Campus News

View Year

Analyzing Art, Artifacts: New Instrumentation is Subject of Chemist's Talk

(Posted March 19, 2012)

Richard Hark, professor of chemistry, focuses on a piece of illuminated manuscript

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- Authentication and historical analysis of works of art and archeological artifacts has metaphorically moved out of the museum and into the lab with the introduction of scientific instruments that can analyze objects of cultural significance. Richard Hark, professor of chemistry at Juniata College, will give a talk on his experience with such instruments at 4:30 p.m., Wednesday, March 21, in Neff Lecture Hall in the von Liebig Center for Science on the Juniata campus.

The lecture is free and open to the public. The Bookend Seminar series features afternoon lectures each month by Juniata College faculty.

Hark's lecture, "Spectroscopic Analysis of Pigments on Works of Art: English Portrait Miniatures and Pennsylvania Dutch Fraktur," will outline how he and Juniata student Katelyn Houston, of Morrisdale, Pa., used Raman spectroscopy, as well as other instruments to analyze pigments used by English artist William Wood to create portrait miniatures. Hark and Houston spent last summer in England at London's Victoria and Albert Museum examining works from among the 1,200 miniatures Wood produced from 1792 to 1807. Wood used a numeric code to meticulously record in a ledger what pigments he used in each of his works. Hark and Houston used the scientific instruments at their disposal to identify each pigment on a specific miniature and then cross checked the results with Wood's recorded ledgers, thereby helping to crack Wood's code.

In addition, Hark will detail how he used the instrument at Delaware's Winterthur Museum to analyze five pieces of fraktur from Juniata College's Rare Books collection. Fraktur is a form of folk art created by the Pennsylvania Dutch using elaborately stylized and illuminated script and illustrations to decorate important papers -- such as birth or baptismal certificates, wedding blessings and other commemorative papers.

Hark also will cover how Raman spectroscopy has emerged as the leading method for identifying pigments on works of art and artifacts, aiding in the process to authenticate, date, conserve and restore historic and culturally significant objects.

Hark came to Juniata in 2001 from Marietta College, where he served as assistant professor of chemistry from 1993 to 2000. He was promoted to associate professor at Marietta in 2000. At Juniata, Hark teaches such core courses as introductory and advanced Organic Chemistry He also developed and team-teaches Chemistry of Art.

His graduate research centered on designing ninhydrin analogs as reagents for visualizing latent fingerprints on porous surfaces. His work in developing new reagents for latent fingerprints has been recognized by law enforcement agencies in the United States and internationally.

More recently, Hark's research interests include organic synthesis and the application of Raman spectroscopy and laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) to the analysis of artworks, archeological artifacts, geomaterials and items of forensic interest.

Hark earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry from the University of Rochester in Rochester, N.Y., in 1984. He went on to earn a doctorate in organic chemistry from the University of Pennsylvania in 1996. He was promoted to full professor at Juniata in 2007 and he received the 2007 Gibbel Award for Distinguished Teaching.

His work has been published in a variety of journals, including the Journal of Organic Chemistry, the Journal of Forensic Identification and the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.