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CAMEO: A Place for Art and Science to Meet


Michele Derrick


CAMEO (Conservation and Art Materials Encyclopedia Online at, is a set of Internet databases that serve art-related professionals as well as the general public.  Started in 1999, the original material database contains technical, historical, chemical, and visual information on historic and contemporary materials used in the preservation and production of artistic, architectural, and archaeological artifacts. Continually growing, CAMEO established a collaborative agreement with an EU working group of museum scientists to enhance the content, breadth, and transnational accessibility of the database. This resulted in Google statistics of more than 300,000 page hits in over 200 countries in just the past year.  The CAMEO database is now based on a MediWiki platform and resides on a cloud server, placing it in the unique position to offer homes to small collaborative databases that benefit many art conservation and museum communities. All sections of the database are freetoby users on the World Wide Web and could provide educators with some very interesting resources and contexts for the teaching of chemistry that they could use in their classes and lesson plans.


What is Coade Stone? When was Bakelite invented? What is the chemical structure of indigo? Is it safe to use mineral spirits?  The answer to all of these questions and much more can be found in CAMEO (Conservation and Art Materials Encyclopedia Online at, 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 (Fig. 1).


CAMEO was developed by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and placed on the Internet in 1999.  The primary CAMEO database combines technical, historical, chemical, and visual information on historic and contemporary materials used in the preservation and production of artistic, architectural, and archaeological artifacts).  With more than 9,000 records, the reference set 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 work in the field of art 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.


Figure 1. View of the Home Page for the CAMEO (Conservation and Art Materials Encyclopedia Online) found at


As may be expected, CAMEO entries includes a full-range of materials in the classes of  pigments, minerals, binders, coatings, adhesives, fibers, dyes, solvents, paints, corrosion inhibitors, woods, pollutants, insects, pesticides, and storage materials.  Each term in the database was selected based on its having been mentioned in the conservation literature regardless of whether its use is now considered good (Paraloid @B-72 at, Fig. 2) or bad (DDT at, or Soluble nylon at


Examples of other materials and related terms in the encyclopedia that may not be as obvious include:

  • Materials used in the production or conservation of historic and processed materials (stainless steel, eosin, Portland cement, plywood, Art-Sorb, acoustic tile, etc.)
  • Compositional groups (oil, alcohol, acrylic, aniline dye, polymer, etc.)
  • Chemical and physical classes (abrasive, detergent, sealant, absorbent, insecticide, etc.)
  • Analytical tools (hygrometer, X-ray fluorescence analysis, infrared spectroscopy, etc.)
  • Material characterization terms (hardness, gloss, porosity, refractive index, etc.)
  • Selected devices (Solander box, smoke detector, laser pointer, fluorescent lamp, etc.)


Figure 2. An example page for the commercial product, Paraloid B-72, commonly used as an adhesive and coating on art materials.


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 material’s 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 CHARISMA (formerly EU-Artech) organization of museum scientists volunteered to enhance the content, breadth, and transnational accessibility of the database.  As part of this work, over 10,000 foreign language terms have been added to the synonyms fields allowing for records to be retrieved by their Dutch, French, German, Greek, Italian, Portuguese, or Spanish names. In the past year alone, CAMEO logged over 300,000 page hits in more than 200 countries.  

Because of the condensed format for the CAMEO descriptions, references, such as for review articles, book chapters, and books, are included to direct the reader to more extensive information. Some of the references, such as the manufacturer’s Web pages, cited JAIC articles, and SDS sheets have direct hyperlinks to other Web sites on the Internet.



Several thousand images have also been added to CAMEO.  The thumbnail images can be enlarged with a click.  These images provide an essential record of a materials characteristics including photographs and drawings of a material’s outward appearance as well as analytical image records of its microscopic and spectroscopic characteristics.


Examples of images in the CAMEO database are:

  • Images of artwork from the MFA’s collection that contain the material or have been treated or affected by the subject of record (e.g., see indigo, black walnut, Fig. 3).
  • Photographic images or drawings of minerals, gemstones, corrosion products, insects, animals, trees, and plants as well as processed products from these raw materials (e.g., quartz, ant).
  • Micrographs of minerals, metals, pigments, wood sections, and fibers, as well as positive and negative microanalytical results for spot tests and fluorescent staining (e.g., oak, cotton)
  • UV/Vis, infrared, and Raman spectra of oils, resins, gums, waxes, proteins, pigments, dyes, and polymers (e.g., polyethylene, beeswax, realgar).
  • XRD patterns for minerals, pigments, and corrosion products (e.g., calcite, brochantite)
  • Comparative charts showing aging studies, stress curves, and product comparisons (e. g.,  see records for blue pigments, gemstone, solvent, and Paraloid.


