Job Posting: Paper Conservator – ICA Art Conservation (Cleveland, OH, USA)

Position open until filled.
Full time, Exempt Position (Benefits Eligible)
Position Summary
The Intermuseum Conservation Association (ICA), a regional not-for-profit art conservation center established in 1952 located on the near Westside of Cleveland, just minutes from downtown, is seeking a conservator of paper-based materials to carry out examinations and conservation treatments, and to assist in the preservation planning for the paper-based collections of the ICA’s 40 member institutions as well as varied private and corporate clients.
The Paper Conservator has responsibilities which involve the examination and treatment of artwork at the ICA facility and on site. S/he will participate as necessary in the implementation and oversight of conservation projects which involve coordinating staff and subcontractors. S/he interacts professionally with board and committee members, clients and the general public. S/he agrees to abide by the AIC (American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works) Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice.
This position reports to the Executive Director of the ICA.
Principal Duties and Responsibilities

  • Carry out examinations and conservation treatments on artwork from the collections of private and public institutions, corporations, government agencies and private collectors.
  • Conduct research to determine appropriate interpretation of the object and to support the recommended treatment.
  • Prepare cost and time estimates for conservation projects and preservation assessments. Assemble bids for Request for Proposals (RFPs). Coordinate with Registrar to communicate with clients.
  • Perform on site field work which may involve collections surveys, examination, and treatment.
  • Participate in interdepartmental projects as needed. Act as lead conservator for such projects when appropriate.
  • Supervise conservation support staff (assistants, preparators, interns, volunteers). Manage and oversee subcontractors for commercial and industrial processes involved in treatments, shipping, and installations.
  • Monitor condition of objects in storage and perform appropriate housekeeping of the area.
  • Stay current with theoretical discourse and best practices in the field through literature review and attending presentations, conferences and mid-career training.

Public Outreach

  • Interact professionally with a broad range of clients concerning conservation and preservation projects, both in person and over the phone/email.
  • Prepare documentation for grant applications in which the ICA is included, and review grant applications if requested by the client.
  • Actively participate in the ICA’s educational programs, including teaching classes, giving lectures and leading tours.
  • Participate in board and staff committee work.
  • Assist in interviewing and hiring new staff.
  • Represent the ICA in meetings with potential clients, donors and other professionals.


  • Master’s degree from a recognized training program in conservation or equivalent experience. Experience in treating Asian Art would be desirable.
  • Experience working in the field of conservation either in an institutional or private practice setting. Title and salary will be commensurate with experience.
  • Proficiency in Microsoft Office Suite (Word, Excel, PowerPoint), Adobe Photoshop desirable.
  • Travel to onsite projects in surrounding region required.

Send letter of interest and CV to:
Attn: Andrea Chevalier, Senior Conservator
ICA – Art Conservation
2915 Detroit Avenue
Cleveland, OH  44113, USA
For more information, contact Dottie Cooper at

44th Annual Meeting, Photographic Materials, Tuesday, May 17, Separation Anxiety: Kiss Your Acetate Goodbye! – by Nicole Christie and Cindy Colford.

In a presentation related to the Disaster theme of the conference, speakers Colford and Christie spoke of the recovery of flood damaged photographic collections of the Peterboro Municipal Archives, in Ontario in 2004. The area wide disaster created such demands on affected infrastructure that the response began two weeks after the peak flood, which led to a decision to freeze all the of works, including glass plates and film negatives as other methods of drying had not been possible. The PMA participated in a CCI risk assessment which reported back with recommendations to keep all film stabilized in freezers for continued cold storage, and to identify cellulose acetate negatives as a specific priority for treatment due to their autocatalytic behavior, leading to eventual change and loss of values.
The authors, looking to Pavelka & Naipavel-Heidushke’s paper on successful treatment and separation of gelatin image layer from acetate support, called out Pavelka’s suggestion that insurance companies might provide financial assistance for treatment in their coverage. Following the protocol suggested in the article, the authors proceeded and achieved inconsistent results. They noted the process per negative could take up to ninety minutes, resulting in only four negatives treated over two days, They cited concerns of prolonged exposure of the negative to solvents, yet found it hard to keep solvent from evaporating, which could induce curl and tensions while drying. A new question developed, what was the difference between the article’s case studies vs. theirs? An obvious variable was the fact that these items had been frozen. Whether or not this actually factored into the negatives’ behavior. Consulting further with Greg Hill (currently of the Canadian Conservation Institute) & Gayle McIntyre (Sir Sandford Fleming College), the protocol was revised to include the following steps, which helped increase the reliability of the method across different negatives:

