Observations from the “Gels in Conservation” conference (London, October 2017): Part 5

This is the fifth post in a six-part series by member and former MRCG officer Jodie Utter, the Senior Conservator of Works on Paper at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art. Jodie writes about her experience at the London “Gels in Conservation” conference co-hosted by the Tate and IAP (International Academic Projects, Ltd.), including her takeaways and links to videos of many of the presentations on current research in this area. Stay tuned– the final part will be published later this week!


Part 5: Jonathan Clark, “Revisiting a shipwrecked felt hat for Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust: a multidisciplinary approach”

1. conference logo

This blog post is part of a series of observations about the London “Gels in Conservation” conference co-hosted by the Tate and IAP (International Academic Projects, Ltd). In mid-October, over the course of three days, some 41 authors presented research, techniques and ideas on gels in conservation. The talks were excellent, and I’ve focused on four that were notable for the wide range of materials treated and challenges faced. They ranged from coating/grime removal from a giant sequoia tree cross section, to dirt and varnish removal from Delacroix wall paintings, to removal of repairs from a fragile felt hat from a 18th century shipwreck, and an experiment comparing residues left behind by various gels on paper.

Felt hat during treatment

Jonathan Clark’s presentation, “Revisiting a shipwrecked felt hat for Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust: a multidisciplinary approach” featured a really cool felt hat from a 1758 shipwreck. The project resulted in an unusual opportunity for collaboration between a textile and an objects conservator–both bringing needed experience to successfully treat the hat. In the past, the object had been treated aggressively with layers of synthetic materials and heavy cardboard fills. The hat was misshapen as a result of the thick repairs, making it difficult to fully see the original object. The treatment objective was to release the fragile felt hat from its past repairs and reshape it to its intended form without harming the object.

Acetone softened the thick unknown adhesive, so both acetone vapor and solvent gels were used to release and reduce the adhesive. The acetone solvent gel was applied through spider tissue, a very soft and strong paper (100% manila fibers). Once in place, the spider tissue was pre-wetted with methylated spirits, then the gel was applied via spatula, which was then covered with plastic wrap to slow evaporation. Once the old repairs were removed the hat remained misshapen. To further soften the remaining adhesive holding the felt hat out of shape, it was placed in an acetone vapor environment. The softened pliable hat was then weighted and pinned to a Fosshape form, a shrinkable polyester felt, used by textile conservators to create mounts. The end result was an object that was stable and could safely be stored showing only its original materials.

3. felt hat after treatment

Felt hat after treatment.

This blog series is a result of receiving the FAIC Carolyn Horton grant to help me attend the conference. I would like to gratefully acknowledge the FAIC for helping make it possible for me to attend this important conference.

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