Art History & Art Conservation

Department of Art History & Art Conservation

Art Conservation Research Projects  2017 - 2018


Projects are listed in alphabetical order by students surname, click on image to view poster larger:

Bronwyn Bond's research poster

An Investigation of Christiane Pflug's Works of Art on Paper

Bronwyn Bond

Christiane Pflug (1936-1972) is an important German-born Canadian artist who has become known for her unique detailed drawings and magical realist painting style. Her artistic beginnings began in 1953 when she went to study fashion design in Paris, France. During this time, she met her future husband Michael Pflug who encouraged her to pursue painting. Christiane relocated to Tunis, Africa in 1956 and immigrated to Canada in 1959. These transitions significantly influenced the subject matter of her work which centered on themes of her surrounding environment and her domestic interior spaces. Many of the works she produced in her short life now reside at several public Canadian art collections.

The purpose of this research was to conduct a technical examination of her art, with a focus on those on paper, housed at the Agnes Etherington Art Center (AEAC). Non-invasive methods were used to identify her material preferences and trace her artistic developments as she moved from Europe to Africa, and then to Canada. These methods included stereomicroscopy as well as technical imaging using visible light photography, raking light photography, transmitted light photography, infrared (IR) photography, IR reflectography (IRR) and ultraviolet-induced visible fluorescence (UVF) photography. At the same time, this research explored the function of Christiane’s works, specifically, her graphite drawings and their relationship to her oil paintings on canvas. Ultimately, this project hopes to generate interest in this under-recognized artist and contribute to the limited body of knowledge surrounding her work.



Plump and Pliant: Fluid Retention in the Preservation of Cellulose-Based Bioart

Courtney Books

Textile bioartists often seek to extend the life spans of biomaterials subject to quick deterioration (e.g. rose-petal tapestries, cellulose-based leather). In compliance with the environmental safety of open-gallery display, bioart must be neutralized of biological activity, demanding the development of preservation methods that provide: 1) for the artist, a retention of the textile material as a plastic, pliant form and 2) for the conservator, the transfer of non-toxic, anti-biodeteriogen, and non-hygroscopic properties to the material.

Intersecting spheres of heritage conservation and material creation, this research presents the results of collaboration between the Art Conservation Program at Queen’s University and textile artist WhiteFeather Hunter at the Speculative Life Biolab, Concordia University. As a preliminary study, the goal was to create an immersion treatment for cellulosic biofilm to exist externally from containment while preserving life-like qualities of pliancy and fluid retention.

Immersion treatments were designed to reduce hygroscopicity and to minimize cellular-wall damage experienced by the biofilms during and after dehydration. Specific materials were tested for their physiochemical performances: collagen as plasticizers, polyols as consolidants, and either sugars or polyether compounds as preservatives. Procedural testing included sterilization and cyclic osmotic treatments (dehydration and immersion transfer of fluids via capillarity) applied to the biofilm test substrate: a yeast-derived, acetic acid bacterial cellulose. Technical analysis included ASTM cantilever bend tests to evaluate pliancy, mass/weight calculations to indicate fluid retention, and polarized light microscopy (PLM) to examine surface structure and cell integrity using microscopy cross-sections. Successful results produced a new form of treated bacterial cellulose that is water-resistant and exhibited an increase in flexibility and tensile strength. This treated cellulose, similar to latex in texture and tensile behavior, may offer applications within textile arts, art conservation, and biomedical fields.



Julia campbell-Such Poster

Nothing About Us, Without Us: Preserving the Belle Park Pole

Julia Campbell-Such

The Totem Pole at Belle Park in Kingston, Ontario was carved and painted in 1973 by members of the Native Brotherhood at Joyceville Institution and given to the city of Kingston on the 300th anniversary of colonial settlement in the area. Native Brotherhoods were inmate-run, grass-roots organizations formed to address the social, political, economic and cultural problems that have led to the incarceration of disproportionate numbers of indigenous people in the Canadian prison system. One focus of their activism was the revival of indigenous cultural and artistic traditions. The Belle Park pole is an important historical monument to the early days of this movement, as well as an important record of the history of Indigenous-settler relationships in the region. This project is a technical analysis of this monumental outdoor wooden sculpture, informed by ethical considerations surrounding the conservation of Indigenous art. Investigations centered on identification of the materials used to construct the pole and the extent of their degradation, but also considered intangible characteristics of the artwork. Archival research and community consultations allowed the research to contextualize this sculpture and spark discussions between the Indigenous community and the City of Kingston regarding the significance of the work. An analysis of the structural stability of the pole was conducted using the resistograph instrument. Analysis of paint samples was conducted using x-ray fluorescence (XRF) and Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR). Microscopic analysis of wood samples was used to identify the species of wood used and characterize deterioration of the surface. The objective of this analysis was to provide the City of Kingston with data to inform any future conservation work on the pole, and to collaborate with the Kingston Indigenous community to advocate for the preservation of this monument.