Silver gelatin pellicle being separated from acetate support
Silver gelatin pellicle being separated from acetate support

1. Remove material by cutting away some of the lip/edge of the negative to allow ingress of solvent
2. Prewet the negative using sequential solvents
3. Use visual and tactile clues to determine the moment of separation (need slide 3.1, 3.2.) not a fixed amount of time
4. If the gelatin is still disrupted, reshape while it is still wetted using gentle prodding (with  brushes on silicon release Mylar*) to lay flat before drying completely.  The unsupported pellicle, thin as tissue, can be left to release final residues of solvent in a non-stick drying pack in fume hood to offgas.
(More images of these steps available in the downloadable Kiss Your Acetate Goodbye images of layer separation, pdf file kindly provided by the speakers.)
The images, now supported on Mylar sheets, were digitized, and the storage solution after treatment includes use of polypropylene sleeves in a clamshell binder. In an added benefit, the items are no longer taking up space in cold storage. The authors report that after eight years, the images appear unchanged in these conditions. While having a positive outcome, the speakers note that is still a lengthy process involving time and material costs, requiring trained professionals. This technique may not be a catchall for all collections, but for prioritized ones, it can be effective management tool for severely decaying negatives.
*Additional note: Silicon tip tools may also be useful here. See related content from 2016 BPG Tips Session on Silicon Shapers, as found in art supply stores today among the brush selections for working thick paints, in the BPG wiki.

44th Annual Meeting & 42nd Annual Conference—Book and Paper Session, 15 May 2016: "Careful Consideration: Learning to Conserve a Kashmiri Birch-bark Manuscript," by Crystal Maitland

Waxing philosophical (in her own words) about the nature of treatment, her musings inspired by a unique Kashmiri birch bark manuscript, Crystal Maitland provided a holistic look at the considerations for and process of treating an object outside the normal range of paper conservation expertise.
In sharing her experiences treating this manuscript, Maitland observed that unusual projects provide opportunities to reflect on our everyday treatments as well—those which are well within our skill sets and comfort zone of interventions. Both the AIC and CAC ethics statements require conservators to recognize and work within their limits [AIC: “limits of personal competence and education”; CAC: “limits of his/her professional competence and facilities”]. So when presented with a treatment that requires us to move outside of that range of interventions, how do we ethically expand the limits of our skill sets?
Maitland suggested that we turn first to the expertise of others, via published literature and the knowledge of colleagues; in the case of the Kashmiri manuscript, while treatment information was scarce, she was able to draw on information about the materials and cultural context to begin to first understand the manuscript and then shape a plan. This amassing of information included both material and intangible aspects of the manuscript and consideration of potential audiences for the manuscript.
A primary question she posed in this stage was, why was this text written on birch bark? Common substrates of the period were inappropriate (parchment, made from animal skin, would be antithetical to the Hindu sacred text it would support) or unavailable (papyrus, for example, is not found in the region). The isolated location, however, has copious quantities of Himalayan birch, making it a logical choice. The composition of the bark also proved relevant. The early annual growth, light in color, contains botulin, an antifungal agent that may have contributed to its survival; the later annual growth, dark-colored, is rich in tannins. The characteristic striping of birch bark is due to the presence of transpiration nodes called lenticels.
Clues to the manufacture of the manuscript were also carefully observed and informed the eventual treatment. The individual leaves were laminated together, some naturally (i.e., the layers were harvested together, giving a matched pattern of lenticels) and others artificially (i.e., the layers were grouped after the harvest, with distinct, mismatched lenticel patterns). These manuscript pages were delaminating, the bark layers separating and sometimes torn, and also exhibited a waxy efflorescence, in addition to heavy soiling, curling, and tears along the edges.
Having established a baseline for the composition, manufacture, and condition of the manuscript, Maitland felt comfortable formulating and pursuing a course of treatment. The intervention ultimately drew on her research and careful consideration of the manuscript to make treatment decisions. Surface cleaning with a smoke sponge and cold deionized water was followed by relaxing the curling edges of the leaves with methanol vapor chambers. Mending utilized wheat starch paste of a lining consistency and Japanese paper for tears, placing the repair tissue between the layers of the birch bark where possible. Damaged lenticels were mended with toned tissue for additional structural support to the leaves where necessary. With access being a driving force behind the treatment, the entire manuscript was digitized; the manuscript was then interleaved with polyester film sleeves for safe handling in consultation, and stored in custom boxes.
Returning to the questions she posed at the beginning, Maitland suggested that conservators can expand their limits, ethically, by learning from colleagues, including published professional literature; by testing treatment options, carefully observing the results, and proceeding accordingly; by engaging in holistic thinking about cultural heritage and considering the intangible aspects alongside the materiality; and by playing to our strengths, or making the most use out of the techniques and skills that we already know and possess.
Maitland’s treatment and her process for developing it certainly provided food for thought. The intimate look at an unusual intervention combined with an exploration of how to expand our skill sets while respecting ethical limits encouraged reflection on our treatment processes for more routine treatments. Ultimately, I came away from this talk with the conviction that the way I approach treatment should not depend on the uniqueness or visual appeal of an item, but rather that each object deserves a respectful and appropriate treatment.

