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Seeing in Different Ways: A Liz Magor Backpack Project
Seeing in Different Ways:
A Liz Magor Backpack Project

Why Paper Discolours (Part 2)
Why Paper Discolours (Part 2)

Why Paper Discolours (Part 1)
Why Paper Discolours (Part 1)

Mending a Tear in an Aboriginal Drum
Mending a Tear in an Aboriginal Drum

Distortions and Dimensional Changes
in Paper (Part 3)
Distortions and Dimensional Changes
in Paper (Part 3)

Distortions and Dimensional Changes
in Paper (Part 2)

Distortions and Dimensional Changes
in Paper (Part 1)

After treatment
Oscar Cahén: Innovative Conservation
for an Innovative Artist

Rigid Water Gels: New Treatment Options for Paper Conservators

Structural Remedies for Canvas Paintings

Organizing and Preserving Collections - Part 4: Digital-based Material

Organizing and Preserving Collections - Part 3: Photo-based Material

Organizing and Preserving Collections - Part 2: Paper-based Material

First Steps
Organizing and Preserving Collections - Part 1: The First Steps

Natural Dyes
The Use of Natural Dyes in Textile Conservation

A Relocation Project

Challenges of Preserving Contemporary Artwork

Preserve Your Investment through Art Conservation

A Project Completed: Heritage Preserved

Old and New Methods for Cleaning Paintings

I Can See Clearly Now – Or Can I? Part 2

I Can See Clearly Now – Or Can I?

The E.J. Hughes Mural: An Expanded Project

Is She or Is She Not an Emily

Treating Art with Sensitive Media

Malaspina Mural: An Update

For the Artist: Testing Your Materials

Conservator as Art Historian

Alum Sizing and the Art of W.J. Phillips

Treatment of an Elizabeth Keith Wood Block Print

Structural Treatment of an Emily Carr

The Treatment of a Monumental Wall Hanging

Changing Images

Preserving a Rare Record

Gold Leaf: Imitation and Genuine

The Case Against Canvas Backings

Heritage Colours: Research Discovers Original Colours

Lighting Your Art: Balancing Seeing and Protecting

The Double-Sided Emily Carr Painting

Choosing a Period Picture Frame

How to Identify a Picture Frame

Stretching Canvas and Restretching Artwork

Mounting Textiles

Aging Paintings:
Some Causes and Effects

Chine Collé Prints

What's Your Favourite Color?

Backing Removals

Rips, Holes and Tears

Filling in the Gaps

DIY – Preventative Care of Paintings

Frame it Right

Fire, Water and Smoke-Damaged Paintings

Inherent Vice

Saturated Problems:
A Water-Damaged Painting

Moldy Paper

Conserving Time

Conserving Paper: Dos and Don'ts

Repair of Textiles

Conserving Wood

Rescuing Endangered Murals

Repairing Acid-Matte Burn

Art Services & Materials
Exhibition Openings & Events

Conservation Corner Back

Richard Wolbers

Richard Wolbers, Associate Professor in the Art Conservation Department at the University of Delaware, leads aworkshop on the cleaning of painted surfaces at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

Wolbers' World: Excellent – A Workshop Review

by Rebecca Pavitt
Fine Art Conservation

In March 2012, the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG) hosted a three-day workshop on the cleaning of painted surfaces by Richard Wolbers, Associate Professor in the Art Conservation Department at the University of Delaware, where he is also working on a PhD on groundbreaking conservation techniques for works in acrylic paint. With a background in science as well as studio art, Wolbers has revolutionized the way paintings and, by extension, paper, textiles and objects are cleaned. At the VAG workshop, we received the benefit of his latest research; the mornings were spent at lectures and the afternoons were spent testing and experimenting with materials in the lab.

The first day was designated for reviewing basic cleaning chemistry: pH, buffers, surfactants and chelators. Day two dealt with gel delivery systems for aqueous solutions and organic solvents with a focus on gels made from xanthan gum (bacteria derived), agarose (seaweed derived), Pemulen TR2 (polyacrylic acid), and Velvesil Plus (silicone crosspolymer).

Xanthan gum (2% weight/volume in water) forms a viscous gel which is stable over a wide pH and temperature range. Additional materials can be added to make custom cleaning poultices. Xanthan gum gels can also hold non-polar solvents in intermolecular pockets (oil in water emulsion), a property which has the potential to greatly reduce the conservator’s exposure to solvent. These gels rinse well, which makes them suitable for use on paper and textiles. Agarose (purified agar) is most useful when used as a rigid gel (about 4% weight/volume in water). In this state it can be used as a molecular sponge to deliver, and then remove, aqueous cleaning solutions to and from porous substrates.

Pemulen TR2 is an alkyl acrylate crosspolymer that can be used to make oil in water emulsions. Organic solvents can be added up to about 20% volume/volume. Because of rinsing problems, Pemulen gels are not recommended for porous materials.

The final gel to be covered was Velvesil Plus, a real showstopper. It is a silicone polyether copolymer that can be mixed with both polar solvents (including aqueous solutions) and non-polar solvents, up to about 20% each. This very unique material is a thick waxy gel that can be painted on small areas with great precision. It can be used as a type of “dry” poultice to deliver and then remove tiny amounts of water, or aqueous solutions, to water-sensitive items such as parchment and acrylic paintings. It can also be used to draw out solvent-soluble materials such as ballpoint pen marks from solvent-sensitive surfaces.

Day three of the workshop covered solvent-based Carbopol (acrylic-alkene-ether polymer) gels, and a review of the Teas diagram, which is used to determine what materials a solvent is likely to soften or dissolve. Wolbers is actually moving away from these solvent gels as he feels that most cleaning can be done using the materials described above. His goal is to simplify conservation treatments to make them more safe for both the object and the conservator. His systems can drastically reduce the amount of organic solvents used in conservation, and he substitutes the most toxic solvents with safer alternatives. Benzyl alcohol, for example, can be mixed with mineral spirits to approximate the solubility parameters of xylene.

I thank the VAG conservation staff and Nadine Powers for organizing this extremely worthwhile event which has inspired me to retool my lab and to start experimenting with this brave new world of Wolbers.

Previously: Theatres of the World: the conservation of two murals in the Simon Fraser University Theatre, Part 2.
Next issue: Caring for Public Collections: A Condition Survey


 Thu, Sep 6, 2012