Sunday, 24 August 2014

Teapot Repaired - Randall House Museum

August 19, 2014

I was asked to repair a broken teapot at Randall House museum after it had been broken in transit on a flight from Alberta.  A set of china had been carefully wrapped in bubble wrap and placed in a hard shell carry-on bag but, sadly, the teapot split into two large pieces.  The good news is that the break was relatively clean and given that they were larger pieces were easier to handle for repair.

I would recommend that china and other fragile artifacts be packaged in layers of foam and tightly secured in a hard shell case to avoid movement while being transported.   Foam can be carved to the shape of the artifact both on a bottom and top layer which can then be wrapped to prevent movement.

Firstly, a general statement - conservators are not restorers.  Restoring is a very specialized field requiring considerable training and experience.  For example, ceramics restoration would require a solid grounding in chemistry to understand glazing, painting, firing, and general analysis of the many materials used in creating a ceramic piece.  A restorer would fill cracks and do colour matching for the plain parts of the repair and the coloured parts.  Their work can usually produce results that would be able to render the break (fracture) invisible to the naked eye.  As you can imagine, this is a time consuming and expensive process and therefore is normally only undertaken where budget permits.

Secondly, conservators can do minor repairs such as putting this teapot back together without the crack filling and colour matching.  Conservation work is normally done with the caveat that the repairs are reversible and at least visible under a microscope.  These are ethical considerations in all conservation work.

Here is a photograph of the teapot prior to the repair work.

Randall House Teapot - before repair

Tools and materials used in this repair....exacto-knife, wooden skewer (sanded to a fine point), small soft brush, and HMG B72 adhesive.

Here are the steps I took in the repair of the teapot....
  • photographs are taken before and after the work
  • using a small, soft brush I carefully brushed along the break on both pieces over a sheet of paper to see if any smaller fragments came loose....none did....and to make sure no loose pieces would hamper fitting the larger pieces together,
  • apply a minimum amount of conservation grade adhesive along the break,
  • hold the pieces together for at least two minutes by hand in this case but larger clamps can be used in some cases.  The adhesive used is flexible for two minutes and then hardens allowing for minor adjustments.
  • carefully remove excess adhesive with an exacto-knife all along the join, inside and out.  The knife is held at a very flat angle to just pick away without doing further damage.
  • examine the join by moving the exacto-knife from side to side at various points along the break to determine the evenness of the join.  If necessary, the join can be reversed and redone if not satisfactory.  The adhesive used can be softened with a hairdryer at a low setting.
Here is a photograph of the teapot with the excess adhesive and a gap showing.  The break did have a very few of the gaps and was otherwise a very clean break.  The small and minimal bits of adhesive were carefully removed with the exacto-knife.

Randall House Teapot - before clean-up

With this repair done the teapot can be put in a display with proper lighting and placed in such a way that the break would be either not visible or essentially invisible.  The break and repair along with this description now become part of the history of the artifact.