(Posted September 14, 2015)

"Valentine Blanchard," by Charles Cromwell Ingham
"Valentine Blanchard," by Charles Cromwell Ingham

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- Visitors to the Juniata College Museum of Art exhibit, "The Art & Science of Portrait Miniatures," will not only get to examine the fine brushstrokes used to create these works of art, but they also can "look" beneath the surface of these rare artworks to "see" what they are truly made of.

The exhibit, which opens Thursday, Sept. 24, and runs through Oct. 31 at the museum, reveals the science behind a two-year project to determine, through scientific imaging and analysis, how 18th- and 19th-century artists used materials and techniques to create these small portraits. The exhibition is a collaborative effort between two Juniata faculty, Jennifer Streb, associate professor of art history and curator of the museum, and Richard Hark, professor of chemistry.

There will be an opening reception for the exhibition at 5 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 24.

The final exhibit has been organized by Streb and Hark, with significant research assistance from two Juniata students, Emma Campbell, a senior studying history and museum studies from Cape May Court House, N.J., and Kate Passannante, a senior studying chemistry from Derry N.H.

The research team of professors and students logged significant miles as they traveled to museums, science labs and even a General Electric Customer Solutions Center to use various large and impressive (and expensive) instruments to analyze historically significant portrait miniatures from the 50-plus miniatures housed in the Juniata Museum of Art's Stottlemyer Collection.

"The travel we experienced was possible only because the miniatures are small enough to be carefully packed in archival packaging and transported in our cars. If we were trying to travel with larger paintings, the packing and transportation costs would be much more expensive."

Jennifer Streb, associate professor of art history

Over a two year-period, Streb, Hark and the students traveled to the Winterthur Museum, a facility in Wilmington, Del. specializing in American decorative arts, to work with curators and experts on the history of portrait minitures and to get advice on mounting and displaying the fragile works in Juniata's exhibit. Winterthur also gave the team access to analyze the miniatures using a Raman microscope and an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer in the museum's conservation labs.

In addition, the group also visited the GE facility in Lewistown, Pa., to use the company's equipment to analyze miniatures and a few larger oil paintings using GE's instruments for X-radiography and Computerized Axial Tomography (a CAT scan). The team also collaborated with Ben Lear, professor of chemistry at Penn State University, who offered the Juniata team the use of his lab's Raman microscope.

The exhibition will focus on Juniata's permanent collection, but several private collectors, including Richard Pencek, of Lemont, Pa., offered miniatures for the exhibition. Hark also contributed two miniatures from his collection ("Actually the two miniatures IS my collection," he jokes.)

"They're pieces of jewelry," Streb says of the miniatures, which were often enclosed in decorative cases and worn as pendants or pins. "In some cases, the miniatures were meant to be opened and it is the pieces that were easier to open that we analyzed," Hark explains.
The art exhibition will provide scientific printouts and educational explanations of the analytical tests done on selected miniatures. As befitting an art museum exhibit, the scientific information will be framed alongside the relevant artworks.

The science-based displays in the exhibit will reveal how the researchers could date various works more accurately, why many portrait miniatures are painted with watercolors, and how to identify specific pigments used in paints.

"The travel we experienced was possible only because the miniatures are small enough to be carefully packed in archival packaging and transported in our cars. If we were trying to travel with larger paintings, the packing and transportation costs would be much more expensive," Streb explains.
Hark said the scientific tests did not reveal any blockbuster mysteries, such as a long-lost masterpiece, but each test revealed more about what type of paints, watercolors, pigments and material were used to create the artworks.

The Juniata College Museum of Art is located in historic Carnegie Hall at 17th and Moore streets in Huntingdon. Museum hours are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturday, noon to 4 p.m. For more information, please call the museum at (814) 641-3505, or visit the Juniata College Web site at http://www.juniata.edu/museum.

Contact Gabe Welsch at welschg@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3131 for more information.