Volume 13, Number 2, May 1991, pp.26-27

Conference Reviews

by Mary P. Hough

Two conferences are reviewed in this column:

  1. "LMU/GCI Workshop on IR Microspectroscopy, January 8-11, 1991," review by Duane Chartier.
  2. "The Museum Scientists' Group Meeting, Tate Gallery, London, 8 January 1991," review by Don Sale and Christine Leback Sitwell.

LMU/GCI Workshop on IR Microspectroscopy

January 8-11, 1991

An intensive workshop in Infrared Microspectroscopy was held at Loyola Marymount University on January 8-11, 1991. The workshop was co-sponsored by The Getty Conservation Institute and Loyola Marymount University. The primary organization was performed by Michele Derrick (GCI), James Landry (LMU) and Dusan Stulik (GCI).

Participants were solicited from a pool of people within the conservation community who have an interest in the analytical capabilities of IR microspectroscopy or who have already decided to pursue acquisition of the necessary equipment. The final group of 16 participants was comprised of scientists and conservators from several countries, with an understandably high proportion from the USA.

There was impressive coordination and cooperation of the industrial sponsors who provided specialists and equipment on which to perform actual analyses and prepare samples. This gave participants a unique opportunity to use a range of instruments and to compare prices.

Stratigraphic paint samples can be analyzed and media identified in each layer without recourse to other methods and larger-scale, more destructive, sampling. There is also extensive capability for fiber identification.

The essential point of the workshop was to sensitize interested parties to the incredible analytical potential of IR microspectroscopy for organic analysis on microscopic samples and to encourage the necessary centralization of analytical standards and data. As the result of work at GCI and LMU there is a growing library of standard IR spectra available for comparative purposes. Judging by the positive response of participants there will be other specialty workshops in the future.

review by:
Duane Chartier
ConservArt Associates, Los Angeles

The Museum Scientists' Group Meeting Tate Gallery

London, 8 January 1991

The Museum Scientists' Group Meeting was organized and hosted by Stephen Hackney and Joyce Townsend at the Tate Gallery. The theme of the meeting concerned the importance of collaboration within the conservation profession through institutional and individual sharing of resources. The speakers also reflected this theme; for while all are either employed or professionally associated with the Tate Gallery, they hold a variety of positions-- administrators, conservators, scientists and conservation scientists. Many of the speakers have published related information in various conservation journals and others will publish in the near future. The meeting was divided into two parts with presentations in the morning followed by studio visits in the afternoon.

Alexander Dunluce, Keeper of the Conservation Department at the Tate Gallery, opened the meeting by outlining the schedule of the day. His opening address was followed by Stephen Hackney, paintings conservator, and meeting chairperson.

In his talk, Stephen underlined the theme of the meeting. He also described past and present developments in the Tate Gallery Conservation Department with regard to training and research. In the past the conservation department trained students affiliated with various conservation programs, but the emphasis has changed to supervising interns who have graduated from conservation programs. He also mentioned the ten student research projects available for reference in the conservation department. Finally, he mentioned that interns and staff members are encouraged to undertake research projects in collaboration with other museums, universities and specialists outside the museum world; this was evident in the presentations that followed.

Heather Norville, paper conservator, discussed problems related to the loan and transport of some pastels by Degas. As these pastels were offered for loan against the Conservation Department's better judgment, a concerted and time consuming effort was made to reduce the inevitable transfer of pastel to the protective glass cover while in transit. The system devised involved transporting the pastels at a 45 degree angle within an air ride suspension vehicle. Despite these efforts, pastel was transferred to the framing glass. Further research is underway to determine if pastels can travel without damage.

Anna Southall, paintings conservator, reviewed her soon-to-be- published joint research on aqueous cleaning methods. This work is being carried out with Aviva Burnstock and Raymond White from the Scientific Department of the National Gallery and Marianne Odlyha, scientist at Birkbeck College. Anna discussed the impact of the pH of aqueous cleaning systems used on oil paint films. Another interesting aspect of this work concerned the impact of Vulpex, a frequently used soap, on painted surfaces. She compared very high magnification Scanning Electron Micrograms (SEMs) of painted surfaces cleaned with Vulpex and water to surfaces cleaned with Vulpex and Stoddard solvent; the pH of each soap solution was lowered to 7 with acetic acid. She found that the Vulpex and Stoddard solvent solution appeared to attack the oil paint medium while the Vulpex solution with water did not. She pointed out that additional research is necessary.

Dr. Michele Edge, scientist from the Centre for Archival Polymeric Materials at the Manchester Polytechnic, is working on a Gabo Trust sponsored project with the Sculpture Conservation Department at the Tate Gallery. Her research focuses on the deterioration process of cellulose acetate found in sculpture and the evaluation of various methods which could be used to stabilize and reduce the rate of deterioration. Using Fourier Transform Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectra (FTNMR), she has been able to distinguish between di- and tri-acetates and characterize additives. With the large numbers of degrading cellulose-ester based plastics found in collections of sculpture, textiles, and decorative and functional objects, her results are eagerly awaited.

Marianne Odlyha, scientist of Birkbeck College, discussed the role of various thermal mechanical techniques in measuring the effects of solvents on paint films. Her talk focused on the small sample size required and the usefulness of this technique for characterizing changes in paint films due to solvents and water. She also compared the advantages and disadvantages of the different techniques. A more thorough explanation of this work can be found in her co-authored paper (Hedley et al.) in the 1990 IIC Preprints for Brussels.

Joyce Townsend, scientist at the Tate Gallery undertaking doctoral research through the Courtauld Institute on Turner paint media, explained that wax was the major non-oil component in Turner's medium. Since waxes are difficult to analyze with conventional techniques, she investigated Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR) with Boris Pretzel at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Differential Scanning Calorimetry (DSC) with Marianne Odlyha, and Gas Chromatography (GC) with Dr. Jennie Pilo and Raymond White at the National Gallery. The results appeared to indicate that beeswax was most commonly used. Bitumen was also found.

Rica Jones, paintings conservator, discussed 18th-century artists' techniques. One of her particular interests is the recurrence of a circular type of drying crackle, called microcissing, found in paintings of this period. She utilized X- radiography, paint cross sections and pigment analysis to develop an understanding of the paint technique. See her paper in the UKIC publication "Appearance, Opinion, Change: Evaluating the Look of Paintings" for further information.

Leslie Carlyle, on educational leave from her position as paintings conservator at the Canadian Conservation Institute, explained her doctoral research at the Courtauld Institute. Leslie is developing a database of nineteenth century artist's techniques from handbooks, manuals and treatises on oil painting published in Britain between 1800-1900. (Her paper in the 1990 IIC Preprints gives a detailed explanation of her research.) Two interesting points that she raised concerned the relative lack of any recorded information about the use of dammar resin in the 19th century and the adulteration of linseed before processing into oil.

Jo Crook, administrator, discussed the Tate Gallery's reference collection of 20th-century painting materials. The information has been collected from artists, artist materials manufacturers and conservation records. This resource also includes manufacturer-provided information concerning formulation changes in artists' products. Since the information is a frequently used and valuable resource, there are plans to transfer the data onto two database files.

review by:
Don Sale, objects conservator
Victoria and Albert Museum
Christine Leback Sitwell
paintings conservator
The National Trust

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