RECOVERY OF UNBACKED MOSAICS FROM A STORAGE DEPOT FIRE AT THE SARDIS EXCAVATIONS, TURKEY
KENT SEVERSON, STEPHEN KOOB, JULIE WOLFE, PERRY CHOE, STEPHANIE HORNBECK, SARAH MCGREGOR HOWARTH, & ANTHONY SIGEL
ABSTRACT—ABSTRACT—On the night of June 19, 1997, the on-site mosaic depot at Sardis, Turkey, burned, entirely destroying the wooden roof. Two stacks of lifted mosaic sections, already faced with animal glue and cotton, were stored in the depot and were covered by the resulting debris of charcoal, ash, and exploded ceramic roof tiles. Each stack consisted of four mosaic sections lying on top of each other, separated by plastic sheeting and layers of paper that melted and burned on the top and sides. Initial recovery of the damaged and buried mosaics was undertaken by the team of conservators and conservation students already on-site for the regular excavation season. Removal of large and small debris was carried out, and periodic assessments were made to decide final methods of cleaning and separation of the damaged layers.Secondary recovery was undertaken in the 1998 season. Two methods of recovery were tested: first by lining damaged layers with cotton cloth and acrylic emulsion, and second by securing portions of a stack with polyurethane foam, flipping the stack, and removing layers from the reverse. Recovery will continue during the 1999 season.
TITRE—La récupération de mosaïques sans revers à la suite d'un incendie à l'entrepôt au site des fouilles de Sardes, en Turquie. RÉSUMÉ—La nuit du 19 juin 1997, l'entrepôt des mosaïques sur le site des fouilles archéologiques de Sardes, en Turquie, a pris feu et le toit en bois fut totalement détruit. Des sections de mosaïques qui avaient été prélevées et déjà protégées en surface à l'aide de coton et de colle animale, se trouvaient en deux piles dans l'entrepôt et furent recouvertes par des débris de charbon, de cendres et d'éclats de tuiles en céramique provenant du toit. Pour chaque pile, il y avait quatre sections de mosaïque l'une par dessus l'autre, séparée d'une feuille de plastique et de couches de papier. Le plastique fondit et le papier brÛla, causant des dégâts entre chaque section et aussi le long des bords des sections. Les travaux de récupération d'urgence de ces mosaïques endommagées et ensevelies sous les débris ont été effectués par l'équipe de restaurateurs et d'étudiants qui se trouvaient déjà sur le site pour la saison régulière de fouilles. Les débris les plus grossiers furent d'abord éliminés et ensuite les plus petits, tout cela avec des évaluations périodiques afin de décider comment les sections de mosaïques seraient nettoyées et séparées l'une de l'autre. La deuxième phase de la récupération eut lieu durant la saison de fouilles de 1998. On mit à l'essai deux méthodes: le doublage des couches endommagées au moyen de tissu de coton et d'une émulsion acrylique; et l'immobilisation de certaines parties d'une pile à l'aide de mousse en polyuréthane, permettant ainsi de retourner la pile et d'enlever les couches à partir du revers. La récupération se poursuivit aussi durant la saison de fouilles de 1999.
TITULO—Recuperación de mosaicos sin soporte de un incendio en el depósito de las excavaciones de Sardis, Turquía. RESÚMEN—En la noche del 19 de julio de 1997, un incendio en el depósito de mosaicos del sitio de Sardis, Turquía, destruyó completamente el techo de madera del edificio. Dos pilas de secciones de mosaicos guardados en el depósito, a los que ya se había cubierto con cola animal y algodón, quedaron cubiertos por restos de carbón, cenizas y fragmentos de los azulejos de cerámica del techo. Cada pila consistía de cuatro secciones de mosaicos, una encima de la otra, separadas por hojas de plástico y papel que se fundieron y se quemaron en la parte superior y en los costados. El equipo de conservadores y estudiantes de conservación que se encontraba en el sitio para la temporada regular de excavación llevó a cabo la recuperación incial de los mosaicos dañados. Se quitaron los restos de escombros grandes y pequeños y se hicieron observaciones periódicas para determinar los métodos finales a emplear para la limpieza y separación de las capas dañadas.La segunda etapa de las tareas de recuperación se llevó a cabo durante la temporada de 1998. Se probaron dos métodos de recuperación: 1) forrar las capas dañadas con tela de algodón y emulsión acrílica y 2) asegurar los componentes de las pilas con espuma de poliuretano, luego dar vuelta a las pilas y remover las capas del reverso. Las tareas de recuperación continuaron durante la temporada del año 1999.
