Inside the conservation lab: What is scagliola?

Jan 25, 2013

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.

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.