Taking marble samples

Along with Mark Abbe’s art historical and provenance research as well as his pigment analyses mentioned in great detail in earlier posts, the research on the marble sculptures includes research on the marble itself, to be conducted by Scott Pike. In order to find out from which quarry the marble was obtained for each of the statues, we have to take samples and submit them to scientific analyses.  As you can imagine, sampling is a destructive process: holes have to be drilled into the sculptures to obtain either a core or a powder sample. We needed both.

It was object conservator Amy Jones’ job to sample the museum’s sculptures. During four days, we worked together in the galleries and in the lab with a drill, little vials, small baggies, labels and a water bottle.  Amy’s main tool was the drill, mine was the squirt bottle.  In order to prevent the diamond drill bit from overheating during the drilling of a core sample, water is squirted on it (you do not need to do this when taking a power sample).  Lubricating  the drill bit with water also makes it last longer and, more important, it prevents the heating of the sample itself.  (My other job was to document this whole process and that’s why you have photos to look at below!)

We drilled into the statues in places that are hidden or unobtrusive, although this was not always possible. Each sampling location was carefully documented for our files. In order to minimize trauma to the sculpture, the powdered samples were drilled inside the hole created by the drilling of the large core sample.  In all cases where the holes are actually visible, these will be filled to make them less conspicuous.