1 1. INTRODUCTION
The principle that ancient mosaics are an integral part of the buildings in which they are originally installed and that every effort should be made to preserve them within that context has long been widely accepted (Second International Congress 1964, Article 8), and increasingly in situ treatment is chosen as the most appropriate method for conservation of excavated mosaics (Getty Conservation Institute 1991; Nardi 1996). Nonetheless, there are times when it becomes necessary to remove mosaics from the buildings in which they were made (Mora 1980). Such circumstances may include a threat of vandalism or theft from an unprotected site, danger from natural phenomena, or the need to lift the mosaic in order to explore strata underneath.
Sardis, an archaeological site in western Anatolia, has been occupied by numerous civilizations since antiquity. Sardis is unique in the region for having been the capital of the Lydians, whose period of greatest strength extended from the 9th to the mid-6th century b.c. To explore the Lydian material, it is often necessary to go through deposits left by later occupants.
In 1989, under the auspices of the Harvard-Cornell Archaeological Exploration of Sardis (Crawford H. Greenewalt Jr., field director), a series of early 5th- and early 6th-century a.d. Roman floor mosaics was discovered in the sector known as MMS/N, between an ancient east-west road and the modern Izmir-Ankara highway (Greenewalt et al. 1993). These mosaics were typical Roman paving mosaics made up of relatively large stone tesserae, approximately 1–2 cm sq., set in lime mortar. In subsequent seasons, more mosaics were unearthed in the same sector as the excavation continued to the east (Greenewalt et al. 1995). The mosaics (fig. 1) had been built above a critical juncture in the Lydian defense wall, and it was deemed necessary to remove these later features to investigate the Lydian structures below. When exploration of the Lydian levels was complete, the mosaics would be reinstalled in their original location as part of an overall plan for presentation of the MMS/N sector to the public.
Mosaics in situ in sector MMS/N at Sardis, 1990. © Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/Harvard University
Beginning in 1990, portions of the mosaics were lifted by application of animal glue, cotton cloth, and paper facing (fig. 2). The mosaics were divided into sections, loosened from the bedding mortar by pounding, and lifted directly or by rolling (Salzman and Sherman 1990; Griffen and Salzman 1991; Griffen and Tokumaru 1992) (fig. 3). The traditional glue-facing method was chosen for its low cost and the ease with which needed materials could be obtained. In addition, removal of the facing after backing would require only warm water rather than organic solvents, which are expensive and difficult to use in the hot Turkish summer climate. The drawbacks of glue-based facings are, of course, their susceptibility to water damage and the eventual deterioration over time. These issues were of serious concern at the time of lifting; however, it was hoped that sufficient resources would be devoted to backing and stabilizing the mosaics so that the project would be completed in two or three years.
Mosaics divided into sections, before facing and lifting. © Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/Harvard University
Kent Severson and Ellen Salzman lifting mosaic section by rolling, after facing. © Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/Harvard University
The first mosaics were lifted in 1990 from a level slightly above most of the remaining mosaics. These were generally fragmentary, and every effort was made to utilize the losses and broken edges in dividing up the largest sections. The largest section of the mosaic was lifted in 1991. The floor was cut during lifting into regular sections along lines in the design of the mosaic to facilitate handling, yielding roughly rectangular sections 1–2 m sq. Several additional small sections were lifted in the 1992 season. As part of the routine excavation process, the mosaics had been thoroughly photographed and drawn by the Sardis expedition staff. The precise location of each cut and the original location of each section were indicated on photocopies of these drawings as the sections were lifted. The total area of mosaic lifted in all three seasons may be conservatively estimated to be around 55 to 60 sq. m.
