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Cleaning of pieces

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  • lorimor29
    Could I please get some input on the cleaning of wooden pieces. Thanks. Lori
    Message 1 of 8 , Jul 1, 2005
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      Could I please get some input on the cleaning of wooden pieces.
      Thanks.
      Lori
    • Rand African Art
      Hello Lori, This is a topic that often is brought up with collectors, I have a file created on my computer on this topic, as well as many other topics, with
      Message 2 of 8 , Jul 1, 2005
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        Hello Lori,

         

        This is a topic that often is brought up with collectors, I have a file created on my computer on this topic, as well as many other topics, with inputs from various people and will share them below, I hope this helps. If anyone has any other thoughts that would be great!

         

        The American Museum of Natural History’s site touches on the subject and is worth the read can be accessed at the link below:

        http://anthro.amnh.org/anthropology/collections/conservation/conservation

         

        If it were me, I would not attempt to clean the surfaces of the statues with any type of “product”. I wouldn’t attempt to fix anything unless it was completely broken off or fill any cracks etc. To me this detracts from the piece if a crack is filled or a piece is totally cleaned.

         

        I wouldn’t attempt to add any type of product to nourish the wood. To me this potentially changes the surface of the carving to something it was not intended. I’ve heard stories of people adding oils to their statues and had very bad results.

         

        I’ve cleaned a few pieces with a little water and a soft rag, but I’ve only removed things that shouldn’t of been there in the first place (tags etc)

         

        I would just remove the dust but not attempt to change the statues in any other way.

         

        If you want to slow down further degradation, keep them in a place out of the sun and out of the way from potentially being knocked over.

         

        Others will probably have better advice, but mine is to leave it alone as much as possible.

        RAND

         

        From: Jos Maseland -Nairobi

        Cleaning will always remain an issue and a matter of personal preferences.

         

        We are fed the cleaned versions through most books and other publications

        on African art because with old pieces there will always be someone along

        the long line of owners who could not resist the removal of dirt, blood and

        other substances that may have been poured ceremoniously over some pieces.

        There is therefore a great temptation to make your pieces look as those in

        the books.

         

        Cleaning and impregnating with oils definitely brings out the quality of

        the wood.

         

        I have 'treated' wooden objects with a variety of oils, depending on what I

        believed would lead to the desired results. Refined linseed oil hardens the

        wood and if used in very small quantities can be buffed up to a beautiful

        shine. It is my experience that linseed oil has no negative effects on

        caked layers of libations and, in fact, seems to strengthen the hold of the

        muck.

         

        Pure teakwood oil seems to penetrate the wood deeper and can perhaps help

        in stabilizing cracks in the wood. I have less good experiences with

        ordinary furiture oils as these tend to leave a waxy substance behind that

        alters pieces.

         

        Here in Africa there is a clear tendency by dealers to 'prepare' pieces and

        buff them up. Perhaps in an attempt to make things more presentable a lot

        of quality is lost, particularly in cases were bees' wax is used.

         

        From: Elizabeth Bennett - Africa Direct

        While I agree with the general feeling about not cleaning pieces, sometimes dust is just dust and better gone.  I sometimes use the canned blowers made for computer keyboards.  The air stream is too powerful for delicate finishes, but it does a fine job on raffia textiles, wood pieces, some baskets.

         

        Best,

        Elizabeth Bennett - Africa Direct

         

        From: David McNevin

        My recommendation is not to clean anything, at least if it is an

        old piece.  If I were to "clean" the Hemba ancestor figure that I

        just pulled out of the bush last month in DRoC, I think I would be

        destroying a significant amount of its interest/value.  It is

        literally caked in layers of hard, dried blood, etc...it has been

        actively used for over 100 years, according to the Chief who is a

        descendant of the figure that he sold to me.  I am sure the surface

        would have a nice "patina" like I see on all the pieces for sale on

        the net, but the beauty of that patina would pale in comparison to

        the beauty and authenticity that the muck holds for me.  On newer

        pieces, just as with furniture, I guess a nice clean, rich showing of

        wood would be appropriate.  On my raffia attachments to Songye masks,

        one of which I have is a full chest and arm suit attached to the

        mask, I would never do anything for fear of screwing it up...its

        pretty nasty, but hey, that's the why I like it even though my spouse

        didn't want it in the house at first(actually, I think I was able to

        acquire it because it had grown a little too ripe for those who had

        to wear it). Old raffia is fragile, especially at the points of

        attachment to the mask.  I have seen very old, frayed raffia caked

        with ochre and dirt and once that is gone, new raffia looks NEW.  The

        Samburu/Rendille wedding necklaces collars I have are covered in

        ochre and rancid fat...but they are beautiful, rare, old, and

        original (and don't smell unless one intends to smell it).  The

        bottom line for me, after messing-up some nice artifacts several

        years ago and learning the hard way, is that I don't clean anything

        old or try to modify it in any way after I acquire it(much to my

        family's chagrin).

