Art History & Art Conservation

Department of Art History & Art Conservation

Art Conservation Research Projects  2018/2019


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

Camille Beaudoin

Evaluating the Reversibility of Jade R for Conservation Treatments 

Sara Bardovagni

Jade R is a polyvinyl acetate/ethylene copolymer dispersion (VAE), making it a subtype of polyvinyl acetate polymers (PVAC). Jade R’s purpose is much like that of Jade 403, another VAE dispersion, since it is meant to be used primarily as a consolidant or adhesive in conservation treatments. However, Jade R distinguishes itself from previous Jade products by being reversible in water after it has dried as a film. Jade R is commonly used for repairing tears in canvases in painting conservation, and it may also have potential use in paper and book conservation for tear repairs and rebinding projects. The goal of this project is to provide conservators with preliminary information about Jade R’s stability and reversibility as it ages so that they will be better informed in making future conservation treatment decisions with this adhesive. To achieve this goal, the possible aging characteristics of the following properties of Jade R have been evaluated before and after accelerated light degradation: 1) Reversibility in ethanol, acetone, xylenes, and water  2) pH  of dried film extract  3) Composition of Jade R and its soluble components 4) Degree of yellowness 

To conclude, Jade R is quite stable according to aging tests done in this project, as it maintains an alkaline pH and resists yellowing in the short-term. It has also been revealed that lantic sugar is used as and additive in Jade R. Unfortunately, reversibility tests conducted in this project did not have conclusive results. Nonetheless Jade R’s chemical properties and short-term stability make it a very promising adhesive in conservation. Thus, further aging studies, perhaps with varied mixtures of solvents and water, should be conducted to learn more about this VAE adhesive. 


Photo of Sarah Alford

Alternative Antifungal Agents: The Effects of Essential Oils on Acrylic Emulsion Paint

Elizabeth Couling

There is no current method to effectively kill or inhibit active mould on an acrylic paint surface without causing some degree of further damage. In recent studies, bioactive essential oils have been used to successfully kill and inhibit active mould growth on cultural objects. In this study, the comparative effects of Origanum vulgare (oregano) essential oil and ethanol (70% in water) on acrylic emulsion paint films were evaluated. Optical changes in the paint films were monitored using both glossimetry and colorimetry and through the evaluation of surface morphologies. In their volatile states, both reagents induced some paint swelling. Significant change, however, occurred in only one case: young titanium white paint films exposed to ethanol (70%) for twenty-four hours, which underwent a permanent visible increase in surface gloss. Exposure to either reagent in its liquid state caused significant surface changes in the paint films, most extreme in the case of O. vulgare. In practice, mould remediation is most often performed by administering a liquid mist of polar organic solvent onto the affected surfaces, whereas essential oils are applied as a vapour. The results of this study show that exposure to the vapours of O. vulgare essential oil cause less optical changes in acrylic emulsion paint films than exposure to liquid ethanol (70%), or no perceptible change at all. Further research should evaluate the effects of extended durations of exposure to the essential oil, potential changes in the acrylic paint’s mechanical properties, and the possibility and implications of essential oil residues. 

Camille Beaudoin

A Potential New Fill Material for Ceramics: Determining the Suitability of La Doll Clay

Sally Gunhee Kim

The purpose of this study was to test the potential of a commercial product, La Doll Clay, as a fill material for ceramics. La Doll Clay is an air-dry clay manufactured by Padico Co., Ltd. and is distributed in North America by Activa Products Inc. La Doll Clay has been widely used in the global community of professional doll artists, but not in the field of art conservation, at least within English-speaking countries. The clay has unique working properties that make it a prospective substitute for plaster of Paris as a fill material for ceramics. This commercial clay air-dries with minimal shrinkage, is very pliable, is miscible with water, adheres to various substrates (e.g. glass, plastic, wood), and readily accepts acrylic, oil and water-based paints. Even when dry, additional clay can be added with a few drops of water. When solidified, La Doll Clay can be sanded into a smooth finish. Unfortunately, the chemical composition and mechanical properties of the clay are not publicly released, nor have they been investigated specifically for the treatment of ceramics. Thus, the chemical components in the clay were identified with x-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectroscopy, Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy and polarized light microscopy (PLM). Also, the physical properties of the substrate were measured using Vickers hardness, three-point bending and volume shrinkage tests. The findings were then compared with those of plaster of Paris for effectiveness in treating areas of loss. The clay was concluded to be not a good substitute for plaster of Paris.  


