Observations from the “Gels in Conservation” conference (London, October 2017): Part 3

This is the third 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– new parts will be published twice per week!


Lu Allington-Jones, “Giant sequoia: an extraordinary case study involving Carbopol gel”

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.

2. giant sequoia displayed

The sequoia cross section during treatment in the upper gallery.

The first session of these four, “Giant sequoia: an extraordinary case study involving Carbopol gel”, was presented by Lu Allington-Jones and was intriguing for several reasons. The object was enormous–5 meters (over 16 feet) in diameter. The size alone produced significant challenges, for which solvent gel was particularly suited. The scale meant that it would be treated in situ in full view of the public, thus potentially exposing patrons to chemical fumes; it would require large amounts of materials to treat; and it was at the top of an open staircase, meaning significant height came into play, as well. The giant sequoia cross-section had been on continual display since 1894, so it was incredibly dusty, had a darkened and cracking lacquer coating, and had a very friable bark around its perimeter. A material was needed that could safely remove the failed coatings and accumulated dust without penetrating the surface, harming the friable bark, or creating an unsafe environment for the conservators and patrons during treatment. Using a solvent gel had the advantage of keeping the solvents contained, reducing solvent vapor, and could act as a poultice to reduce grime and solubilize the failed coating. In addition, because gel ensures contact with the treated surface, it means that a lower concentration of solvent could be used as compared to a free liquid solvent. The gel was made 24 hours ahead in Ziploc baggies, the time allowed the gel to reach the needed smoothness and viscosity.

3. giant sequoia gel application and removal detail

Left: Gel application process. Right: removing the used gel from the surface with cardboard.

For application, the Ziploc bags were cut open at one end, the gel squeezed out and spread to 20 mm thick (about ¾”), then covered with plastic wrap to slow evaporation, giving the conservator about an hour of working time before the gel became too sticky and unworkable. Once the gel softened the coating, it was then removed trowel-like with a piece of cardboard, repeated, then cleared with industrial methylated spirits and wipes. A significant lesson learned about the gel was once it reached 73ºF or more, it became runny, causing the gel to slip off the vertical surfaces being treated, which didn’t allow enough working time to reduce the surface coating adequately. Once treated, the cross section was varnished with a protective layer of Laropal A81. The cross section looked amazing in the after-treatment images. I would encourage everyone to read the article in the post prints as it describes the details of challenges, decision-making, and final outcomes.

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.

Advertisements
Posted in MRCG News | Leave a comment

Observations from the “Gels in Conservation” conference (London, October 2017): Part 2

This is the second 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– new parts will be published twice per week!


Part 2: Richard Wolbers and Paolo Cremonesi

1. conference logo

At an international conference in mid-October, over the course of three days, some 41 authors presented research, techniques and ideas on the use of gels in conservation. The first presentations of the first day kicked off the conference, setting the tone with intriguing philosophical, as well as practical hands-on examples of gels in conservation. The two leading conservation scientists in the field of gels, Richard Wolbers and Paola Cremonesi, each provided an introduction to gels in conservation, what has been done historically, what is currently practiced, and thoughts for the future. Wolbers not only delivered the key note presentation, but spoke several times as collaborator for many of the talks and as a moderator. In his keynote address, Wolbers emphasized minimizing toxicity through substitution of less toxic materials and Cremonesi discussed the characteristics of agar gels and the current work being done with thermo-reversible rigid agar hydrogels.

Bottom line, it seems that the basic goal for many of the case studies that were presented is to find a way to safely use aqueous cleaning systems on water-sensitive materials without damaging the object. A tall order.

2. Wolbers keynote presentation

Richard Wolbers presenting.

Wolbers’ talk, “Gels, Green Chemistry, Gurus and Guides,” provided an overview of gels in conservation, as well as a look towards the future, and emphasized the goal of using “green” chemistry, which involves less waste and is less toxic–something he has been advocating for years. (Click here to watch Wolbers’ talk on YouTube.)

Wolbers said, when confronted with a treatment problem, first determine if a gel is appropriate. Gels keep the gel and its contents in contact longer with the surface; gels make local application controllable or they can serve as a poultice. Naturally, the gel used shouldn’t impact the surface medium, and it should be non-toxic and clean the object. Wolbers listed some of the advantages of solid rigid agar gels: they dissolve in water, improve surface wettability, and have surfactant properties.