        R/ David

         

        From: Leon Meizlik

        A couple of collectors once told me never to do anything to a piece

        which is not reversible.

         

        I once applied shea butter to a piece, which gave the wood a beautiful,

        deep lustre.    It was certainly better then the dull, lichen look to the wood.

        But it wasn't the 'real' surface.   It took several years for the original

        surface to reappear, and I've learned never to try to enhance a piece.

         

        Central heating can damage wood objects.

        Stand a glass of water nearby to lend moisture, if you don't have a

        humidifier attached to a central heating unit.

         

        I've seen a many pieces with age cracks, etc.    I think that unless it's

        in an extremely prominent area, it looks natural.  I've seen a crack stuffed with

        black silk, level with the surface, and have been told that it is a very european convention.

         

        Most often surface adherents are part of what makes the piece.

        Remember, the indigenous custom may have been to 'spit' chewed up

        cereal/grain on the surface, add feathers, egg shells, blood, etc.   Sometimes it not very

        pretty, but it's real.

         

        When I see an old, wonderful piece that been obviously cleaned, oiled, etc.

        I like to think that it's been 'europeanized' which was the old french

        custom of making a display piece look pretty on a mantlepiece  ( to match the

        Biedermayer ( sp) furniture ).

         

        Leon Meizlik

         

         

         

         



        lorimor29 <lorimor29@...> wrote:
        Could I please get some input on the cleaning of wooden pieces.  
        Thanks.
        Lori






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      • Craig Lewis
        Hi Lori, my advice about cleaning most pieces is don t !. All I do is to wave a cloth near a piece to gently blow excess dust from it. If a piece has anything
        Message 3 of 8 , Jul 1, 2005
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          Hi Lori,
          my advice about cleaning most pieces is "don't"!.

          All I do is to wave a cloth near a piece to gently blow excess dust
          from it. If a piece has anything delicate about it then it's best to
          leave alone or even better if the piece is small enough invest in a
          glass cabinet to cut down on the amount of dust etc that will fall onto
          it.

          We had a discussion about displaying not too long ago, my display
          cabinet came from Ikea and has 4 glass sides and glass shelves and also
          a low wattage light to illuminate the cabinet. I only have to clean
          inside the cabinet once a month or so.

          Hope this helps a little !

          Cheers
          Craig





          -- In African_Arts@yahoogroups.com, "lorimor29" <lorimor29@y...> wrote:
          > Could I please get some input on the cleaning of wooden pieces.
          > Thanks.
          > Lori
        • GARYGLS2000@aol.com
          Craig s advice to Lori about not cleaning most pieces is correct. However, occasionally an exception comes along. Several years ago I acquired a very old
          Message 4 of 8 , Jul 1, 2005
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             Craig's advice to Lori about not cleaning "most" pieces is correct. However, occasionally an exception comes along. Several years ago I acquired a very old mask from Guinea covered with decades of heavy black grease and dirt. It was difficult to tell whether it was plain wood or wood covered with metal. I took a big chance, violating all the rules about taking care of African art and cleaned it. Much to my surprise, it turned out to be an old metal covered mask with glass mirrors. Pascal Imperato later identified it as an extremely rare Malinke Djankouran Koun mask. These masks are generally made of perishable matrerials such as cloth, leaves or fiber. I've posted the mask  in the "Pictures" section under "GLS." 
             
            Gary
             
            -----Original Message-----
            From: Craig Lewis <craig_n_emma@...>
            To: African_Arts@yahoogroups.com
            Sent: Fri, 01 Jul 2005 21:06:12 -0000
            Subject: [African_Arts] Re: Cleaning of pieces

            Hi Lori,
            my advice about cleaning most pieces is "don't"!.
            
            All I do is to wave a cloth near a piece to gently blow excess dust 
            from it. If a piece has anything delicate about it then it's best to 
            leave alone or even better if the piece is small enough invest in a 
            glass cabinet to cut down on the amount of dust etc that will fall onto 
            it. 
            
            We had a discussion about displaying not too long ago, my display 
            cabinet came from Ikea and has 4 glass sides and glass shelves and also 
            a low wattage light to illuminate the cabinet. I only have to clean 
            inside the cabinet once a month or so.
            
            Hope this helps a little !
            