44th Annual Meeting—Book & Paper Session, May 15, “The Challenge of Scale: Treatment of 160 Illuminated Manuscripts for Exhibition,” Debora D. Mayer and Alan Puglia

With a team of 25 conservators, technicians, and interns, the Weissman Preservation Center at Harvard University is responsible for 73 individual repositories. A large-scale preservation program is essential to care for the vast amount of material in their collections, and Debora Mayer began her talk by commenting on the shifting attitudes in conservation to large collections. As the title of her talk had been changed last minute and large-scale treatment of collections is often associated with terms such as “business plans” and “time management” in my mind, I was expecting to hear a talk about compromises, budgets, and efficient treatment alternatives. Talks about these subjects are often impressive in demonstrating how much work can get done in a limited time, but can sometimes be a little sombre as they often remind us how often conservators don’t have the time to do everything we want. Debora’s talk was therefore uplifting and inspiring in describing how her team avoided burnout by working together to complete large amounts of high quality work within a reasonable time frame.

Treatment for over 160 medieval and Renaissance manuscripts with varying issues concerning structure and media stability had to be carried out within a two-year timeframe in preparation for a loan to a multi-venue exhibition. Since visual identification of unstable media using a microscope was insufficient (media that appeared unstable could actually be stable and vice versa), the team at the Weissman Preservation Center concluded that testing had to be done individually. Within the timeframe, it was not feasible to carry out an extensive study of all objects or to consolidate every illuminated leaf; only the ten leaves on either side of the display opening and the first leaf, often handled, would be tested and treatment carried out if necessary. Even so, this meant a staggering 57,000 cm2 of illuminations requiring consolidation. Based on previous treatments, it would take a conservator two to three minutes consolidating every cm2, but Debora pointed out that it was also important to remember the extra time required for handling or treating large items, housing needs, packing, documentation, etc. during time estimates for treatments. A 5,000-hour time estimate was drawn up, with 2,800 hours expected for consolidation. This was equivalent to three conservators working full time on the project for two years. I shuddered trying to imagine being one of three conservators tasked with the responsibility of this enormous project.

To reduce the work-fatigue that three conservators working on the project full time would inevitably experience, ten conservators worked halftime on the project over the two years, using excel spreadsheets to plan and keep track of workflow. With the amount of people working on the project, it was important to maintain uniformity in treatment procedures and judgment. All conservators followed the same protocols (e.g. using the same magnification or tools) to give the appearance that a single person treated the collection. For quality control, one conservator carried out treatment while another assessed to ensure the media was stable and that there was no visual change. Debora explained how the quality of treatment increased when multiple conservators could agree with a procedure and work together to set standards.

I really admired Debora’s emphasis on teamwork and communication—being open minded, ready for sharing observations and extensive discussions, and letting go of egos. Her talk was encouraging, showing that it is possible to get such a large amount of work done within a short timeframe while maintaining positivity and enthusiasm.

44th Annual Meeting – Book and Paper, May 16: “Watercolor Pencils: Composition and Conservation Concerns,” presented by Lauren Buttle and Natasa Krsmanovic

It always amazes me how much we have still to learn about various types of media. The presentation by Lauren Buttle and Natasa Krsmanovic underscored how little we still know about watercolor pencils (also known as aquarelle or water soluble pencils).

