Art-Chemistry Colloquia: "The Chemistry of Art"

Art-Chemistry Colloquia: "The Chemistry of Art"
Fri October 19th 2018, 2:30pm
Event Sponsor
Chemistry and Art & Art History
Sapp Center Auditorium (Room 111)

Free and open to the public.

About the Event

The Departments of Art & Art History and Chemistry at Stanford University present The Chemistry of Art. During this special event, faculty, staff and students from the Stanford Libraries and the Departments of Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, and Art & Art History, and Physics Engineering will come together to give presentations that explore the integration of science with the arts. Please join us at 2:30pm on Friday, October 19th in the Sapp Center for Science Teaching & Learning. A reception will follow.


Dr. Paul DeMarinis, Professor, Art & Art History

A Soap that Doesn’t Lather”

Amid the chemical innovations of the 19th century, the development of new communications media still relied on coaxing together a handful of natural materials and time worn processes to come up with materials possessing suitable properties for data recording, transmission and playback. In the era before synthetic polymers, animal fat and wood ash provided the starting point for “wax” cylinders to record and play back sounds. The enormous quantity of these records still in playable condition attests not only to the durability of the material, but to the familiarity with the materials and processes that allowed Edison’s chemists to rapidly converge on an ideal formula. The deep prior art attending soap-making made these innovative materials hard to patent, and relegated them to the contentious world of trade-secrets, industrial espionage and litigation.

Dr. Fabio Barry, Assistant Professor, Art & Art History

"Stairway to Heaven: the Alchemy of Gems and Synthetic Mountains in the Ancient Near East"

I would talk about Bronze Age technologies of material synthesis (glass, faience, glazes, etc), the material transformation of the ziggurat from Sumeria to Assyria into a heavenly mountain (including the “Tower of Babel”), and conclude with their afterlife in the Jewish imagination.

View the PowerPoint presentation.

Dr. Emanuele Lugli, Assistant Professor, Art & Art History

"Almost Like Plants, but not Unlike Cloth: On the Curious Status of Hair in the Renaissance"

Italian painters of the Renaissance painted women with hair twining around like vegetable tendrils. At the same time, poets compared tresses and manes to tree foliage. Such associations were not cases of artistic license. By looking at writings on the physiognomy of hair and at the recipes for its wellbeing, this paper argues that the metamorphic nature of hair was, first of all, constructed at the pharmaceutical level. This is not the whole story, though. Corporeal practices and the organization of labor played a role too, and by examining them, we may understand why hair came to be seen not merely as grass growing out of heads, but also as the cloth covering them. 

View the PowerPoint presentation.

Dr. Curtis Frank, Professor, Chemical Engineering

“Animal, Vegetable, Mineral? -  The Ancient Search for Color”

Since the appearance of behaviorally modern man, color has been an important part of life.  Beginning with the red and yellow ochers of the Paleolithic cave paintings, we will develop a series of historical palettes comprising pigments that were obtained from natural or synthetic sources.  Some were highly stable and safe; others were unstable as well as highly toxic, but all classes found global acceptance due to their chromaticity. We will follow the pigment compendium as it grows very slowly up through the Renaissance, but we will stop before alchemy graduates to real chemistry post-Lavoisier.

Debra Fox, Paper Conservator, Stanford Libraries

“Conservation Treatment of “Mining Claims of the Comstock Lode”: Navigating the "Pitfalls” of a composite object”

Mining Claims of the Comstock Lode is a simple plot map of simple materials. But that humble composite of paper, ink, and watercolor documents one of the richest silver strikes in Nevada, earning Nevada the title “Silver State”. Lithography ink and hand washed color detail nearly a hundred claims belonging to the likes of Wells Fargo, Hayward, Sutro in a bonanza event that secured the fortunes of men like George Hearst, William Ralston and many others. In perilous condition, the map was presented for conservation treatment. Brittle, shattered paper, a desiccated linen backing, and soluble watercolor posed challenges to stabilizing the map.

View the PowerPoint presentation.

Katherine Van Kirk, Undergraduate, Physics Engineering

“Through Diebenkorn's Window: Transitions in Time”

Several hidden compositions lie below the surface of Window by painter and Stanford graduate Richard Diebenkorn, BA ’49. These compositions were unknown to the art community until brought to light by Stanford student Katherine Van Kirk, ’19, during her Chen-Yang fellowship in the Cantor’s Art+Science Lab. During this talk, Van Kirk will explain uncovering the layers through infrared reflectography and discuss them as evidence—in a single painting—of the transition Diebenkorn was making in his art from the mid-1950s to the '60s. 

Visitor Information

The Sapp Center is located at 376 Lomita Drive. Visitor parking can be found on Lomita Drive and in the Roth Way Garage. Alternatively, take the Caltrain to Palo Alto Transit Center and hop on the free Stanford Marguerite Shuttle.