Jan 2000 Volume 22 Number 2

Conference Review

The Broad Spectrum:

The Art and Science of Conserving Colored Media on Paper

Chicago, IL, USA, October 5-9, 1999

The conference, "The Broad Spectrum: The Art and Science of Conserving Colored Media on Paper" was held at the Art Institute of Chicago, October 5-9, 1999. The meeting was jointly organized by Harriet Stratis of the Art Institute of Chicago and Elizabeth Sobczynski of Voitek Conservation of Works of Art, London, with help from several staff members and friends. The conference went smoothly and the talks were well presented, which speaks of the care and effort put into this meeting. There were approximately three hundred attendees from over twenty nations, predominately paper conservators, but paintings and photographic conservators, conservation scientists, curators, historians, and artists were also in attendance. The Abstracts and Conference Program is available for US$20.00 from the Art Institute of Chicago Gift-Book Store. A post-prints has also been planned.

In conjunction with the conference, the Art Institute of Chicago's Prints and Drawings Department put up an exhibition of the same name. The examples chosen were mostly early, traditional techniques with a few examples of more modern media use. Many images were referred to by speakers and it was rewarding to return to these images with a more informed eye.

DAY ONE: Pastels and Chalks

Douglas Druick, Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Art Institute of Chicago, started off the conference stating his belief that curators must learn process and media. This knowledge would allow for more effective and collaborative dialogs between curators and conservators. The stage being set for the aesthetic component of the conference, Robert Child, Head of Conservation at the National Museums and Galleries of Wales, followed with an overview of the physics and processes that produce color and of our abilities and limitations in perceiving color. His information was given with the dry, acerbic wit for which he is renowned and provided the scientific foundation for the conference.

Presentations concerning specific media were started by Marjorie Shelley, Sherman Fairchild Conservator in charge of the Paper and Photography Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, who spoke on the history and development of chalks and pastels used in the creation of art, 1500-1900. Leonardo da Vinci is credited with the first use of natural chalks in a drawing in the 1490's. Shelley ended by noting Mary Cassatt's pastel box (late 19th c.) held 31 manufactured colored pastels comprising the full visual spectrum. Thea Burns, Associate Professor and Paper Conservator, Queen's University, followed adroitly taking the topic further by describing the location and methods of acquiring or producing natural chalks and pastels in Europe.

Burns was followed by forensic paper historian and paper analyst, Peter Bower, on the historical manufacture and use of colored papers. Colored papers were more prevalent than white papers in the 18th century. Bower gave a presentation punctuated with relevant anecdotes. One particularly entertaining anecdote underlined his belief that papermaking was "cooking" despite all the science prevalently used. After the retirement of one color lineman (who added dry color to the pulp vat at amazingly accurate but unregulated intervals using his own inner time-clock) the mill had to discontinue producing azure blue for Basildon Bond as no one could consistently replicate the color. Bower also requested information concerning the earliest black papers and the 17-18th c. Galvianni papermaking mill. He would like to hear from anyone who has information on these topics.

Burns returned to the podium for a wonderfully insightful look at the pastels of Rosalba Carriera, an 18th-century pastel portraitist. Carriera's working techniques for applying pastels mimicked the application of personal makeup in that era. Burns further noted that Carriera's portraits were not "snapshots" but carefully constructed theatrical facades (a parallel of today's "Glamour Shots"?). Burns reminded participants that in treating any work we need to put it in historical and cultural context and not presume that our era's attitudes and assumptions are appropriate.

Richard Kendall, an independent art historian residing in London, spoke about the technical and conceptual changes in Degas's late pastels. In this period Degas incorporated the use of smooth tracing papers, used underlayers of color, often complimentary, and developed broad strokes.

Known for her work on Degas, Anne Maheux, Conservator of Prints and Drawings, National Gallery of Canada, spoke about the golden age of pastel use and specifically about Giuseppe de Nitti's oeuvre and monumental landscape pastels. De Nitti was a contemporary of Degas.

Margaret MacDonald, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Whistler Studies at the University of Glasgow, Scotland, addressed the techniques used in the watercolors, ink drawings, and pastels of James Abbott McNeill Whistler. MacDonald emphasized that Whistler associated color with feeling. His seemingly neutral toned palettes were carefully constructed and balanced. Conservation approaches to Whistler's work should take these qualities into consideration.

Gilbert Gignac, Preservation Officer, Maria Bedynski, Senior Paper Conservator, and Gregory Hill, Senior Conservator of Prints and Drawings, all from the National Archives of Canada, gave a joint presentation regarding the assessment of their large pastel collection in preparation for a move to a new building amidst a government downsizing. Lightweight sink-mat housings were designed to protect the materials during transport, then act as permanent housing in storage. Bedynski spoke of the treatment of pastel portraits by Louis Dulongpre (1754-1848) using tacky synthetic adhesive, Rhoplex N-580, for lining. Hill reviewed the treatment of Sunset at Thunder Bay by William Armstrong (1869). He consolidated the gouache over unfixed pastel using 1% gelatin and an ultrasonic mister.