Lauren Buttle and Natasa Krsmanovic
Lauren Buttle and Natasa Krsmanovic present their research on watercolor pencils

Water color pencils first appeared during the 1920s, with Staedtler being the first to mention them in 1928. They are related to copy pencils, which contain a water soluble dye and were introduced in the late nineteenth century.
In their study, Lauren and Natasa and their coauthors, Laura Hashimoto, Michael Doutre, Kaslyne O’Connor and Rosaleen Hill, examined four products: Reeves watercolor pencils, Staedtler karat aquarelle 125, Staedtler ergosoft aquarelle, and Derwent watercolor pencils. These were first analyzed using mid-IR spectroscopy, which revealed that each of the products had the same general composition. All contained clay, water-soluble wax, a polysaccharide binder, and colorants. The wax was further revealed to be a modified polyethylene glycol, or mPEG.
The second phase of the project involved testing samples to determine the impact of conservation treatments and solvents. The researchers drew lines with watercolor pencils onto Windsor & Newton watercolor pen and ink paper that was subsequently cut into 14 sets of inch-long strips. They tested four colors – red, blue, grey, and black – for each product. Of 14 watercolor pencil test strips, seven were stored in the dark (that is, they were not aged), while seven were artificially aged at 95°C and 50% RH for 96 hours. They were then tested for reactivity with water, ethanol, acetone, and toluene immersion for 5 minutes each, non-contact exposure to 100% RH for an hour, and smudging with a smudge stick, with additional samples retained as controls. Color change was measured with a Minolta chromometer, with readings taken thrice for each testing area.
Red watercolor pencil was most sensitive to immersion
Red watercolor pencil was most sensitive to immersion

Their results showed that exposing watercolor pencils to wet treatments is exactly as problematic as one might assume. Aged and unaged samples both experienced significant bleeding when immersed, particularly undergoing aqueous immersion. Of all colors, red had the most dramatic response to immersion. Immersion treatments also resulted in color shifts, with polar solvents causing greater shifts in color than non-polar solvents. However, some of the color change was due to change in the color of the paper.
Humidification appeared to have no effect; however, the researchers did not dry the paper under pressure, and it is possible that there may have been some off-set of color if they had done so. All media was affected by mechanical smudging, although aged media was affected to a smaller degree.
This talk raised a lot of interesting questions, and the discussion following the presentation suggested avenues for further research. One attendee asked when mPEG was introduced, raising the idea that the composition of these pencils has likely changed over time, while others suggested testing the solubility of colors in xylene, or testing the pencil lead directly. This research will be continuing at Queens University, and I am excited to see where it will lead.
Author’s Note: The original version of this blogpost omitted the names of Michael Doutre and Kaslyne O’Connor. The author apologizes for the omission.

42nd Annual Meeting – Paintings , May 30, “The Pied Piper of Hamlin: Color and Light in Maxfield Parrish in the Palace Hotel, San Francisco” by Harriet Irgang Alden, Director/Senior Paintings Conservator, ArtCareNYC/A Rustin Levenson Company

In the spring of 2013, San Franciscans were outraged to discover that a cherished Maxfield Parrish wall painting had been removed from its home in the Palace Hotel and sent to New York to be sold. Prior to auction, it was to be cleaned of the hundred-plus years of accumulated grime and accretions it had been subjected to while hanging in The Pied Piper Bar. Thus, even after the Palace Hotel had acquiesced to public sentiment and agreed to return it to San Francisco, the painting remained in New York to be treated.
Harriet Irgang Alden, of Rustin Levenson Art Conservation Associates, had experience with other Parrish wall paintings, and knew the treatment concerns that were inherent to his working methods. The artist alternated thin transparent glazes of brilliant, unmixed pigments with saturating layers of varnish. This made the removal of a restorer’s varnish on a Parrish painting a fraught process that is typically not undertaken, because of the likelihood of disrupting the original layers. The planned treatment outcome only focused on grime removal. The immediate uniqueness of this Parrish wall painting was in the details of its construction. Despite its substantial size at 5 feet by 16 feet, the Pied Piper was not painted in sections, as Parrish’s other wall paintings were. The painting appeared to have been shipped rolled from the artist’s studio to San Francisco, where a stretcher was constructed for it—possibly of redwood due to the incredible length of the members. Additionally, the back of the original canvas remained visible, and displayed a ticking pattern similar to the canvas used for an 1895 Old King Cole painting. The unlined canvas, as well as the unique stretcher, provides new material evidence of Parrish’s working methods.
Unlike previous Parrish treatments, grime removal on the Pied Piper had revealed a broken varnish layer. Apart from thick brush drips and a pockmarked appearance, there were passages of flaking, which curiously did not reveal dull, unvarnished paint beneath. Instead, beneath the discolored upper varnish there appeared to be a clear, glossy layer of a different varnish, and beneath that were the brilliant blues typical to Parrish’s paintings. FTIR analysis at the Museum of Modern Art in New York verified that there were two distinct varnishes: the crumbling upper layer was an alkyd, and the lower a decolorized shellac. Alkyds like this alcohol-acid polymer were not produced prior to the 1920’s, so they could not have been original to Parrish’s 1909 Pied Piper. The decolorized shellac was stable and was still firmly adhered to the paint beneath. Both original layers had actually been protected from UV and bar patron damage by the alkyd addition.
After an aqueous cleaning removed the grime layer, the conservators were faced with an exciting prospect: could they remove the restorer’s varnish, and in doing so, reveal a pristine Maxfield Parrish painting? Solvents would penetrate through both layers and affect the pigment. A more complex process was tested: methyl cellulose in water was applied, and removed after five to ten minutes, to soften the alkyd layer. Though in initial attempts a scalpel was used, the conservators found that the softened alkyd varnish would lift easily and safely by being pulled up with tape using the ‘Texas Strappo’ method. This technique was successful, and revealed a brilliant and unharmed original varnish layer, but it was also incredibly time consuming.
The Palace Hotel declined to extend the treatment of the Pied Piper to include a months-long varnish removal. The alkyd removal test area was toned to blend back in, the painting was varnished with Regalrez, and the Pied Piper returned home. The non-original alkyd varnish remains, still degrading, but it continues to protect the pristine painting and original varnish beneath. In the future, it will be possible to remove the new Regalrez varnish with naphtha, which does not affect the original shellac varnish. It will also be possible to remove the alkyd layer with the solvent and mechanical methods outlined in the test, and revarnish with Regalrez, and possibly a UV stabilizer. Maxfield Parrish’s vibrant original may not be fully unveiled, but until then, the beloved painting is safely on display.

