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Thursday, June 1 • 2:00pm - 2:30pm
(Paintings) Conservation of Alexander Calder’s Last Work Mexico #3: The cross-disciplinary treatment supported by SEM and TEM paint cross section analysis using focus ion beam (FIB) sample preparation

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Braniff Airways commissioned Alexander Calder to paint designs for a Boeing 727-200. Calder worked up four 1/25th scale model plane designs to commemorate relations between the United States and Mexico. Calder painted his design using blue, red, yellow, and green gouache on a fiberglass model delivered to him prepared with two priming layers and a layer of spray applied white paint. He completed Mexico #3 on November 11, 1976, the day he died. Mexico #3 was the design Braniff chose to transfer to one of their Boeing 727-200 aircrafts. Braniff Airways had previously commissioned two other full scale airplanes designed by Calder: The Flying Colors of South America in 1973, and Flying Colors of the United States in 1975, which was rolled out in 1976 for the United States Bicentennial. Braniff Airways officially unveiled Mexico #3 in 1977 in Acapulco where it was dubbed "Salute to Mexico,” with the expectation, at that point, to still transfer the design. Braniff ultimately decided not to transfer the design since Calder would not be present to supervise, or to complete any details, as he had done on previous aircrafts. In early 2016 I examined the privately owned Mexico #3 for conservation. The model had accumulated a layer of grime, and had scratches and other damages. The dirt layer obscured a varnish layer that had been applied after a number of scratches and damages had occurred; these included a couple of larger losses to one of the wing tips. Film and photographs of Calder working on Mexico #3, recorded by Braniff Airways, documented Calder's working processes and the model upon completion. Photos taken of the model at the 1977 event in Acapulco show several scratches which had occurred since Calder completed the model. These records were instrumental to treatment decisions. The three dimensional nature of this painted object required an interdisciplinary approach to treatment. The historical significance of this model in Calder's oeuvre, and range of materials, merited technical analysis to gain an understanding of the artwork. Together with the University of Rochester (URNanocenter) and Ralph Wiegandt, conservator and research scientist, we have applied advanced analytical techniques to analyze the composition of the gouache and underlying support layers of Mexico #3. Using scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and focus ion beam (FIB) milling to analyze cross sections in SEM by energy dispersive X-ray, and further by thin section extraction for transmission electron microscopy (TEM), we achieve elemental analysis at very high resolution. This technique offers greater precision than the more commonly used scanning electron microscopy (SEM). The results of this study will be beneficial in future treatments of Calder's Braniff models and other works by Calder.

avatar for Sara J. Wohler

Sara J. Wohler

Assistant Paintings Conservator, Kuniej Berry Associates
Sara Wohler is an Assistant Paintings Conservator at Kuniej Berry Associates in Chicago. There, she is actively involved in the research, documentation, and treatment of paintings that range from old masters to contemporary works. She earned her Post Graduate Degree in Easel Paintings... Read More →

avatar for Ralph Wiegandt

Ralph Wiegandt

Visiting Scientist, University of Rochester
Ralph Wiegandt is a conservator trained in electron microscopy. Following an M.A. in conservation from the State University College of Buffalo he held conservator of objects position at the Henry Ford Museum and the Rochester Museum & Science Center. Pursuant advanced training in... Read More →

Thursday June 1, 2017 2:00pm - 2:30pm CDT
Regency C Ballroom Level, West Tower