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Inside The Conservator's Art

A behind-the-scenes look at conserving Egyptian artifacts at the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology { 2010 09 09 }

A delicate case: conserving a cartonnage foot case

Cartonnage foot case, PAHMA 5-409.

This cartonnage foot case from Egypts Greco-Roman period was recently treated live in the gallery. Foot cases are hollow coverings placed over the feet of a mummy. They are often decorated to resemble human feet. This foot case depicts a pair of sandaled feet, with three-dimensional toes modeled in plaster. The foot case was torn, missing one large section and several smaller ones, and soiled with unidentified white deposits and fine grey dust. In order to stabilize it and to make it ready for possible display, I cleaned, reshaped, repaired and rehoused the foot case.

Loss in side wall of foot case, PAHMA 5-409. I cleaned the surfaces with a slightly tacky, eraser-like product called GROOM/STICK. GROOM/STICK can be rolled into small balls and lightly touched to the painted surface to remove accreted material. It effectively removed the fine grey dust and grime that had built up on the foot cases surface.

Foot case PAHMA 5-409 during treatment. One side has been cleaned, the other has not. The loss on the proper right side wall caused the back side edge to droop inwards. In order to restore structural stability to the foot case, I filled the loss. I mixed glass microballoons and cellulose powder into a cellulose ether adhesive (Klucel G) to create a lightweight, easy-to-shape mixture. Before adding the cellulose powder I toasted it, or heated it to impart a cream/brown color and introduce chromatic variation. I shaped and smoothed the fill with a small spatula, swabs and fine sand paper.

The creamy color of the toasted cellulose resembled the painted surfaces surrounding the loss, providing a base color that I adjusted by inpainting the surfaces with acrylic paints. Inpainting the fill caused it be less noticeable upon first glance, allowing viewers to see the object first, rather than immediately seeing the damage.

Fill after treatment, foot case PAHMA 5-409. After treating the foot case I created a storage mount to support it and to facilitate safe handling. The storage mount is made out of archival materials including polyethylene foam and Tyvek, a smooth nonwoven olefin fabric. It consists of an interior form to maintain the side walls in the correct position and a foam bed on which the foot case is mounted upright to display all painted surfaces.

Proper right side of the foot case (PAHMA 5-409) after treatment on support.

Bottom surface of the foot case (PAHMA 5-409) after treatment on support. Posted by Allison on Thursday, September 9, 2010, at 8:46 am. Filed under Cartonnage, Conservation treatments, Live in the gallery. Tagged Cartonnage. Follow any responses to this post with its comments RSS feed. You can post a comment or trackback from your blog.

{ 7 } Comments
1. Ozge | 09/09/2010 at 3:41 pm | Permalink Thank you for the detailed explanation.


Don Major | 09/09/2010 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

What a beautiful foot case. I remember seeing a silver foot case or shoes on the body of St. Spiradon in a church on the island of Corfu. I cant help but think that perhaps our ancestors revered the feet more than we do today.


Vanessa | 09/13/2010 at 11:36 am | Permalink Your fill for the loss on the foot case looks great! I really like the use of toasted cellulose powder to add that extra color and variation to the fill.


Bruce | 09/16/2010 at 8:42 pm | Permalink Allison, thanks for taking the time from your work on the crushed mask to answer all my restoration/conservation questions! The volume of your knowledge is astounding, yet you put it all into language that a visitor could understand. It was great to meet one of the many talented people who keep history intact and accessible. I hope were fortunate enough to keep you at Hearst for another year. Or two. Thanks again.


Allison | 10/12/2010 at 12:05 pm | Permalink @Bruce, Thanks for your kind words, and glad you enjoyed the exhibit!


Holly Lundberg | 11/18/2010 at 10:28 am | Permalink Hi Allison, I just ran across your blog and as a fellow conservator amd interested in the fill you used for the foot case. Id like to try out this fill mix and am wondering what concentrations you used of microballoons, Klucel, and cellulose powder. Also did you use a solution of Klucel G in H20 or in an alcohol (ethanol, isoproanol or reagent alcohol). Thanks in advance.

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Allison | 11/19/2010 at 8:23 am | Permalink Hi Holly, I used 5% Klucel G in ethanol with a 1:1 v:v mixture of microballoons and cellulose powder. Thanks for checking out the blog!