Ultimately, to do the best by our objects, we as a field need to continually look to other industries for ideas. For example, the cosmetic industry utilizes green chemistry to reduce exposure to potentially harmful solvents. We need to truly understand what we want to achieve in a particular circumstance and tailor it to our object, rather than relying on a few stock recipes and applying them to all situations. As conservators we must remain agile and stay creative. To do this we must understand the underlying principles of the materials we want to use and the objects we are treating. Conservation needs to be able to gain ideas and experience from other fields, and also be able to create and engineer our own materials to give us the type of control we need.

3. Cremonesi thermo agar cleaning

Paolo Cremonesi presenting.

In Cremonesi’s talk, “Thermo-reversible rigid agar hydrogels: their properties and action in cleaning,”  he listed the advantages of agar gels: how they dissolve in water and improve surface wettability. As compared to gellan gum they have limited adhesion to the surface and, most importantly, leave behind minimal residue. (See M. Sullivan’s paper “Rigid polysaccharide gels for paper conservation: a residue study”). Past drawbacks of agar gels had been that they could only be applied to relatively flat surfaces. However, if the liquid gel is applied (brushed or poured on) just at the moment it starts to thicken, it can be used on a variety of surfaces, planar or not.

(Click here to watch Cremonesi’s talk on YouTube.)

Thermo-reversible gels are often prepared in the microwave to prepare a homogeneous gel. When heated above 80ºF (Cremonesi recommended type E for its low gelling temperature) the gel is liquid and when cooled below 80ºF it is a solid. With increased concentration, the gel becomes stiffer which will slow the release of water from the gel. While in the liquid form it can be poured into receptacles such as a syringe body. Allowed to cool, once solid it can be kept in a “pencil” shape (this slide caused many audience members to swoon) or be cut into small plugs.

4. Cremonesi grated agar

Slide featuring details of grated agar.

At room temperature it can also be grated, with the shaving manipulated for surface cleaning. Enzymes mixed with Agar in a semi-solid state are the most effective form of the material. That said, Cremonesi said gellan gum is more appropriate for works on paper because it’s more flexible and transparent than agar.

One problem I’ve found with using gels (in my case gellan gum) is the formation of tide lines, which made me assume we were doing something wrong. According to both Wolbers and Cremonesi, I was missing a step. They talked about the importance of pre-wetting the surface to be treated with a non-polar solvent (they specifically mentioned D5, a.k.a. decamethylcyclopentasiloxane, a.k.a. cyclomethicone). At first this might seem counterintuitive: how does water work if there’s non-polar solvent in the way? Actually it’s about displacement – oil floats on water – so the water in the gel displaces the non-polar solvent to get to the surface. The non-polar solvent prevents tidelines principally by blocking capillarity. Now it’s all starting to make sense. The same principle was used by Burgio, Rivers, et al. (2008, Studies in Conservation) when consolidating matte paint. On this basis, any non-polar solvent (spot-tested first) should work to prevent tidelines. D5 has the advantage of being a “green” solvent, comes without the H&S hazards associated with hydrocarbon non-polar solvents, and is exceptionally non-polar.

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.

You can find videos and more information about the conference talks on this page: http://academicprojects.co.uk/gels-conference/gels-conference-presentations/

Posted in MRCG News | Leave a comment

Call for Applications: Ohio Preservation Council Professional Development Grant

The Ohio Preservation Council offers awards of up to $1,000 each in support of continuing education for Ohio Students and Professionals with an interest in preserving our cultural heritage. Deadline for applications is March 5th  2018.

The Ohio Preservation Council serves as a coalition of preservationists, conservators, librarians, archivists, curators, records managers, the institutions they represent, and other concerned citizens who recognize the serious threat to documentary heritage. The Council’s mission is to provide a network for preservation education and to support preservation activities within the state of Ohio. The Council believes that cooperative, state-wide efforts across geographic and professional lines are needed to meet preservation challenges.

The Ohio Preservation Council recognizes the value of professional meetings, conferences, and other educational opportunities to advance the field of preservation and provide a forum to voice the need for ongoing stewardship of our documentary heritage. When possible, the OPC shall provide financial support to individuals to develop skills, expand knowledge, and gain experience relevant to the mission and goals of the Ohio Preservation Council.  Applications are due the first Mondays in March and September.

Individuals requesting financial support must meet the following criteria:
• Working in the state of Ohio OR pursuing an advanced degree or certificate in the state of Ohio;
• Working directly in the field of preservation (as described above) OR pursuing a degree or certificate within the field;
• Request is for professional development that clearly relates to preservation issues and/or preservation skills;
• Have not received financial support from the OPC Grant within 3 calendar years.