The fragmentary mosaics lifted in 1990 were unrolled and stored face down in nearby sheds on makeshift shelving. Owing to space limitations, some unrolled sections were stacked in layers, separated by plastic sheeting. The large sections of mosaic lifted in 1991 and 1992 were stored on wooden platforms in the space formerly known as the “rest area” of the reconstructed Bath/Gymnasium complex. These mosaics were also unrolled, positioned face down, and interleaved with plastic sheeting, in stacks of four to five panels per stack. A large, well-preserved inscription (executed in smaller tesserae than the rest of the mosaic) had been lifted last from the center of the mosaic paving. This section was positioned on top of the main stack, in the center of the depot for storage. The stacks were covered with plastic sheeting, and a low plastic tent was erected over the entire group for additional protection from potential roof leaks (fig. 4).
Stacked mosaics covered with plastic in storage depot, 1996. Courtesy of Stephen Koob
At the end of the Bath/Gymnasium reconstruction project in 1973, this area had been roofed with wooden trusses and ceramic tiles. The walls of this space are of massive marble and mortared brick and rubble masonry. At the time of storage, the roof was in excellent condition, with no visible sagging or leaks, and it was thought this space made an excellent place to store the mosaics until they could be backed. In 1991, the space was fitted with wooden security doors at either end. At last inspection, in 1996, the mosaics were in good condition with no evidence of deterioration of the adhesive or the textile reinforcing used in the facing.
2 2. THE FIRE
On the evening of June 19, 1997, at approximately 8:00 p.m., a brush fire in the west end of the Bath complex carried to an old construction shed. As local firemen and the guard on duty struggled to contain the fire, sparks carried by the light winds continued to spread the fire across the dry grass and overgrowth. By 9:30, the fire had reached the area near the mosaic storage depot and ignited the wooden beams supporting the roof. The dry, well-seasoned timbers burned quickly, generating enough heat to shatter nearly all of the roof tiles and spall large flakes off the massive marble blocks that formed the depot walls. Before midnight, the roof collapsed, sending a heavy load of burning beams and tile fragments crashing down on the stacked mosaics.
Local firefighters doused the depot with water from the Sart Belidiyesi (Sardis Fire Department) tanker truck. Unfortunately, the sole tanker could not be quickly refilled, and the fire was not immediately extinguished (fig. 5). Early the next day, the remaining charred beams, many still smoldering, were pulled from the depot by local workers. The fire was still burning in many areas and was finally extinguished by additional dousing with water.
The morning after the fire: still smoldering. Courtesy of Sarah McGregor Howarth
3 3. INITIAL RECOVERY
Removal of the large smoldering beams required a certain amount of walking on the debris and on surfaces where mosaics were known to have been stored underneath. Other materials stored in the depot included rush mats and synthetic resin roofing panels from the new roof under construction over a nearby excavation. Although these combustible materials were removed from around the mosaics while still smoking, they did not appear to contribute significantly to the impact of the fire on the mosaics.
Workers began to clear the room by shoveling the debris and shattered tiles into wheelbarrows (fig. 6), starting at the ends of the room and working toward the center where the mosaics were stacked. In spite of efforts to minimize foot traffic on top of the mosaics, occasional steps on the burned platforms were unavoidable during the initial clearing operations. It was feared that water used in putting out the fire had softened the adhesive used in facing, so as soon as possible, all foot traffic was directed away from the stacks to avoid further disruption of the tesserae. As paths around the mosaics were opened, conservation staff and volunteer archaeologists began to pick pieces of roof tiles off the surface of the mosaics by hand (fig. 7). Picking continued until the first layers of charred tesserae began to appear.
Removal of large debris. Courtesy of Sarah McGregor Howarth
Hand-picking of smaller debris off the stacked mosaics. From left to right: Stephen Koob, Sarah McGregor Howarth, and Perry Choe. © Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/Harvard University
With the perimeter of the platforms and the bulk of the debris cleared, a preliminary assessment of the condition of the mosaics was made. The heat of the fire and combustion of facing materials left the facing and interleaving materials in the uppermost layers of the stacks completely destroyed. The blackened tesserae of the top layers were mixed with the layers beneath and with tesserae-sized fragments of roof tiles and charcoal. It was clear from the beginning that any effort to brush the surface of the stacks to remove debris would disturb what little order remained in the loose tesserae. Sadly, the small tesserae used in the inscription, stored at the top of the main stack, appeared to be randomly mixed with the larger tesserae beneath.
