Conserve, Preserve, Observe – Winterthur Week 2

I’m about to wrap up my second week interning with the Curatorial Department at Winterthur Museum, Gardens, and Library. The days have been incredibly varied – one day I uploaded multimedia files to Winterthur’s database so anyone can visually see print works in Winterthur’s collection, another day I helped the Registration Department transport boxes of recently fumigated textiles to their storage space during cataloguing and photographing, and yesterday I visited the “Gray Building” with Josh, the Furniture Curator, to record accession numbers for potential pieces to go on display in the estate in time for an upcoming furniture conference later this year. Some days I spent hours online, and others I was barely at my desk. There is some consistency in long term cataloguing projects, but also variation in unexpected duties and tasks that require venturing to new parts of the property.

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What Have We Learned?

I have had an amazing time this summer working in my research lab and gaining experience both in the technical aspects of conducting research and data analysis as well as the way a research lab is run and how projects are pursued. At the end of the research period the time came to ask the age old question, what did we learn? What sort of conclusions can be drawn from the data we gathered? As a refresher, my research was focused on making a comparison of two solvent cleaning techniques on samples of 10 year old oil paint films. One method uses straight solvent applied to the paint via a cotton swab while the other method uses a gelled form of the solvent applied to the paint via a cotton tissue. The hypothesis was that the gel-solvent method would be less invasive and more efficient than the straight solvent method.  Based on the the trends we saw once the data had been analyzed, I am pleased that the results seem to be congruent with what we expected to see, though more thorough research with more solvents and perhaps more accurate samples is needed to state definitively whether the gelled-solvent method is less invasive but as effective as the straight solvent method.

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Time to Get Cleaning

It’s been another exciting two weeks working in the lab. Among some great bonding activities such as cheering for the US soccer team in the world cup and experimenting with liquid nitrogen ice cream flavors, work has finally begun on making new comparisons of the solvent cleaning methods. As a recap, we are comparing the effects of solvent treatment using a free solvent versus gel-solvent form on 10 year old paint samples. We had previously treated samples with methoxypropanol, and we are continuing to treat those samples on a weekly basis. This past week we began treating new samples with isopropanol. A 2% isopropanol gel was made and applied to one sample using a tissue method while another sample was swabbed with plain isopropanol. The results of the first test runs showed that the gel-solvent only penetrated to a depth of roughly 150 um, which is less than even the methoxypropanol gel. The plain isopropanol sample produced interesting results with two peaks of signal reaching further into the paint. At this time, we have not been able to explain the appearance of the two peaks, but the reason for them may become more clear as the treatment is repeated. The plan moving forward is to continue repeating the treatments on both samples on a weekly basis. Readings of the samples will be made while they are dry and wet which allows us to see the signal that results from the solvent alone once the difference of the data is taken; essentially removing any signal pertaining to the paint. Though at first glance it appears that the gel-solvent is indeed showing less signal at a more shallow depth, the repeated trials will tell us if this trend holds.

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Final Thoughts

Hello Everyone!

Reflecting on my research goals for the summer, I have now completed a library of spectra with surface enhanced Raman spectroscopy of a collection of organic yellow dyes and pigments.  Now, I could hypothetically identify an unknown organic yellow colorant in a historical oil painting by sampling only a fraction of what would be needed for other, less sensitive techniques.  The only dye I was not able to identify with SERS was gamboge, which is made of a resinous material that is insoluble and very difficult to work with.  However, gamboge was frequently used in historical paintings, so it is important that I am able to develop a pre-treatment strategy that works for it in the future.  So far I have been able to solubilize it in a solution of ethanol and water, but this treatment has not yielded clearer spectra so far.

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Under the Surface of a Painting

Hello again!

Due to our collaboration with Shelley Svoboda at the Dewitt Wallace Collections and Conservation building, my lab has access to historical oil paintings to sample and study.  Currently, the piece of interest in my project is the portrait of Mrs. Nelson by Robert Feke, an American artist.  Despite the fact that the subject of the portrait is wearing a blue dress, yellows may be hiding among the paint layers.

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