42nd Annual Meeting – RATS Joint with Objects Session, May 30, “Technical Study and Conservation of the ‘Bat Wing Ship,’ Background, Challenges and Surprising Discoveries, Lauren Anne Horelick , Objects Conservator, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

The compelling object at the center of this paper is an experimental prototype of a Nazi German jet powered fighter aircraft discovered by the Allies at the end of World War II and brought to the United States for study. Designed by the Horten Brothers (Reimar and Walter), this craft with a steel structure, paper-thin plywood veneers, and no vertical tail is regarded as a design predecessor to the stealth bomber. The aircraft, a model Horten Ho 229 v3 (the third and final version of this particular airframe) was captured when it was near completion in the Gotha workshop Charcoal was said to have been added to the construction adhesives to make the aircraft invisible to radar.
While always a favorite of air flight/military history buffs, this craft has never been exhibited and has been the subject of increased interest in recent years due to what the paper’s author describes as a “sensationalized” documentary entitiled “Hitler’s Stealth Fighter.” This video, available on YouTube, is replete with inaccuracies including the assertion that it is stored in a “secret government warehouse” when, in fact, its current home is the Smithsonian’s Paul E Garber Facility in Suitland, Maryland. However, it will soon be moved to another disclosed location – The Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia where it will have its big reveal.
In preparation for this move, conservators at the Smithsonian NASM carried out a technical study to inform treatment protocol for the stabilization of the unstable and extensively delaminating veneers. They sought to characterize and identify the adhesives and other materials employed and, in particular, seek evidence for the presence (or apparent lack) of charcoal.
The aircraft is 55.4 feet wide with a tubular steel frame. The engine rests in the center of the craft and it is covered in a plywood skin. There is a clear canopy for the pilot. Due to complications of working on the object in its storage location, the decision was made to disassemble the damaged plywood portions to allow for treatment of the panels in the conservation lab. The composite materials that were examined and analyzed included the plywood board, structural supports and spacer blocks including the adhesives used to attach these portions to one another.
After a literature review of plywood available in Germany before WWII, reference materials were acquired for the potential materials. A sampling protocol was developed and the object and reference samples were examined under visual and Polarized Light Microscopy, FTIR, Raman, and for selected samples XRD was employed. (There may have been other methods employed that I missed in my notes– GC-MS and 3-D microscopy were mentioned in the abstract – sorry if I have omitted something significant.) The analysis was done in conjunction with the Museum Conservation Institute.
The analyses yielded some unexpected results as some of the wood sample results varied from those specified by the Horten Brothers (as reported in their interrogation). However the substitutions of European Beechwood/Scots Pine for the specified birch was not very surprising to the authors given the materials shortages at the end of WWII. The adhesives tested were identified as urea formaldehyde and phenol formaldehyde. Confirming the presence of charcoal in the black paint/adhesive layers proved elusive. The black particles were difficult to separate from the matrix. PLM examination did not support the charcoal identification and they were found to be amorphous with XRD. FTIR analysis pointed to the presence of cellulose, hemi cellulose and phenolics. This could mean oxidized or charred wood – or neither.
Plans for treatment do not include repainting damaged areas as the author mentioned a growing trend toward exhibition of aircraft in a less heavily restored state. Beech veneers will be employed in areas of loss but were unavailable in the United States in the <1mm thickness required so must be ordered from Germany. Because the urea formaldehyde has cross-linked with age and become insoluble, the conservators are not as concerned as they might have been about adding new materials when they choose an adhesive to stabilize the veneers.
Details and updates on this research project and the treatment are available on the on the National Air and Space Museum’s Airspace blog   The Bat Wing Ship is poised to be a popular attraction when it goes on exhibit – I know my interest has been piqued by this interesting talk!