            Cheers
            Craig      
            
            
            
            
            
            -- In African_Arts@yahoogroups.com, "lorimor29" <lorimor29@y...> wrote:
            
            > Could I please get some input on the cleaning of wooden pieces. > Thanks. > Lori
            Yahoo! Groups Links <*> To visit your group on the web, go to: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/African_Arts/ <*> To unsubscribe from this group, send an email to: African_Arts-unsubscribe@yahoogroups.com <*> Your use of Yahoo! Groups is subject to: http://docs.yahoo.com/info/terms/
          • gcroft@yinandyang.org
            I have a question about cracks, that is perhaps much ado about nothing :-). Does inspecting the interior surfaces of cracks provide any clues regarding an
            Message 5 of 8 , Jul 4, 2005
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              I have a question about cracks, that is perhaps much ado
              about nothing :-).

              Does inspecting the interior surfaces of cracks provide any
              clues regarding an object's age? I've observed thickly
              encrusted objects that appear to be extremely old (a Banywa
              King and Queen pair comes to mind), but was made suspicious--
              perhaps without justification--by the fresh, "virginal"
              looking crack interiors that suggested otherwise ...

              One more data point?

              Cheerio,
              Gary Croft
              Snohomish, WA, USA
            • Craig Lewis
              Gary, you were right to be suspicious about the pieces you mentioned. It is something I always look at if there is a piece with a crack, if it is an old crack
              Message 6 of 8 , Jul 4, 2005
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                Gary,
                you were right to be suspicious about the pieces you mentioned.
                It is something I always look at if there is a piece with a crack, if
                it is an old crack then the dust,grime etc would also have settled in
                the crack and the wood would look drier and be a different colour to
                newly exposed wood.
                In certain conditions old wood could split and reveal fresher looking
                wood in a crack, but most of the time it is a new crack in a new
                piece.
                I have noticed that some sellers (both on the web and on e-bay) often
                describe these cracks as "age cracks", giving the impression that the
                have cracked because they are old. The truth is it can happen to
                brand new pieces.
                Hope this is useful,
                Cheers
                Craig






                --- In African_Arts@yahoogroups.com, <gcroft@y...> wrote:
                > I have a question about cracks, that is perhaps much ado
                > about nothing :-).
                >
                > Does inspecting the interior surfaces of cracks provide any
                > clues regarding an object's age? I've observed thickly
                > encrusted objects that appear to be extremely old (a Banywa
                > King and Queen pair comes to mind), but was made suspicious--
                > perhaps without justification--by the fresh, "virginal"
                > looking crack interiors that suggested otherwise ...
                >
                > One more data point?
                >
                > Cheerio,
                > Gary Croft
                > Snohomish, WA, USA
              • Rand African Art
                Hi Gary, I also agree with what Craig says. Wood shrinks and cracks for many different reasons, but the most common reason is drying out which can come from
                Message 7 of 8 , Jul 5, 2005
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                  Hi Gary,

                  I also agree with what Craig says. Wood shrinks and cracks for many different reasons, but the most common reason is drying out which can come from age or climate changes. From what I have read, it will usually take a piece of wood 2 to 3 years to adjust to climate and conditions. As a piece moves from a humid climate to a drier climate you are more likely to see newer cracks on the piece as the piece dries out and the wood shrinks, no matter how old the piece is.  

                   

                  I have also seen many newer pieces that have been represented as having “age cracks” when the piece has cracks on it, and this is probably the result of a common misconception that wood only cracks when it is old, or maybe people don’t know what to call those cracks besides calling them “age cracks”?

                   

                  I think that cracks in the wood are an important factor in guessing how old a piece may be if it is not documented. I think you have to look at the overall cracks on a piece and look inside them, look at the shrinking and use your observations in making a determination. If all of the cracks look like what you would expect from a piece of wood that has recently cracked then it is most likely the piece is newer, the opposite would also be true.

                   

                  A lot of museums keep pieces in climate controlled environments at a specific humidity, but a lot of galleries and collectors don’t. I have bought pieces from generally humid climates, and the pieces were generally old, but when I get them back to dry Colorado I will notice that after a period of time an old crack will sometimes start to open up a little more revealing a fresher looking crack. In this case, 98% of the cracks on the piece look old and have appropriate shrinkage you would see on an older piece, but then you have that one newer crack that was caused by a climate change.

                   

                  I still don’t think you can use this as the only factor in determining age, but I think it can be helpful in a lot of instances. I haven’t been able to find any good resources on this topic, but if I do I will be sure to post them.

                   

                  Cheers!

