity of the exterior texture it seems it was likely that a sheet of clay was pushed into a mould. The inclusion of lead and arsenic in the green paint dated the ceramic after 1814. Relatively modern, and not matching any form of Peruvian art, it is likely a tourist gift or home deco object.
Due to the transferred fabric material the ceramic pieces no longed fitted; the first step in the treatment was to remove the transfer. The paint binder is very weak, and soluble in polar solvents, so could not be exposed to liquid solvents. Mechanical application of any form of solvent was also prone to removing the paint. With these limitations in mind the ceramic transfer was removed using the ‘pick and flick’ method with a scalpel.
Re-adhesion hit an immediate problem: a piece was missing. So the plan was moved to include gap filling. The missing piece sat right between his eyes, so the interpretation of the object was significantly hindered. The problems continued when it was found what the pieces still did not fit. With no excess, damaged, material to remove it became an ethical issue. The pieces were protruding at the top by several millimetres, as well as projecting forward. I wasn’t happy with this result and consultation with lecturers and students confirmed my feelings. With no information in regard to the provenance of the ceramic its value now lies in its current aesthetic value and interpretation. The decision was taken to remove large inclusions, that had been causing the pieces to catch and hinge.
The problem was never completely resolved, but enough material was removed to limit the step. 15% Paraloid B72 in acetone was used as the adhesive and a lower concentration as a consolidation. The consolidant was used to add strength to the friable edges, hoping to avoid a failure like before.
Initially the plan for gap filling had been to mould an independent piece and adhere it in, however this was abandoned as the reconstruction complicated. The gap fill now called for an in-situ application. Paraloid B72 and glass microballoons, tinted with acrylic paint, was used. This could be applied directly to the gap. I chose to match the fill with the light green, being the first layer. However, as I in-painted the fill with gouache the dark green dominated. In future I will tint the fill to match the main colour, visually.
Gerald was a surprisingly difficult project, and one I grew quite attached to. However, I learnt a lot from the experience and am very pleased with the final results! He is now packaged, ready to return to Newport.