41st Annual Meeting – Book and Paper Session, June 1, “Testing the Waters: Applying New Techniques to the Cleaning of Acrylic Paint Film by Amy Hughes and Daria Keynan”

New York-based paper conservator Daria Keynan and Amy Hughes, third-year graduate student at NYU Institute of Fine Arts, shared exciting new contemporary cleaning techniques that have the potential for more effective and efficient treatment of paper-based objects by custom-matching the pH and conductivity modular stock solutions to the original object. This presentation was a wonderful and inspiring cross-specialty exploration of how paintings conservation techniques can be applied to paper conservation – and who doesn’t want more tricks up their sleeve?
Keynan was first introduced to the concept at the 2011 CAPS (Cleaning of Acrylic Painted Surfaces) workshop at the Museum of Modern Art. (I am now kicking myself for thinking that these workshops wouldn’t necessarily apply to my work as a book and paper conservator, so jealous!) To date there have been four innovative series of CAPS workshops supported by the Getty Conservation Institute to further the dialogue between theory and practice among conservation scientists and conservators as well as to introduce the concept of modular cleaning systems. Struck by her experience at the 2011 CAPS workshop and impressed by their use for treating acrylic paint films on art on paper, Keynan has further explored the use of pH and conductivity customization for other areas of paper conservation.
The CAPS workshop introduced several different cleaning techniques to minimize removal of surfactants when cleaning acrylic film surfaces. Acrylic paint and modern materials are scary (my word, not theirs.) Emulsions are often complex with many proprietary and artist-introduced ingredients. Colors react differently after drying, in treatment, and as they age. Some colors may be more sensitive to chemical and mechanical cleaning than others. Surfactants and other soft solids may never solidify, creating a tacky surface that can attract dust and grime. Conservation treatment, particularly aqueous treatment or mechanical cleaning with damp cotton swabs, can introduce immediate disfiguration like abrasion or swelling. Readily soluble surfactants can leach to the paint film surface or verso of the paper substrate. Treatment can also jumpstart deterioration that is not apparent until the future due to unknown chemical and mechanical consequences.
Of the many cleaning techniques available within contemporary conservation, Hughes and Keynan limited their presentation to the customization of pH and conductivity as a more finely-tuned and safer aqueous cleaning technique. They shared their methods by highlighting the treatment of works of art on paper brought to the Daria Keynan Paper Conservation in Manhattan for treatment where adjusted water – tweaking the pH and conductivity of the deionized water – was a key factor of success.

