Medieval Capstone: Special Collections Illustration Preview

Hey, everybody! So, I’ll be meeting with Marjan tomorrow to look at the book and get more information about its history and possible ways to treat the problems with it, hypothetically. Now, this another part of my project, where I’ll be making illustrations for the Special Collections Code of Conduct (or Rules for Researchers) which can be found here.  I’ve been spending a few hours on Gimp gridding out the rules, and I’ll be putting the illustrations in the circles (the ugly blue shapes won’t be on the final draft, they’re just guides for the text and illustrations).

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Look at this Jack-O-Lantern! Only a sick person would make a Jack-O-Lantern like this, right? Because a sick person did. 😦 Bleh. I have a stuffy head, but that’s not stopping me from celebrating my favorite holiday! I’m not exactly sure what I made, but I’m doing what I’ve never done before, and did the thing where you take the skin off the Jack O Lantern and sculpt something. For my first one, I’m pretty proud of it! I’m going to do this every year from now on!

I love Halloween! When I was little, I think the highlight of Halloween as a kid, even more than the candy, was seeing Mom spending the whole month making our costumes! It definitely added to the excitement factor. I would go to the fabric store with her, pick out the pattern and fabric, and then the whole month was just watching it come together little by little.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Imperial Monterey Chair Week 4: Shellac and Client

There was still a lot of cleaning to do on the chair. I was hoping to get to the leather working this week, but that didn’t end up happening. Oh well. In two weeks perhaps. Besides that, I learned a lot of interesting things today. During lunch, I was given a lesson on lacquer which amounted to a very fascinating botany lesson as much as a history lesson.

Some things I learned about shellac are that whenever a new layer is added, it dissolves the previous layer just a tiny bit because of the alcohol that is already present. For this reason, it’s best not to apply new layers too quickly because the texture will get too gummy.

Another thing is that it’s important to be aware when using wipes with silicone because the silicone will wick underneath the shellac and cause it to lift.

I learned about different plants used for shellac such as gumalini, gum frankincenseand dragon’s blood

Dragons Blood. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

I also witnessed firsthand Katie and Mitchell meeting a new client and his proposed project. The client came in with an old wicker chair. Some of the wicker popped off, the cushion was torn, revealing the charcoal colored course horse hair inside. As soon as the potential client placed the chair on the table, Mitchell wasted no time analyzing the chair. Mitchell and Katie asked the client whether or not the chair was going to be used for decorative purposes, or to actually be used. This was important because the answer would’ve determined what kind of restoration would be involved in this project.

Katie gave the man a tour of the studio. While she was doing that, Mitchell attempted to make an estimation about the chair’s history. He wrote a base outline of the different elements of the chair: Structure, Wicker, Grass Seat, Finish, and Upholstery.

From looking at the chair, and from his knowledge of what styles of furniture were made in what time period, Mitchell guessed that the chair was just barely made after the Civil War.

Turns out his estimate was off. He knew this by removing a couple of the screws at the bottom of the seat and found that the screws were made from a stainless steel boat nail, rather than iron, like a true post-Civil War chair. He then determined from the style of the nails that the chair was actually made around the late nineteenth century instead. He said this made sense because during that time, this was when McKinly or Roosevelt would’ve been president, and the National Parks projects were up and running.

Furniture like the kind he was analyzing would have been made for the lodges in these parks.

He determined that the structure had a basic frame with loose joinery. The Wicker was broken and needed to be strategically rewoven in some areas. The Grass Seat needed replaced. The finish of the chair was a shellac varnish which suffered from some aligatoring. The Upholstery needed to be replaced.






I started a Patreon!


I started a Patreon a couple days ago!

For those of you who don’t know, Patreon is a website you can act as a “Patron” to an artist, gamer, filmmaker, musician, and other types of creators on a monthly basis. Now, you can fund somebody for a single month then cancel your pledge, but personally, I think they really need to consider doing just one-off donations. It’s silly that they don’t.

I’ve been wanting to start one of my own for a while, but finally buckled down and decided to do it. I think my plan to go to Florence next year really put instilled a sense of urgency.

I’m actually having a lot of fun with it too! I’m looking at the “goals” thing as kind of like a gaming achievement system. I currently have my first goal there for $16/per month for coffee, and when I reach that goal, I’m going to make a series of small paintings made from coffee. This would be a good thing for me too because over the last few weeks I’ve been nothing but school and work that I haven’t forced myself to make time to create art.