                  RAND



                  Craig Lewis <craig_n_emma@...> wrote:
                  Gary,
                  you were right to be suspicious about the pieces you mentioned.
                  It is something I always look at if there is a piece with a crack, if
                  it is an old crack then the dust,grime etc would also have settled in
                  the crack and the wood would look drier and be a different colour to
                  newly exposed wood.
                  In certain conditions old wood could split and reveal fresher looking
                  wood in a crack, but most of the time it is a new crack in a new
                  piece.
                  I have noticed that some sellers (both on the web and on e-bay) often
                  describe these cracks as "age cracks", giving the impression that the
                  have cracked because they are old. The truth is it can happen to
                  brand new pieces.
                  Hope this is useful,
                  Cheers
                  Craig 






                  --- In African_Arts@yahoogroups.com, <gcroft@y...> wrote:
                  > I have a question about cracks, that is perhaps much ado
                  > about nothing :-).
                  >
                  > Does inspecting the interior surfaces of cracks provide any
                  > clues regarding an object's age? I've observed thickly
                  > encrusted objects that appear to be extremely old (a Banywa
                  > King and Queen pair comes to mind), but was made suspicious--
                  > perhaps without justification--by the fresh, "virginal"
                  > looking crack interiors that suggested otherwise ...
                  >
                  > One more data point?
                  >
                  > Cheerio,
                  > Gary Croft
                  > Snohomish, WA, USA




                • gcroft@yinandyang.org
                  Thank you Craig and Rand. Indeed, one more consideration! Cheerio, Gary Croft Date: Tue, 5 Jul 2005 10:14:00 -0700 (PDT) From: Rand African Art
                  Message 8 of 8 , Jul 8, 2005
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                    Thank you Craig and Rand.

                    Indeed, one more consideration!

                    Cheerio,

                    Gary Croft


                    Date: Tue, 5 Jul 2005 10:14:00 -0700 (PDT)
                    From: Rand African Art <rand@...> Add To
                    Address Book
                    Subject: Re: [African_Arts] Re: Cleaning of pieces
                    To: African_Arts@yahoogroups.com


                    Hi Gary,

                    I also agree with what Craig says. Wood shrinks and cracks
                    for many different reasons, but the most common reason is
                    drying out which can come from age or climate changes. From
                    what I have read, it will usually take a piece of wood 2 to
                    3 years to adjust to climate and conditions. As a piece
                    moves from a humid climate to a drier climate you are more
                    likely to see newer cracks on the piece as the piece dries
                    out and the wood shrinks, no matter how old the piece is.



                    I have also seen many newer pieces that have been
                    represented as having “age cracks” when the piece has cracks
                    on it, and this is probably the result of a common
                    misconception that wood only cracks when it is old, or maybe
                    people don’t know what to call those cracks besides calling
                    them “age cracks”?



                    I think that cracks in the wood are an important factor in
                    guessing how old a piece may be if it is not documented. I
                    think you have to look at the overall cracks on a piece and
                    look inside them, look at the shrinking and use your
                    observations in making a determination. If all of the cracks
                    look like what you would expect from a piece of wood that
                    has recently cracked then it is most likely the piece is
                    newer, the opposite would also be true.



                    A lot of museums keep pieces in climate controlled
                    environments at a specific humidity, but a lot of galleries
                    and collectors don’t. I have bought pieces from generally
                    humid climates, and the pieces were generally old, but when
                    I get them back to dry Colorado I will notice that after a
                    period of time an old crack will sometimes start to open up
                    a little more revealing a fresher looking crack. In this
                    case, 98% of the cracks on the piece look old and have
                    appropriate shrinkage you would see on an older piece, but
                    then you have that one newer crack that was caused by a
                    climate change.



                    I still don’t think you can use this as the only factor in
                    determining age, but I think it can be helpful in a lot of
                    instances. I haven’t been able to find any good resources on
                    this topic, but if I do I will be sure to post them.



                    Cheers!

                    RAND



                    Craig Lewis <craig_n_emma@...> wrote:
                    Gary,
                    you were right to be suspicious about the pieces you
                    mentioned.
                    It is something I always look at if there is a piece with a
                    crack, if
                    it is an old crack then the dust,grime etc would also have
                    settled in
                    the crack and the wood would look drier and be a different
                    colour to
                    newly exposed wood.
                    In certain conditions old wood could split and reveal
                    fresher looking
                    wood in a crack, but most of the time it is a new crack in a
                    new
                    piece.
                    I have noticed that some sellers (both on the web and on e-
                    bay) often
                    describe these cracks as "age cracks", giving the impression
                    that the
                    have cracked because they are old. The truth is it can
                    happen to
                    brand new pieces.
                    Hope this is useful,
                    Cheers
                    Craig
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