Art history and chemistry major Jacqueline Ferreri ’18 is conducting an interdisciplinary research project that could help save deteriorating works of art in Fairfield University Art Museum’s plaster cast collection.
I am fascinated by the idea of working with art and combining the knowledge of science in order to preserve these statues for future generations.
— Jacqueline Ferreri ’18, Fairfield University art history and chemistry double major
The creative artist and the data-driven scientist are often perceived as polar opposites, but one motivated Fairfield University student is proving the left-brain, right-brain stereotype wrong. For her latest independent research project, art history and chemistry double major Jacqueline Ferreri ’18 is combining her artistic and scientific passions into a fascinating interdisciplinary study that could end up saving one of the University’s most historic and prestigious art collections.
During her spring 2017 chemical instrumentation lab, Ferreri began analyzing samples of plaster from the Fairfield University Art Museum’s plaster cast collection to determine the chemical make-up of three statues. Consisting of approximately 100 ancient Greek and Roman casts from the 19th and 20th century, many of the collection’s items were lent or donated from institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Acropolis in Athens, and arrived at Fairfield with few records concerning their history and background. Having studied and worked with the collection as part of her art history curriculum, Ferreri wondered why some of the casts that were preserved under the same temperature controls and conditions started showing signs of deterioration, while others remained in pristine condition.
After testing three small plaster samples from casts identified in poor, medium, and good condition, the results were intriguing enough that Ferreri decided to pursue the project with further testing this semester under the supervision of Associate Chemistry Professor Amanda Harper-Leatherman, PhD, and Visual and Performing Arts Professor Katherine Schwab, PhD.
“The goal of this project is to find a way to understand what makes a plaster sample stable, and how to better conserve the samples in the University’s collection,” Ferreri explained. “I am fascinated by the idea of working with art and combining the knowledge of science in order to preserve these statues for future generations.”
In the past few months, Ferreri’s testing has revealed some surprising discoveries. Analysis of the samples using a combination of methods, including Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM), Fourier Transform Infrared (FT-IR) Spectroscopy, and a moisture determination test, revealed that the cast in poor condition is comprised of a different plaster compound than the others, which could be responsible for its fragile state. Ferreri and Dr. Harper-Leatherman will continue analysis of the plaster samples in the spring semester to better understand the fragile nature of the casts and how the University might care for them going forward.
“The testing this year revealed some recent and surprising results,” Dr. Schwab said. “Jacqueline is using her double major in chemistry and art history to identify, analyze, and solve the problem, and her results can have a long-term impact on the care of the plaster cast collection.”
The final results of Ferreri’s research project, which received a prestigious scholarship from the Lawrence Family Faculty Student Mentor Program, will be presented at the American Chemical Society Annual Meeting in New Orleans this upcoming March.
“I am so excited to have the opportunity to network with so many important scientists throughout the chemistry field,” Ferrari said. “I have learned so much about the research process and how so few people understand how art and science can combine to make something beautiful.”