Creating an elemental image map in SEM-EDS of a cross-section in from a gilded Chinoiserie-style cornice fragment from the Lenygon Collection.
Cross-section in 200x magnification in visible light (left) and UV light (right) from the Bray School containing the earliest green paint layer.
XRF spectra from block-printed wallpaper fragment from the Miles Brewton House.
Looking at a cross-section from the Bray School under the microscope.
Detail of early pigment particles found in the early green paint layer found in the Bray School, (plane-polarized light, 400x magnification).
This summer, I worked as a Research Fellow at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation's Material Analytics Lab in Williamsburg, Virginia. Seeking to find a pathway into the materials analysis field, I was offered the opportunity to work alongside CW's Conservator and Materials Analyst Kirsten Moffitt. The CW Conservation facilities provided the perfect environment to become better acquainted with modern diagnostic tools and the best practices used in architectural paint research.
During my time in Williamsburg, I worked on a range of analysis projects, including paint analysis for the Bray School – a mid-18th century school endorsed by Benjamin Franklin dedicated to the religious indoctrination of enslaved and freed Black youth in America's British colonies (located in Williamsburg). Previous research by Kirsten Moffit determined that the earliest paint found in the school is a green paint containing chrome yellow pigments, which date to the early 19th century. My goal for the project aimed to find additional and earlier paint layers that date to the time of the building's conception in the mid-18th c.
Some other projects I worked on include the technical study of an 18th c. wallpaper from the Miles Brewton House (Charleston, SC); the analysis of an 18th c. Chinoiserie-style cornice from the Lenygon Collection (British Architectural Fragments); and the interior paint analysis of a small 18th c. Italianate home referred to as the Pryor Campbell House in Petersburg, Virginia, where I worked alongside Paint Analyst Susan Buck.
In the Materials Analysis Lab, we utilize several analytical tools to identify and discern detailed information regarding historical materials that can help us understand the site's historical context and inform future conservation treatments. We accomplish this through the following techniques and methods, all of which I have gained first-hand experience with this summer:
Cross-section microscopy of paint samples to examine paint stratigraphies and identify paint generations
SEM-EDS (Scanning Electron Microscopy-Energy Dispersive Spectroscopy) to obtain elemental data for paints
Polarized Light Microscopy (PLM) to identify individual pigments based on their optical and morphological characteristics
Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) to identify organic materials such as binding media, like linseed oil, used in historic house paint.
X-ray Fluorescence spectroscopy (XRF) to determine elemental compositions of exposed painted surfaces
Colorimetry for documentation and to generate the most accurate color matches for reports and future repainting/replication
Due to my interest in Architectural Conservation, many of my projects were in collaboration with CW's Architectural Preservation and Research department; thus, frequent site visits to discuss analytical findings with the preservation team ensued, often leading to opportunities for in-situ sampling and documentation from the sites being researched.
I found the previous sampling experience from Finishes Seminar (HSPV 740) and the guest lecture by Catherine Matsen very helpful in determining appropriate sample locations and techniques used to obtain necessary information without causing increased damage to the site.
In addition, the knowledge I gained from Digital Media (HSPV 624) and Documentation and Recording (HSPV 600) immensely aided with the report writing and formatting processes. Furthermore, Petrography of Cultural Materials (CLST 512) provided me with a fantastic baseline for understanding microscopy and interpreting materials in polarized light.
It was wonderful to be based in such a unique historical location as Williamsburg, with all its rich architectural resources to study historic paint. I am extremely grateful to have had this opportunity to learn invaluable analytical skills from Kirsten and Susan and learn more about Colonial America from the Conservation and the Architectural Preservation and Research departments at The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Thank you all!