Coming Unglued: The Importance of Reversibility in Artifact Conservation

By Reagan Andersen

In this month’s blog, we are highlighting a whiteware basin with a flow blue Scinde pattern from the mid-nineteenth century. The object was brought to the Dovetail lab by a curious owner from Stafford County.  The vessel had once been broken into several large pieces that someone had attempted to glue back together (Photo 1). With permission from the owner, the archaeology lab at Dovetail conserved the bowl in a more appropriate and safe manner. Through a step-by-step analysis, this blog will discuss the conservation methods utilized to preserve the bowl’s integrity.

Photo 1: The Basin Before Conservation Efforts Began. Notice the giant glob of glue put in place of a missing sherd!

The first step was to remove the adhesive that had been used to refit the bowl when it originally broke. In order to do this, we had to first determine what type of glue was used and how, or if, it could be removed. With its black color, we believed the adhesive to be JB Weld—a high-temperature epoxy adhesive that is not removable. In order to get a clearer answer, we took the bowl to the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (DHR) in Richmond and with the help of Katherine Ridgway, a conservator at DHR, we received great news. It was not JB Weld, but just a normal, removable, adhesive that had been painted over with either black paint or sharpie in an attempt to blend in with the dark blue pattern.  We quickly got to work removing the black paint and as much of the glue as possible with just cotton balls and acetone. However, the adhesive was not budging. The next step was to put the bowl into an acetone chamber, where the bowl is placed in a bag or container along with acetone-filled jars so that the acetone vapors can break down the adhesive and allow for separation (Photo 2). After a few weeks of being in the acetone chamber, the pieces had finally fallen apart and it was time to start removing the leftover residue and begin re-mending. In order to remove the excess residue we soaked the sherds in acetone and then used scalpels to peel the adhesive off of the fragments.

Photo 2: The Basin After Removal of Adhesive, But Before Acetone Chamber.

To re-mend the basin, we used Paraloid B-72: a clear, thermoplastic resin that is commonly used in conservation and restoration. It is more flexible than most other adhesives and, most importantly, it is dissolvable in acetone! It is highly important that whatever was done to the basin must be reversible; this is true with all conservation and restoration work. In the lab at Dovetail, we regularly use B-72 for labeling artifacts and mending ceramics or glass.

After several months of work, the bowl was finally finished (Photo 3). We hope to continue restoration by filling in the damaged, colorless areas with compatible paint colors. So, next time you break your grandmother’s favorite dinner plate, ask an archaeologist to repair it for you!

Photo 3: The Finished Basin.

 

 

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Turning and Burning

Turning and Burning: Locally Made Pottery from the Trogdon-Squirrel Creek Assemblage

By D. Brad Hatch

July continues our series of posts highlighting the artifacts recovered from the Trogdon-Squirrel Creek site (31Rd1426/1426**) in Randolph County, North Carolina. Dovetail Cultural Resource Group conducted data recovery excavations at this site on behalf of the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT), guided by the data recovery plan authored by NCDOT (Overton 2014). Of the over 8,000 ceramic sherds recovered from the Trogdon-Squirrel Creek site, nearly half (3,826) were made in North Carolina. These locally produced wares underscore the importance of the ceramic industry to the economy of piedmont North Carolina and the reliance of residents on locally manufactured goods. This blog post focuses on some of the wares whose makers can be identified in order to illustrate the number of potters in the region and how far people would go to buy their goods. For a more detailed treatment of these ceramics click here.

Marked, or otherwise identifiable, wares from at least six different potters were identified in the collection gathered from the site (Table; Photos 1–7). Dates of production for these potters, when they were not known from historical references, were estimated by adding 20 years to their birth date and extending the span to the date of their death. While the production span for some of these wares may be slightly shorter or longer, they are probably not exceedingly different. The majority of these potters began production prior to 1850. However, most had a production range that extended through the latter half of the nineteenth century. Notably, all of these potters had kilns in Randolph County during at least some portion of their career. Jacob Craven had at least three kilns during his lifetime, one of which was in Randolph County, while the remaining two were located just south of the county line in Moore County. All of the kilns used by these potters during their periods of production were located within 14 miles (22.5 km) of the Trogdon-Squirrel Creek site and half were within 10 miles (16.1 km) (Figure).

PotterKiln LocationDate of Production
Jacob D. CravenRandolph and Moore Counties, NCca. 1847-1895
Enoch S. CravenRandolph County, NCca. 1830-1893
William N. CravenRandolph County, NC1842-1857
Nathan B. DicksRandolph County, NCca. 1875-1918
Alfred L. MoodyRandolph County, NCca. 1880-1924
Chester WebsterRandolph County, NCca. 1840-1882
Table: Identified Potters Represented in the Trogdon-Squirrel Creek Assemblage.