Photo of Sarah Alford

Exploring André Biéler's Use of the 'Mixed Technique' in Wartime Market

Martha Griffith

Set against the backdrop of the second world war, 150 artists and cultural workers from across Canada met in Kingston, Ontario, to discuss art materials and the role of the artist in society. During the 1940s, several Canadian painters experimented with the ‘mixed technique’ including André Biéler, the conference organizer.  Biéler was an influential artist in Canada and a professor at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario for 27 years. As such, his artistic technique, use of materials and instructional methods influenced other artists of the period. In collaboration with the Agnes Etherington, this research investigated Biéler’s use of the ‘mixed technique’ in his 1943 painting Wartime Market. Wartime Market was examined through archival research and technical analysis to determine if his didactic materials reflected his own painting practice. Technical analysis began with photographic documentation and examination to identify potential coatings and underdrawings. Photographic techniques included normal light photography, ultraviolet examination, infrared reflectography and X-radiography. Further analysis included cross-section analysis to identify the painting’s layer structure, X-ray fluorescence (XRF) to identify prominent pigments and Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) to identify the binding agents. Next, a partial replica was painted based on Biéler’s didactic materials found in the Queen’s University Archives. Samples from the replica were artificially aged and compared to samples from Wartime Market using FTIR analysis. Analytical results and the results of the painted replicas indicated that Biéler likely used a natural resin and a protein, such as dammar and egg, for his binder. Additionally, Biéler may have used linseed oil in the binder, but results are inconclusive with FTIR. Lastly, cross-section and photographic examination revealed that Biéler applied his paint in a series of layers that he called the ‘indirect method,’ as outlined in his teaching materials. 


Camille Beaudoin

Consolidating Brittle Ink: Technical Analysis and Treatment of an Early 20th Century Serigraph 

Jessica Lau

The Painters of Canada Christmas Card Series (c. 1931) was an early endeavour by the Canadian graphic art company Sampson-Matthews Ltd. (1918-1980) to produce serigraphs that would popularise the works of Canadian artists throughout the nation.  However, due to the economic instability of the time, the series was a financial failure and the surviving cards now remain scarce.  One of these serigraphs, The Red Canoe by J.E.H. Macdonald, was deposited for conservation treatment by a private client to the paper conservation lab at Queen’s University. The media layer of the print showed a severe state of deterioration, with major areas of delamination and cracking.  The goal of this project was to determine an approach for the consolidation of thick brittle ink on paper, and to minimize testing on the original print by creating artificially aged mockup samples.  A technical analysis of the materials and methods of The Red Canoe was therefore carried out, with a primary focus on the identification of the binder.  Scanning electron microscopy/ energy dispersive x-ray spectroscopy (SEM/EDS), Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR), and x-ray fluorescence spectroscopy (XRF) were used to identify two pigments: ultramarine blue and lithopone (i.e. barium sulfate and zinc sulfide).  Zinc carboxylate salt was also identified in the FTIR spectrum, but the identity of the binder remained inconclusive.  Mockup samples could not be created due to insufficient results, and testing was instead carried out on minimally invasive areas of the print. 


Photo of Sarah Alford

Accumulative Ritual Surfaces on Yaka, Teke and Bidjogo Figures: Ethical Considerations and Material Analysis  

Charlotte Parent

The historic arts of Africa take on many critical roles in their communities of origin: they are instruments of knowledge, bridges between the living and the ancestral or spiritual, agents of memory, implements of private and social well-being, and actors in the political life of a community. The meaning and spiritual value of African figures is rooted in their use, which is often visible in the form of ritual materials accumulated on their surfaces. When those African objects entered Western collections, they often did so without proper documentation or provenance information. Concerns about the degradation of accumulative surfaces and about their potential harmful effects on other objects within collections are hard to address without adequate knowledge of their composition. This project focuses on three wooden figures from the Justin and Elisabeth Lang Collection of African Art of the Agnes Etherington Art Centre: a Phuungu figure (Yaka people, Democratic Republic of the Congo - M84-330), a Butti power figure (Teke people, Democratic Republic of the Congo - M84-408) and an Iran figure (Bidjogo people, Guinea-Bissau - M84-369). These ritual objects display a range of pre-collection accumulative surfaces. This project looks into these accumulative surfaces: their material composition and the ethical implications of identifying their constituent components. Much effort was placed in conducting a project which is culturally appropriate and which seeks to preserve both the tangible and intangible aspects of the objects. Art historical and ethnographical research informed decisions as to how far conservation research can reasonably go in its quest for scientific knowledge in the case of these sensitive objects. In order to perform scientific analysis of the objects, X-radiography, Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR), X-ray fluorescence (XRF), chemical spot tests and polarized light and stereo microscopy were used. Combining these analytical techniques provided information about the types of materials present as well as the structure (stratigraphy) of the surfaces. The substances identified on the three figures include oil or fat, waxes, resin or gum, proteinaceous materials (including blood), camwood, starch, charred organic material, ground vegetable material, quartz, pumice, and clay materials. It is hoped that the information gained in the course of this project will facilitate the preventive care of the three figures, allow for a better understanding of under-studied objects within the collection of the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, add to the conservation literature regarding the nature of accumulated materials on African objects, and contribute to the development of culturally-appropriate research methods in conservation.  


