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Friday, May 17 • 11:30am - 12:00pm
(Research & Technical Studies) Protein Identification in the Technical Analysis of African Art: Successes, Failures, and Lessons Learned

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The Conservation Initiative in African Art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is a three-year grant-funded project to carry out technical analysis, conservation, and research on the collection. As part of this project, conservators collaborated with curators and scientists to contribute to the knowledge and understanding of the Historic Arts of Africa and the repopulation of object histories lost as a result of colonial collecting practices, aesthetic biases, and social and political pressures. One such partnership was formed with scientists at the Chemical and Proteomic Mass Spectrometry Core Facility at Virginia Commonwealth University to help identify the proteinaceous materials on or incorporated into a selection of objects undergoing study. This effort became a learning experience for both parties, producing compelling results along with instances of ambiguity and some failures. The technique utilized at VCU for protein identification was amino acid sequencing by liquid-chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS), as opposed to peptide mass fingerprinting with mass-spectrometry, which is commonly used in the analysis of cultural heritage objects. This paper will review the differences between these techniques, the types of data generated, the evaluation of results using UNIPROT and other curated and non-curated peptide databases, as well as the possible search parameters. Additionally, we will discuss the potential challenges in data interpretation and the practical considerations for conservators interested in having species-specific protein identification carried out. The results from four objects will be used as case studies: a Yoruba Ógbóni copper-alloy plaque covered with accretions, an Adja Bocio (empowered figure) with layers of ritual applications, a Dinga mask with fur attachments, and a Songye community Nkisi with embedded bone. In addition to the practical considerations related to each assay and the challenges of interpretation, this paper will directly address ethical issues raised by the identification of ritual and power materials and the conservator’s responsibilities to protect culturally privileged information.

avatar for Casey Mallinckrodt

Casey Mallinckrodt

Assistant Object Conservator, Sculpture and Decorative Arts Conservation, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
Casey Mallinckrodt is an assistant object conservator at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts where her primary focus is the technical analysis and conservation of the Historic Arts of Africa. She received an MA from the UCLA/Getty Program in the Conservation of Archaeological & Ethnographic... Read More →

Kathryn Brugioni Gabrielli

Assistant Conservator, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
Kathryn Gabrielli is the Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in Sculpture and Decorative Arts Conservation at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, focusing on the technical analysis of the Historic Arts of Africa. Prior to joining VMFA in June of 2016, Kate attended graduate school at the Conservation... Read More →
avatar for Ainslie Harrison-[Fellow]

Ainslie Harrison-[Fellow]

Assistant Conservator, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
Ainslie Harrison is an Assistant Objects Conservator at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and previously worked at the National Museum of American History as a project conservator. She received her MA in Art Conservation from Queen’s University in 2008 and went on to hold fellowships... Read More →

avatar for Kristina T. Nelson PhD

Kristina T. Nelson PhD

Director, Chemical and Proteomic Mass Spectrometry Core Facility, Virginia Commonwealth University
Dr. Kristina T. Nelson is the director of the Chemical and Proteomic Mass Spectrometry Core Facility and Research Assistant Professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, and was previously the assistant director of the Keck Mass Spectrometry Core Facility at the University of Virginia... Read More →

Friday May 17, 2019 11:30am - 12:00pm EDT
Nehantic/Pequot/Paugussett Rooms Sky Convention Center, Mohegan Sun
  Specialty Session, Research & Technical Studies
  • Track Research & Technical Studies
  • Ticketed Included in Main Registration
  • Authors in Publication Order Casey Mallinckrodt, Kathryn Brugioni Gabrielli, Ainslie C. Harrison, Kristina T. Nelson, Ph.D
  • Abstract ID 19059
  • Tags Amino acid sequencing,historic arts of Africa,mass spectrometry,peptide mass fingerprinting,protein identification,proteomics