Figure 3.  Examples of images that are found in the record for black walnut



In 2013, the CAMEO database was transferred from a proprietary software system and placed on a MediaWiki platform that resides on a cloud server.  This transformation provided two significant changes for the active maintenance and growth of the database.  First, the new platform provided the flexibility to keep editorial restrictions while also allowing easier, wide-spread contributions for revising and expanding the scope and content of our multi-functional information source.  CAMEO currently has 52 editors and that number is continually growing.  In conservation programs, professors have asked students to select a material, research it, then provide a prototype for an updated record including a prioritized citation list for additional information. All scientists interested in adding, updating, and or correcting the database are welcome to contact this author for editorial privileges.


Secondly, the cloud server provides for virtually unlimited growth, which has placed CAMEO in the unique position to offer homes to small collaborative databases that benefit the art conservation and museum communities. Two of the new major information resources are related to the use and analysis of natural and synthetic dyes in works of art. The first resource is the documentation of the Uemura collection of dyed fabrics that was acquired by the MFA in 2008.  A database containing the original Japanese text with its English translation was created by Masumi Kataoka, Sherman Fairchild Fellow in Textile Conservation. Images of all of the dyed samples were collected by Keith Lawrence, Scientific photographer. The second new resource is seminal to the scientific art analysis world because it provides critical analytical parameters for the analysis of synthetic and natural dyes using state-of-the-art liquid chromatographic and mass spectrometric equipment. This database initially will contain analyses carried out over the past ten years by Richard Laursen and collaborators at Boston University, who have carried out extensive work on many natural dye raw materials.  Results from analyses of the Uemura archive carried out by Richard Newman at the MFA will also be included.  It is anticipated that analyses from other researchers around the world will be added in the future, making this CAMEO database an invaluable resource for high-quality information on the compositions of raw dye materials used throughout history, as well as examples of samples from works of art that contain those dyes (see Fig. 4).  


Preventive Conservation:

Why is the technical information in CAMEO important for museums and how it is used?  Identification of materials in art is a significant consideration, but other such as the problems dealt with in the specialized field of preventive conservation can provide some additional insight.  An important goal of museums is to preserve their collections for future generations.  In preventive conservation, the basic guidelines are to provide optimal environments for objects thereby minimizing causes of deterioration; these practices are widely considered critical for the cost effective preservation of large collections and are applied to the objects in storage as well as those on display.


To this effect, when sensitive objects go on display, they are placed in air-tight vitrines, or display cases, to provide physical safety while also creating controlled microenvironments that diminish pollutants, temperature and humidity fluctuations, as well as UV light exposure.  Both high-tech and low-tech

Figure 4.  The pagoda tree bud record in the Natural and Synthetic Dyes database of CAMEO

methods are used to create the environments.  For example, some valuable organic materials, such as the Declaration of Independence, are stored a hermetically sealed cases that use oxygen scavengers tomaintain an anoxic atmosphere.   Also, it is common for %RH in display cases to be buffered at optimal levels using silica gel that has been conditioned to very specific moisture levels using saturated salt solutions.   Controlled humidities are extremely important in many cases, such as where an archaeological ceramic with absorbed salts or corroded sculpture with bronze disease must be kept at low humidities to minimize the formation of salt accretions or further corrosion.  Additionally, vitrines containing objects made of silver, or combinations of metals, may contain sulfur scavengers, such as Corrosion Intercept, to hinder surface reactions. 

Extreme care is used to examine all materials used in display case construction since any volatile components introduced in a contained atmosphere will be higher than levels found outside the case. Since the interior of a display case essentially creates a microclimate for the object, it can be disastrous if the materials used in the construction of the case release pollutants.  For example, a common construction material is wood, but hardwoods, such as oak, release acetic acid, and some laminated woods, such as plywood, release formaldehyde and other reactive compounds.  Vitrines can still be made with wood as long as it is sealed with a barrier film (i.e., impermeable laminating material), such as MarvelSeal 360.  A video on the Marvelseal 360 record illustrates correct method for the application of this heat-seal laminate link to video 

It is standard practice to test all materials that go into a display case, whether it is the base, gasket, adhesive, fabric, or display label.  For decades, a low tech method, called the Oddy test (, has been used to evaluate display case materials by placing them in a sealed test tube with small coupons of silver, lead, and bronze then waiting for 6 weeks to see if any corrosion or tarnish occurs.  Attempts to evaluate off-gassing of deleterious materials by other methods, including residual gas analyzers and sorbent tubes have not been successful.  Current hopes are leaning in the direction of a colorimetric sensor array developed by the Suslick group at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign that uses an array of chemically reactive dyes targeted at potential pollutants to produce a visual indicator of aerosol problems (LaGasse, et al 2014). 



