Art Conservation Research Project Abstracts (2016-17)


A poster for Camille Beaudoin's research project

A Technical Examination of Two Unattributed Canadian Sketches Possibly Painted by Tom Thomson

Camille Beaudoin

This research project was performed in collaboration with the Agnes Etherington Art Centre and the Art Gallery of Hamilton. These two galleries are working on an upcoming exhibition, which will include two paintings signed with the initials T.T. There is no confirmed attribution for either painting and it is unclear whether these initials were signed by the artist Tom Thomson. This research project focused on technical analysis methods applied to these two sketches, including normal light photography, ultraviolet examination, infrared reflectography (IRR), X-ray photographic examination, and X-ray fluorescence analysis. The equipment used for infrared reflectography and x-radiography belongs to QU-MoLTAH, a mobile laboratory for technical art history run by Professor Ron Spronk at Queen’s University. Scientific examination including micro-sampling, with the agreement of the owners, and scanning electron microscopy-energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (SEM-EDS), were performed to obtain more information about the paint and the technique of the artists. It was essential to compare the results with the related work published by researchers at the Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI). Other published literature regarding the materials used by Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven were used as sources of information for this research project. In conclusion, this research provided information about the materials and techniques of the two paintings, which in some cases corresponded to the information collected by CCI about Thomson’s material and technique. Other results did not correspond completely with CCI’s results on other paintings; however, further analyses are necessary, including the identification of supports. 

A poster for Eliza D. Contreras Cigales' research project

The Technical Analysis of a Log Cabin Quilt from Agnes Etherington Art Centre

Eliza D. Contreras Cigales

The Agnes Etherington Art Centre is steward to the Heritage Quilt Collection, consisting of over 44 textile objects. The Agnes has limited information on the material composition of these quilts and their historical antecedents. This research project involves the technical analysis of the major textiles components of a quilt bearing a log cabin pattern. This project principally looks at the red hearth fabrics, the verso cloth and the batting material that make up the quilt. Information gathered includes the weave structure of the textiles, fibre characterization, and dye and finishes identification. For these purposes, analytical techniques used were optical microscopy, scanning electron microscopy-energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (SEM-EDS), and Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) to carry out fibre characterization. Gas chromatography-mass spectroscopy (GC-MS) completed the analysis of dyes and finishes. The information gathered and material produced, such as mounted samples and sample spectra, expand the existing material characterization libraries of the Master of Art Conservation Program at Queen’s University. The technical analysis of this quilt is supported by the examination of its manufacturing methods and the analysis of its raw materials, which in turn allow for future research that focuses on questions of origin and dating. Finally, robust technical analysis of the quilt informs conservation issues stemming from the object’s current condition and future use, such as differential fabric degradation and preservation and exhibition protocols. 

A poster for Emilie Demers' research project

The Application of Japanese Paper Repairs in the Conservation of Leather Bound Books

Emilie Demers

Since the invention of printing, information dissemination has increased importantly; books have historical importance both in the written word and the materials used for their construction. Bookbinding can give great insight in the bookbinder’s skills, the time period and common practices, the geographical location, the socio-economic situation and many more factors. Looking at the increasing number of books in need of conservation, many techniques have been developed in the last few decades. Knowing the number of books only keeps growing indicates a long future for book conservation and the need for research looking for alternative solutions. In order to accommodate the ever growing demand, such solutions have explored how to create strong and stable repairs which do not require the use of leather. The workmanship of leather preparation is important in the transmission of knowledge. These skills allow for a better comprehension of the materials and how they behave under various conditions through bookbinding, crucial in book conservation. Although the art of bookbinding and leather preparation are important and still considered in conservation, other options include the use of Japanese paper. These options prove to be cost effective and time efficient. Japanese paper is a material commonly found in a great number of labs and has many conservation qualities. During treatment, it may be coated or come in contact with various materials. For the purpose of this research, a selection of three materials were tested on Japanese paper toned with acrylic paint: Cellugel, SC6000, and PVAC. The object of this project is to observe how these materials affect the physical strength of Japanese paper by performing a fold endurance test. In order to observe the viability of such solutions through time, two thirds of the samples underwent accelerated aging. The results from the fold endurance testing show that all the samples decrease in strength after two rounds of aging although the Toned Japanese paper coated with Cellugel and SC6000 had close to the same strength as the unaged sample. Other surprising results were after one round of aging where the Toned Japanese paper increased in strength, as opposed to all the other samples. The Toned Japanese with Cellugel and the Toned Japanese paper with Cellugel, SC6000 and PVAC both decreased drastically. The former after a second round of aging, while the latter after the first round of aging.