I don’t know if this will be a super successful thing, but it’s fun, and that’s the most important thing, I think.

I also started a YouTube channel where I want to put cartoon video blogs kind of like Domics, Vanimation, and theodd1soutcomic. But THAT’S not happening until after this Asian art history midterm. :/ Again, not expecting an overnight success, but it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a couple of years but never had the courage to.


Adventures Ahoy!

Florence here I come!

So, I may be doing some exciting things in the next coming year. I’m currently in the process of applying for SACI (Studio Arts College International). This would be a two semester long post-baccalaureate art conservation program… in Florence, Italy!

It’s gonna be expensive, but I’m determined to make it work!

Aaaaaand I may hopefully be going to another country in Europe this summer! My part time job was having what was essentially a letter writing contest where they’re sending some employees to the company’s home country for a week. I submitted mine, and hopefully they pick me!

I also started a Patreon account for my art too! I invite you to check it out and help me out so that I can study art conservation in one of the most historic and beautiful countries in my opinion!

Medieval Portland: Preliminary Treatment Report First Draft

Ashley West. Art Conservation Project.

OWNER: Portland State University Special Collections

ARTIST: Calligrapher: Mirza Mohammad Kazema Valeh



The fold is where you can see the previous treatment.
Oxidation caused by Lapiz Lazuli ink



  • The Object: Illuminated manuscript of  texts of Bustān (The Orchard, 1257) and Gulistān (The Rose Garden, 1258) originally composed by the poet Majmūʻah-i Saʻdī. The calligrapher of this particular copy is unknown. The area of the book needing attention are the last two pages. Tarnished gold leaf cover them with geometrically painted lines with flowers. One page has a border while the other consists of half text, and the other half covered with a block of illustration.
  • History: The first page of the book contains the date, ‘1226 AH’ (1811 AD) in Arabic. This means that the book’s fabrication took place during the Qajar dynasty1. The calligrapher and book binder of this particular book is/are unknown. In keeping with consistency of Islamic art, the book has no figural illustrations. According to Marjan Anvari, an art conservator specializing in Medieval Islamic manuscripts, the pages were illustrated using Tazhib style2. Tazhib style is the geometric art style generally created by taking a larger polygon and creating smaller and smaller geometric shapes inside thus creating the precise detail seen in this book3. Though the date in which the illuminations were fabricated suggest Qajar dynasty, there is significant4
  • Fabrication: The book was bound with a leather cover. The ink and type of paper used is unknown until further examination can take place. All but the last two pages of the book.

2. Condition

  • Object Description: Overall, the bookbinding is stable. There are two current notable gold flakes missing from the second illuminated page of the book. There is also some slight lifting of the gold leaf.
  • Examination

3. Previous Treatment

  • There is evidence of previous treatment as the last page of the book shows signs of reformatting. The protective first and last pages were new editions.

Treatment Proposal 

  • Unfortunately, treatment on the gold leaf is absolutely unadviseable. The oxidation caused by the lapis lazuli can be slowed, but this is not an immediate concern. Water soluble ink was used in this book, so do not use water to clean dirt and grime.

Factors Influencing Treatment

  • Any attempts to treat the gold leaf would require unbinding the entire book. Doing so poses a much higher risk to the object. The best thing to do is just to practice safe handling.

Written and researched by Ashley West.

2016 Medieval Capstone Student

Continue reading “Medieval Portland: Preliminary Treatment Report First Draft”

Medieval Portland: Photo documentation

I checked out a camera from the Portland State University VA office hoping to get some better shots of the poetry book. I was highly discouraged from using flash (for good reason), but if I made do with what I could.

Unfortunately, since I left, it looks like the damage has gotten slightly worse. The gold leaf on your right in the image is now lifting just a little bit!

I wanted to talk a little bit about photography in the art conservation field: I’ve had two different experiences with my two different internships. At Robert’s lab, we had a set-up which involved placing the object in a white tent and playing with lighting to get the best results. Below, you can see my first project which is against a white background with a color strip to fix the color balance when the photo is put in for editing.



