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Detroit Institute of Arts sculpture The Lost Pleiad being cleaned in gallery for visitors to observe
Cindy Lee Scott cleaning The Lost Pleiad in American gallery at Detroit Institute of Arts.

DETROIT, MICH.- Conservation and care of art at the Detroit Institute of Arts typically happens behind closed doors, in a laboratory the public rarely gets to see. Cleaning the objects is an important aspect of caring for the collection, and the DIA is making that process available for visitors to observe during the treatment of The Lost Pleiad, an 1888 marble sculpture by American artist Randolph Rogers.

Cindy Lee Scott, Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in Objects Conservation, will be cleaning the sculpture in the gallery in which it is on view. Scott will be working on The Lost Pleiad from 1 to 4 p.m. Tuesdays–Fridays through May 24, and will answer questions from curious onlookers. Scott will also Tweet about the treatment process, progress, and challenges of working in the gallery rather than in the conservation laboratory.

“People are always fascinated with what goes on behind the scenes in the museum,” said Graham W.J. Beal, DIA director. “This gives our visitors the opportunity to learn about the exacting process that goes into cleaning these precious objects. Our conservators are trained not only in the fine arts, but also in science. This project will be a great educational resource for those who are curious to learn more about the process.”

The Lost Pleiad is grimy from years on display. Rather than using corrosive solvents, Scott will clean the sculpture with agarose gels. Agarose is derived from seaweed and can be used in a controlled manner to clean porous surfaces, such as marble. The gel acts as a poultice, which draws up the dirt and grime. It is applied warm and as it cools, it becomes rigid. When the rigid gel is removed, it takes the dirt and grime with it, making the use of agarose an effective but gentle cleaning technique.

Rogers created the sculpture to represent Merope, one of the seven daughters of the god Atlas and the sea nymph Pleione. She and her sisters form the group of stars known as the Pleiades. Unlike her sisters, Merope married a mortal and hides herself in shame. Rogers portrayed Merope as a semi-nude figure in search of her heavenly family, looking windblown with her fluttering hair and clothing and the clouds billowing below her.

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