CAMEO: A free Internet reference on materials used in the production and conservation of historic and artistic works
First Monday


CAMEO: A free Internet reference on materials used in the production and conservation of historic and artistic works by Michele Derrick

The Conservation and Art Materials Encyclopedia Online (CAMEO) is an electronic database of terms, materials and techniques used in all aspects of conservation and production of artistic, architectural, archaeological, and anthropological materials. CAMEO consolidates text and images for the use, understanding, and identification of materials and delivers the merged information to diverse audiences via the Internet. CAMEO increases access to formerly obscure information, creates a historical context for the use of materials in art conservation, and provides a chronological record of materials as they are developed or changed. Produced by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, CAMEO is a free service for the benefit of professional conservators, the museum community, and the general public.







What is Coade Stone? When was Bakelite invented? What is the chemical structure of indigo? Is it safe to use mineral spirits? The answers to all of these questions and much more can be found on CAMEO at CAMEO is an electronic database that compiles, defines, and disseminates technical information on the distinct collection of terms, materials, and techniques used in the production and conservation of works of art.




The database, formerly called the Conservation and Art Materials Dictionary (CAMD), was developed at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston by the Conservation and Collections Management Department with a 1998 grant from the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training (NCPTT). For initial testing, the database was placed on the MFA Intranet for use and review by the conservation and curatorial staff at the Museum. Additional resources and support from the MFA enabled a draft version of the database to be uploaded to the Internet in November 2000 for use and review by the worldwide conservation community. This unique collection of information was readily recognized as an important resource for the conservation field. It received over 400,000 page views the first 15 months it was online.

CAMD was a trial version of CAMEO that allowed conservation professionals to evaluate its content and assess the need for its future growth. It was deemed important for CAMEO to have an upgraded structure and for its coverage and content to be expanded into a more comprehensive and well–rounded encyclopedic resource for the art conservation and historic preservation fields. Funding by an Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) National Leadership Grant in 2002 allowed for major revisions and structuring of CAMEO to occur. Over a two–year period, the coverage of CAMEO has been expanded to include additional commercial records, hyperlinks to other Web sites, and the Material Safety Data Sheets, along with several thousand images.




CAMEO contains more than 10,000 records. This knowledge base is broad because artifacts, sites, and treatment methods can include any combination of materials that have been used in the history of mankind. Additionally, the knowledge required for conservation is becoming ever more complex and technical due to factors such as increased availability of analytical techniques, better understanding of deterioration processes, wider selection of treatment materials, new emphasis placed on preventive conservation, and ever–growing concerns about health and safety.

CAMEO entries include materials such as pigments, minerals, binders, coatings, adhesives, fibers, dyes, solvents, corrosion inhibitors, woods, pollutants, insects, pesticides, and storage materials. Each term was selected based on its having been mentioned in the conservation literature regardless of whether its use is now considered good or bad.

Examples of materials and related terms in the encyclopedia include:

  • Materials used in the production, conservation or analysis of historic and processed materials (Tyvek®, Dutch metal, eosin, portland cement, plywood, Art–Sorb®, acoustic tile, etc.)
  • Compositional groups (oil, alcohol, acrylic, aniline dye, polymer, etc.)
  • Chemical and physical phenomena (tear resistance, relative humidity, absorption, etc.)
  • Functional classes (abrasive, detergent, scavenger, sealant, absorbent, insecticide, etc.)
  • Analytical tools (hygrometer, Macbeth booth, X–ray diffraction, electrophoresis, etc.)
  • Material characterization terms (crizzling, hardness, gloss, porosity, refractive index, etc.)
  • Selected devices (solander box, smoke detector, laser pointer, fluorescent lamp, etc.)

Figure 1 shows the calcite description page. The primary description pages for each record contain a brief, but comprehensive text about the general class of material along with its major use or biological source. For a natural product, its native geographical region is listed. Information is supplied about the materials production, manufacturer, historical availability, appearance, and uses. For searching purposes, alternative, foreign, and archaic names are included in a synonym field along with common misspellings. As part of an international collaboration, several European colleagues from the LabS–TECH organization of museum scientists are voluntarily adding foreign equivalent names to the synonym list to aid in searching.

Figure 1: Calcite description page from CAMEO database at

Because of the condensed format for these descriptions, references, such as for review articles, book chapters, and books, are included to direct the reader to more specific information about a material and its applications. Some of the references, such as the manufacturer’s Web pages, cited JAIC articles, and MSDS sheets have direct hyperlinks to other Web sites on the Internet.