HughesKeynan_slide14_2013BPGIn the Garden
(1986) by Paula Rego was surface cleaned to reduce dust and embedded grime altering the surface sheen. After dry cleaning with cosmetic sponges, Hughes tested various acrylic paint colors for pH and conductivity testing. Cylindrical pellets of cast agarose gel (recipe and supply information to be published in their BPG Annual post-print) were uniformly shaped with a medical-grade biopsy punch. (Heed Hughes’ warning, online image searches for “biopsy punch” are not for the weak-stomached!) The agarose pellet, acting like a poultice, was placed in contact with the acrylic paint film for 45 seconds to absorb the surface pH and conductivity. Agarose was selected because it imbibes the surface readings without visibly swelling the paint with excess moisture as in more aggressive techniques like local, direct application of deionized water. Keynan explained that the contact time of the agarose pellet can be matched to the estimated treatment time so that testing parameters can meet real-world treatment situations, increasing the predictability and reproducibility of testing results.
HughesKeynan_slide15_2013BPGThe pellet was transferred from the paper surface to the well of a pocket-sized, hand-held pH meter (Horiba Laqua pH Tester from Cole-Parmer) to record the pH of the paint surface. A droplet of deionized water was then placed on the pellet and transferred to another pocket-sized, hand-held conductivity meter (Horiba B-171 Twin Conductivity/Salinity Pocket Tester from Cole-Parmer) to record the conductivity of the paint surface. (As someone who absolutely dreads calibrating our cumbersome pH meter I was overjoyed to hear how easy these were to use – my purchase order request is already submitted.)
The conservators used the recorded pH and conductivity for a given area of the painted surface to identify the optimal working solution for cleaning. They selected from among a variety of premixed stock solutions that were created according to the CAPS workshop directions using deionized water, glacial acetic acid, and ammonium hydroxide in a range of ph 5-8 and conductivity 1000-6000 µS (micro Siemens.) Once mixed, the stock solutions can be stored in the refrigerator for up to several months. Keynan also reported that they often add several drops of an antimicrobial preservative for a longer shelf life.
The embedded material and dust on In the Garden released easily with 3-4 passes of lightly damp, pre-blotted cotton swab rolled over the surface. Hughes warned that since acrylic film is susceptible to abrasion it is important to monitor the paint surface during treatment. Cotton might not be appropriate for all acrylic surfaces so additional experiments with different swab materials may be useful. Similar success was seen in the mold removal and stain reduction of Maquette for Smoking Cigarette Relief (1983) by Tom Wesselmann.
Since Superstorm Sandy hit New York City in October 2012, Keynan’s studio has seen many complex treatments because of the unusual and unknown composition of the storm water which was often contaminated by sewage (uh, gross.) Many of the paper-based objects were stained with tidelines that were difficult to remove and fluoresced brightly under UV. Standard paper conservation techniques often visibly removed the tidelines but were deemed unsuccessful since under UV they shifted along the paper fibers or sank but were not completely removed from the paper support. She related that altering the pH and conductivity of her treatment water dramatically improved treatment results. Removal of the fluorescing blue tidelines (both external and internal) was achieved by local application of the adjusted water and using fumed silica poultices to block the formation of new tidelines.
HughesKeynan_slide34_2013BPGThe last example Keynan shared was a sample of naturally aged 2-ply paper board. (This was exciting, anyone else ever stare blankly at a nasty tideline on an illustration board and just sigh?) Traditional and adjusted treatment waters were applied with cotton swabs in several passes to clean the surface with varying results. Traditional deionized water cleaned less and was uneven, leaving a soft and vulnerable surface. The solution set at pH 6.6 and 6,000 µS glided more easily and had more even results. It also felt more controllable when working. The third sample solution set to pH 5.5 and 14,000 µS gave the most effective cleaning but in real life would probably not need three passes. After drying, the surface readings for all three areas had almost identical conductivity and pH readings.
Keynan concluded that by matching a pH- and conductivity-adjusted solution to the surface of the object it is possible to create a near chemical equilibrium at the surface to eliminate leaching from or depositing into the paint film. In treatment, using adjusted solution equals maximized cleaning efficiency with less wetting out of substrates, less pigment transfer, less repeated action, less loss of surface texture, and reduced distortion of the working area. Conservators have always adjusted pH for various uses, but by measuring the conductivity we can tailor our treatments to the physical needs of the object material with more refinement and subject it to less invasive treatment. Adjusted waters are an incredibly useful tool for improving and refining treatments in our conservation practice.
Hughes and Keynan’s presentation was an approachable and exciting take on the contemporary research going on in the field of conservation science and paintings conservation, especially as led by Chris Stavroudis (freelance paintings conservator in Los Angeles) and Richard Wolbers (Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation) in, well, all things related to cleaning painted surfaces and the Modular Cleaning Program.
Other presentations at the AIC meeting in Indianapolis such as “Mass Spectrometric Imaging of Acrylic Emulsion Paint Films: Engineering a Microemulsion-Based Cleaning Approach” (Paintings + Research and Technical Studies Thursday, May 30) show that the MCP and CAPS research continues. During the question-and-answer period Dr. Anthony Lagalante (Villanova University) shared that he and Stavroudis had recently recorded a video about using and calibrating the meters – it was on the cutting room floor, but will be posted to the CAPS website soon. Lagalante also sent me a link to their illuminating Studies in Conservation article that is currently available as a pre-print:

C.E. Dillon, A.F. Lagalante and R.C. Wolbers “ Aqueous cleaning of acrylic emulsion paint films. The effect of solution pH, conductivity and ionic strength on film swelling and surfactant removal” Studies in Conservation 57(1), (2014).