CAMEO is a readily accessible resource that defines, characterizes, and increases our understanding of materials found in historic and artistic works.  It provides a time saving resource for the art 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’s data.  This is especially beneficial to labs or museums with limited personnel or resources.  The MFA is committed to providing CAMEO as an outreach program with numerous benefits for professional conservators, the museum community, and the general public.



Maria K. LaGasse, Jacqueline M. Rankin, Jon R. Askim, Kenneth S. Suslick. ‘Colorimetric sensor arrays: Interplay of geometry, substrate, and immobilization’, Sensors and Actuators B (2014) 116-122.

11/16/15 to 11/18/15


Bob Belford's picture

Dear Michele,

Thank you for sharing this article on CAMEO with us. I have personally become interested in eTextbooks and their potential for enabling collaborative team-taught multi-institutional intercollegiate courses, like the current Cheminformatics OLCC, . I envision this model as a potential way to integrate informal learning institutions like Museums into the 21st century classroom (at all levels of the curriculum). My first question is fairly simple (although the answer may be complex), and that is, what are the fair-use restrictions of material within the CAMEO collection? Can I take any spectra or image and use them in my curricular material, even if my curriculum material is posted online in an open access format?

My second question is a variation of the first, and what I am really interested in, but let’s say I wanted to use one of the records, or a series of records within CAMEO for an assignment, sort of embedded into my online course material (in a manner like we embedded the CAMEO entry for Paraloid@ B-72 into this paper). The issue that comes up is that the content of a Wiki is ephemeral, while the pages of a textbook need to be static in the sense that they need to follow the syllabus, and certain material can’t change while the course is in progress. One option is a Wiki DOI, like Protopedia uses ( ). Do we have a similar option? I note you have a history, could a teacher make a version of one of your entries, place that into the history, and then embed that in their electronic textbook?

It just seems to me that it would be very exciting for a textbook to be navigating different museums around the world, and it seems like CAMEO could be a first step in making that a reality. Is anyone doing that?

Thank you for sharing this very interesting resource with us.

Thank you for your questions.
As you mentioned, the first question is easy. The MFA does allow Fair Use of the images and spectra placed on CAMEO and expects all editors uploading images to do so also. The only restriction, as expected, is that none of the images be used for profit. One editor is already uploading form of the IR spectra in dual formats (as images and as csv files) so that other users can download the spectra to create searchable files.

The second question is not so easy as I am learning wikis on the fly. It would be wonderful if CAMEO were incorporated into eTextbooks, however, its records cannot be expected to remain static. Thus, your solution of creating a page accessible in the history timeline sounds excellent.


Let me give a plug here for the use of the IUPAC standard for transferring/storing spectra.
The JCAMP-DX format is an export available on pretty well all spectrometers and can be easily converted to XY pairs for use in spreadsheets later using the free software now part of JSmol called JSpecView.

Thank you for mentioning the standard spectra format. We do use it a lot. In the museum field we also have a free online database at (Infrared and Raman Users group) for art materials. This database and the coordinated spectral exchange was all done using JCAMP.

I was unaware that JCAMP could export xy pairs. I only know of the limited types of files that can be uploaded into wikis and .csv is one of them.

I will definitely check out JSpecView.

Bob Belford's picture

Dear Michele,

One of my hopes with your paper is that it would increase awareness of and opportunities for educators, on the role of chemistry in the conservation of art and historic works. In this increasingly interconnected world of emerging eScience, I was thinking that museum resources like CAMEO may someday be integrated into our lectures and lesson plans. With this framework in mind, I would like to ask you a couple of questions, which you may want to respond with separate posts.

First, and please pardon me if I do not have my facts correct, but you have a formal education in analytical chemistry, have been (or are) the Editor in Chief of the Journal of the American Institute for Conservation, and are a Research Scientist at the Boston Museum of Fine Art. As such, could you comment a bit on how you use chemistry in these endeavors? Does the Museum of Fine Arts have an Analytical Chemistry Lab? What type of equipment do you have?