Figure 2: Calcite authority page from the CAMEO database at

Figure 2 shows the authority page for the calcite record. The Authority field lists citations of all references (books, journals, dictionaries, encyclopedias, etc.) used for the generation of a material’s record. Each record in CAMD is the result of checking a minimum of two references for clarification and verification of data; over half of the CAMD records are the result of checking 3–20 sources (e.g., dictionaries, journals, encyclopedias, scientific handbooks, MSDS sheets, Web pages). The authority field minimizes duplication of efforts when searching for information. It also provides a method to note discrepancies found among the various sources, particularly for numbers (e.g., development dates, physical parameters). See for example the hardness numbers for calcite where one reference had a hardness value of two and the others had three. Whenever a discrepancy occurred, CAMEO researchers used the values that were most predominantly found.


Several thousand images are being added to CAMEO. The CAMEO image page contains thumbnail images that can be enlarged with a click. These images provide an essential record of a material’s characteristics and include photographs and drawings of a material’s outward appearance as well as analytical image records of a material’s microscopic and spectroscopic characteristics.

Examples of images in CAMEO are:

  • Photographic images or drawings of minerals, gemstones, corrosion products, insects, animals, trees, plants, as well as photos of museum objects constructed from these selected materials.
  • Micrographs of minerals, metals, pigments, wood sections, and fibers as well as positive and negative microanalytical results for spot tests and fluorescent staining.
  • UV/Vis and infrared spectra of oils, resins, gums, waxes, proteins, pigments, dyes and polymers.
  • XRD patterns for mineral pigments, and corrosion products.
  • Chromatograms for oils, resins, gums, waxes, proteins and dyes.

Comparative charts showing aging studies, stress curves, and product comparisons will be added at a later stage.

Of most importance is the expansive collection of MFA objects whose images are already digitized and catalogued in the Artemis database. This provides access to thousands of digital images for illustrating works of art prepared from specific materials. Since these images are already stored on the server with markers, they can be readily pointed to from the CAMEO Web site.

Additionally photographs and micrographs will be collected directly from the many commercial materials and reference collections of microscope slides here at the MFA conservation labs. Extensive collections of infrared spectra, X–ray diffraction patterns and chromatograms will also be digitized and uploaded. Examples of these images are shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Images from the calcite image page of CAMEO at
A. Flat–bottomed dish, Stone vessel, Egyptian, Old Kingdom, Dynasty 4, 2575–2465 B.C., Egypt, Calcite
Height x diameter: 6 x 16 cm. (2 3/8 x 6 5/16 in.), Museum of Fine Arts, Boston: Harvard University – Museum of Fine Arts Expedition 11.1157
B. Photomacrograph of calcite. Photo credit: Keith Lawrence, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
C. Plane polarized light micrograph of calcite. Photo credit: Scientific Research Dept., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
D. IR spectrum of calcite (Egyptian limestone). Sample from Egyptian limestone.
Spectrum collected using a microdiamond cell. Credit: Scientific Research Lab, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.




CAMEO is a readily accessible resource that defines, characterizes, and increases our understanding of materials found in historic and artistic works. The new upgraded version of CAMEO provides a time saving resource for the conservation field where knowledge regarding material properties, reactivity, and history can be crucial to success and safety. It also enables all interested persons to access vast amounts of technical and visual material data. This is especially beneficial to labs or museums with limited personnel or resources.

The MFA is committed to providing CAMEO as an out–reach program with numerous benefits for professional conservators, the museum community, and the general public. End of article


About the Author

Michele Derrick has been a contract conservation scientist at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston since 1995 where she was instrumental in the development of CAMEO. She has served as the compiler, editor, and principal investor for the database. Prior to 1995, she worked at the Getty Conservation Institute in Los Angeles for 12 years. A chemist by training, Michele’s expertise is in the area of infrared microspectroscopy; she is the author of Infrared Spectroscopy in Conservation Science (Los Angeles: Getty Conservation Institute, 1999). She is also currently the editor–in–chief of the Journal of the American Institute for Conservation.



CAMEO is made possible in part by grants from the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training (NCPTT) and the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

Editorial history

Paper received 16 April 2004; accepted 21 April 2004.

Contents Index

Copyright ©2004, First Monday

Copyright ©2004, Michele Derrick

CAMEO: A free Internet reference on materials used in the production and conservation of historic and artistic works by Michele Derrick
First Monday, volume 9, number 5 (May 2004),

A Great Cities Initiative of the University of Illinois at Chicago University Library.

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