A poster for Sara Greenaway's research project

Examining Effects of Ammonium Citrate on Iron Gall Ink

Sara Greenaway

Ammonium citrate has recently started being used by some conservators on iron gall ink documents although the long-term effect of ammonium citrate on iron gall ink is currently unknown. The goal of this research project was to determine whether ammonium citrate has no effect, acts as a chelator or has a negative effect on iron gall ink. The research project had manufactured, artificially aged samples, and historical document samples. The manufactured samples were composed of drops of iron gall ink on Whatman no. 1 filter paper. An untreated control was compared against alkaline-water-treated samples, 0.5% w/v ammonium-citrate-treated samples, 1.0% w/v ammonium-citrate-treated samples and 2% w/v ammonium-citrate-treated samples. Each percentage of ammonium citrate was applied at both pH 7.5 and pH 8.5. X-ray fluorescence (XRF) analysis, pH measurements, bathophenanthroline tests and spectrophotometric measurements were performed on each sample before and after treatment. In general, the pH of the manufactured samples increased slightly while the pH of the Italian historical document samples decreased slightly. No major trends were observed for the French historical document samples. Overall, the majority of the samples tested positive for iron ions before treatment and negative for iron ions after treatment. It is uncertain whether the removed iron ions are soluble acidic compounds, the iron gall ink itself, or both. The removal of these metallic compounds caused many of the samples to darken (a decrease in ΔL*), redden (an increase in Δa*) and yellow (an increase in Δb)* in the manufactured samples while no trends were observed in the French and Italian historical document samples. Only a small percentage of samples showed a significant colour change visible to the naked eye in the overall colour difference, ΔE*ab, of iron gall ink which could indicate that ammonium citrate treatments do not destroy the iron gall ink complex. This preliminary research project is only a first step in determining whether ammonium citrate immersions should be used on iron gall ink documents. Further research is required.

A poster for Almee Hawker's research project

The Technical Analysis and Examination of The Weeping Virgin: a Panel Painting Attributed to Hendrick ter Brugghen 

AImee Hawker

This project was fulfilled in partnership with the Agnes Etherington Art Centre. At the gallery there is a painting with an unconfirmed attribution, which could benefit from further study. The artwork consists of a pair of wood panels painted with oil medium, one panel depicts the Virgin and the other comprises the background; the Virgin panel is inserted into the larger background panel. These paintings have a tentative attribution to Hendrick ter Brugghen and are approximately dated to 1621 for the figure and 1629 for the other compositional elements. This project used analytical methods in order to provide insight into the materials and techniques of the artist. The imaging techniques consisted of ultraviolet radiation and infrared light to provide evidence, such as, the composition of pigment and underlying layers. The analytical methods include x-ray fluorescence (XRF), x-radiography, scanning electron microscopy / energy dispersive x-radiography spectroscopy and gas chromatography – mass spectroscopy. These paintings could also benefit from examination of the wood, either using dendrochronology or identification of the species, for dating evidence. By completing this project the gallery gains valuable insight into the potential pigment and material composition, construction and structure of the artwork, which can lead in the future to increased confidence in attribution. 

A poster for Chloe Houseman's research project

Considerations for the Conservation and Storage of Comic Book Collections 

Chloe Houseman

Unlike other types paper-based of collections, there has been no published attempt to characterize optimum storage conditions for comic books. Considering the inherent vice present in this type of collection (i.e. poor paper quality, rusty staples, etc.) as well as the fact that many large collections of this type are privately owned, good storage is imperative. This research seeks to analyze two types of plastic comic storage sleeves, both when new, and after being aged with historic comic samples. This accelerated aging provided insight into how these bags may degrade, including: color change, physical deformation, and media transfer. Additionally, the experiment sought to determine if a plastic sleeve is an appropriate storage method for older, or otherwise more degraded, comics. The comics were also examined both pre- and post-aging. This study found that polyester bags hold their shape, but are more likely to have ink transfer from the comic books, but polypropylene bags cockle and discolor with minimal ink transfer. This analysis gives private comic collectors especially some insight in selecting the most appropriate storage solution for their collection. 

A poster for Victoria Kablys' research project

The Identification, Characterization, and Reconstruction of a Third-Intermediate Period Egyptian Coffin Using Computed Tomographic (CT) Imaging and Instrumental Analysis

Victoria Kablys

The Master of Art Conservation (MAC) program at Queen’s University recently acquired three Egyptian coffins dating to the Third-Intermediate Period (c.1076–c.723 BC). While preliminary analysis was conducted by students in the MAC program to identify the pigments and layering structure of the coffins’ painted elements, both the types of wood and the construction techniques used in their manufacture remained unexplored. This research project focused on identifying and analyzing the wooden component and layering structure of the MAC program’s 25th Dynasty ‘white’ coffin (AA2190.A) using non-destructive and micro-destructive analytical techniques including: polarizing light microscopy (PLM), portable x-ray fluorescence spectrometry (pXRF), Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR), scanning electron microscopy with energy dispersive x-ray spectroscopy (SEM-EDS), and clinical and micro- computed tomography (CT) imaging. This research served as a pilot project in establishing a framework by which to address the program’s two remaining coffins, while exploring the application of a variety of analytical techniques through multi-disciplinary and collaborative research.  Non-invasive/non-destructive and micro-destructive analytical techniques allowed for the successful characterization of white coffin’s materials, inner structure and method of construction, layering structure, and condition. The results of this research include the identification of the pigments, fibers, and ground layers; the exploration and elucidation of the spline and dowel construction system; the preliminary characterization of the layering structure of the coffin’s preparatory and decorative elements; and the documentation of areas of damage, loss and vulnerability. Information gathered from this study was instrumental in the characterization of the white coffin and its state of preservation, and in contributing information that will guide conservators in establishing the parameters of its conservation treatment.  