I also was fortunate enough to order the second edition to “The AIC Guide to Digital Photography and Conservation Documentation” on sale for $20 from $60. I’ll hopefully be getting it sometime in the middle of November at the latest, and when I do, I’ll read it and post more information, but basically what I’ve learned from every conservator I’ve ever talk to is that documentation is the MOST IMPORTANT part of the conservation process. Sometimes, even more so than the actual treatment itself.

Everything you do has to be reversible in case future discoveries find more effect forms of conservation. This is why it’s important to document everything you do for future conservators to learn from, fix, and otherwise learn about what happened to the object.

Photos have to be taken BEFORE any treatments are made, and then several process photos are highly recommended to show other fieldworkers your work as well as proving to a potential client that you did indeed put the extensive work into the object that you did.



Imperial Monterey Session 2: Gunk Scraping!

In my past conservation projects, I learned that a crucial part about conservation may involve fixing past repairs, usually made by owners and sometimes fix-it shops. Weeks 2 and 3 of my internship at MPF Conservation were such a reminder of this fact.

During the second week, Katie and I went shopping for strapping leather at Oregon Leather for the Imperial Monterey Chair and a Stickley footstool. This was, I’m ashamed to say, my first time inside the shop. Oregon Leather had a delightfully odd set up with half of the first floor consisting of shelves filled with boxes of leather working tools, decorations, accents, and countless other things. The second half ha more leather jackets in one place than I’ve ever seen. There were also random piles of animal horns, shells, bones, and tails.

As I stood looking at the ox horns, I thought how cool it would be to do a leather working project like Visigoth or other such Viking armor.

I really love being in stores like this. It really had my head buzzing with ideas for costumes and leather crafts.

But we weren’t there to make armor that my Viking ancestors may or may not have worn, we were there for furniture parts!  We specifically needed Vegetable dyed grade A leather that was about 3 mm in depth. As much as we could, Katie and I tried to use as few hides as possible.

When purchasing leather, I learned that texture is a vital part of the selection process. When dying the leather, any textural imperfection such as stretch marks, bite marks, barb wire marks, and other such imperfections can exacerbate in the dying process. It’s no big deal for Monterey furniture; the blemishes give the leather more of a Wild West appearance. However, such blemishes for a Stickley footstool are undesireable and this split of leather would be used for both.

Of course, there were only a few available hides, and none of them were exactly perfect. Still, we had to make do because the leather we were getting was not something that most other leather crafters here in Portland used terribly often. The next shipment would not have been for a very long while.

During both these sessions, my assignment involved taking the chair apart and turning it into rubble. (Okay, not real rubble, but all parts were disassembled to allow for reparation of tenons and regluing with hide glue.)  It was challenging because people in the past have either tried to enhance the adhesion process (poorly) or reinforce it with multiple unnecessary screws.

Like this one! What is up with this? I can’t… I can’t even…

I took apart the seat portion of the chair. It was a relatively simple task. I had to remove several screws and nails and take photographs as I took the chair apart.

… a CARPENTER NAIL? Are you serious now? This was fun to remove, actually. 🙂

I took apart the back on the third week. This was the much trickier task. A past repair was done to it which involved using what Mitchell inferred as an acrylic base craft glue.

Vinegar and Syringe

This was most fortunate because had it been an epoxy adhesive, I probably would have needed to use more toxic solvents. As it was, I only needed to use warm vinegar and inject it into the glue and screw holes using a 20mm needle syringe.





This is the chair’s back. I labeled each piece.


For those of you unfamiliar with furniture terms, tenons and mortises are a type of joint that join furniture pieces together.  You can see an example, below.

Left: Mortis/Right: Tenon

When the back was taken apart, Mitchell and I took a look at the mortises. Mitchell believed the mortises were formed using Forstner bits. This was unusual for an Imperial Monterey-style item because Forstner bits were used by hand rather than manufactured by machine in Los Angeles, California.

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The rest of my day consisted of scraping out the gunk from the tenons and mortises.

After scraping out the gunk, the next steps involve cleaning glues and the finish on the various parts.  Ideally, my next step is woodworking which would involve finding compatible wood and rebuilding the badly damaged or rotted tenons; this is going to be delayed until Mitchell can fully supervise me.  Next week I will finish up cleaning, and begin to work the leather:  Stay tuned!

© Ashley West.  My blog posts may be reposted; please link back to AshleyWestArtBlog.  Photos are property of MPF Conservation.