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Thursday, May 30 • 4:00pm - 4:30pm
(Architecture) Fifteen Shades of Grey...? Paint Color Analysis on the Eames House

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My interest in painting is the rediscovery of form through movement and balance and depth and light using this medium to recreate in a satisfying order my experiences of this world with a desire to increase our pleasure, expand our perceptions, and enrich our lives.

- Ray Eames, quoted from issue of California Arts & architecture, September 1943.

Built in 1949, the Eames House was the eighth in the Case Study House program published in the influential Arts & architecture magazine, between 1945 and 1966. The Eames House, designed by Charles and Ray Eames, was not only an iconic and hugely influential work of modern architecture but it was the first steel framed prefabricated project built for the Case Study House program which promoted new technologically advanced models for mass housing, and for which there was huge demand during the postwar years.

The GCI is currently providing the necessary investigation and scientific analysis to understand the environmental and physical conditions affecting the site, house, and its contents. As part of this ongoing investigation, the GCI will study the building materiality and determine conservation approaches and techniques appropriate to the house.

During 2011-2012, the initial investigative stages of the Eames House conservation program included an analysis of the paint stratigraphy including in situ paint excavations on the exterior steel frame of the building on multiple elevations to correlate the various paint layers identified in cross sections through optical microscopy with a macroscopic window of each layer. The in situ excavations confirmed the layers found in the samples in nearly all cases. A series of samples were taken from the house paintwork for microscopical examination and chemical analysis, with particular focus on matters of stratigraphy and pigment composition insofar as those things informed an understanding of the history of painting of the building.

Additionally, samples were obtained (and analyzed) from seven painted reference plates and a series of old paint cans retained at the house including fragments of putty detached in the 1994 Northridge earthquake, which offered a terminal chronological reference point. Paint samples were prepared as polished cross-sections, examined and photographed by optical microscopy, and analyzed by ESEM-EDS for spatially-resolved elemental composition. Selected samples were analyzed for organic binder composition by pyrolysis-GCMS and FTIR-spectroscopy.

The samples from both the interior and exterior metalwork trim showed good evidence for repeated campaigns of puttying, priming and painting. The interior and exterior metalwork were treated quite differently in terms of the patterns of their re-painting campaigns. In many instances, samples from the metalwork revealed complex stratigraphies consisting of many layers (putty, primer, paint); but these were often inconsistent across a specific group (i.e., interior metalwork; exterior metalwork). Organic binder analysis of the earliest paint layers indicated the presence of a synthetic (styrene-butadiene) rubber binder, again consistent with documentary evidence on the original decoration materials used.

Taken as a whole the paint analyses provided strong evidence that the earliest paint on the metal frame of the house was a distinctively-pigmented gray, which tallied with documentary reports of it being originally a “dark, warm gray”, rather than the black that it is now. A few of the samples examined included complex stratigraphies that illustrated the various repair campaigns to which the metalwork had been subjected since original construction.

avatar for Thomas Learner

Thomas Learner

Scientist/Researcher, Getty Conservation Institute
Tom Learner is head of the Science Department at the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI); he oversees all of the Institute's scientific research, developing and implementing projects that advance conservation practice in the visual arts. As a GCI senior scientist from 2007 to 2013... Read More →

Emily MacDonald-Korth

Associate Project Specialist, The Getty Conservation Institute
Emily MacDonald-Korth is a graduate of the Winterthur / University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation (Master of Science degree in the conservation of paintings,. MacDonald-Korth is currently an Associate Project Specialist in the Field Projects Department at the Getty Conservation... Read More →
avatar for Kyle Normandin

Kyle Normandin

Senior Project Specialist, Getty Conservation Institute
avatar for Alan Phenix-[PA]

Alan Phenix-[PA]

Paintings Conservator; Scientist
Alan Phenix is a paintings conservator, conservation educator and conservation scientist. Recently retired, from November 2006 he was employed as ‘Scientist’ at the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI), Los Angeles. In his first years at GCI he worked partly for the Museum Research... Read More →

Thursday May 30, 2013 4:00pm - 4:30pm EDT
JW Marriott 103-104 19 S West St Indianapolis, IN 46204

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