Camille Beaudoin

Using Electrochemical Impedance Spectroscopy to Measure Potential Coating Failure Caused by Variable Environmental Conditions 

Carina Profir

Metals exposed to variable and uncontrollable environmental conditions are typically coated in order to protect them and maintain their longevity. Electrochemical impedance spectroscopy (EIS) is a non-destructive method that has been used to measure and predict the performance of a coating on metal. In the context of cultural heritage, EIS has been used extensively to test a number of coatings, especially on bronzes. There has been less published on the use of EIS to test coatings on iron and steel artifacts, which can include anything from historical artifacts, industrial objects, or contemporary sculpture. The quality of a coating depends on a number of factors, including application methods, and temperatures and humidity levels under which the coating should be applied, as recommended by specific manufacturer instructions. However, because of time, budget, and other factors, conservators and heritage technicians may be required to apply these paints or coatings under less than ideal conditions, thus compromising the quality of the coating. EIS was used to detect differences in the performance of wax coatings applied to steel coupons under two environmental conditions: 1) ambient conditions in a conservation laboratory (18 - 20°C, 31 - 32% RH) and 2) outdoor conditions in a residential area (0°C, 50 - 68% RH). EIS measurements of the coupons were taken before and after accelerated aging in a temperature and relative humidity chamber, for a period of 20 days. Preliminary results show great variability in impedance values, Z, from between coupons and coupon set, with higher values for coatings applied outdoors, overall.  


Photo of Sarah Alford

A Technical Examination of an Autographed Berthe Des Clayes Painting Compared to an Unsigned Painting of Possibly the Same Authorship 

Raphael Shea

This research project was initiated after a private art collector believed that two paintings that he and his wife owned looked to be by the hand of the same artist. Both were oil paintings on panel circa 1920 which appeared to be plein air oil sketches depicting scenes from the French coast. Both showed heavy impasto and were painted with a similar gestural manner while showing some similarities in the color palette. One painting was an autographed painting by the Scottish/Canadian artist Berthe Des Clayes; the other was an unsigned painting with the possibility of the same authorship. Using scientific analysis, this technical examination compared the two paintings to determine how similar the methods and materials were. The technical methods of analysis included normal light examination and photography including raking light, ultraviolet radiation, infrared reflectography, and x-radiography. X-ray fluorescence analysis (XRF) was used to analyze the ground and pigment layers. Scientific analysis involved micro samples taken to produce material for infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) and for cross-section analysis with polarized light microscopy (PLM). Further, environmental scanning electron microscopy-energy dispersive x-ray spectroscopy (ESEM-EDS) was employed to better determine the elemental composition of the ground and pigment layers found in the sampled cross sections. The methods of analysis produced many similarities between the paintings, including very similar paint application and layering structure. Other similarities included many common pigments and their use in similar paint layers. FTIR produced strikingly similar spectra from samples taken from each painting. The technical data suggested a consistency between the two works, possibly indicating that the unsigned painting could be by Berthe Des Clayes. 



Photo of Sarah Alford

The Characterization of Hand-Coloured Woodcuts Using Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) Authorship 

Emily White

For hundreds of years, woodcuts have been appreciated for their two-dimensional black-and-white design, although they were frequently made to be hand-coloured. The colour applied to these prints, especially to those produced in the early modern period, has been derided or ignored by writers, omitted from reproductions and catalogues, and even washed off by some collectors. Only recently have scholars begun to overturn the assumption that the addition of colour was secondary to the printing process. Investigations into the language used to describe coloured prints, the roles of production and materials used in printing studios, and the function of prints as objects in the early modern period, have considered the role of colour in early printing. Despite this increased interest, few technical studies have examined how non-invasive imaging techniques can enhance our understanding of coloured print production. This research investigated whether the computational photography technique, reflectance transformation imaging (RTI), can be used to effectively characterize the processes used to hand-colour woodcuts. A woodcut edition was printed, hand-coloured with and without a stencil, and imaged with RTI. The resulting files were analyzed for evidence of colouring processes on the print surface. Analysis showed that RTI is likely unnecessary to characterize hand-colouring processes but revealed that RTI could be useful for the documentation and technical analysis of stencil-coloured woodcuts. 


Photo of Sarah Alford

The Effects of Saltwater Salvage on Acidic Paper: Abstract 

Alexandra K. Zmijowskyj 

After the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, there were incidents of flooding wherein mould growth was observed on paper objects left in high humidity conditions, but this mould growth was not observed in a saltwater logged paper in the same room. Consequent studies have been carried out on copy paper to assess the efficacy and protocol for using saltwater in disaster recovery situations. However, the lasting effects of such saltwater interactions have not been investigated. This particular research examined the effects of the saltwater salvage treatment on an acidic, wood pulp paper, acting as a representative example of materials that would be found in a library or archival collection. Samples were immersed in a 3.5% aqueous solution of NaCl and then artificially aged in sealed glass tubes at a constant, elevated temperature. The tensile strength, moisture content, thickness, and pH of the samples that have undergone the saltwater salvage process were measured and compared to a control sample to evaluate the impact of the saltwater on the paper. The submersion of paper samples in a salt bath followed by a rinse in distilled water was found to have made the paper stronger and more alkaline than if it was submerged in distilled water alone. These results suggest that the saltwater salvage method, when carried out with a sufficient rinse, does not adversely affect acidic paper.