01 Aug
Fri / 2014

Inside the MFAH
Operating on Art: Treating Walker Evans’s “Banda Headdress”

Like medical students completing their residencies in a hospital, graduate conservation students are required to gain practical experience during their final year of training. Over the past year, I have had the privilege of completing my internship with the wonderful staff and art collections at the MFAH.

My most recent project is a gelatin silver photograph by American artist Walker Evans (1903–1975), who is best known for his images of the Great Depression. This particular print, Banda Headdress, is part of Evans’s series called African Negro Art, which consists of approximately 500 prints of African sculptures from a similarly titled 1935 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. MoMA commissioned Evans to document each sculpture and produce 17 portfolios and a traveling exhibition for the purpose of teaching students about African art history.

Banda Headdress arrived in the MFAH conservation lab with a tear in the top right corner that made it unsafe for the object to be handled or displayed. The many-layered structure of photographs—coated paper and silver image, held together by a gelatin binder—makes them highly sensitive to physical stress and the environment.

Heather Brown discusses the photograph’s treatment with Malcolm Daniel, curator in charge of the department of photography and special projects; and Toshi Koseki, Carol Crow Senior Conservator of Photographs.

Routine treatment steps included:

  • Writing a report on the current condition of the photograph and taking digital photos to document changes during treatment
  • Surface cleaning to reduce accumulated dirt
  • Consolidation, or application of a gelatin adhesive, to re-attach image flakes to the paper before they were lost



Heather Brown completes the final treatment step: retouching with watercolors.

I was then able to stabilize the tear by:

  • Mending with gelatin adhesive
  • Reinforcing the back with Japanese paper and wheat-starch paste
  • Retouching around the tear using watercolors

Each step was performed using reversible materials and techniques so that a future conservator can undo the repairs if necessary. Before the print was returned to the cool, dark storage environment at the Museum, the condition of the work was documented again with a final treatment report and after-treatment photos.


Detail of the top right corner of the photograph before and after treatment.

The most rewarding aspect of the treatment, besides the dramatic visual improvement, was the opportunity to make the print once again accessible to museum colleagues and researchers. After this—and countless other valuable experiences I have had at the MFAH—I look forward to demonstrating everything I learned during my graduation presentation and in my new fellowship position this fall in San Francisco.


Recent Posts

Post Archives

Tag Cloud

17th-century 18th-century 1970s 19th-century 20th-century 35mm 5womenartists abstract activity african-art a-history-of-photography akan america american american-art ancient and angelica-kauffmann animals animation anna-atkins antiquities architecture archive armchair-travel art art-books artist artists art-of-the-islamic-worlds arts-of-india azaleas bayou bayou-bend bayou-bend-christmas-village bend bestowing-beauty biblical biography black book british british-arrows british-art broadways-amazing-mastersons buffalo-bayou-park-cistern campus campus-redevelopment cannes carroll-sterling-masterson chair chef chinese-art christmas christmas-fun cinema cisternrain classic classic-films cocktail coffee collection color colors-of-the-oasis community concrete conservation contemporary-art contemporary-arts-museum-houston contemporary-film contesting-modernity countess cullen-sculpture-garden culture curator curators-picks dance decorative-arts degas degas-a-new-vision design digital documentary documents dont-blink-robert-frank drama drawings dutch-art electronic elizabeth-i england e-records europe exhibition exhibitions eye-on-houston family family-programs fashion fashion-fusion feast festival fiber-arts field film films flowers food france francis-bacon free french french-art fun future futuremfah gainsborough gallery gallery-interpretation garden garden-paradise gardens george-iii glassell glassell-school-of-art google-art-project google-arts-and-culture habsburg-splendor-masterpieces-from-viennas-imperial-collections halloween happyhour happy-new-year harris-masterson-iii henry-viii hirsch-library history history-book-club holiday holiday-fun hollywood home homemfah homeso-different-so-appealing houston howe hurricane-harvey icaa ikat ima-hogg impressionism indian-art instagram interactive ipads islamic italian japanese-art john-biggers joshua-reynolds kenwood kids king kodak kusama latin latin-america latin-american latin-american-art latino-art latin-wave latinx laura-israel learning-and-interpretation love mail manet maria-fernanda-cardoso mastersons mayan-art media meditation mending-craft-and-community mexican-film mexican-modernism mexico mfa-cafe mfah mfah-book-club mfah-films mfah-in-the-community mfah-staff modern modernism movie movies movies-houstonians-love mueck mueckmfah museum museum-education music native-american-art new nhprc now-on-view now-playing organic oscar-de-la-renta oscars painting paintings paint-the-revolution paris paul-thomas-anderson peacock-in-the-desert-the-royal-arts-of-jodhpur-india peacockmfah persian persian-art photographs photography picasso portrait portraits pose prints prints-and-drawings programs queen-victoria radical rebel-jester-mystic-poet recipe rembrandt-van-rijn rienzi ron-mueck rothko sampler school sculpted-in-steel sculpture self-portrait shadow-monsters shepherds short-films slow-art-day snail snapshot spain spanish-art spring streaming style summer technology texas textiles thanksgiving the the-al-sabah-collection theater the-glamour-and-romance-of-oscar-de-la-renta trivia tudors-to-windsors valentines-day venezuelan-art video vincent-van-gogh vincent-van-gogh-his-life-in-art virtual wagner-garden-carpet watercolor winter women-filmmakers womens-history-month works-on-paper yoga zoom