DAY TWO: Watercolors and Inks

Marjorie Cohn, the Carl A. Weyer-haeuser Curator of Prints at the Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, was among her former colleagues again as she started out the day with an overview of the history of watercolor. Those unfamiliar with Cohn's work will delight in finding this information in her book, Wash and Gouache, still available from Harvard. Thomas McGrath, Associate in the Department of Art and Architecture, also at Harvard University, provided comparisons of the use of chalk and watercolors during the Italian Renaissance. He noted that natural chalks and pastelli (fabricated colored chalks) were commonly used for sketches and studies of tempera and oil painting, while watercolors were primarily for fresco studies.

Thomas Primeau, Assistant Paper Conservator and Susan Dackerman, Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs from the Baltimore Museum of Art, presented methods used in identifying contemporarily applied hand-coloring on Renaissance and Baroque prints and compared results with contemporary literature on palettes. This research is being carried out in conjunction with an exhibit of these works scheduled to open in February 2002 at the Baltimore Museum of Art. A catalogue including this research is anticipated.

The next three talks were dedicated to the late Helen Burgess, conservation scientist. If there was any doubt by this point in the conference that media identification is seldom clearly defined, Carlo James, Curator of Prints and Drawings, Fondation Custodia in Paris, further emphasized the blur between the academic definitions and realities throughout history. James presented an overview of the history of various colored inks and the use of colored papers. He outlined his methods of visual identification and concluded that a discerning eye can be a helpful tool despite inherent challenges.

Elmer Eusman, Paper Conservator at the Museum Boijmans van Beuingen, Rotterdam, spoke on his research with iron gall ink involving the introduction of moisture using various methods including immersion, vapor (through Gore-tex®), spray, and chamber. Eusman used SEM/EDX for his analysis. He mentioned the Fe(II) indicator test developed by Dr. Han Neevel and the iron gall ink corrosion website http://www.knaw.nl/ecpa/ink/. Vincent Daniels, Conservation Scientist at the British Museum, spoke on the chemistry of copper and iron oxidation states with his usual ease and wit. He generated much interest by showing the purple-brown effect of an incompletely washed potassium permanganate bleach used in days of yore.

Joyce Townsend, Senior Conservation Scientist at the Tate Gallery, London, discussed the instrumental analysis of Turner's watercolors and papers. Of particular interest was Turner's use of blue papers and the possible use of honey or sugar with watercolor paint. Next, Faith Zieske, Conservator of Works of Art on Paper at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, presented her career-long interest in analyzing Cezanne's watercolors to identify the various pigments, specifically discolored emerald green, as well as papers used for the paintings belonging to her institution. She showed a slide of the Sennelier shop still in existence where Cezanne purchased some of his pigments.

Continuing with palette discussions, Barbara Berrie, Senior Conservation Scientist, Yoonjoo Strumfels, Associate Paper Conservator, and Carol Tolocka, Research Assistant, all from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., analyzed watercolor pigments in Winslow Homer's palette from the Portland Museum of Art in Maine. It was noted that Homer incorporated Chevreul's color theories into his palette.

Peter Bower graced the stage again, this time speaking about the changing nature of white papers and cultural expectations of "white" papers. He mentioned various techniques of producing "white" or light colored papers and how numerous factors influence the product, such as type of raw material and preparation, fermentation, retting, beating, bleaching, size and loading, formation, surface alteration, and drying.

DAY THREE: 19th & 20th Centruy Materials

Peter Kort Zegers, The Rothman Family Research Curator in the Department of Prints and Drawings, the Art Institute of Chicago, reported on the process of Gauguin's water-based woodcut printing between 1893-95. Gauguin's prints vary greatly and it was determined that he possibly made multiple prints from a single inking.

Gloria Groom, the David and Mary Winton Green Curator in the Department of European Painting and Faye Wrubel, Paintings Conservator, at the Art Institute of Chicago, gave a joint presentation on Edouard Vuillard's use of distemper. The working difficulties of this medium were poignantly expressed engendering great sympathy to Vuillard for even attempting it as well as renewed appreciation for what he was able to accomplish. A 1-1.5% gelatin was found not to stain the distemper on canvas when consolidating these very fragile pieces. Wrubel cautioned conservators to "be even more wary of paintings on paper," however.

Paper conservators, Caroline Marchal, private practice in Amsterdam, and Gabrielle Beentjes and Piet van Dalen from Art Conservation B.V. in Vlaardigen, Netherlands, spoke of the interesting problems experienced with the consolidation treatment of ten Karel Appel gouaches on paper. In the end, a conditioning chamber and 0.5% methylcellulose applied as a mist was used. This talk generated audience discussion on the differences between nebulizers and ultrasonic misters.

Margaret Holben Ellis, the Sherman Fairchild Chairman and Professor of Conservation and Ester Chao, Graduate Student, Conservation Center of the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University, and Christopher McGlinchey, Conservation Scientist at the Museum of Modern Art, presented the history of the development of daylight fluorescent colors, an overview of the science involved, and a demonstration of the qualities of these materials.

