Lauren Fair, Kress Conservation Fellow

Lauren Fair surveying Staffordshire busts of George Washington

Lauren Fair surveying Staffordshire busts of George Washington

Lauren Fair, 2010 graduate of the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation, has been selected to complete a yearlong fellowship in objects conservation funded by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation. Lauren is completing focused research, technical assessment, treatment, and analysis on Winterthur’s important collection of English eighteenth- and nineteenth-century ceramic figures. Throughout the 2010-2011 year, Lauren is working jointly with Objects Conservator Bruno Pouliot, Curator of Ceramics and Glass Leslie B. Grigsby, and Senior Scientist Dr. Jennifer Mass. This opportunity granted by the Kress Foundation allows for focused collaboration between departments within the Museum, providing Lauren with hands-on practical experience and professional mentoring as she begins her professional career.

Bernard Collection of Staffordshire figures

The Thomas N. and A. Pat Bernard Collection of Staffordshire figures in the Ceramics and Glass galleries at the Winterthur Museum

Earthenware figure of Geoffrey Chaucer

Earthenware figure of Geoffrey Chaucer, decorated in ploychrome over glaze enamels

Staffordshire figure of huntsman

Staffordshire figure of huntsman, possibly John Walton

Winterthur’s collection of Staffordshire figures consists of over 250 earthenware sculptures with polychrome decoration, in the form of colored slips, glazes, under glaze oxides, and over glaze enamels. This is the most comprehensive collection of its kind in the United States. Figures represent not only a snapshot of English working class life and culture, but they also demonstrate the latest technology of polychrome decoration available at the time. This project will be the first time the materials and manufacturing techniques of Staffordshire ceramic figures have been studied in such a multidisciplinary way.

Lauren and Senior Scientist Dr. Jennifer Mass

Lauren and Senior Scientist Dr. Jennifer Mass analyzing XRF spectrum of over glaze enameled figure in the SRAL

During the first phase of the fellowship project, Lauren completed a detailed condition and technical survey of the entire Staffordshire figure collection. From this survey, she identified groups based on date of manufacture, decorative technique, and object condition. The survey provides detailed information about the number of enamel colors present on each object, as well as the particular appearance and stability of each one. Data collected in the survey will inform technical analysis in the coming phases of the project.

Lauren has also conducted a thorough literature search on the history, connoisseurship, and manufacture of Staffordshire figures in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century England. With the help of Leslie Grigsby, Lauren has compiled a selective bibliography consisting of both contemporary and period sources.

From her survey and research, Lauren has selected a representative group of figures for which she will carry out elemental analysis of the polychrome decoration, focusing on the enamels. Engaging with Dr. Jennifer Mass and the Scientific Research and Analysis Laboratory (SRAL), Lauren will begin with spectroscopic techniques, using a laboratory-based energy dispersive x-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectrometer to determine the compositions of the enamels present on each figure in the group to be analyzed. 

Lauren Fair and Objects Conservator Bruno Pouliot

Lauren and Objects Conservator Bruno Pouliot examining a figure of Demosthenes in the objects conservation lab and assessing its condition

Over glaze enamels are highly vulnerable to abrasion and other forms of damage and deterioration. Many of the enamels present on Winterthur’s collection of Staffordshire figures exhibit flaking, bubbling, matte surface texture, abrasion, and losses. The nature of ceramics also makes them prone to damages such as breaks, losses, cracking, and staining. Because these objects originally served as decorative luxury items meant to show off the owner’s wealth and taste, the museum curators wish to display them as complete and not showing traces of damage or wear.

Lauren will carry out conservation treatments on a selection of figures working in the objects conservation laboratory under Bruno Pouliot’s supervision. Compositional information gained through scientific analysis performed during this project will aid in treatment decisions and rationale, as well as the particular needs of the Museum. For instance, one of the figures of a hunter, possibly attributed to Staffordshire potter John Walton, will be surface cleaned for an upcoming exhibit, “Winterthur Collects What?”

Lauren Fair explains stain reduction technique

With current second-year conservation graduate students, Lauren explains stain reduction techniques for English earthenware

Information regarding this project, including a limited bibliography, analytical results, treatment observations and images, will continue to be updated on this website throughout the year. The project team also intends to publish/present the research findings in either a poster at a conservation or conservation science conference, or as a jointly-authored paper in a peer-reviewed publication.

In addition to research, analysis, and treatment, Lauren will use her experience to present seminar sessions to students in both the conservation and early American culture graduate programs at Winterthur and to conservation undergraduate students at the University of Delaware. She will be available to help mentor conservation students working in the objects laboratory under Bruno Pouliot’s supervision, and she will assist with instruction in relevant sections of the spectroscopy course taught by Dr. Jennifer Mass. 

 The project promises to be an enriching post-graduate experience for Lauren, as well as to be highly beneficial to the conservation, scientific, and scholarly community. Winterthur remains very grateful to the Kress Foundation for making this opportunity possible, and for its outstanding support of the arts over many years.

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