Sarah Duffy Poster

A Technical Examination of Three Photo-Transfer prints by Wendy Simon

Sarah Duffy

The Agnes Etherington Art Centre (AEAC) is home to three photo-transfer prints created by the Montreal-based artist Wendy Simon (1946-2002). These works of art on paper are titled; Pear Around, an oversized blue-coloured print with red crayon additions; Audeladesfemmes 1, a black and white print with layered papers and; etude en trois ecorces, a composite, tri-coloured print. A combination of documentary, observational and analytical techniques have been used to form a technical analysis of these three works for the purpose of identification and to gain insight into Simon’s process. An additional 22 works from the AEAC collection were selected and documented to form a reference collection for comparison and identification. The Simon works have been photographed using reflected light, raking light, UV illumination and infrared photography, with associated condition reports produced to inform their formation. Sampling and analysis of paper and adhesive samples has also been conducted to identify paper types and the adhesive tapes used. These methods positively identified Pear Around as a cyanotype, Audeladesfemmes 1 as a photo-transfer etching, and etude en trois ecorces as a chine collé print. Condition issue have been highlighted and reported to the AEAC for their consideration.


Brendan Finney Poster

An Investigation into the Use of Ionic Liquids for the Removal of Surface Coatings: Improving the Cleaning Efficiency of Isopropanol with 10Ethyl-3methylimidazolium Ethyl Sulfate

Brendan Finney

The substitution of toxic, volatile organic solvents for ionic liquids may hold several advantages for practising conservators, as ionic liquids like 1-ethyl-3-methylimidazolium ethyl sulfate are practically non-volatile, completely non-toxic, and non-irritating. In 2013, Pacheco et al. published their results on the first use of ionic liquids as alternatives for organic solvents in the removal of varnish from painted surfaces. The results showed promise, but several time-consuming applications of prohibitively expensive ionic liquids were necessary to remove test coatings. More recent research on the properties of ionic liquids as solvents suggested that binary mixtures of ionic liquids and organic solvents may prove more effective at solvating these coatings than ionic liquids alone, while only using a fractional proportion of ionic liquid. By combining the well-known properties of isopropanol with the ionic liquid 1-ethyl-3-methylimidazolium ethyl sulfate, new low-toxicity solvent mixtures may be formed that mimic the qualities of so-called ‘stronger,’ and often noxious, organic solvents. Mixtures of isopropanol and 1-ethyl-3-methylimidazolium ethyl sulfate were first characterized by spectroscopic determination of Kamlet-Taft (KAT) parameters. Solvent mixtures were then tested on naturally aged varnish sample boards made at the Canadian Conservation Institute in 1994 and several historical works in the Queen’s Masters of Art Conservation study collection. Clearance testing was undertaken with Rhodamine 123. Results suggest that this binary mixture is not effective, and that ionic liquids should be used with caution on paint surfaces due to clearance issues.


Marissa Monette poster

Integrating 2-D and 3-D Models for Documenting a Third Intermediate Period Egyptian (White Type) Coffin 

Marissa Monette

Conservators and related professionals in the field of cultural heritage are collaborating with specialists in computer science and geography to advance the application of imaging techniques in cultural heritage that enable a greater understanding of materials, original use, and construction of artifacts. This research project focuses on applying techniques from these interdisciplinary collaborations in the context of object conservation by using 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional imaging techniques to analyze a Third Intermediate White Type Egyptian coffin lid dating from the 25th Dynasty (8th-7th century BCE). The primary goal is to integrate the enhanced internal structural information from computed tomographic (CT) scanning and surface topographical information gained from photogrammetry using the open source software CHER-Ob (Cultural Heritage Object), developed by Yale University's Computer Graphics Group. The intention behind the standardization of a digital workflow for the integration and preservation of the digital models, specifically the head model is to produce a usable workflow from this project for the remaining seventeen fragments of this Egyptian White Type coffin lid. The integrated models in CHER-Ob, combined with the results from previous analytical studies of the coffin lid fragments, offers a template of integrated photogrammetry and CT data in the visual sense only. This improves upon the accessibility of using this data for condition mapping for conservation and treatment reports.  The information gleaned from the integration of the digital models with CHER-Ob relates to the limitations of open source software within the cultural heritage sector operating as a single entity. 


valerie moscato's poster

Coveting Coughtry: A Technical Analysis of Constituent Binders in Three Graham Coughtry Paintings 

