How to fix a Pixie project

Art meets science: How to fix a Pixie

During this year's National Science Week, we're running a video project on the conservation of 14 Pixie O’Harris paintings from our art collection.

The project explores the shared sciences of art conservation and medicine, where each painting ‘becomes a patient’ and art conservators show us how to examine the 'patient', diagnose the problems and ‘operate’ to replace damaged paint surfaces and varnish.

Our series of seven short videos opens with Boorooberongal and Darkinjung woman, Cindy Laws, who welcomes us to Country and explains how the echidna got its spikes.

A bit about Pixie

Pixie O’Harris (Rhona Olive Harris 1903 – 1991) was an artist and children's author. She was one of the first Australian artists to recognise that children in hospital might feel anxious or bored and that the hospital environment plays an important role in calming, comforting and entertaining children.

Pixie painted murals on the walls of children’s hospitals all over NSW and was a prolific producer of book illustrations and oil paintings on board. The paintings in this project feature Australian birds and animals in their native habitat and in 2019 were assessed as having National Significance by the National Library of Australia. 

A bit about conservation

Conservation is about preventing damage and loss to cultural material. That's things like paintings, sculptures, photographs as well as things crafted by people like jewellery, furniture and even buildings.

Most of what conservators fix is old because over time it can get damaged. But not always, sometimes new things break too and conservators will fix them as well.

Conservators from International Conservation Services conducted the treatments on our Pixie paintings and The Copland Foundation generously funded the conservation work.

Episode 1: Welcome to How to fix a Pixie

In Episode 1 we meet on Boorooberongal Country with Cindy Laws who introduces our video series and gives context to the land and animals featured in the project.

Episode 2: What is a Pixie?

In Episode 2 we learn who Pixie O'Harris was and what she did for children's hospitals across NSW. We also find out what will be happening throughout the series.

Episode 3: Meet the Pixie patient 

In Episode 3, we meet our Pixie patients! Our art conservators Adam and Julia closely inspect the paintings to see what needs fixing, just as doctors and nurses ask our patients lots of questions to find out what’s hurting or making them sick.

Episode 4: Diagnosing Pixie's problem

In Episode 4, we diagnose the problems with our Pixie paintings. We look at the techniques that both doctors and art conservators use to uncover problems that aren’t immediately obvious. They use similar processes such as x-rays to see things under the surface, things that we can’t see just by looking from the outside.

Episode 5: Tests and procedures

In Episode 5, we look at tests and procedures. The art conservators conduct tests on the varnish to see what type of solvent will help to remove it and we talk to a clinical nurse in Haematology to see how they use tests to help patients.

Episode 6: Examination 

In Episode 6, we’re starting to look like real scientists now! Microscopes are very useful at looking things in greater detail, the art conservators use them to look closely at the paint layer and scientists in the hospital lab use them to examine blood samples.

Episode 7: Fixing the Pixie

This is the last episode of the How to Fix a Pixie series. Thank you so much for joining us on this journey, we certainly learnt a lot and we hope you enjoyed learning about different scientific processes. In this episode the conservators fix our Pixie paintings and a radiologist talks us through how they help to fix broken bones.< /br>