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Behind the Scenes in Conservation: Removing Tarnish from Two Art Deco Lamps

by Kelly Rectenwald, Conservator of Objects


Art Deco , CAMConservation , Joseph Urban , 1920s desk lamps , brass , tarnish , objects conservation

This pair of art deco lamps, designed by Joseph Urban, was last on view in 2022 as part of the exhibition Unlocking an Art Deco Bedroom by Joseph Urban. In preparation for that exhibition I polished their brass stems, made a new faux black glass foot for one of the lamp bases, and rewired both to function. Since they were on view, their brass stems have started to tarnish. To help prevent tarnish, we store these lamps with similar objects in tarnish inhibiting cabinets lined with carbon cloth. The carbon cloth absorbs pollutants that cause metals like silver and brass to tarnish. Unfortunately, tarnishing is difficult to halt completely and will still accumulate on object surfaces in these protective cabinets, though much more slowly than if they were stored in normal storage. The small spots of tarnish on these brass stems should only require light cleaning to remove, returning them to their intended mirror finish. The two lamps will soon be back on display in Gallery 211.