St. Louis experiences the Modular Cleaning Program Workshop

By Claire Winfield, Associate Paintings Conservator, and Raina Chao, Assistant Objects Conservator, Saint Louis Art Museum

From March 13-17, 2017, the Saint Louis Art Museum and the Missouri Botanical Garden hosted the Modular Cleaning Program Workshop, taught by Chris Stavroudis. The workshop was offered at no cost to participants through generous grants by the Library Services and Technology Act administered by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Missouri Secretary of State. Two participants, Raina Chao and Claire Winfield, discuss the workshop and the impact it has on their practice. This post was a featured article in the most recent MRCG newsletter.

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Claire (left) and Raina (center) during the workshop.

The Setup (and what it’s like to host)

CW: It’s more work than I thought to organize and put on something like this! 20 people is a lot to have in one lab space.

RC: There were some unexpected benefits, especially for me as the course took place in the objects lab which meant that cleaning and organizing my lab was a priority, something that’s rarely the case. It was a bit surreal, though, to have my lab empty of all art for a week.

CW: Even though we had gathered what we thought we needed in the objects lab, I kept finding myself running back to my lab to get something helpful, so it was nice to be in your own space and have the option of a secret backup supplies.

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Chris Stavroudis organizing supplies.

RC: It is different being a host as well as a participant. The desire to be a good host and make sure everyone in the course has what they need can be a little distracting.

CW: Also, when you host, it’s much harder to “check out” completely from your normal work duties. While we had been saying for weeks that our department would be unavailable for the entire week for the course, little things kept popping up that needed attention. From that end, it’s helpful to go somewhere for the course so you can really get away and dig in.

The Course

CW: I felt like I had a leg up since I had taken an abbreviated version of the course in 2012 and have been using the system on and off since 2010, but the amount of new material and the greater depth of understanding I had after the full week amazed me.

RC: I had some familiarity with the program but I was really impressed with how much I learned from Chris’s lectures, starting from basic principles and going further into new material. I really feel like I understand the system and can make more informed choices when I work with it.

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CW: I will say, it was a little chaotic in the lab when we were all working on mixing solutions! I do think there is a very practical value in actually making the solutions yourself (in the abbreviated course, Chris made all of the solutions ahead of time in his hotel room à la Breaking Bad). It seems less intimidating when you go home since you’ve made up the solutions before.

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RC: I really liked mixing all the solutions, Chris knows a lot of tricks that don’t necessarily come through in the basic recipes that were really helpful. Simply having observed the kind of weird stages that some of the solutions go through will be really helpful in mixing them up in the future. The only disappointing thing is that by breaking up into groups, there are whole types of solutions that I didn’t get to see or experience mixing.

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Participants testing cleaning solutions.

CW: Chris is a great instructor – he was very patient with all of us! He’s very thorough and happy to explain or revisit concepts and discuss case studies.

Going forward— the future!

RC: I felt that with Chris’s lectures and the advice on thought process that he shared throughout the course, I’m really excited about using the program and materials to solve interesting problems.

CW: I think one of the best things about the course is going home with a full kit to get you started. This of course was easiest for locals and people who drove to St. Louis, because shipping things like solvent gels is frowned upon / illegal. It’s so much easier to get accustomed to using the system when it’s ready and waiting rather than a big endeavor to mix up and set up.

RC: One of the great things is that Chris tailors the workshop to the participants involved. I’ve already used some of the custom chelating solutions that we mixed up during the workshop for a tricky treatment and they worked out great! Even beyond the program, the course introduces new and different materials that I wouldn’t have thought of using. It really expands the realm of possibilities whether you’re using the MCP program or not.

CW: I’m most excited about using silicone solvents and emulsions/gel systems in my practice more. I kept finding myself thinking of alternate solutions for tricky cleanings I’ve had in the past, and wondering how they might have turned out different if I knew then what I know now.

A big thanks of course to our funding organizations. This is a great example of how IMLS and other organizations work to directly impact your career, so make sure you do your part to show your support. Thanks also to the Saint Louis Art Museum and the Missouri Botanical Garden, particularly Hugh Shockey and Susie Cobbledick, who applied for the grant and organized the workshop. And of course, thanks to Chris for being such a wonderful instructor and all of our fellow conservators from near and far who joined us in St. Louis for the workshop. It was great to meet all of you and work with you for the week, and we look forward to seeing you again sometime soon!

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Participants in the workshop.

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