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Inside the conservation lab: What is scagliola?

January 25, 2013

Column conservation
Mellon Fellow Fran Baas works on the scagliola column.


Historic New England's conservation lab is a busy and exciting place with a small staff juggling many projects. Objects in the lab are documented, analyzed, and conserved for outgoing loans and exhibitions, or as the result of unexpected damage or change.

Scagliola column
Scagliola column before treatment

A current project, more complex than it initially seemed, is the treatment of a scagliola column from the Lyman Estate in Waltham, Massachusetts. Scagliola is a material used to imitate marble, traditionally made from a mixture of bone glue, plaster of Paris, and pigments. The column, which appeared more stable than it actually was, sustained damage during a routine move. The thin scagliola veneer shattered at the junction with the base. Once in the lab, detailed documentation and inspection revealed an inner core consisting of a complex, fragile, and compromised plaster-and-lathe construction.

Our treatment goal is to not only consolidate the multiple broken pieces and fill the losses but also to stabilize the inner structure to provide continual core support. Borrowing from different conservation specialties for the treatment procedure, we are pleased with the progress. Soon, we will be able to return the piece to the Lyman Estate to be enjoyed by our visitors.

Learn more about conservation at Historic New England.


Posted by Carole Baas on January 26, 2013
Wonderful description of the work being done in your conservation labs. I'm curious, though, as to the original function of the column and whether it will able to fulfill that role upon its return to the Lyman Estate?


Posted by Nicole Chalfant - Collection Manager on January 28, 2013
Thank you for your comment regarding the scagliola column undergoing treatment in the Historic New England conservation lab. The column came as part of a gift that included the bust of Sarah Ellen Frances Mason by Richard S. Greenough. While it was greatly compromised before treatment, the work done on the piece was intended to return both its aesthetic and structural integrity. I am very pleased to say that the treatment was very successful in both regards and will be able to safely support the marble bust when it returns to the Lyman Estate.
Thank you.

conservation at Historic New England

Posted by Judy Hayward on January 30, 2013
Ben, thanks for posting this. What a great way to explain conservation process. Best, Judy

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Inside the conservation lab: What is scagliola?