For more information on how to apply visit: http://opc.ohionet.org/opcjoomla/resources/opc-grant

Download the PDF application here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B4r_dzk412IzV1ZhRE5oY0tJQlE/view?usp=sharing

Posted in MRCG News | Leave a comment

Observations from the “Gels in Conservation” conference (London, October 2017): Part 1

This post is the first 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 an international conference on the use of gels in conservation, including her takeaways and links to videos of many of the presentations on current research in this area. Stay tuned– new parts will be published twice per week!


A few months have passed since I attended the London three-day conference “Gels in Conservation” co-hosted by the Tate and IAP (International Academic Projects, Ltd), better known as James (Jim) Black. You will know him from Archetype Publications; he’s the one who always remembers you.

1. conference logo

The conference was the brainchild of Jim Black and Richard Wolbers, hatched over drinks and Indian food a few years back. They posed the idea, “wouldn’t it be great if we got all the people together working in gels? Scientists, conservators, students, etc., and shared what we know, or were working on in gels?” Apparently they were right, they weren’t they only ones who thought it was a great idea. More than 550 attendees from 39 countries attended the three-day conference. For me, and judging from fellow attendee’s responses, I can tell you it sure felt like a roaring success.

2. gels conference audience

It was one of the most thoughtfully arranged symposiums I’ve ever attended. I suspect Jim Black may well be a genius and I hope other program organizers take note. There were three sessions each day, and each session started off with two or three talks about 25 or 30 minutes in length followed by several 10-minute talks. It kept things fresh and helped avoid listening fatigue. For the most part the 10-minute talks were just as informative as the longer format. At the end of each session the presenters had a panel Q&A with the audience. This gave people a chance to clarify and presenters an opportunity to add detail.

The conference was filmed/recorded, so take heart even if you didn’t get one of the sought-after tickets: you can still virtually attend, albeit slightly after the fact. Having the publication at the conference was brilliant. I can’t emphasize enough how excellent the publication is. It includes the papers from the presentations and the posters with great images. It was very helpful to listen to a talk then be able to refer to the paper immediately. Over the course of three days, some 41 authors presented research, techniques and ideas. Each day the talks were grouped together loosely by theme such as polysaccharide gel systems, which included agars, gellan gum and methyl cellulose, often compared or alone, sometimes with additives like enzymes or chelators. Day two, polysaccharide and polyacrylic gel systems, which included solvent gels, such as pemulen, and the new wave of solvents, silicone solvents. And finally, day three was entitled Novel and Multi gel treatment. Many speakers talked about trying to utilize less toxic materials as an alternative to “traditional” organic and aromatic solvents, moving toward greener alternatives. Authors shared their successes and failures, both being very informative. Many attendees, me included remarked that they really enjoyed the multi-discipline approach, learning what textile conservators and easel painting conservators are doing with the same sort of materials. It was very inspiring and informative.

The overall tone of the conference was one of hopeful optimism and desire for more research and development. Richard Wolbers spoke several times, first as the key note speaker and later as collaborator for many of the authors. He emphasized the need for conservators to look to other industries for potential products, greener or less toxic than what we use now, and to know the materials well enough to tailor them to our own specific needs for each specific treatment challenge. I came away inspired and intrigued. In this and the companion posts coming soon, I hope I can convey some of what I learned and inspire you to obtain the publication and start reading. I will end with my favorite slide of the conference:

3. Your Plan vs Reality

Jodie’s favorite slide: what a research journey really looks like.

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.

Posted in MRCG News | Leave a comment

Introducing the MRCG Symposium Presentation Archives

MRCG is introducing a new website feature: a collection of presentation materials from past MRCG annual meetings. We are kicking off with submitted papers from the 2017 Annual Symposium in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Materials published here are those submitted voluntarily and expressly for this purpose by the authors to facilitate continued dialogue and shared scholarship among conference attendees and Guild members. Access to this password-protected section is a benefit of membership. Visit the Symposium Presentation Archives!

If you are a former presenter and you would like to share your presentation materials with the Guild members, please do! Send an email to the Vice President with a single PDF document of your slides, notes, and/or text in the format you want to be published. Please include the names of all authors, title, date, and where it was presented (“Presented at the Midwest Regional Conservation Guild 2017 Annual Symposium (Cincinnati, Ohio)” or similar).

 

Posted in MRCG News | Leave a comment