Barbara Rosenberg, Book and Paper Conservator in Toronto presented the results of her study on the color transfer of felt-tipped pen on paper storage materials. Her research was prompted by the storage of Inuit drawings. As predicted, the media can move rapidly through several boards and papers within months of contact. Debbie Glynn, PhD Candidate from Camberwell School of Arts in London, gave a brief overview of some of the previous research on ink-jet and electrographic printed materials and outlined her future research intentions.


James Bernstein, Conservator of Paintings in San Francisco gave an expanded version of his 1997 AIC San Diego talk on the variables of inpainting. As always, Bernstein's comments were impassioned, informed, and insightful. Daria Kenyan, Paper Conservator in New York City, followed with a talk on the treatment and inpainting of modern and contemporary prints.

Use of Technology

This part of the day was devoted to work done in New England. If the audience was not well versed in statistically interpreting colorimeter data, few were uneducated at the end of Roy Perkinson's talk, appropriately titled "Statistics Without Anesthesia." Perkinson, Head of Paper Conservation at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston kept attendees awake and interested with an analogy of a fishing contest and determination of the biggest catch.

Next, Barbara Mangum, Chief Conservator, Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum, Boston and Arlen Heginbotham, Furniture Conservator at Robert Mussey Associates in Boston, discussed the use of the X-rite Colortron´┐Ż colorimeter for measurement of materials on permanent display. A John S. Sargent watercolor of Venice was chosen to illustrate the procedure of monitoring with this instrument.

Paul Whitmore, Director of the Research Center on the Materials of the Artist and Conservator at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, "pursued the fugitive" with a discussion and demon- stration of the direct measurement of light sensitivity of materials with micro-fading tests using the visible spectrum. The micro-fading apparatus provides real-time information that is used to extrapolate long-term data. Therefore, the data is more relevant than artificial aging data. Most fading occurs in the ultraviolet range, however, and Whitmore's team is currently working on a mechanism to include an option for ultraviolet light. Whitmore gratefully acknowledged his colleagues, Katy Kelly and Goff Pan, for their help on this project. The machine was also demonstrated at the AIC meeting in St. Louis, June 1999. An article on this invention will be published soon in the JAIC.

Whitmore was followed by Barbara Mangum, Craigen Bowen, the Philip and Lynn Straus Conservator of Works of Art on Paper and Deputy Director of Conservation at Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, and Meredith Montague, Associate Conservator, Textile and Costume Conservation, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. They presented micro-fading test results of materials that Whitmore had tested at their facilities. They discovered that media and papers chosen were not as light fugitive in the visible spectrum as they thought and were surprised by the light fugitive nature of other materials.

DAY FOUR: Asian Art

Sydney Thomson, Senior Paper Conservator, and Mitsuhiro Abe, Hirayama Fellow at the British Museum, presented the history and treatment of fusuma (sliding doors) and problems inherent in treating art that was part of a functioning architectural feature.

Sandra Grantham, Paper Conservator in London, and Alan Cummings, Professor and Director of Conservation Studies, Royal College of Art, London, addressed the consolidation of gouache and distempter paint on Japanese screens. A nebulizer was used to mist nikawa (animal skin glue), funori (seaweed gel), and ethyl hydroxy cellulose combinations. Grantham reminded all to wear suitable personal protection equipment "instead of consolidating your lungs."

Mike Wheeler, Senior Paper Conservator, Pauline Webber, Head of Paper Conservation, Clair Battisson, Conservator/ Mounter all from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and Anna Hillcoat-Imanishi, Conservator of the Smithian Herbarium, Liverpool, discussed the many varied problems and conservation solutions demanded by East Indian works, notably, Thangka, scrolls, and miniatures. These works are complex composites of materials such as papers, textiles, plants, insects (beetle wings were mentioned), and minerals. Schemes for maintaining storage, exhibition, and treatment of these materials were presented.

Brigitte Yeh, Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in Paper Conservation at the Art Institute of Chicago, compared various copies of the Chinese "Manual of Painting from the Ten Bamboo Studio" originally published in 1627. Yeh investigated the printer's solutions to multiple-block color printing registration. Her examples showed a range in the execution of the imagery as later printers moved further away from the source. This book is believed to have influenced the production of Japanese woodblock printing, namely Ukioy-é.

Yeh's talk led beautifully into Pamela de Tristan's talk on the pigments used during the Edo period (1603-1868) for Ukioy-é woodblock prints. De Tristan, a private conservator of Japanese Prints in London, researched the application of water to these sensitive colorants. On Friday, Roger Keyes, Director of the Center for the Study of Japanese Prints, in Cranston, RI, honored the attendees with a luncheon gallery talk on the Japanese Ukioy-é woodblock prints on display at the Art Institute of Chicago.

On Saturday, the conference culminated with Keyes and Elizabeth Coombs, Paper Conservator in Cranston, RI, addressing the use of color and context within Japanese Ukioy-é woodblock prints. This presentation brought the discussion of color in art full circle considering artistic intent, preservation, access, and repair issues.

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