Valerie Moscato

The arrival of three paintings by Canadian artist Graham Coughtry (1931-1999) at the Queen’s University Master of Art Conservation program prompted this investigation into the artist’s practice. The paintings, which date from the 1950s and early 60s, were created in a period of Canadian art marked by a rebellion against figurative modes of representation and the integration of new, commercially developed painting materials. Coughtry, who is known for his reconciliation of the human figure with the period’s demand for abstraction, participated in the exploration of new paint media by combining traditional oil paints and Lucite 44, a poly(n-butyl methacrylate) resin. By characterizing the artist’s use of these binding media within the three paintings, this project seeks to better understand Coughtry’s working methods and contribute to the larger narrative of experimental paint use in Canada during the 1950s and 60s. Each painting underwent non-destructive examination documented via photography in visible reflected light, raking light, ultraviolet-induced fluorescence (UVF), and infrared reflectography (IR). Minimally invasive analysis of paint samples from each painting was performed first by plane polarized light microscopy (PLM) and ultraviolet microscopy (UVM) to understand the paintings’ layering structures, while analysis via Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) was performed to characterize the binding media. A method for determining a relative concentration of the constituent binders in the paint media was designed by comparing the spectra of prepared test films combining linseed oil and Lucite 44 in known concentrations to the spectra of paint samples with perceived Lucite 44 application. This analysis is contextualized by archival research of materials from the artist’s estate, informal interviews with members of the artist’s network, and FTIR analysis of Coughtry’s paintings with known Lucite 44 application from the National Gallery of Canada (NGC) in partnership with the Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI). While this research helped to inform the paintings’ conservation treatments by characterizing the materials present, the project could be beneficial for the broader understanding and care of Canadian artworks from this period. 




Lauren Osmond research poster

Light-Induced Change in the Structural Colour of Jewel Beetle Elytra on Textiles

Lauren Nadine Osmond

In the mid-nineteenth century, iridescent Jewel beetle elytra were used to adorn textiles being produced in India, specifically for British export. The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) owns many of these luxurious objects in their South Asia collections and continues to acquire such objects. During the conservation treatment of a nineteenth-century beetle elytra skirt panel (4411(IS)) at the V&A, it was observed that the colour of the elytra had shifted from a vibrant green to blue-violet where the elytra had been exposed to light, likely while being on display for decades after it was acquired in 1858. Many loose elytra from the textile had distinct stripes across the surface where embroidery thread had blocked the light. The iridescence and colour in this type of beetle, Buprestidae Julodinae Sternocera aequisignata, is structurally produced by many layers of chitin-protein fibres, meaning that this change in colour is the result of a structural change in the elytron microstructure. To inquire into this phenomenon, experiments were completed to replicate the colour shift. Modern beetle elytra of the same species were sourced and artificially aged by subjecting them to high exposure of light, temperature and relative humidity. These elytra were examined before and after aging using confocal microscopy to observe and measure the changes in the layering structure of the elytra. A preliminary survey of the beetle embellished textiles found in the V&A’s South Asia collection was also incorporated into this research project in an effort to provide insight into other contributing factors to this colour change, and also to provide guidance in future conservation treatments and methods of storage and display.  


Colette Peavy poster

Gellan Gum as a Cleaning Agent for Albumen Photographs: A Preliminary Study 

Colette Hardman-Peavy

Aqueous immersion is sometimes used to clean badly degraded albumen photographs. Previous research has shown that the introduction of moisture causes an increase of cracking within the albumen layer of the photograph, and can result in a decrease in gloss and change in surface texture. Gellan gum, increasingly used as a cleaning method by paper conservators may be a more controlled alternative to aqueous cleaning treatments, such as immersion. This project studies the physical effects that gellan gum has on albumen prints, focusing specifically on the cracking within the albumen layer.  Increase in crack size, number of cracks, surface gloss, and change in surface texture were measured prior to the use of the gel, as well as afterwards. The gellan gum was analyzed using Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy to look for evidence of albumen and gelatin proteins. The results were compared to one another to determine which gel may be most effective for this treatment.  Gloss measurements were examined in an effort to determine if treatment with gellan gum was less detrimental than aqueous immersion.  Results of the study were mixed, but crack length, width, and number increased in all cases and gloss decreased.  This study should be seen as a preliminary investigation into gellan gum, and more study is needed to determine whether it is a viable cleaning option for albumen photographs.



Ground Stone Technology: Material Characterization of a Lithic Collection at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre

Paige Van Tassel

The purpose of this project was to use non-destructive and minimally invasive methods of analysis to characterize the materials used in production of the lithic pieces in a collection at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre donated by Archibald E. Malloch (1844-1919). The aim of this project is to create a methodical approach to studying these archeological objects and the possible eventual re-housing of these objects to the source community. This project examines the lithic collection with several instrumental techniques such as a stereomicroscope for surface analysis, X ray fluorescence (XRF) spectroscopy and polarized light microscopy (PLM). This project has contributed to the understanding of the lithic pieces in the Agnes collection and allow other scholars to further research the pieces. The aim of this project was to aid other scholars in their art historical, archaeological, and anthropological research in the provenance and techniques used in the production of ground stone tools.  The results of this research project have allowed the Agnes Etherington Art Centre to publish the photos on their website to be accessible to a large audience who is interested in ground stone technology and production. The XRF and PLM results can be used by other scholars to further analyze semi-qualitative date from the XRF results and definitive material stone types from the PLM results.