A brief glimpse of this extraordinary grouping of locally made ceramics from the Trogdon-Squirrel Creek site provides important insight into the development of the ceramic industry in Randolph County from approximately 1840 to the early-twentieth century, a period when the potting tradition in this region was flourishing. It also suggests that local residents were paramount in supporting these artisans throughout history, allowing potters and their families to put down roots and prosper in the region. As a result, many of the descendants of the potters identified in this assemblage still produce ceramic wares in the area and pottery production remains an important aspect of the economy in the North Carolina piedmont.

Photo 1: Locally Made Coarse Earthenware Jar Fragment with Sine Wave Decoration, Attributed to Nathan Dicks.

Photo 1: Locally Made Coarse Earthenware Jar Fragment with Sine Wave Decoration, Attributed to Nathan Dicks.

Photo 2: Locally Made Earthenware Chamber Pot with N.B. Dicks Mark.

Photo 2: Locally Made Earthenware Chamber Pot with N.B. Dicks Mark.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo 3: Locally Made Stoneware Jug with W.N. Craven Mark.

Photo 3: Locally Made Stoneware Jug with W.N. Craven Mark.

Photo 4: Locally Made Stoneware Pot with E.S. Craven Mark.

Photo 4: Locally Made Stoneware Pot with E.S. Craven Mark.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo 5: Locally Made Stoneware Jug or Pitcher with J.D. Craven and Capacity Mark.

Photo 5: Locally Made Stoneware Jug or Pitcher with J.D. Craven and Capacity Mark.

Photo 6: Locally Made Stoneware Vessel with A.L. Moody Mark.

Photo 6: Locally Made Stoneware Vessel with A.L. Moody Mark.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo 7: Locally Made Stoneware Jug with Bird Decoration Attributed to Chester Webster.

Photo 7: Locally Made Stoneware Jug with Bird Decoration Attributed to Chester Webster.

 

Figure: Map Showing Location of Kilns for Identified Potters in Relation to the Trogdon-Squirrel Creek Site.

Figure: Map Showing Location of Kilns for Identified Potters in Relation to the Trogdon-Squirrel Creek Site.

 

Any distributions of blog content, including text or images, should reference this blog in full citation. Data contained herein is the property of Dovetail Cultural Resource Group and its affiliates.

References:

Overton, Brian
2014    Archaeological Data Recovery Plan: Site 31Rd1426, Randolph County, North Carolina. North Carolina Department of Transportation Human Environment Section, Raleigh, North Carolina.

Check out Jefferson Patterson Park’s Diagnostic Artifacts webpage for more images of stonewares recovered from the Trogdon-Squirrel Creek Site.

Discussions with local North Carolina potters, scholars, and collectors of North Carolina pottery were instrumental in the identification of the locally produced wares from the Trogdon-Squirrel Creek site. Specifically, I would like to express my gratitude to Hal Pugh and Eleanor Minnock-Pugh of New Salem Pottery, Mary Farrell of Westmoore Pottery, and Tommy Cranford. 

A Community Comes Together

Featured Fragment–The Marshall-Bell Kiln Site

It started with a frantic phone call from an employee with the City of Fredericksburg: a construction crew downtown had uncovered a mass of stoneware fragments. The Marshall-Bell site, named after the known potters of this 1830s kiln, not only produced an abundance of artifacts and information on early-nineteenth century urban kilns, but its emergency excavation rallied a group effort of immeasurable proportions. This pro-bono salvage effort conducted by Dovetail Cultural Resource Group and their non-profit partner, the Historic Fredericksburg Foundation Inc. (HFFI), brought together city residents, cultural resource management firms, City employees, state historic preservation office representatives, developers, and non-profits like George Washington’s Ferry Farm, George Washington’s Mount Vernon, and the Fredericksburg Area Museum and Cultural Center, to complete the field work and laboratory analysis. Work on the site resulted in the discovery of wasters from the kiln production as well as the foundations of several nearby dwellings. The nearly 20,000 recovered artifacts were washed and sorted by volunteers who came into the Dovetail lab in a steady stream. The work continues to this day with the help of volunteers to complete the final artifact preparation for curation/ labeling prior to the majority of the collection being curated with the City of Fredericksburg.

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The Marshall-Bell salvage project is a great example of how a community, non-profits, businesses, and professional and avocational archaeologists can work together on a site to produce a final product that can benefit not only the archaeological community but the region as well. Without the help and cooperation of the various private, local, regional, and state stakeholders this project would not be possible, and Dovetail is eternally grateful for everyone’s help and continued interest in the site. In March 2015 Dovetail will be honored with HFFI’s Executive Director’s Special Recognition Award for their generous support of archaeological research at the Marshall-Bell Kiln site. While Dovetail is greatly appreciative with this recognition, the work was truly a cumulative effort and could not have been completed without the help of all those involved. We hope in the months to come that we can put our plan into action and get the Marshall-Bell type collections in the hands of those interested. Maybe one day future researchers will be able to identify complete forms of the pottery made at the Marshall-Bell kiln site.

 

Any distributions of blog content, including text or images, should reference this blog in full citation. Data contained herein is the property of Dovetail Cultural Resource Group and its affiliates.