Fire had penetrated beneath the platform at the south end of the depot, resulting in partial collapse at the end of the stack and at the west side nearby. In this area the mosaics were slumped into a resultant void in a jumble of mixed tesserae. Around the edges, the facing and plastic interleaving were completely charred, and tesserae were slumping toward the outside of the stacks. The disorderly slumping of tesserae suggested that some of these areas were irretrievably lost. Nonetheless, some order to the tesserae seemed to survive in many areas (fig. 8). A little probing around the edges of the stacks showed that beneath the first one or two layers, the cloth facing seemed to be intact, giving hope that at least some of the mosaics could be recovered.
Stacked mosaics after initial cleaning. Courtesy of Sarah McGregor Howarth
Various methods were tested for removing finer debris from between the tesserae, including forced air from squeeze bulbs and an agricultural sprayer, but these only disturbed the tesserae further. In the end, a vacuum cleaner fitted with a screen over the nozzle was used to lift the charcoal fragments and smaller roof tile fragments from the damaged surfaces (fig. 9). After several weeks of vacuuming, the mosaics were left to completely dry out (fig. 10). At about the same time, a new steel roof was constructed over the depot.
Cleaning fine debris from the tesserae using a vacuum cleaner. © Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/Harvard University
Cleaned mosaics left to completely dry out. Courtesy of Sarah McGregor Howarth
4 4. FURTHER TRIALS IN RECOVERY
At the beginning of the 1998 season, further examination of the mosaic stacks was carried out by conservators, and, based on this examination, it was agreed that the top layers were irreversibly damaged and could not be salvaged. Lifting random tesserae from the top of the stack revealed that the stones were charred on the front and backside. Tests using organic solvents, dilute mineral acids, and even abrasive cleaning were not successful in regaining the original white and blue coloration in the stones (Wolfe 1998). The top layers of the mosaic were sacrificed during the first stage of recovery and used to test methods for recovering undamaged sections. The jumbled tesserae around the perimeter were also removed to expose the cross section of the stacks and so determine the overall condition. These simple actions transformed the stacks from piles of rubble to stacks of four or five layers of mosaics separated with partially melted polyethylene sheet, deteriorated kraft paper, and the original cotton facings. Lifting the upper layers proved that, indeed, some of the tesserae remained in order and were not charred by the fire. The separating layer of plastic appeared to have melted slightly and fused to the backside of the tesserae but could be mechanically removed by tearing. The animal glue used to face the mosaics had remelted, flowed, and redeposited, making the sandwich of mosaic sections a complex intermixture of facing materials and stones that varied in condition from layer to layer.
Using tesserae that had fallen or were removed from the stack, conservators tested methods for lining a layer for lifting and separating the mosaic sections. Pressure-sensitive tapes, such as duct tape, 3M Scotch 471, and 3M Scotch 850 polyester tape, were tried without success. Lining techniques were tested using cheesecloth and various adhesives that included Paraloid B-72 in acetone and Primal AC-33. Both resins successfully adhered the tesserae to the cheesecloth, but the Primal acrylic emulsion was selected for use because it did not require the use of expensive and toxic solvents and it provided longer working time. The adhesive was also readily available for purchase in Turkey.
The top surfaces of the tesserae to be lined were first cleaned using low vacuum pressure and a soft brush to remove surface dirt and particulate matter. Cheesecloth moistened in a 10% solution of Primal AC-33 and water was draped over an area 1 m sq. and pounded into the crevices using a dry brush. After pounding, a 40% solution of the adhesive was brushed onto the cheesecloth. When the lining was dry, the layer was carefully lifted by wedging both hands underneath the lined tesserae and manually detaching any stones that were still clinging to the old facing cloth (fig. 11).