A poster for Marie Éve Gaudreau Lamarre's research project

Investigating the Cause of Media-related Conditions Issues Observed within a Selection of Inuit Prints from the Canadian Museum of History's Collection 

Marie Éve Gaudreau Lamarre

The purpose of this study is to determine what is causing media-related condition issues, such as offsetting or haloing, observed with some Inuit prints at the Canadian Museum of History (CMH). The media, support, printing technique and environmental conditions were studied as potential causes. A survey of CMH’s prints, supported by a comparison with prints exhibited or stored in other institutions such as the Winnipeg Art Gallery, looked at storage conditions and display history to determine if any issues are caused by environmental conditions. In addition, archival research offered more insight on techniques and specific products used. It was determined that feathering is not a significant issue, that strikethrough is a normal characteristic of stonecuts printed on Eastern papers, and that haloing is mostly only affecting the first few editions of engravings. Offsetting of the oil binder, by far the most common issue, is presumably caused by inherent vice in the ink; however, the location of the offsetting appears to be influenced by the paper substrate and the storage material in direct contact with the prints. Finally, localized discolouration found on some stonecuts from the late 1970s is suspected to be the result of combined offsetting from several prints catalyzed by past storage conditions. This research project has been conducted as part of an ongoing project at the CMH that aims to characterize materials used to create Inuit prints. The project aimed not only to broaden curators’ and conservators’ knowledge of this traditional and contemporary artistic process but also aimed to benefit Inuit artists and printmakers.

A poster for Mikaela Marchuk's research project

Analysis of Corrosion Products and Superficial Residues to Illuminate the Treatment Histories of Diniacopolous Coins at Queen's University

Mikaela Marchuk

The Diniacopolous Collection is a vast collection of ancient art that can be found exhibited in major international institutions, such as the British Museum. Interest in Queen’s collection of Diniacopolous coins was recently rekindled after the Matariki Network of Universities (MNU) held a 2015 conference, “Digitizing Matariki University Museum Coin Collections”. As a founding member of the MNU, Queen’s University fulfilled the objectives outlined by this conference by examining eleven predominantly cupreous coins from the Diniacopolous Collection. Particularly, this study looked for evidence of past treatments (specifically, coatings and sodium-containing compounds) that were commonly applied to coins. Analytical techniques used in this study included X-ray fluorescence (XRF), Fourier transfer infrared spectroscopy (FTIR), and scanning electron microscopy energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (SEM-EDS).  While XRF and SEM-EDS analysis revealed little information about the treatment histories of the coins, FTIR confirmed that yellow shellac and paraffin wax are present on the surfaces of some specimens in Queen’s possession. Results assisted the University in future efforts to conserve, research and care for similar objects by informing recommendations for future conservation treatments and ongoing preventive care.

A poster for Christina G.A. McLean's research project

Aqueous Immersion Washing: How Colour-Field Painting Morphology is Effected by pH- and Conductivity-Adjusted Water 

Christina G.A. McLean

The basis of this study was to investigate aqueous immersion washing techniques on colour-field painting samples. Colour-field painting emerged as a sub-set of the abstract expressionist movement where artists emptied their work of recognizable form and painted large areas of flat, single colour instead. Colour-field artists often selected acrylic resin or emulsion paints and applied them to raw unprimed cotton canvas. The distinctive techniques of colourfield painting present a unique sub-set of conservation issues not seen with traditional easel paintings. The atypical nature of the works has led to the development of divergent treatment strategies. Aqueous immersion emerged as a treatment option that stemmed from textile conservation practise of the 20th century. Despite being a potential solution for colour-field paintings, this technique still proves to be unpopular due to the shift in conservation ethics. By applying our modern understanding of the effects of aqueous treatments and utilizing current technologies, including both acrylic-safe surfactants and pH- and conductivity-adjusted water, this study investigated whether immersive techniques might be reconsidered in specific circumstances. The experimental data was obtained from polarized light microscopy (PLM), environmental scanning electron microscopy (ESEM), Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FT-IR), and colour and gloss measurements. These analytical techniques were used to holistically evaluate the effects that immersive treatments, with pH- and conductivity-adjusted water, have on the morphology of Bocours Magna acrylic resin paints. Bocours Magna acrylic paints were selected due to their chemical divergence and popularity amongst the colour-field artists. This investigation sought to answer two questions: 1) to what extent immersion washing can lead to the leaching of soluble components from acrylic resin paints; and 2) what morphological changes occur with immersive cleaning. The results of all testing scenarios indicated little significant morphological change with aqueous immersion. Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR) revealed leaching of more soluble components in uncontrolled distilled water, which would indicate the need for pH- and conductivity-adjusted water as well as acrylic-safe surfactants.