My second question is, are there other resources in the world of informal learning and preservation that chemical educators would find of value, like the IRUG, which you have already shared with us.

My third question is probably a facet of my first, and may not be fair to ask, but you do wear an interesting set of hats, and I was wondering if you had any thoughts on museums of the future, and potential roles they may play in the classroom of tomorrow? It seems to me that a resource like CAMEO opens doors, but I am asking a very open ended question, and am curious if you have any thoughts you could share.

Hi Michelle,
Do you have a way to extract a small amount of gas from your airtight display cases for testing? What type of equipment do you have for analyzing such a gas sample?

No we don't have any method for extracting gases from the sealed display cases. One scientist has been working for years to develop SPME fibers and extraction methods to determine the gas phase constituents. He has been relatively successful, but the technique has not been used in other labs, however, because it is time consuming, and requires for cases to be opened routinely (and opening a case can take up to four people this is not desirable. One reason we are hoping that the colorimetric sensor array may be successful is because the card could be placed in the display case, then monthly we could photograph an image of it and process the colors. This means we can monitor the atmosphere but the case never has to be opened unless there is a problem.

Certainly building a case with a port for gas sample is possible, but has not been considered. To date, we spend our time to analyze materials going into the cases, with the goal of minimizing any potential problems.

Please see the previous posted reply to Bob Belford for a list of the analytical equipment that we have available in our lab.

Thank you.


Stanford Research Systems makes an atmospheric gas sensor using a capillary fiber that might be interesting for you. The trick would be to put a fiber into each case and cap it until used. The mass spec could be moved between cases. Of course, you need the money to buy the system.

Josh Halpern

Ill answer your questions sequentially.
First, my background is an M.S. in Analytical Chemistry from Oklahoma State University and I have been a member of ACS for 40 years. In addition to my job as a research scientist at the MFA, I was the Editor-in-chief of the Journal of the American Institute for Conservation from 2002-2014.
As for the MFA lab, we are responsible for in-depth scientific research on works from the Museum’s collections, as well as any scientific testing of objects from these holdings conducted at other institutions or outside analytical facilities. We also routinely provide analytical services to other institutions, conducting collaborative projects with curators and conservators from around the world. Additionally, our division is tasked with coordinating the institution-wide effort in preventive conservation, to slow the rate of deterioration by limiting exposure to pollutants, light and humidity. The lab monitors all environmental parameters throughout the Museum, including evaluation of construction materials used in gallery and storage areas.

Research on artifacts addresses a wide variety of questions, including authentication, state of preservation, the nature of previous restorations, characterization of materials, and broad technical studies to further understanding of individual works of art. The lab is equipped to prepare many types of samples, including cross sections and thin sections from a wide range of material types. To this end, we have a fully equipped lab including: optical microscopy (reflected light, polarizing light, and epifluorescence); Fourier transform infrared microspectroscopy; Raman microspectroscopy, ultraviolet/visible absorption and reflectance spectrophotometry; fluorescence excitation-emission spectroscopy, air-path energy-dispersive x-ray fluorescence; scanning electron microscopy with energy-dispersive and wavelength-dispersive x-ray spectrometers; gas chromatography/mass spectrometry and pyrolysis gas chromatography/mass spectrometry; and capillary high performance liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry.

There are about 12 major museums in the US that have science labs. Some just have one scientist while other such as the Metropolitan Museum, Smithsonian, and the Getty Museum have up to 20. Since we all deal with the same, and sometimes esoteric, problems, we often share data and resources. CAMEO and IRUG are the two longest running databases and they are both open to the public; other data collections are being put together but none are openly available on the Internet at this time. Several museums do however, post blogs and research reports on their websites, such as the Cincinnati Art Museum, as well as the British Museum, and the Canadian Conservation Center.

As for your third question, that is difficult. At the MFA, our resources are stretched thin so we do not do many outreach projects. This also makes it difficult to see what connections we might have with classrooms. The Scientific Department consists of two scientists and one preservation specialist. We often give tours to small groups of high school and college students in the region as well as take on an unpaid intern each semester that is usually a junior or senior working on their undergraduate research project. My boss, Richard Newman, regularly teaches a course on the chemistry of art for non-science majors at Wellesley University.

I hope this answers your questions.