The Gap Filling for Ceramics workshop brought together conservators from various backgrounds to experiment while learning practical tips from Rachael Perkins Arenstein, Conservator at the Bible Lands Museum, and Elisheva Kamaisky, Head Ceramics Conservator at the Israel Antiquities Authority in Jerusalem. The day passed quickly as the workshop was packed with PowerPoint presentations and hands-on activities with spackles, plaster, epoxy techniques suited to archaeological and fine arts contexts. Like many participants I took the class as an opportunity to learn from others and practice without the pressure of working on a museum object. Having focused on ceramics this year, I am familiar with the materials and techniques discussed, but I found it an opportune chance to break out of my familiar habits, review the properties and different reasons for choosing plaster versus bulked Paraloid B-72, for example, or ways of manipulating Milliput and refining plaster.
The program moved through the various stages of the filling process beginning with discussions of how to protect the surrounding surface from ghosting. For porous unglazed surfaces, common in archaeological contexts, Elisheva often uses masking tape or low-tack painter’s tape, pinching around the edges of fills to prevent the infiltration of plaster. Using tape is always evaluated on a case by case basis depending on the stability of the surface and its ability to withstand tape. Elisheva also showed different strategies she uses for backing of plaster fills, such as layering masking tape to conform to the shape of the ceramic, heated wax, and balloons.
The class then discussed tips for mixing and refining plaster, such as how to use a rasp appropriately, when to begin shaving down a fill, and when to stop working it and allow it to dry for wiping down and sanding. Rachael talked about different uses for ready-made spackles and their different properties, pros and cons of using Modostuc, Flugger and PolyFilla. She also referred to different uses of Milliput and gave tips for how to refine it with water before it is dry. This I found particularly useful because refining as much as possible while it is still pliable saves an immense amount of time wasted with sanding or grinding excess material afterwards. I also found the discussion of problems related to B-72 fills helpful as Paraloid is not always easy to work with, and can be difficult to compact. At the end of the day I was very glad to have taken the workshop, and could tell that other participants felt the same as it was a great opportunity to discuss strategies, problems and challenges with conservators with a breadth of experience, and other conservators ranging from those in private practice, to museum conservators who brought expertise with other materials such as wood or stone. It was also a fun way to prepare for the conference, reminiscent of being in graduate school, and getting your hands dirty.