Lifting a lined mosaic from the top of the stack, 1998. © Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/Harvard University
Using this lining technique, the top layer was removed from the badly damaged south end of the longest stack of mosaics where the fire had penetrated beneath the platform. The second layer was in better condition, with less disorder and charring. As the lining procedure continued and the stack was methodically peeled apart, the condition of the mosaics improved. It was surprising to find in the middle of the stack some of the original kraft paper intact and the original permanent marker labeling still legible.
A second test method for recovering the charred mosaics involved removing an entire section from a stack by sandwiching the layers between boards and then flipping the entire package. The first trial was also attempted on the badly damaged south end of the largest stack. A thin sheet of steel was slid between the bottom of the mosaic stack and the supporting plywood palette, and the section was separated from the stack using a utility knife to cut the surviving cotton, paper, and plastic.
The truncated section was then transferred to a wooden plywood board and framed with polypropylene foam adhered to the plywood. The top of the mosaic was protected with polyethylene sheet and an expanding polyurethane foam (of the type used for building construction) laid in the space between the mosaic and the frame. A piece of plywood was placed on top, forcing the foam to fill the voids and crevices on the surface of the mosaic section, locking it in place. After the mosaic section was secured between the plywood boards and foam using C-clamps, it was flipped and disassembled. Lifting the plywood cover, the face of the tesserae from the mosaic section originally stored on the bottom of the wood palette was exposed as a flat layer, ready for immediate facing (fig. 12).
Julie Wolfe cleaning a mosaic from a flipped stack, 1998. © Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/Harvard University
In the course of the 1998 season, approximately 2.5 × 3 m of mosaic were declared unsalvageable and removed (fig. 13). A total of 7 m sq. was recovered and stored in racks in the depot. Excluding unsalvageable material still in place, it is estimated that 10 more sections of recoverable mosaics remain in the stacks. A combination of these two techniques for recovering the mosaic sections will continue to be used during the 1999 season (Wolfe 1998).
Condition of the stack of mosaics after the 1998 season. On the left top side of the stack lies a salvaged mosaic section that has been lined with cheesecloth and Primal AC-33 and flipped over. Courtesy of Julie Wolfe
5 5. CONCLUSIONS
Once the damaged mosaics are lifted and separated, this project will be back where it was in 1992, although on a somewhat reduced scale. When the mosaics were first removed from their bedding, there was a general plan to develop a rigid backing system that would permit reinstallation in the excavated area within three or four years. Development of such a backing system was in progress when the disaster occurred, but owing to a variety of other pressures within the expedition, the project had been delayed. This event dramatically demonstrates how vulnerable mosaics are when they are separated from their rigid substrates and held together by temporary facings. Storage conditions for faced mosaics should be given as much consideration as plans for more permanent disposition and should include factors that will ensure stability of the facing reinforcement and adhesive. Ironically, the room in the Bath/Gymnasium complex was a good choice for a temporary storage depot: the heavy masonry walls provided good physical protection and were certainly fire-resistant, and the tile-and-timber roof was very well constructed and watertight. Applying this lesson more generally, the fire should remind all those working on archaeological sites of the dangers of leaving projects partially completed for long periods of time.
Finally, this fire demonstrates the need for some kind of firefighting plan in all storage situations, particularly in isolated areas like the small village of modern Sardis. Along with a plan for fighting fires and routine maintenance of firefighting equipment, there needs to be a certain amount of training in the use of that equipment. In the Sardis depot fire, one of the senior archaeologists at the site, Andrew Ramage, ran to the site with an old carbon dioxide fire extinguisher from the excavation house. Through his heroic efforts, an important marble inscription located outside the door of the depot was saved; but, in the process, his hands were severely burned by the icy handle of the device.
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Nardi, R.1996. Zippori, Israel: The conservation of the mosaics of the Building of the Nile. In Archaeological conservation and its consequences, ed. A.Roy and P.Smith. Copenhagen: IIC Annual Congress. 127–32.
Salzman, E., and J.Sherman. 1990. Conservation final report. Harvard-Cornell Archaeological Exploration of Sardis, Cambridge, Mass.
