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Science After Dark presents 'Saving the Nine Muses'

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Chemistry and art? It’s an unusual, yet heady mix that’s the focus of the next talk in a series called Science After Dark, presented by the Central Coast STEM Collaborative, or CCSTEM. On Wednesday, Nov. 13, two famed art conservationists—Zdravko Barov and Constance Faber—will join Dr. Dane Jones from Cal Poly in a presentation on the restoration of the Nine Muses, a beautiful sarcophagus located in the gardens of Hearst Castle.

The sarcophagus was brought from Europe to Hearst Castle around the 1920s. The detailed carving on the marble dates from late Roman times, around the 4th century. The piece had been in the Hearst Castle grounds for a considerable period of time, and when the conservationists moved it, they found its back was broken due to extreme weathering—made evident by the dirt deposited in the marble. The challenge was to restore the sarcophagus to its original glory.

With help from California State Parks and Cal Poly, the restoration has taken the last 10 years. The Science After Dark presentation will outline what the experts have achieved in the past decade, as well as the plans for the sarcophagus’s future. The dedicated team has determined, for example, the exact Greek quarry from which the original sarcophagus hails. Since this marble object was painted, Dr. Jones was able to determine the pigments using detailed chemical analysis of flecks of the original paint. For two years, the team studied the weather around the sarcophagus to understand the weathering that impacted the object. Finally, they moved the stone into the conservation site, where Barov and Faber worked their magic. As the two are internationally renowned conservationists who previously worked at the Getty Museum, the sarcophagus was in safe hands. They created an entirely new back out of synthetic materials; poly foam was used to mimic the original surface of the marble. The new back is lighter and will stand up to weathering better than did the original marble. The team is now working with engineers at Cal Poly to attach the back.

The presentation—happening Nov. 13 at 6 p.m. at the Steynberg Gallery, 1531 Monterey St.—will feature pictures and samples and will outline the meticulous process of restoring the sarcophagus. A $5 cover charge supports CCSTEM. For more information on CCSTEM and Science After Dark, visit ccstem.org or facebook.com/ScienceAfterDarkSLO.

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