The concept presented by Hughes and Keynan in “Testing the Waters” has the potential for wide application for all book and paper conservators. Working with stock solutions is a fast and economical lab practice. Customizing treatment solutions increases the workability and effectiveness of the treatment. Many of us in the room instantly coveted the easy-to-use digital meters as we thought of the hassle of calibrating traditional models. I’m intrigued by how this research can be applied to aqueous treatments meant to introduce alkaline reserves to acidic paper.
This was a welcome multi-disciplinary presentation that encouraged conservators from other specialty groups like PSG and RATS to attend the BPG program. I am not alone in hoping for more presentations like it at future meetings so we can all benefit from the exciting things happening in all areas of our conservation community.

The 2012 Great Debate at AIC’s 40th Annual Meeting (Updated)

I’ve had countless great debates with conservators at AIC, but I think they’ve usually happened outside in the hallway, over coffee, dinner, or drinks.

This is year that all changes.  

For the first time ever, at the 2012 Annual Meeting in Albuquerque I’ll be moderating the Great Debate at AIC.  This is a modified Oxford-Style Debate that will feature two tough topics that will be debated by the best and brightest minds in the field of conversation today.  (I got the idea from seeing it at the Annual Meeting for Museum Computer Network; you can watch one of those debates here.)

An Update & Important Note: I have placed debaters on one side or the other arbitrarily!  The side they are arguing from may not actually be the side they truly believe. This was done in an attempt to surface the best argument from both sides.

So, without further ado, here are the topics and the teams set to do battle:

First Statement: Publishing accurate and complete “how-to guides” for conservation and restoration treatments online is the best way for us to care for cultural heritage in the 21st century.

Affirmative Team

  • Karen Pavelka
  • Paul Messier 
  • Mary Striegel

Negative Team

  • Scott Carrlee 
  • Victoria Montana Ryan 
  • Matt Skopek 

Second Statement: Having conservators perform treatments in the gallery is the most successful way to generate funding for museums and raise awareness about the profession.

Affirmative Team

  • Vanessa Muros 
  • Kristen Adsit 
  • Camille Myers Breeze

Negative Team

  • Suzanne Davis 
  • Hugh Shockey 
  • Sharra Grow 

To make the debate successful we’ll need lots of help from a highly engaged audience.  And I don’t mean just to cheer on your favorite team, we need you to participate in the Great Debate at AIC!

There will be a significant amount of time in the debate in which members of the audience will get to ask each team questions to which they  have to respond.  Plus, the audience will decide who wins the debate.

The goal of the Great Debate is to create a new forum at the Annual Meeting that encourages meaningful discussions and provides conservators the opportunity to demonstrate their capacity to address challenging issues directly, openly, and in a fun way.

So be sure to come out on Friday the 11th  from 2:00 to 3:30 pm to see your colleague do battle on stage in front of a lively audience.  I know I’m bias, but this is going to be the most fun you’ll have at the Annual Meeting this year!



AIC’s 39th Annual Meeting – ASG Session, June 3, “Conserving a Space for Commemoration: Trinity Cathedral Burial Ground Renewal” by Teresa Duff, Post-Graduate Fellow, University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate Program in Historic Preservation

Teresa Duff presented the conclusion of a twenty-year, three-phased conservation project by the University of Pennsylvania Graduate Program in Historic Preservation at the Trinity Burial Ground in Pittsburgh, PA.  The first phase, begun in 1990, entailed a condition survey and pilot testing program for the conservation of grave markers in the cemetery.  In 2000, students from the University of Pennsylvania performed the second phase of testing, and in 2007-2008, Duff and her colleagues began Phase 3, which was in conjunction with a landscape renewal by Andropogon.

Duff explained that the site was a Native American burial ground that was adopted by white settlers in 1779.  In 1822 the first church was erected on the site, and the current Trinity Cathedral was constructed in 1872.  The grounds contain 155 stones along with burial-marker fragments.  Duff and her colleagues mapped the site and numbered each plot, and created color-coded layers for conditions, treatments and the history of markers.  They built a site-specific treatment platform for the on-site conservation of markers, and completed the conservation treatments begun in 2000.  Treatments included cleaning and removal of biological growth, epoxy repairs for blind delamination and cracks, pinning with fiberglass pins, carbon fiber strap reinforcement on the back of some markers, excavation and resetting of partially buried or at-risk markers, and the burial of markers who had lost their material integrity.  Fragments were displayed on the exterior walls of the church.

The author provided detailed information about treatments and products, but I would have liked to have learned more about the history of the site, the types of stones and carving represented in the burial ground, and the rationale behind some of the treatments.  There were many questions following the talk about the landscape renewal by Andropogon, particularly the native grass they selected which does not need to be mowed.  It was a well-organized presentation with good visuals and detailed information.