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SOURCES OF MATERIALSAdhesive resins: Paraloid B-72 and Primal AC-33
Rohm and Haas
Distributed by Conservator's Emporium
100 Standing Rock Circle
Reno, Nev. 89511Pressure sensitive tapes: duct tape, Scotch 471, and Scotch 850 polyester tape
St. Paul, Minn. 55133-3053
Distributed by hardware or fine arts supply stores.Primal AC-33
Art and Restoration
Karaça Sokak 18
KENT SEVERSON graduated from the New York University (NYU) Institute of Fine Arts Conservation Training Program in 1985. He spent two seasons at Sardis while attending NYU. Between 1985 and 1996, he was a conservator with the private firm of Daedalus Inc. (formerly Dennis and Craine, Associates) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Since 1989, he has participated as consultant and supervisor of NYU conservation students at several archaeological sites, including the Harvard-Cornell Sardis Expedition, the New York University project at Samothrace, Greece, and the New York University expedition to Aphrodisias, Turkey. Since 1996, he has been living part-time in Turkey, teaching archaeological conservation in the Department of Art History and Archaeology at Bilkent University, Ankara, and continuing archaeological fieldwork. He is currently senior field conservator for the Aphrodisias expedition and is working in private practice in Boston, Massachusetts. Address: 35 Queensberry St., #9, Boston, Mass. 02215
STEPHEN P. KOOB received an M.A. (1976) in classical archaeology from Indiana University, and a B.Sc. (1980) in archaeological conservation and materials science from the Institute of Archaeology, University of London. From 1980 to 85, he was conservator of the Agora Excavations with the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, Greece. From 1986 to 98, he worked as conservator, specializing in ceramics and glass, at the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. In 1998, he took up the position of conservator at the Corning Museum of Glass. Address: The Corning Museum of Glass, One Corning Glass Center, Corning, N.Y. 14830.
JULIE WOLFE holds an M.A. in art conservation from the State University of New York at Buffalo. She has a certificate of advanced training from the Harvard University Art Museums specializing in objects conservation. She was an assistant conservator at the Williamstown Art Conservation Center and is a recipient of a 1998 IMLS grant at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Address: SRGM, 620 W. 47th St., 6th floor, New York, N.Y. 10036
PERRY CHOE received a B.A. from Cornell University in 1989 and completed her M.A. in the history of art and a certificate in the conservation of works of art from the Institute of Fine Arts of New York University in 1999. She has interned at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Baltimore Museum of Art, and worked as assistant to the director at Cathedral Stoneworks. She is currently interning at the National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside, England. Address: The Conservation Centre, National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside, Whitechapel, Liverpool, England L1 6HZ
STEPHANIE E. HORNBECK received a B.A. cum laude in art history from Wellesley College in 1990 and an M.A. in art history and a diploma in conservation from the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University in 1999. She specializes in the conservation of archaeological and ethnographic objects. She is assistant conservator at the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution. Address: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, 950 Independence Ave., S.W., Washington, D.C. 20560-0708
SARAH MCGREGOR HOWARTH received a B.A. from Boston University in 1989. She is completing her M.A. in the history of art and a certificate in the conservation of works of art from the Institute of Fine Arts of New York University. Since 1998, she has worked as a conservator on the Greek and Roman reinstallation project in the Sherman Fairchild Center for Objects Conservation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Address: 424 East 85th St., #18, New York, N.Y. 10028
ANTHONY SIGEL received a B.F.A. in painting and sculpture from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1983. He spent nine years as a preparator and mountmaker at the Art Institute's department of European Decorative Art, Sculpture, and Classical Art, where he received his initial conservation training and experience through an informal museum apprenticeship. He is currently associate conservator of objects and sculpture at the Straus Center for Conservation, Harvard University Art Museums, where he has worked since his advanced-level internship in 1992. From 1995 to 1998, he served as conservator for special projects at the Archaeological Exploration of Sardis, in western Turkey, co-sponsored by the Harvard University Art Museums and Cornell University. Address: Straus Center for Conservation, Harvard University Art Museums, 32 Quincy St., Cambridge, Mass. 02138